by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
The most poignant petroglyph I have ever examined is not some mysterious symbol from thousands of years ago, but a plea for help from a Ashkenazi Jewish girl on a Georgia mountain trail, which at that time would have been about 250 miles from the nearest British settlement. It is on Boulder Four of the famous Track Rock Gap petroglyphs . . . the largest collection of rock art in the eastern United States.
For two centuries, the letters, Liube 1715, have been ignored by tourists, artists, archaeologists . . . even the US Forest Service, which has stewardship over the site. If noticed at all, the letters probably were quickly dissed as Colonial Period graffiti. Indeed, the official archaeological report on Track Rock Gap, commissioned by the US Forest Service in 2000, labeled ALL the symbols at Track Rock Gap as “graffiti carved by bored Cherokee hunters.” Of course, that is horse manure because Track Rock Gap was officially in the territory of the Creek Confederacy until 1785 and nearby was a palisaded Upper Creek garrison town at the confluence of Coosa Creek and the Nottely River to enforce that border. Yet, these letters are another story . . . different than most of the symbols at Track Rock Gap.
When I was filmed by a crew from the History Channel in the summer of 2012, I really did not understand the significance of the Track Rock petroglyphs. I knew that there were four Itza Maya glyphs on Boulder Six and that was good enough for me. Even the next year, when I was filmed by the PBS, BBC, Univision, RTE (Ireland) and Sveriges Television (Sweden) . . . I knew nothing more about the petroglyphs in Georgia.
From the beginning, though, I had been intrigued by the letters, Liube 1715. You see, in Sweden I had been a platonic friend of Danish architect, Astrid Liubehusen. She said that the “Liube” part was Ashkenazi Jewish and meant “love.” Literally, her name meant “The Love House.” I used to kid her about being born in the Nyhamn section of Copenhagen, which is notorious for its “special” establishments with picture windows . . . also known as elskehusser or “love houses.” She chided back that “No, Liube was a name that a rabbi often gave his first born daughter.”
Okay . . . but what was a Jewish girl, perhaps a rabbi’s daughter, who obviously was not fully educated in how to write letters, doing in the Georgia wilderness in 1715? The Colony of Georgia would not be founded until 1733. There were two trading posts near present-day Macon, GA and one near Columbus, GA. The only official white settlement in what was to be Georgia was at Fort King George. It was at the mouth of the newly renamed* Altamaha River, 320 miles away. However, the situation was far more dire than a matter of sheer distance.
*Until 1722, all European maps labeled the Altamaha River in Georgia, the May River. South Carolina changed the name on the 1722 Barnwell Map to assert its claim to what the French labeled Florida Française or French Florida. French Florida is now the State of Georgia and the southern edge of South Carolina. You won’t be told that at the Fort Caroline National Memorial in Jacksonville, FL!
The year 1715 was one of the bloodiest years in North American Colonial history. Beginning in 1706, the French began implementing the Le Moyne Plan. It involved the construction of forts within Native American territory along the frontier of the British colonies. From Fort Conde’ in Mobile, Fort Toulouse on the Alabama River and a fort on Bussell Island in the Tennessee River near present-day Lenoir, TN, French agents went out with gifts and promises to the major Native American tribes.
A smallpox epidemic in 1696 had killed many, many thousands of indigenous people within the interior of the Southeast, The surviving Native Americans were increasingly outraged by the Native American slave trade and dishonest traders, based in the Carolinas. Vast areas of the Southeast, including most of Florida, had been depopulated by slave raids. Cherokee slave raiders were now having to travel as far as the southern tip of Florida, Lake Erie and the Mississippi River to find victims. Individual Native American villages were racking up huge debts with traders, which could only be paid off by making raids on other tribes. Several tribes, such as the Yamasee, had killed off most of the deer in their territory in order to obtain hides, thus they were deprived of venison, their traditional source of protein.
The French agents promised that if all the major tribes would launch simultaneous attacks on the southern British colonies, they would be furnished firearms and munitions. The goal was to exterminate the British population or at least drive the survivors into the sea. Both the French and the Spanish assumed that once South Carolina was invaded there would be a slave uprising. Sixty percent of the total population of South Carolina was either African or Native American slaves.
This is an entirely different scenario than the Indian wars in the West. It was not a case of a massive swarm of white settlers overwhelmingly outnumbering the beleaguered Indian tribes. Individually, The Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek and Cherokee peoples could individually field much larger armies than the approximately 3,000 white males in South Carolina. However, none of these ethnic groups had central governments. The Creek’s Kingdom of Apalache had been wiped out by the 1796 smallpox plague. Individual towns decided whether or not to go to war. Many didn’t. Some entire tribes in South Carolina elected to stay loyal to the British. Otherwise, either the Creeks or the Cherokees could have easily devoured South Carolina like a swarm of locusts.
