Native American history is an evolving field and new discoveries continue to alter and improve long-held narratives. While they may seem contradictory, I have linked various sources in this post, to show the changing scholarship. I encourage you to visit them for more information.
Tomochichi (c.1644-1739) was the mico, or chief, of the Yamacraw Indians at the time of the colonization of Georgia by James Oglethorpe in 1733. His cooperation with the British made the creation of modern Georgia possible. In 1735, he accompanied Oglethorpe to England to report on the progress of the colony and was received as an ally and representative of all native people of the colony.
Tomochichi was already an old man when Georgia was colonized and he died on 5 February 1739. His life was honored by a British military funeral and his grave was marked with a pyramid of stones collected nearby. The first memorial was removed in the 1880s and replaced by this large boulder of Georgia granite, placed near the original gravesite in Wright Square by the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames in 1899.
Rock Eagle is often cited as one of the great wonders of Georgia, yet it remains largely a mystery. Irby Hudson Scott acquired the land after the 1802 treaty with the Creek Indians and his family never farmed the area near the effigy, before selling it to the federal government in 1938. The first known published reference to the mound was made in 1854 by Reverend George White in his Historical Collections of Georgia. In the 1878 Annual Report of the Smithsonian Institution, C. C. Jones referred to it as the Scott Eagle Mound, in a detailed description of his research at the site. The most recent scholarship places construction of the site at 1500-500 years ago, but dating a place like this is an evolving process. There isn’t even agreement that it’s an eagle. Some have suggested that it represents a vulture. The image of a bird with open wings has been found on many Mississippian artifacts, religious objects, and petroglyphs, and while Rock Eagle is likely of the Woodland period, the influence continued.
Another large bird effigy mound consisting of milky white quartz, known as Rock Hawk, is located nearby. A third effigy mound, known as the Pressley [Presley] Mound or Mound No. 3, was identified on a map of these sites made by C. C. Jones in the 1870s. Now lost to insensitive excavation, it was located on the Eatonton-Godfrey Road.
In June 1940, the Georgia Society of Colonial Dames of the XVII Century erected a bronze plaque on a slab of Georgia granite, between the parking lot and the effigy. It reads: Rock Eagle Mound – Mound of Prehistoric Origin. Believed to be Ceremonial Mound. Made with white quartz rocks in the shape of an eagle. Head turned to east. Length 102 feet. Spread of wings 120 feet. Depth of breast 8 feet. Only two such configurations discovered East of the Mississippi River. Both in Putnam County. “Tread softly here white man, for long ere you came, strange races lived, fought and loved.”
In 1936, Works Progress Administration archaeologist Martin Cromer dug exploratory trenches around the mound and found little more than pottery shards and daub. At the time, Rock Eagle was likely in a condition similar to present-day Rock Hawk. By 1938, Cromer restored the effigy to measurements and specifications made by C. C. Jones in 1877.
The tower is a landmark unto itself. Along with the parking lot, fence, and walkway, it was built in 1938.
Some of the most important excavations done at the site were completed in 1954 by Dr. Vincenzo Petrullo and Dr. A. R. Kelly, who recovered burned and unburned human and animal remains, as well as a single quartz point. This research suggested evidence of a prehistoric presence at the site, but unfortunately, the artifacts are lost today.
The Rock Eagle 4-H Center opened in 1955, and has undoubtedly hosted tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of students over its 70 year history.
As a ceremonial site, Rock Eagle is sacred to Native Americans. The University of Georgia is committed to its perpetual preservation and it is open year-round and with no admission cost. The surrounding property is some of the most beautiful and unspoiled in the region.
The tiny sliver of land visible on the horizon in this image is Creighton Island, a wonderfully obscure place on the McIntosh County coast.
The abridged sketch which follows, archived from an older website, was written by Jeannine Cook and details the island’s fascinating history.
