Good morning! I’m Randall Jones, and I’m delighted to be here at the Trail of Tears Association National Conference. I appreciate the invitation from Jenna Quince, and I appreciate each and every one of you choosing to come to this session. I hope you find it informative, educational, and entertaining.

I have had the privilege of writing a few history books that people have enjoyed and appreciated. My latest is Before They Were Heroes at Kings Mountain, and it is from this work that I will be speaking today. The title, Before They Were Heroes at Kings Mountain, was chosen to show the experiences that prepared these heroes to fight as they did at Kings Mountain, the turning point in the American Revolution in the South. Along the way, I discovered that these people were just ordinary human beings, much like you and me. At times, they were capable of great courage and compassion, but they were also capable of acts of violence and fear.

In that spirit, I offer you today a program on Rutherford’s Expedition of 1776, subtitled The Final Destruction of the Cherokee Nation. This story is not a proud moment in American history, but it is history, and the bad must be remembered along with the good, lest we forget. This is an opportunity to improve ourselves, our society, and our own humanity. As they say, if you don’t learn from your mistakes, you are bound to repeat them. This is the story of a grave mistake and all that was lost 235 years ago.

I hope to get everyone related to the landscape where our story takes place. Our story unfolds in the area encompassing Virginia to the northeast, Tennessee to the east, North Carolina to the southwest, Georgia, and South Carolina. The Cherokee Nation had not settled in one place, and the distance between their settlements varied greatly.

It was the summer of 1776, the same month the Declaration of Independence was adopted by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia. On the 10th of July, Virginia’s Governor Patrick Henry sent Continental troops from Virginia to press Governor Dunmore from his last refuge. Meanwhile, on the Kentucky frontier, Jemima was killed by Shawnee and Cherokee warriors. In the Old Mountain region of North Carolina, the Cherokee, frustrated by the encroachment of white settlers, attacked the Upper Valley.

General Griffith Rutherford, the militia commander of the Western District of North Carolina, requested a plan with a specific purpose: to bring about the final destruction of the Cherokee Nation in August of 1776.

Our story actually begins much earlier, in 1762, after the conclusion of the Cherokee War. Many Cherokee leaders desired to visit London and were escorted there by British leaders. They met King George III, who issued the Royal Proclamation of 1763, dividing the American colonies between native people and settlers. Despite this, by the mid-1770s, settlers had crossed the mountains and settled in Tennessee and Southwest Virginia.

In 1775, John negotiated with the Cherokees for a lease of 20 million acres. The settlers moved through the Cumberland Gap to establish Boonesborough. Not everyone was happy about this treaty; Dragging Canoe refused to sign it, and in the summer of 1776, he led attacks against settlers in the Upper Valley.

The attacks by the Cherokee had a shock effect but did not cause a general withdrawal. Both sides focused on retaliation. In July 1776, General Rutherford led militia troops into Cherokee territory, destroying their towns and crops. The Virginia militia, under Colonel Christian, did the same. The combined efforts of the North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia militias aimed to force the Cherokees into submission.

Rutherford’s expedition involved 2,400 men carrying 30 days of supplies. They marched through the Blue Ridge Mountains, crossed the French Broad River, and encountered resistance from the Cherokee at the crest of the mountain. Despite ambushes, Rutherford’s men pressed on, destroying Cherokee towns and crops.

Colonel Christian’s forces from Virginia attacked the Overhill towns, finding them abandoned. They destroyed the towns and crops, ensuring the Cherokees would have no food or shelter for the winter. Rutherford’s men reached the Hiwassee River and continued their destruction.

The South Carolinians, led by Colonel Andrew Williamson, attacked the principal Cherokee town of Keowee. They destroyed the town and its crops, leaving the Cherokees without resources. By November 1776, the campaign had forced the Cherokees to flee, and their lands were occupied by settlers.

Upon returning from the expedition, Rutherford decided to continue menacing and harassing the Cherokees. Captain Joseph led a smaller group to further attack the remaining Cherokee villages, capturing and enslaving many.

In 1777, treaty negotiations took place, and the Cherokees ceded their lands east of the Blue Ridge Mountains. They were allowed safe passage to the Cumberland Gap and retained some lands in Tennessee. Despite the treaty, Dragging Canoe continued to resist, leading attacks against settlers.

The story of Rutherford’s Expedition is a reminder of the grave mistakes made in history. It highlights the resilience and humanity of the Cherokee people and the importance of remembering and learning from the past.

I will be glad to entertain any questions you might have about Rutherford’s Expedition in the few minutes we have remaining. My book, Before They Were Heroes at Kings Mountain, explores what these men who fought at Kings Mountain had been doing before the battle. Many of them had participated in long-distance campaigns, such as Rutherford’s Expedition, which is why their story is included in the book.

If there are no further questions, I have copies of my book for sale at the table. I will be here throughout the day but will have to leave for a dedication ceremony shortly. Thank you very much.

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Randell Jones – Rutherfords Expedition of 1776

Good morning! I’m Randall Jones, and I’m delighted to be here at the Trail of Tears Association National Conference. I appreciate the invitation from Jenna Quince, and I appreciate each and every one of you choosing to come to this session. I hope you find it informative, educational, and entertaining.

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