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John Stuart’s Decision Cherokee Friend or Foe

Many of us face situations in which we must make a choice whether to be loyal to one cause or another. Some choices are easy. Do we want to shop at this same store today or try another one? Others can have life changing consequences, such as do I want to change my religion from Baptist to Buddhist, do I want to be a democrat or republican, conservative or liberal. One person in Charleston, South Carolina’s history was faced with a tough choice of loyalty and it affected the lives of many people.

John Stuart was born in Inverness, Scotland on September 25, 1718. As a young man he went to sea and in 1746 at the age of 28 wound up in Charleston where he decided to settle down. He went into business and became known around town. By 1750 he had become a member of the St. Andrews Society, a benevolent society of Scottish immigrants; a member of the Charleston Library Society; a member of the Charleston Masonic Lodge; and had married Sarah Fenwick, the daughter of wealthy planter John Fenwick of Johns Island. He also joined the South Carolina militia and was soon made a captain.

As a militia officer, he began working among the Cherokee Indians in 1756 when he and his troops were sent to help build a fort on the Little Tennessee River near several prominent Cherokee towns in what is now East Tennessee. When finished, the fort was named Fort Loudoun after John Campbell, the Earl of Loudoun, Commander-In-Chief of British troops in Colonial America. Stuart was appointed second in command of the fort, first under Captain Raymond Demere, then after August 1757, Raymond’s brother Captain Paul Demere. While Demere’s job was to keep the garrison of troops in military readiness, Stuart’s main duty was to work with Cherokees and keep them loyal to the British.

At that time both the British from the east and the French from the west were attempting to entice the Cherokees to take their side in the French and Indian War which had begun in 1754. A few Cherokees sided with one nation or the other, but most of them merely wanted to be left alone.

In the four years Stuart served at Fort Loudoun he made several friends among the Cherokees, especially with chief Attakullakulla, who was also known to the English as Little Carpenter. Attakullakulla had been one of seven Cherokee chiefs who in 1730 had traveled with Alexander Cumming for a 4-month stay in England. He had seen enough of the British to understand that the Cherokees had little chance of succeeding against the British superior weapons and manpower. The Cherokees could win a few battles, but they would not stop the relentless expansion of the British empire in America. For decades he did everything he could the keep the two nations from fighting.

For the first two years the British at Fort Loudon and the Cherokees lived in peace. The Indians came to like and respect John Stuart, but did not care for some of the British troops, especially Captain Paul Demere who they felt was arrogant and unfriendly. Stuart, with the help of his friend, Attakullakulla, saw to it that the two groups maintained as stable and congenial relationship as possible.

Then in late 1758, several Cherokees went north to help the British troops under General John Forbes take Fort Duquense which the French had erected at the point where the Allegany and Monongahela Rivers come together to form the Ohio. The combined British and Indian force was successful in taking the fort and sent the French back toward Canada. A new fort was built and named Fort Pitt after British Prime Minister William Pitt. The area later became Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

When the battle was over, the Cherokee wanted to get their horses and go home. For some reason, perhaps a language misunderstanding, the Cherokee’s horses were not returned to them. So, in anger they started walking back to their villages many miles to the south.   

As the Cherokee fighters returned home through Virginia, they would occasionally find horses grazing in a field and felt justified in taking them as part of their renumeration for serving the British. Unfortunately, the owners of the horses did not see it that way and probably most of them did not know the Indians had been enlisted to help fight the French. They saw the Cherokees as mere Indian horse thieves and killed about 20 of them.

Also, the governor of South Carolina, William Henry Lyttleton, who did not like the Cherokees, had called for the execution of 19 Cherokee prisoners being held at Fort Prince George a fort that had been built in 1753 on the Keowee River several miles northwest of Charleston. Although technically at peace, each side was quick to respond to what it considered an injustice.

When word of these atrocities got back to the Cherokee towns, many of the Cherokees became incensed. Was this the way they should be treated for risking their lives to help the British in a war that they did not start and had little interest in? This situation, plus the problems with a few dishonest traders, and the arrogance of some of the officers at Fort Loudon, brought on a great deal of tension. Stuart did what he could to placate the Cherokees, but the problem grew until in February 1760 a group of Cherokees under their war chief, Oconostota, attacked Fort Loudon.

