|The Cherokee Attack on Captain James
June 26, 1776
From "South Carolina and the American Revolution" by John W. Gordon
The frontier war began amidst the various intrigues and diplomatic moves made by the two sides to win over the Cherokees. Two days before Parker hoisted the signal to begin the attack on Moultrie's Fort, the Cherokees attacked a party of Whig militiamen and rangers which had entered their territory.
The party was in the process of looking for Alexander Cameron, a Scot, who was deputy to another Scot, the Crown's Superintendent for Indian affairs in the South, John Stuart. Stuart, having had to flee Charleston for St. Augustine, had now arrived in Pensacola. But Cameron remained installed with the Cherokees, and the Americans wanted to do something about him before he could stir up trouble. The stakes were high enough that the Continental Congress sent commissioners. The month before, these same commissioners had held meetings with both the Creeks and the Cherokees at Augusta and Fort Charlotte. The meetings were remarkable for the broad promises the Americans offered regarding the security of Indian lands - and the quantity of rum they brought the Indians.
But Stuart had already trumped them. His trains of packhorses laden with powder and lead, sent north to the Cherokees via the Peachtree or other trails on the network of paths leading up from Pensacola, had already been received. By that time, too, delegations from tribes further to the north - Delawares, Shawnees, and the powerful Iroquois nation had arrived to press the Cherokees to join them in a war that would erupt up and down the length of the frontier. Stuart's own view was that Cherokee participation in such a war would be a disaster for the Indians and a mistake for British policy. When it became clear to him that the Cherokees would go to war anyway, he did everything possible to ensure that their attacks would commence only when they could be coordinated with the effort Parker and Clinton were preparing for the South Carolina coast.
That Cameron was Stuart's chief means of exercising influence over the Cherokees was hardly lost upon the Provincial Congress, hence the decision to send the experienced Captain McCall after him. McCall led a small force whose specific mission was to penetrate the Lower Cherokees (that is, the branch of the nation living in the foothills east of the mountains) control and find Cameron. Whatever their demeanor or initial reaction to McCall's questions, the Indians permitted the party to proceed through first one and then a second of their towns without incident. These were located in present-day Pickens County. After visiting still another village without incident, McCall's men made their camp some distance beyond, ready to press on the next day in pursuit of Cameron.
They reckoned without the Cherokees. A Strong body of them fell upon the camp that night, managing to kill four of the militiamen and capturing their commander, McCall, at a cost of half a dozen warriors. The Indians had chosen to attack out of a sense of outrage. The sending of an armed party into their lands was a provocative act that could only have helped the arguments that Cameron and the loyalists were making.
Cameron remained free to continue his work among the Cherokees. On July 1, three days after Parker's and Clinton's unsuccessful attempt against the fort at the mouth of Charleston harbor, the Cherokees joined in a general Indian offensive that fell with particular fury upon South Carolina. McCall himself, who witnessed the death-by-torture of at least one white captive eventually managed to make his escape, and would go on to play a prominent role in future backcountry operations.
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