Creighton Island is a privately-owned, inner barrier island in McIntosh County… It was formed by aeons of rising and falling ocean levels combined with ever-changing deposits of sand ridges. The roughly 1,100 acres of high ground on Creighton date mainly from the Pleistocene era (40,000 B.C.), but are still being shaped afresh by wind, waves, tides and storms. Today, the island is roughly 2 1/2 miles long and a mile wide.
Creighton bears testimony to human activities during at least the last 3,500-4000 years. Archaeologist Clarence B. Moore uncovered important funerary materials – urns, stone and copper chisels, hatchets…- on Creighton’s north end in 1896-97. It is said that the Guale Indians considered the north end of the Island as a very sacred burial ground. Later, it is possible that the first European colony on the eastern seaboard of North America, San Miguel de Gualdape, took brief root on Creighton in 1526 when Lucas Vazquez de Ayllon tried to establish 600 Spanish and African settlers on this coast. By 1756, Daniel Demetre had acquired “John Smith’s Island”, as Creighton was then designated. In the 1770s, William DeBrahm, Surveyor General to King George III, noted the existence of unexplainable entrenchments and ruins on the Island. The mysteries DeBrahm created about Creighton have lingered to this day.
The Island acquired its present name from its 1778 owner, Alexander Creighton, a Savannah businessman. Timbering and farming (especially cotton, sugar cane and corn) were important activities, despite occasional devastating hurricanes…Thomas Spalding worked with his son-in-law, William Cooke, owner of Creighton after 1838, and during that period, tabby dwellings were built at the north end. Their vestiges remain today. Freed slaves, based at the north end, remained on the Island after the Civil War. The north end was also a focus of important timber-loading facilities for large ships at the “Sapelo port” in 1880-98, complete with US post office and telegraph lines connecting Creighton to Darien. The 1898 hurricane destroyed these port facilities; they were rebuilt but by 1910, the timber boom era in McIntosh County had finally ended. In 1947, Creighton Island was acquired by the present owners…
…The Island’s long, diverse history combines with great natural beauty to represent a unique microcosm of Georgia’s coast. Today’s owners deeply respect the environmental importance of their island sanctuary…
Known locally as “The Boils”, this natural Eden is an oxbow of House Creek, a tributary of the Ocmulgee River near the Wilcox-Ben Hill County line, which has been protected by the Fuller family for the better part of two centuries. There are several other well-known boils in this area, including Oscewicee [pronounced ossi-witchy] Springs and Lake Wilco. None of these are open or accessible to the public, though Oscewicee Springs once was. Elizabeth Sizemore recalls another site north of The Boils, Poor Robin Springs near Abbeville.
In South Georgia, the term “boils” is commonly used to describe natural springs found in creeks, rivers, oxbows, and swamps. Water rises rapidly from an underground fissure and appears to be bubbling or boiling. With an average temperature of 68-70°F year-round, unaffected by the air temperature, they are warm in winter and famously cold in summer.
Native Americans would have been the first humans to appreciate these mystical places, using them in much the same ways we use them today. They were likely sacred to the tribes who knew them, both for their beauty and their unique qualities when compared to other aspects of the nearby terrain.
One of their most appealing features is the clear water which gives them a blue appearance, looking more like a tropical sea than a Coastal Plains swamp. Since tea-colored or muddy waters are the norm in these parts, they really stand out. I have treasured memories of swimming in these places as a young man, especially on holidays when we’d float watermelons near the sides to keep them cool.
In the 1940s, biologist Brooke Meanley did fieldwork here, some of which eventually appeared in his book, Swamps, River Bottoms & Canebrakes. Local farmer and naturalist Milton Hopkins and renowned woodcarver C. M. Copeland were also regular visitors for many years, welcomed enthusiastically by “Uncle Guy” Fuller. Hopkins made detailed observations on local birdlife and C. M. Copeland ventured into the surrounding swamps and collected cypress knees to use in his carvings.
The site was documented by David Stanley for the American Folklife Center circa 1977, as well. Some of his notes and images can be found in the Library of Congress.