On the evening of April 14, 1715, several official agents of the Colony of South Carolina were seized at a diplomatic meeting in the Yamasee town of Pocateligo then tortured to death. That was the signal for tribes throughout the Southeast to kill the British traders in their territories. Within a few days, 90% of the British subjects within the interior of the Southeast were murdered. By the end of the Yamasee War, 7% of the adult white males in South Carolina had been killed.
The Le Moyne Plan almost succeeded. There was a point in late 1715 in which terrified surviving whites were huddled in a few Carolina coastal towns, waiting to be massacred. Two things happened, which eventually caused the British colonist to prevail.
The most important factor was that the French and Spanish proved incapable of supplying sufficient firearms, lead balls and gunpowder to maintain the broad Native American attack on South and North Carolina. The invading Native armies ran out of munitions and food, then found themselves fighting muskets with spears and quickly assembled bows & arrows.
Secondly, the Cherokee abruptly changed sides. A meeting was held in December 1715 at the neutral Uchee village of Tugaloo between leaders of the Cherokee and Creek towns. A Cherokee conjurer recorded in Carolina archives as Charate Haggi*, persuaded the Cherokees to kill all the Creek leaders in their sleep and then offer an alliance with Great Britain. When a 2000 man army of Creeks learned that a smaller army of Cherokee were heading south to aid the Carolina colonists, it turned around and took the midnight train to Jawja. The Cherokees were fully supplied with gunpowder and guns. The French had never delivered the weapons and powder that they had promised to the Creeks.
*Charate is the Itsate Creek word meaning Splinter People. Haggi is the Middle Eastern and Cherokee word for a conjurer of the demons in sacred fires. I have figured out that Lower Cherokee was actually a dialect of Itsate Creek and would be incomprehensible to a modern Cherokee speaker.
Getting back to Liube
Without a time machine, one can never know who Liube was and what exact situation she was in. I checked and South Carolina censuses at that time only recorded the name of the white male head of household. If Liube’s parents were living on the frontier or at a trading post, they would not have even been listed by the British headcount. We do know, however, that in 1715 Track Rock Gap was on the Great White Path, a road built by the King of Apalache in Northeast Georgia to connect the Smoky Mountains to the Gulf of Mexico. She was traveling somewhere . . . whether willingly or not.
One scenario is that it is mid-April 1715 and Liube’s parents have just learned about the widespread murders of British subjects in the Southeast. They are racing southward on the Great White Path to reach mixed-blood Sephardic Jewish villages near the Nacoochee Valley, which will give them some protection from the Indian war parties. Perhaps they camped for the night at the spring on Track Rock Gap. Liube carved her name on a nearby boulder.
The other scenario is far less pleasant. It is mid-April 1715 and Liube’s parents have been killed by a war party. Being either a child or adolescent, her life was spared. She is now a slave. She will either be kept around as a laborer to do domestic chores or if old enough, a concubine for some warrior. Liube hopes that some of her relatives or neighbors survived and will come to rescue her. She carves her name and date on the boulder to let any rescuers know that she is still alive. Was she ever rescued or was she ultimately killed? Did she become the Jewish ancestor of some modern Creek, Cherokee, Uchee or Shawnee descendants today? We will probably never know.
About the other petroglyphs at Track Rock Gap
In the months prior to moving into this house in the Nacoochee Valley in May 2018, I was able to empty out my rental storage bin, which included a box containing thousands of color slides. They included slides that I had taken while working in Sweden, some of which were of Swedish Bronze Age petroglyphs. They reminded me that most of the petroglyphs near Landskrona, Sweden, where I lived, were identical to Uchee and Creek sacred symbols here in the Southeastern United States.
I began to study the Georgia petroglyphs more systematically and was astonished to discover that most were identical to those in either southwestern Ireland or southern Sweden . . . depending on which Georgia river basin they were in.
As for the Track Rock petroglyphs, almost all of those symbols can be found on the Nyköping, Sweden petroglyphs, which have been dated to 2000 BC! Two out of the four Itza Maya symbols on Boulder Six at Track Rock Gap can also be found at Nyköping. That means that the origin of the Maya writing system are symbols used in Southern Sweden 4,000 years ago. Life is indeed a box of chocolates.