The attack lasted a few hours with the Cherokee firing into the wooden palisade or over the fort, with the intent of not killing anyone but letting the British know that they had better not come out of the fort.

The Cherokees lay siege to the fort and for the next six months the British were trapped and unable to leave, although a couple of traders the Indians trusted were able to enter temporarily. Through the negotiations of Stuart with Attakullakulla and some of the other Cherokee chiefs, a small amount of food was brought into the fort but not enough to adequately nourish the 180 soldiers and 60 women and children detained there.

By early August 1760, the siege had taken its toll and the British could no longer tolerate staying in the fort. They had exhausted their food supply, and even eaten their horses and dogs as their last bit of survival rations. On August 8, Stuart and a Lt. Adamson met with the war chief Oconostota and some of his warriors. After several hours of ceremony and negotiations, it was decided that the English would be allowed to leave the fort with their muskets and enough ammunition to hunt game along the trail to Fort Prince George some 140 miles to the south toward Charleston. They were to leave the fort’s 12 large guns and the ammunition and gun powder to fire them.

On the morning of Saturday August 9, 1760, the emaciated British straggled out of the fort as best they could. Heading south they walked about 12 miles to a meadow on the bank of a creek near the Tellico River. That evening the Cherokees provided them with some food which they badly needed. As they bedded down for the night all seemed well. They were out of the fort and headed home.

Then the next morning as the group packed up and continued south toward the Cherokee town of Great Tellico some ten miles away where they would pick up the trading route leading to Fort Prince George, a large group of Cherokee warriors attacked. Within a few minutes, several soldiers had been shot. All of the British officers were killed, except John Stuart, who was pulled away from the fighting by a warrior named Onatoy. After the shooting stopped, Stuart and the others who had been taken prisoner were marched back to the Cherokee town of Chota, near Fort Loudoun.

Obviously, many of the Cherokees considered Stuart a friendly and reasonable person. They hated Paul Demere, however, and he was tortured and killed during the battle. The prisoners who survived the walk back to Chota were later ransomed and released.

The next day Attakullakulla came to Onatoy and offered his gun, knife, blanket, and other items in exchange for Stuart. A deal was made, and by Cherokee law John Stuart now belonged to Attakullakulla who had life or death power over him, and could take him hunting or even set him free. For about 2 weeks the two moved back and forth between the town of Chota and Fort Loudoun where Attakullakulla had moved into one of the buildings.

Having taken Fort Loudoun, Oconostota began preparations for taking Fort Prince George.  He approached Stuart and gave him an ultimatum. Stuart was to show the Cherokees how to use the cannons at Fort Loudoun and go with the war party to attack Fort Prince George. If he refused, he would be killed. Stuart responded that he could not attack his own people, and the situation did not look good. Using his great diplomatic skills, Attakullukulla stepped in and convinced Oconostota to give Stuart five days to think it over.

Two days later, on the pretense of going to hunt deer, Attakullakulla was able sneak Stuart out of Chota, along with Attakullakulla’s wife, his nephew, and a soldier named Ensign Boggs, who was loyal to Stuart, and a half Cherokee woman named Susanna Emory who was John Stuart’s Cherokee wife. They headed northeast to Virginia instead of south to Fort Prince George to avoid any Cherokee warriors who might follow them.

After eleven days of walking, they came upon a group of English soldiers camped at a place called Long Island near today’s Kingsport, Tennessee. The soldiers took Stuart and his companions to the main camp where they were fed and given good clothing. Two days later, Attakullakulla, his wife and nephew, and Suzanna Emory said an emotional good-by to Stuart and Boggs and started on the long walk back Chota.