I’m grateful to Ken Fuller for allowing me to photograph this incredibly special place and to share it with you. My father and I really enjoyed our last visit here, as we do all our visits with Ken and family.
We saw some amazing trees.
This view from the House Creek “side” of The Boils, along with Ken’s lifelong memories of the place, was ample reward for our hike.
[This replaces a post by the same title originally published on 19 February 2019.]
James Vann (1765, or,1768-1809) was the son of a Cherokee mother, Wa-wli, and Scottish father, Clement Vann. By 1800 he became a principal leader of the Cherokee, due to his wealth and influence as a planter, tavern keeper, trading post operator, and general entrepreneur. In fact, he was thought to be the wealthiest of all Cherokee.
This home, the first of brick construction in the Cherokee nation, was built between 1804-1806. It served as the seat of James Vann’s extensive plantation on Diamond Hill. It was called the “Showplace of the Cherokee Nation”. Its success was dependent upon the labor of over 100 enslaved people, who were housed in 42 dwellings on the property. Vann was known to be quite cruel to his slaves, or to tolerate cruelty among his overseers, and this is rightfully reinforced through interpretation at the property today. Sometimes described as a “hard drinking business man”, he nonetheless encouraged cultural and educational opportunities for the Cherokee, through his assistance in the establishment of the Moravian mission and school at Spring Place. James Vann was murdered in 1809, presumably as retaliation for killing his brother-in-law in a duel the previous year. He left his home and property to his son Joseph (often referred to as Rich Joe). Joseph was also a Cherokee chieftain. An overnight visit by President James Monroe, traveling from Augusta to Nashville in 1819, was indicative of the prominence of the family and the quality of the house.
It is believed that a man named Vogt [possibly James Vann’s brother-in-law Charles Vogt] and Dr. Henry Chandlee Forman were involved in the construction of the house.
Diaries of Moravian missionaries at Spring Place indicate that Byhan and Martin Schneider were also instrumental in the construction. It incorporates both Federal and Georgian design elements.
A Moravian settler named Robert Henry Howell is believed to have been the brick mason. The stylish interior elements were added during the ownership of Joseph (Rich Joe) Vann and may have been the work of John and James McCartney. Further documentation of this is needed.
After the Cherokee were driven west on the Trail of Tears, the house was sold and over the next century would have 17 different owners.
By the time Dr. J. E. Bradford, who had purchased the home in 1920, sold it to the Georgia Historical Commission in 1952, it was in a state of serious disrepair.
An historically accurate restoration of the interior began in 1958 and was completed circa 1964.
The Slave Experience at the Chief Vann House
The historic site uses three-dimensional models and the words of Moravian missionaries to interpret the slave experience at the Vann House. North Georgia was not a stronghold of slavery, so the example of the Vann plantation is exceptional. The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story by Tiya Miles, focuses on this subject, and incorporates previously overlooked primary sources.
While the kitchen is very stylized and includes typical interpretive aids related to work, it stands out for the figures representing specific slaves who lived on the property along with brief anecdotes about their lives. The Moravian missionaries wrote in the their mission journal on 25 November 1810: “...a person named Patience caused us to feel much pity. She arrived in Charleston with some other Africans some years ago in the wintertime and afterward came to Vann’s plantation barefooted. She lost both of her feet because of the frost and now has to scoot on her knees…”
Though the Moravians frowned upon individual members owning slaves, the church could purchase and assign them to missionary families as needed, and their views were ultimately aligned with those of other whites of the time. A middle-aged woman named Pleasant (1758?-1838) was purchased in April 1805 by the Home Church in Salem, North Carolina, and came to Spring Place to serve the missionary couple John and Anna Gambold. She was pregnant at the time. On 21 December 1805 Christian Lewis Benzien wrote to the Unity Elders Conference of the Moravian Church: On Sept. 29 on the way to Spring Place [Pleasant] gave birth to a mulatto infant which was baptized in Spring Place on October 20 with the name Michael…“
Michael was given the honor of learning to read and often read the Bible to the Cherokee children at the Moravian school and was highly regarded by his owners, but typical of teenagers, he grew restless. In 1819, at the age of 14, he ran away from the Gambolds and when captured was sold away from Pleasant.
