This study examines documentary and archaeological evidence of physical facilities that constituted the “Fort Cass Emigrating Depot,” the organizational and operational hub for the forcible deportation of the Cherokee Nation in 1838. The emigration complex, depicted by H.L. Prince map of July 11, 1838, spanned more than 10,000 acres in and around the present-day town of Charleston, in northern Bradley County, Tennessee (Charleston, Calhoun, and East Cleveland, TN 7.5ˈ quadrangles). This precinct included the federal agency (1820-1838) to the Cherokee Indian Nation, to which was appended an emigration cantonment (1832-1838), Fort Cass proper (1835-1838), and ultimately, the temporary encampments of 8,000 Cherokee prisoner/emigrants (June-December, 1838). This survey, undertaken in multiple episodes between May 2016 and August 2018, considered specific, discrete locations within the Fort Cass Emigrating Depot.
The synthetic documentary overview of the historic Fort Cass Emigration Depot landscape presented here is developed from a survey of primary archival records housed at the National Archives and Records Administration, the New York State Library and Archives, the University of North Carolina Special Collections, the Tennessee State Library and Archives, the Moravian Archives, and other repositories. This synoptic view of the archival record directly informs historical landscape reconstruction and the purposive archaeological survey of a sample of sites documented by the 1838 Prince map. This survey considered the probable sites of Fort Cass (40BY44), Fort Foster (40BY38), Camp Worth (40BY40), and two of the Cherokee prisoner/emigrant encampments. Remote sensing survey of the Fort Cass (40BY44), Fort Foster (40BY38), and Camp Worth (40BY40) sites included a combination of ground penetrating radar (GPR) and magnetometry, but did not incorporate independent ground-truthing of identified geophysical anomalies. Geophysical surveys of the two Cherokee prisoner encampments were paired with both systematic and purposive metal detection survey intended to both ground-truth defined geophysical anomalies and to provide an independent gauge of occupation density, distribution, and chronology. The remote sensing survey examined a total of 11.85 hectares (29.28 acres) distributed across five probable site areas. The metal detection survey examined approximately 6.4 ha (15.8 acres) within two site areas. GPR survey at the Fort Cass site (40BY44) identified a large geophysical anomaly near the presumed center of the fort enclosure; testing of this anomaly was obviated by its location beneath a paved residential parking area. Gradiometry and GPR at the Fort Foster site (40BY38) identified a large, square subsurface anomaly that may correspond to one of the fort’s blockhouses; this anomaly was not tested. Gradiometry of the presumed Camp Worth site (40BY40) did not identify any interpretable anomalies clearly associated with the Removal-era site occupation, but did identify visible remnants of the former New Town Road, the 1838 roadway that linked the Cherokee Agency to Red Clay and New Echota. Gradiometry and GPR at the Chatata Creek Cherokee prisoner encampment locality covered approximately 1.73 ha (4.27 acres), but did not identify any substantial geophysical anomalies of cultural origin. Metal detection survey of this site area identified only twentieth century materials, and determined that the site area is substantially deflated.
Investigations at the Hiwassee River Cherokee prisoner encampment locality (40BY218) included gradiometry survey across 9.03 ha (22.31 acres), GPR survey covering .44 ha (1.1 acres), and metal detection survey covering 5.43 ha (13.4 acres). Geophysical survey identified a distinct linear road trace that extends along the length of the surveyed area; this road is provisionally identified as the 1838 route from the Cherokee Agency to the Federal Road near present-day Benton, TN. Metal detection survey along this roadway identified three clusters of early-mid nineteenth century metal artifacts in assemblages consistent with expectations for medium-term prisoner encampment occupations. These clusters of artifacts are interpreted as representing discrete camp loci within the larger group encampment.
This study concluded that much of the landscape depicted by Prince’s 1838 map remains readily recognizable, and that current land use patterns in the study area present conditions in which many cultural elements of the 1838 landscape likely survive as archaeological features and sites. The survey results also support use of remote sensing technologies, including gradiometry, GPR, and metal detection, as efficacious approaches for low impact discovery and definition of these archaeological resources, including ephemeral or temporary camp locations.