Chota and Tanasi Cherokee Village Sites
Monument at the Chota site
|Location||Monroe County, Tennessee|
|Built||c. 1600-1745 A.D.|
|NRHP reference #||73001813|
|Added to NRHP||1973|
Chota (also spelled Chote, Echota, Itsati, and other similar variations) is a historic Overhill Cherokee town site in Monroe County, Tennessee, in the southeastern United States. Developing after nearby Tanasi, from the late 1740s until 1788 Chota was the most important of the Overhill towns, replacing Tanasi as the de facto capital of the Cherokee people.
The former Chota and Tanasi sites are listed together on the National Register of Historic Places; Tanasi also has an archaeological site designation (40MR62) assigned in 1972. Since 1979, both sites have been mostly submerged by the Tellico Lake impoundment of the Little Tennessee River. Archeological excavations were conducted before the dam was completed.
The Chota townhouse site was found during the excavations. This area was raised above the reservoir's operating levels and connected via a causeway to the mainland. The Chota monument, situated directly above the ancient townhouse site, consists of eight pillars —one for each of the seven Cherokee clans, and one for the nation. The grave of Chief Oconostota, uncovered in the 1969 excavations, was re-interred next to the monument. This site is now managed by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee.
The Little Tennessee River enters Tennessee from its source in the Appalachian Mountains and flows for just over 50 miles (80 km) through parts of Blount, Monroe, and Loudon counties before emptying into the Tennessee River near Lenoir City. Tellico Lake, created by the completion of Tellico Dam in 1979, spans the lower 33 miles (53 km) of the river. The Chota site is located approximately 27 miles (43 km) above the mouth of the river, opposite a sharp bend in the river known as Bacon's Bend.
Both Chota and Tanasi were developed by the Cherokee on a relatively flat terrace flanked by steep hills rising to the south. These hills are part of the Appalachian Ridge-and-Valley Physiographic Province, which is characterized by narrow, elongate ridges and steep hills. The Great Smoky Mountains and the Unicoi Mountains, both part of the main Appalachian crest, rise a few miles to the southeast and southwest, respectively.
The Tanasi and Chota monuments are located just off Highway 360 (Citico Road) on Bacon Ferry Road, which ends in a cul-de-sac parking lot. A short, maintained trail connects the parking lot to the Chota monument.
Rise of Chota
Chota does not appear in historical records until around 1745. Tanasi is first mentioned much earlier in the century, namely as the base or destination of various traders and diplomats. Tanasi appears on multiple maps of the Overhill territory produced in the 1720s and 1730s, but Chota does not. This suggests that Chota may have been part of Tanasi, or may not have been considered a town before the 1740s. In the 1720s, the head man of Tanasi— known simply as the "Tanasi Warrior"— was the chief of the Overhill towns in what is now Tennessee and the Middle and Valley towns in North Carolina.
In 1730, however, Moytoy of Tellico, with the help of flamboyant emissary Alexander Cuming, was crowned "Emperor of the Cherokee." This effectively shifted the overall capital to his town of Great Tellico, where Moytoy was chief. When Moytoy died in 1741, his son, Amouskositte, attempted to succeed him as emperor. Old Hop, the head man at Chota, began to consolidate power, and by 1753 Chota had usurped Great Tellico as the "mother town" of the Overhill Cherokee.
Around this time, on the eve of the French and Indian War, the Cherokee were reportedly leaning toward the French side, prompting the English colonies of Virginia and South Carolina to increase contact with the Overhill towns. Virginia sent Major Andrew Lewis with 60 men to build a fort at Chota, which was completed in August 1756. It was never garrisoned because the Cherokee allied with the English against the French. Later that year, South Carolina sent engineer William de Brahm with 300 men to build Fort Loudoun, which was completed in March 1757. By 1760, relations between the British and Cherokee had soured, breaking into conflict in the Anglo-Cherokee War. The warriors took spoils from the sack of Fort Loudoun to Chota.
Timberlake's visit, 1761-62
After the fall of Fort Loudoun, the Overhill towns sued for peace, which was granted in the Treaty of Long Island in 1761. Virginia dispatched a friendship delegation led by Henry Timberlake to solidify peace with the Overhill towns. He reached Chota in late December 1761, accompanied by Ostenaco (the head Cherokee man at Tomotley). At a ceremony inside the Chota townhouse, Ostenaco ceremoniously buried a hatchet, symbolizing peace between the British and Cherokee. Timberlake spent the night in Old Hop's "hot-house" (a circular dwelling used by the Overhill Cherokee in cooler months) before proceeding to Citico the next day.
Timberlake's "Draught of the Cherokee Country" reported 52 dwellings and a townhouse at Chota. Conocotocko (Old Hop) was listed as governor of both Chota and Tanasi. The 175 warriors available at Chota made up the second-largest contingent among the Overhill towns, behind only Citico.