Reconstructed Historic Structures of Chief Vann House State Historic Site
To illustrate the contemporary vernacular architecture that would have been present on the Vann property, the Georgia State Parks division has reconstructed representative structures from the area, and built at least one from the ground up [kitchen], for this purpose.
The vernacular architectural forms and the use of available material are representative not only of the Cherokee of the area but of the increasing numbers of white settlers, as well.
This single-pen log house was originally located on Dunbean Hill on the Old Federal Road between Jasper and Tate. Dunbean Hill was named for Charles “Tsali” Dunbean, a Cherokee who was forced to relocate to Oklahoma in 1838 during the Cherokee Removal. It is thought that he was the builder of the cabin, which would likely date it in its original form to the mid-1830s. The Dunbean Hill property was purchased in 1862 by Stephen Kirby who established the first school in Pickens County, known as Kirby Academy. Around 1870, Kirby expanded the cabin to accommodate his growing family.
Former Congressman Ed Jenkins discovered the log cabin among the ruins of a burned out house on Dunbean Hill and gave the remains to Tom Quinton, a Jasper County Middle School teacher, who restored it for future use as an educational site. After Quinton’s death, the cabin was moved to this location.
Nice views of Settingdown Creek, an historic tributary of the Etowah River can be had from Poole’s Mill Park. The name of the creek is officially Settingdown, but variants over time include Settendown [most commonly], and Sitting Down. In his landmark book, Georgia Place Names, Kenneth Krakow wrote: [It] was called this because [Chief Setten Down] allowed some of the white settlers to “set down” and live peaceablynear his village. The village called Settendown was located on this stream, four miles northwest of Cumming.
Little is known of the creek’s Cherokee namesake, Chief Setten Down. According to the book Cry of the Eagle: History and Legends of the Cherokee Indians and their Buried Treasure by Forest C. Wade: He had a home on the south side of Settendown Creek in the present Matt community about one mile from Matt on the Matt and Cumming Highway. The chief was named after the creek on which he lived. Chief Settendown had three sons. Two were named Nickel and Tassel Sucker, and the name of the third is yet to be discovered by the author…The chief and his group were one of the many small tribes that comprised the whole of the Hightower Indians.
Shaking Rock Park is a fascinating natural area located within the city limits of Lexington that is named for a 27-ton rock that could be shaken with one hand while remaining in place, before the elements shifted its balance [likely the 1886 Charleston earthquake]. It still maintains a precarious perch albeit aided today by some sort of mortar.
The random field of mostly egg-shaped granite boulders comes into view at the crest of a fairly low hill and defines the trail to come. It’s a fairly easy walk and other than the presence of large roots in places, has few obstacles.
Archaeological evidence suggests that before European habitation, the site was used by Cherokee and Creek peoples as a campground.
In 1968, Shaking Rock became a public park thanks to the efforts of the Lexington Women’s Club.
Judge Hamilton McWhorter was the last private owner, and three of his heirs, Mrs. Andrew Cobb Erwin, Mrs. Sallie McWhorter, and Thurmond McWhorter, made the public transfer possible.
Depending on where one stands, the namesake rock’s appearance can vary greatly. Unfortunately, there seems to be a problem with graffiti at the site.
Shaking Rock Park is an excellent natural resource and is free to explore.
This structure, built of local stone by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, marks the entrance to the limestone cave which gives the community its name. Two million gallons flow daily from the source, which has been a landmark since long before the establishment of the town in 1832.
In 1931 Dr. J. B. Rolater deeded the cave and 29 adjacent acres to the people of Cave Spring for use as a public park. In the early days local residents were allowed to tour the cave for free, while tourists were charged ten cents.
Rolater Park Historic District, National Register of Historic Places