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Massacre at Cavett's Station

Frontier Tennessee during the Cherokee Wars

Charles H. Faulkner

Publication Year: 2013

In the late 1700s, as white settlers spilled across the Appalachian Mountains, claiming Cherokee and Creek lands for their own, tensions between Native Americans and pioneers reached a boiling point. Land disputes stemming from the 1791 Treaty of Holston went unresolved, and Knoxville settlers attacked a Cherokee negotiating party led by Chief Hanging Maw resulting in the wounding of the chief and his wife and the death of several Indians. In retaliation, on September 25, 1793, nearly one thousand Cherokee and Creek warriors descended undetected on Knoxville to destroy this frontier town. However, feeling they had been discovered, the Indians focused their rage on Cavett’s Station, a fortified farmstead of Alexander Cavett and his family located in what is now west Knox County. Violating a truce, the war party murdered thirteen men, women, and children, ensuring the story’s status in Tennessee lore.
            In Massacre at Cavett’s Station, noted archaeologist and Tennessee historian Charles Faulkner reveals the true story of the massacre and its aftermath, separating historical fact from pervasive legend. In doing so, Faulkner focuses on the interplay of such early Tennessee stalwarts as John Sevier, James White, and William Blount, and the role each played in the white settlement of east Tennessee while drawing the ire of the Cherokee who continued to lose their homeland in questionable treaties. That enmity produced some of history’s notable Cherokee war chiefs including Doublehead, Dragging Canoe, and the notorious Bob Benge, born to a European trader and Cherokee mother, whose red hair and command of English gave him a distinct double identity. But this conflict between the Cherokee and the settlers also produced peace-seeking chiefs such as Hanging Maw and Corn Tassel who helped broker peace on the Tennessee frontier by the end of the 18th century.  After only three decades of peaceful co-existence with their white neighbors, the now democratic Cherokee Nation was betrayed and lost the remainder of their homeland in the Trail of Tears.        
Faulkner combines careful historical research with meticulous archaeological excavations conducted in developed areas of the west Knoxville suburbs to illuminate what happened on that fateful day in 1793. As a result, he answers significant questions about the massacre and seeks to discover the genealogy of the Cavetts and if any family members survived the attack. This book is an important contribution to the study of frontier history and a long-overdue analysis of one of East Tennessee’s well-known legends.

Published by: The University of Tennessee Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

...This book began as an article about the Cavett Station massacre. I had just changed direction in the field of North American archaeology from the study of prehistoric Indian cultures in Tennessee to historical archaeology, specifically focusing on the frontier settlement of East Tennessee. The story of the massacre of thirteen settlers a mere five miles from my home caught my attention early on. Since the details of this event and history of the Cavett family appeared to be rare in local histories, I thought that the archaeological...

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Chapter 1. The Omen

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pp. 1-4

...There is an old Southern Appalachian superstition that forewarns if a rooster stands in the doorway and crows, a death will occur in the family (O’dell 1944). The location at which the rooster crowed at daybreak on September 25, 1793, at the cabin of Alexander Cavett will never be known, but it served as an alarm clock for his family living at the head of Sinking Creek in what is now West Knox County, Tennessee. Having no more than two...

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Chapter 2. The Advancing Banner of a Greedy Host

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pp. 5-60

...It was inevitable that the Euro-American settlement of the trans- Appalachian area after the French and Indian War would result in a prolonged duel to the death between the settlers and the native people of this region. There were circumstances, however, in the last quarter of the eighteenth century that made the conflict especially bloody. After their victory over the French, the British issued the Proclamation of 1763, which was...

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Chapter 3. The Cavetts

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pp. 65-88

...The Cavetts were among the thousands of white settlers who moved south in the valleys of the Appalachian Mountains after the British victory in the French and Indian War. According to Cavett family tradition (also spelled Cavet, Cavit, Cavitt, and Calvit on early documents), the family originated in France, moving through England to settle in Ulster, Northern Ireland. Like so many of their Scots-Irish brethren, they emigrated to America, and...

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Chapter 4. The Lost Station

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pp. 89-94

...Alexander Cavett died intestate. Since his entire family perished with him, his next closest kin, brothers Moses, Richard, and Michael, inherited his property, with the tract later descending to Moses who lived on the property (Cavett n.d.). Moses died in 1802 and appears to have been buried near his brother in the Mars Hill Cemetery. The Cavett tract was inherited by his wife Agnes (Nancy) Meetch Cavett who, according to Moses’s last will...

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Chapter 5. Digging into the Past

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pp. 95-100

...Archaeology, when practiced correctly, is a science with a precise and testable research design to collect data from the earth in a systematic manner so that our cultural past can be accurately reconstructed. The research design for the study of the possible Cavett cabin location began with carefully examining the areas around the former Broome-Mynatt house that appeared relatively undisturbed by nineteenthth and twentieth-century...

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Chapter 6. A Little Spot of Ground to Stand Upon

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pp. 101-132

...While individuals can be singled out for stealing Indian land, ever since the signing of the Articles of Confederation, the U.S. government implemented a national policy of frontier expansion that would presumably cost the least amount of lives of settlers and the least amount of cash for a monetarily strapped, fledgling government. Ergo the government’s policy of the large-scale acquisition of Indian territory, detailed...

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Chapter 7. To Become Herdsmen and Cultivators

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pp. 133-140

...As early as 1789, President Washington envisioned a policy of assimilation of the Native Americans in the eastern United States, which he expected to be completed in 50 years and bring lasting peace (Oswalt and Neely 1996:447). By the last decade of the eighteenth century, assimilation of the Cherokee showed promise. They were readily forsaking elements of their...

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Chapter 8. The Prophesy

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pp. 141-144

...Less than a half century before the abandonment of their beloved [Little] Tennessee Valley, the revered chief Oconostota prophesized that: “the country which the Cherokee and their fathers had so long occupied, would be called for, and the small remnant which may exist of this nation, once so great and so formidable, will be compelled to seek a retreat in some far-off wilderness” (Ramsey 1853:118)...

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pp. 145-148

...As historic events are recalled from generation to generation, the causes, effects, places, and persons are transformed as each generational curtain rises. Even more than the written or oral dialogue, the landscape on which the historic drama unfolded often becomes unrecognizable from the original setting. I find it difficult to comprehend that a war over 200 years ago, which...

References Cited

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pp. 149-164


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pp. 165-170

E-ISBN-13: 9781621900191
E-ISBN-10: 1621900193
Print-ISBN-13: 9781572339637
Print-ISBN-10: 1572339632

Page Count: 164
Illustrations: 16 photos
Publication Year: 2013

Edition: First edition.