It is interesting to note that many of the soldiers and traders who spent long periods of time among Indians would take Indian women as wives for a period of time. During his stay at Fort Loudoun, John Stuart took a Cherokee wife named Susanna Rebecca Emory who was the daughter of a Cherokee woman and English trader William Emory. A few months after Susannah returned to Chota after leaving Stuart with the Virginia troops, she had a son who she named Oo na du to Bushyhead, perhaps due to the bushy red hair he inherited from his father. The sur-name Bushyhead is still found today among the Cherokees living in western North Carolina.

Perhaps the most famous Cherokee who had a white father was Sequoyah who invented the Cherokee syllabary. He is believed to be the son of a Cherokee woman named Wut-teh and a Virginia trader named Nathaniel Gist.

While in Virginia, Stuart assisted Colonel George Byrd, head of the Virginia militia, in securing the Virginia border against Indian attacks. Then after a few months, Byrd arranged for passage so that Stuart could to return home to Charleston. In Charleston his fame as a mediator between colonists and the Cherokees spread rapidly. Although the Fort Loudoun incident had been tragic and most people considered it completely unwarranted, Stuart was commended for keeping it from being worse than it was.

His esteem among the Cherokees was confirmed when on September 23, 1761, Attakullakulla, now restored to top Cherokee chief, came to Charlestown to sign a peace treaty with Governor William Bull which ended the two-year old Cherokee war. The South Carolina Gazette reported that at the meeting, Attakullakulla requested that John Stuart be made “chief white man” in the Cherokee nation. He made the statement that “All the Indians love him,” and that “there will never be any uneasiness if he is there.” The British took Attakullakulla’s advice and on January 5, 1762 appointed John Stuart Superintendent for Southern Indians, which included all of the tribes south of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi. Stuart held the office for 18 years and came to be called Beloved Father by the Cherokees.

Stuart worked hard at keeping the colonists and Indians at peace.  One example of this was that in November 1763 he set up a meeting in Augusta, Georgia between 21 chiefs from several southern tribes and the four southern colonial governors, Thomas Boone of South Carolina. Francis Fauquier of Virginia, Arthur Dobbs of North Carolina, and James Wright of Georgia. His goal was to prevent in the south the problems occurring at that time in the north where an uprising led by the Ottawa chief Pontiac in May 1763 against Fort Detroit and several white settlements had caused the deaths of many settlers and Indians.

The parties negotiated for 10 days, and finally hammered out the Treaty of Augusta which established a new boundary line between colonists and Indians. An important provision of the treaty created one of the first Indian reservations in America, the 225 square mile Catawba reservation on the Catawba River near what is now Rock Hill, South Carolina. It is today the only Indian reservation in the state. The Catawba had been one of the largest and most powerful tribes in the south when the English arrived at Cape Fear in 1663 and Charlestown in 1670, but by 1760, because of “rum, war, and small-pox” the tribe had been reduced by 90% to a population of under 500 individuals.

As Indian agent, John Stuart was put in a tough situation. He understood the frustration of the Indians whose land was being taken over by white settlers. On the other hand, he understood the mindset of the European settlers who felt it was their right to occupy and use what they considered uninhabited wilderness. Most of the Indians desired to continue trading with the whites as long as the traders were honest and fair, while at the same time they resented any encroachment by settlers and hunters beyond the boundaries of the established treaties. Stuart tried to convince the settlers, many of whom were Scots like himself or Scotch-Irish, to honor treaty boundaries. To many of the resolute settlers looking for a good homesite, however, treaty boundaries meant little and they built their cabins and hunted where they pleased.

One example of a practice that caused a great deal of conflict was settlers trading rum for horses. This activity encouraged young Indians warriors to steal horses from settlers in one community that they would trade for rum in another community. While some settlers were pleased to have more horses, others sought to fight intoxicated Indian thieves. And all the while, the British government pressured Stuart to keep the Indians loyal to the English instead of siding with the French.

John Stuart was faced with a number of problems to resolve, most of them related to the control and use of land. Indians wanted to hold on to their ancestral lands, white settlers desperately wanted that land for farms and towns, colonial governments wanted to expand their boundaries as far as possible, and the British government desired to maintain peace by setting treaty boundaries and restricting encroachment into Indian territory.