At the outbreak of the American Revolution, the Cherokee aligned with the British, hoping to expel American colonists from their territory. In 1776, Dragging Canoe (the head man at Mialoquo) and Old Abraham of Chilhowee led an unsuccessful two-pronged attack against Fort Watauga and Heaton's Station. In response, Virginia sent Colonel William Christian with a small force to subdue the Overhill towns. Christian entered the Little Tennessee Valley unopposed and negotiated a truce with Attakullakulla and Oconastota. When Dragging Canoe refused to negotiate, however, Christian destroyed the towns of Great Tellico, Citico, Mialoquo, Chilhowee, and Toqua.
In 1780, John Sevier, who had just returned from the Battle of Kings Mountain, led an invasion of the Overhill country in response to several attacks on American settlements by renegade Cherokees. Most of the remaining Overhill towns, including Chota, were destroyed. Chota was rebuilt by 1784, but it never recovered its former status. In 1788, Old Tassel— who had become the leader of the Overhill towns after the death of Oconastota— was murdered by Americans under a flag of truce at Chilhowee. Largely in response to this incident, the Cherokee moved their capital south to Ustanali, near modern Calhoun, Georgia.
In the late 1790s, the Duke of Orleans paid a visit to the Tellico Blockhouse while on a tour of East Tennessee. The duke witnessed over 600 Cherokees engage in a "ballplay" at Chota and bet 6 gallons of brandy on the outcome. By this time, only five dwellings were standing in the town.
Cyrus Thomas, working for the Smithsonian Institution, conducted survey of earthwork mounds in the Little Tennessee Valley in the 1880s. Thomas excavated a mound at the Chota site and uncovered several artifacts. In 1939, a University of Tennessee team, mainly under the auspices of Thomas Lewis and Madeline Kneburg, conducted excavations at the Chota site with the aid of laborers paid by the Works Projects Administration. Their findings, which Lewis and Kneburg hoped would provide comparison data for their Hiwassee Island findings, included 85 pit features, 12 burials, and one structure.
After the Tennessee Valley Authority announced plans to build Tellico Dam in 1967, which would flood historic Cherokee sites, the University of Tennessee initiated a plan to conduct salvage archeological excavations throughout the Little Tennessee Valley. Excavations were conducted at Chota between 1969 and 1974, as litigation stalled the dam project. The excavations uncovered 783 features (mostly refuse pits), the postmold layouts of 31 structures, and 91 burials. Burial 10, uncovered in 1969, was identified by its grave goods (namely a pair of wire spectacles) as that of Chief Oconostota. Thousands of stone and ceramic artifacts were uncovered, including projectile points dating to the Archaic period (8000–1000 B.C.).
The structures uncovered at Chota included two townhouses, one of which had a diameter of 60 feet (18 m) and another a diameter of just over 50 feet (15 m). The smaller townhouse, which was slightly older, may have been the Tanasi townhouse. Other structures included a 48-foot (15 m) x 23-foot (7.0 m) summer pavilion flanked by a 100-foot (30 m) x 160-foot (49 m) village plaza, and 11 rectangular summer dwelling/circular winter dwelling pairings. Dwellings were spaced between 40 feet (12 m) and 100 feet (30 m) apart and were located as far as 2,000 feet (610 m) from the townhouse. One of the dwellings was classified as Early Mississippian culture (c. 1000–1300 A.D.), while the others were Cherokee.
In 1986, the burials revealed at the Chota site were reinterred in a burial mound at the Sequoyah Museum, near Vonore. The exception was the remains of Oconostota, which were buried next to the Chota monument over the townhouse site, as desired by the Cherokee.
The pillars stand for the seven clans and the Cherokee nation as a whole.
- Gerald Schroedl, "Chota", The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 11 February 2013.
- David Ray Smith, "Nancy Ward", The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture, 2009. Retrieved: 11 February 2013.
- Gerald Schroedl (ed.), Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee (University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology, Report of Investigations 38, 1986), 9.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 9.
- Samuel Cole Williams, Early Travels in the Tennessee Country, 1540-1800 (Johnson City, Tenn.: The Watauga Press, 1928), 97-101.
- Williams, Early Travels, 122-127.
- Jefferson Chapman, Tellico Archaeology: 12,000 Years of Native American History (Tennessee Valley Authority, 1985), 104.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 9.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 10-12.
- Henry Timberlake, Samuel Cole Williams (ed.), Memoirs, 1756-1765 (Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Co., 1948), 59-62.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 12-13.
- Inez Burns, History of Blount County, Tennessee: From War Trail to Landing Strip, 1795-1955 (Nashville: Benson Print Co., 1957), 11-16.
- Schroedl, Overhill Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 14.
- Alberta and Carson Brewer, Valley So Wild (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1975), 58.
- Brewer and Brewer, Valley So Wild, 58.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 14.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 16-20.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 38-39.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 134-136.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 379, 544.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 263-287.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 217.
- Schroedl, Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tanasee, 204.