by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
The painting above by Georg Frederich Von Reck (1735) portrays three Creek Indians near Savannah. Note that they are wearing hand-woven clothing, not garments fabricated from European cloth. The Creeks were substantially taller than the English.
Since early December, I have been nerding away on a monumental task . . . a scientific etymology of all the surviving Native American words of the Southeastern United States. Most of the existing PUBLISHED etymologies for the Southeastern states are based primarily on folklore and are 80-100% inaccurate. Throughout December I labored away at lists for all the states south of the Ohio River, but then discovered that Georgia, Florida, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama (in that order) had far more than the other states. Georgia and Florida had the most.
The reason that I first took a regional perspective was that I hoped to find the cultural roots of the Cherokee People somewhere in the northern part of the Southeastern states . . . most likely in Kentucky, Virginia or West Virginia. There are surprisingly few Cherokee place names in the Southeast and five Native American place names in all of Kentucky. The authentic Cherokee words elsewhere are primarily limited to small streams or the former names of small streams . . . but only in some places. The Oconaluftee River, which flows through North Carolina Cherokee Reservation is a CREEK word, which means, “Oconee People – Massacred.”
The first map, drawn in the Southeast, to mention the Cherokees was produced by John and Richard Beresford in 1715. It showed them living primarily in the northeastern tip of Tennessee. All of the Tennessee River Basin was then occupied by the Creeks, Uchees and Chickasaws.
The latest map to mention the Cherokees elsewhere was published in 1649 and showed them living 650 miles to the northeast at a location east of Lake Ontario and north of the St. Lawrence River. French Colonial archives stated that the Cherokees (Charioquets) were vassals of the Tiononcatetaga. In 1649, the Tiononcatetaga foolishly became allies of the Hurons in a war with the Iroquois Confederacy.
The Iroquois catastrophically defeated this alliance . . . driving the surviving Hurons westward to Lake Huron and the remnants of the Tionocatetaga southwestward . . . ultimately to southern West Virginia. We can presume that the remnants of the Cherokees also settled in southern West Virginia, but there is no existing map with a similar name on it, until 1715.
Giving up on finding the linguistic vestiges of the Cherokees, I assumed that Georgia’s and Florida’s etymologies would be the easiest for me because they superficially appeared to be mostly Creek words, many of which I would know, without having to look them up in a dictionary. So I dived into the completion of Georgia’s Native American words first. That task turned out to include 452 words!
The translations have taken three months! The interpretations were not as expected. Many of the words were not in the Creek dictionaries or they were in dialects of Creek that no longer exist, so I had to “re-engineer” them from existing Creek words.
However, the biggest surprise was the sheer number of languages from which Georgia’s place names were derived. Ultimately, when tackling the origins and meanings of all the known or suspected Native American place names in Georgia, an extraordinarily large pile of dictionaries was required. The 26 dictionaries, in approximate rank of frequency, were: Itsate-Creek/Miccosukee, Muskogee-Creek, Apalache-Creek/Apalachicola, Itza Maya, Panoan (Peru), Chickasaw, Southern Arawak (Peru), Cherokee, Middle Arawak, Northern Arawak, Kanza (Kaw), Choctaw, Taino, Carib, Tupi, Shawnee, Koasati, Indo-European Cognates, Archaic Irish, Irish/Scottish Gaelic, Ofa-Biloxi, Mobilian, Yucatec Maya, Archaic Swedish, Gamla Norsk and Anglisk (Archaic English). Yes . . . Archaic English . . . one of the member tribes of the Creek Confederacy had a name that would have been easily understood by the Angles of southern Scandinavia, before they invaded the island of the Britannia. Astonishingly, these ancient Anglisk words have the same meaning in modern Muskogee-Creek!
The book on Georgia’s Native American words will be published in early April 2020. I have included a chapter containing a series of maps, which prove that the orthodox ethnic landscape of the Southeast, produced by most academicians and the US Department of the Interior, is well . . . malarkey. The book on Florida’s Native American words should be published by June 2020. Many of Florida’s Native American words can also be found on the landscape of Georgia.