To accomplish his peace-keeping goals, Stuart and his assistants traveled quite a bit visiting the many Indian towns making sure they were pleased with their trade agreements and settling encroachment disputes before they became violent. Yet, it got to the point where one treaty after another was made with the Indians only to be ignored by settlers, traders, land speculators, as well as unscrupulous government officials who desired to enlarge their areas of control. It was difficult keeping everyone happy, especially as events began to unfold leading to the colonies becoming dissatisfied with British taxes and rule.

One can imagine that after years of coping with the stress of trying to keep the peace between the Indians, settlers, British government, as well as the budding American government, John Stuart was anxious to settle down to a quiet life in Charleston. So, in 1772 John and his wife Sarah built a fine home at 106 Tradd Street in Charleston. There he, his wife, and five children settled into a quiet urban lifestyle in the bustling city

But his peace was to be short-lived. By the mid- 1770s, it was obvious that Stuart, who had now lived in America for over 25 years, was caught in the middle between fulfilling the demands of his employer, the British government, or resigning his post and joining the colonists who were seeking to break away from that government. Part of the problem was that many of those who called themselves American patriots were the same ones he was attempting to keep from encroaching onto the lands of the Cherokees and other tribes he had been protecting for several years.

If he chose to stay with the Indians and the British, he would be considered a traitor by the Americans. If he chose to side with the Americans, he would be a traitor to his Indian friends and the British government which had been his employer for decades. He would no doubt been given a high rank in the Continental Army.

After what must have been a good bit of mental anguish, Scotsman John Stuart chose to stand by his Indian friends and the British government whose representatives had stood behind him in his efforts to maintain peace between volatile white and Indian factions.

When it looked like war was inevitable, Stuart was told by the British that part of his job was to arm the Cherokees and enlist their help against the Americans. In exchange for siding with the British, the Indians would receive clothing, tools, plunder from the white settlements, and most importantly, they could reclaim their hunting grounds taken over by encroaching settlers. As a person who had tried to maintain peace between the Indians and settlers, he was somewhat apprehensive about this arrangement. But as a British subject he was required to do his duty. Partly through Stuart’s influence, most Indians sided with the British, although some tribes, such as the Catawba, decided to stay with the Americans.

It is interesting that many Indians were puzzled by the conflict between the colonists and the British since it was generally not the practice of Indians to go to war against people who spoke the same language.

As animosity grew between the British and the colonists, some American patriots became increasingly suspicious of Stuart. When word got out that he had been involved in arming the Cherokees, he was accused of endangering the lives of American settlers, especially those in the unprotected backcountry areas. By June 1775 hostile feelings between British and Americans had gotten to the point that Stuart, who was now a colonel in the British army, was fearful of being arrested as an enemy officer.  

Reluctantly, he left his family in Charleston and fled south to St. Augustine, Florida and then on to Pensacola where he resumed his work with the southern Indian tribes.

Possibly due to the stress of trying to cope with frustrated Indians, land hungry settlers, independent minded colonists, as well as the demands of the British government during the Revolutionary War, Stuart’s health failed. He died in Pensacola on March 21, 1779 at the age of 61.

In Charlestown, which became Charleston in 1783 after the war ended, John’s wife Sarah Fenwick Stuart whose family, the Fenwicks, were also loyal to England, was put under guard but released during the British occupation of Charlestown May 1780 until December 1782. She lived in Charleston until her death in July 1798. The Stuart home on Tradd Street was confiscated by the new American government and sold soon after the war ended. The home is now a private residence and in 1973 was designated a National Historic Landmark.

It is an interesting turn of events that John and Sarah’s son, John, born in 1759, was sent to England for his education. He attended Westminster School in London, and in 1778 joined the British army. In 1779, he was sent to America where by chance he participated in the siege of his home town, Charleston, and in the British occupation of the city which lasted from May 1780 to December 1782. He no doubt visited his mother and siblings while there but arrived too late to see his father.

John Stuart’s decision to remain loyal to Britain during the Revolutionary War had little effect on the overall outcome of the war. But his decision caused a great deal of political turmoil which jeopardized his safety and that of his family. Did he make the wrong decision?

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