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3.  The Revolutionary Frontier: 1775–1780 By 1775 the white threat to the Cherokee land base in upper East Tennessee was apparent. An estimated two thousand white settlers lived there, about three-fourths having arrived from the Great Valley of Virginia and the rest by way of the difficult mountain route from North Carolina. The earliest came on horseback and on foot, usually driving a few head of livestock. Though they were an ethnically diverse group, the majority were of English stock. A few of the wealthier immigrants brought along a slave or two. To the horror of the Cherokees, these newcomers transformed the landscape by girdling and cutting trees, building cabins, and planting crops and orchard trees. Settlers continued to hunt deer and bear for food and sport, but they increasingly depended on meat from domestic livestock. Cattle and hogs fed widely, especially among the tall cane that flourished along the streams. After the first few years a rough road system linked the new settlements with Virginia and distant cities like Philadelphia and Baltimore, but except for occasional drives of livestock to outside markets, traffic was mostly oneway . The few merchants in the area included John Carter on the Watauga, Evan Shelby at present-day Bristol, and Jacob Brown on the Nolichucky. The most visible symbol of white control over the Tennessee landscape was the ubiquitous log cabin. When neighbors gathered to raise a new family residence, it was something more than mere work or an occasion to socialize. The construction, especially the notching and interlocking of logs, symbolized the way frontier residents were tightly linked in a mutual endeavor to tame the land and defy the supposed savagery of Indian hegemony . In East Tennessee the typical early cabin was a rectangular “single-pen” of about sixteen by twenty feet, with a roof ridge parallel to the cabin front, side-facing gables, and an exterior chimney made of sticks and stones. Sometimes the logs were left in their natural rounded state, and sometimes they were hewn on two sides to provide a flat surface for the inside and outside walls. They were joined by distinctive corner notches, especially the V-notch. Both it and the saddle notch came by way of the Great Valley of Virginia. The half-dovetail notch came from Virginia and western North Carolina, and the square notch was a cultural marker of the latter state. Settlers usually filled the spaces between logs with various kinds of chinking, daubed over with mud or clay that was mixed with a binder of straw or grass. Roofs were made of oak clapboards held in place by a series of parallel poles, while floors were at first earthen and later replaced by puncheons. Outbuildings such as corncribs were built of unhewn logs and remained unchinked. Despite their makeshift character, the cabins and fields of white frontier people demonstrated both their adaptability and expansionist tendencies; they were prepared to remain in East Tennessee. Confronted with this reality, the Cherokees and other Southern Indians had little choice but to support the British Crown as a split between Britain and the colonies became imminent. Few whites or Indians on the Tennessee frontier paid much attention to the philosophical and ideological foundations of the American Revolution. Instead, they saw the unfolding struggle in more concrete terms, centering on the issue of land and who would possess it. Most white settlers opposed Parliament’s attempts to limit expansion in the backcountry, while Native Americans saw the impending conflict as an opportunity to support British imTENNESSEE FRONTIERS 54  perial policy against the escalating encroachments on tribal domains . The fight in the backcountry, James H. O’Donnell rightly asserts, “was over the land, a struggle not new and not finished.” Indeed, the Revolution both whetted and abetted white land hunger, and the Tennessee frontier expanded even amid a savage war. The Indians would be a formidable strike force against the frontier, especially if the tribes could overcome their traditional animosities and unite. The four major Southeastern tribes— Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees—had a combined population of perhaps forty thousand in 1775, with the Cherokees of the Lower, Middle, Valley, and Overhill Towns numbering between eight and twelve thousand people. The Overhill Towns posed the most immediate threat to Tennessee settlers . Assuming that one-fourth of all Indians were able-bodied adult males, the combined number of southern warriors was about ten thousand. Additional warriors from north of the Ohio River could lend...


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