Part Seven of the Forgotten Peoples of the Southern Highlands
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Maps drawn in France during the last third of the 17th century and early displayed Pays du Cofache (or Cofachete) in present-day Northeast Georgia, North-Central Georgia and the adjacent region around Franklin, Murphy, Brevard and Canton, North Carolina. “Pays” means “country or nation” in English. Bet you never heard of them, unless you have read “The Apalache Chronicles” by Marilyn Rae et moi.
Like so many other inconvenient details of Colonial Era maps, the ethnic names, Cofache and Cofachete, have been ignored by 20th and early 21st century historians and anthropologists. In fact, I have only seen it mentioned once. A University of North Carolina-Asheville anthropology professor, listed it along with several other Creek words found on the North/South Carolina landscape as “former names of the Cherokees.” Of course, it never dawned on any academician to translate the word!
In the 1500s, their region was occupied by Muskogee speaking Creeks, visited by Hernando de Soto and Juan Pardo. However, by 1703, the map shows the the Muskogee-speakers, such as the Cowetas (blue line) living elsewhere. By then, the primitive Chalaque (magenta line) had moved to east-central Georgia. Google the word and the algorithms give you adds for sandals and articles about the Comanche Indians. Who exactly were they . . . or are they?
- Cofa in Creek, means “scrambled, mixed in a circular pattern or mixed (people). Of course, it also could be a proper noun (ethnic name) in another language.
- Cofaqui is the Europeanization of the Muskogee-Creek word, Kofvke, which means “Mixed People.”
- Cofachi is the Europeanization of the Itstate/Apalache-Creek word Kofasi, pronounced Kō : fä : tshē. The equivalent Muskogee Creek word is Kvfahsi. Literally, it means “scrambled-descendants of.” It could mean “Cofa – colony of,” but also is a Creek term, when multiple, distinctly different peoples or races mixed together into a hybrid people.
- Kofitvsiki (Cofitachequi) means “Mixed race people – descendants of – people” in Muskogee-Creek.
The town name, Cofaqui, appears in the De Soto Chronicles as a large, capital town between Ocute and Patofa in present-day Georgia, where the conquistadors stayed briefly. The town name Cofitachequi appears in the De Soto as a large town in eastern South Carolina, probably on the Santee River.
The chronicles state that after departing Ocute on April 12, 1540, the De Soto Expedition traveled in an ESE direction toward the sunrise, with the intent of eventually reaching Cofitachequi. The chronicles do not say which day that the Spaniards passed through Cofaqui on the way to Patofa. . . only that it was approximately 50 Spanish leagues (130 miles~ 209 km) between Ocute and Patofa. Patofa was apparently a large town on the Savannah River, south of Augusta.
Location: The most likely location of the large town of Cofaqui is somewhere along the Upper Ogeechee River. The line between Ocute and Patofa passes through Taliaferro County, GA. Unfortunately, there has never been an archaeological survey of the Ogeechee River Basin because Georgia archaeologists think that there are no major “mound centers” on the river. Unfortunately, the grave robbers do know where these mounds are. Grave artifacts from the Ogeechee River Basin, including sometimes human skulls, frequently appear for sale at flea markets around the Southeast.
In 2006, some Georgia Creeks, living in Middle Georgia, traced one batch of grave artifacts to a large archaeological zone, apparently unknown to archaeologists, on the Ogeechee River at the extreme western edge of Taliaferro County. We informed the State Historic Preservation Office, but no action was taken. Google satellite maps reveal that there is extensive digging going on at several of the mounds in this town site.
The tribal name, Cofachi, appears on many French maps and some English maps in the late 1600s and early 1700s. It is always placed north of the (real) Apalache in present day northeast Georgia and extends into the region of the North Carolina Mountains, roughly bounded by the cities/towns of Murphy, Franklin, Asheville. Hendersonville, Brevard and Saluda.
Who were the Kofake (Cofaqui)?
Fifteen years ago, when I began trying to translate the meanings of Native American words on the Southeast’s landscape, I assumed that since they are essentially the same Europeanized words, Cofache, Cofaqui and Cofitachequi were the same “tribe.”
Over time, closer examination the Colonial Period maps, I realized that Cofaqui and Cofitachequi appeared on European maps after Luis Hernandez de Biedma’s 1544 report to the King of Spain on the De Soto Expedition. Cofaqui was always placed east of Ocute and in East-central Georgia. Cofitachequi was always placed in the Santee River Basin in present-day South Carolina.
Initially, the town of Cofitachequi was near the coast, but by the time Charleston was settled in 1670, it was near present-day Camden, SC. It disappeared from the maps about 10 years later, probably due to European-sponsored slave raids or European diseases. Cofaqui disappeared from the maps about the same time. It was dangerously close to where the Rickohockens established their new base (Augusta, GA).
When English planter, Richard Brigstock, spent most of 1653 as a guest of the Paracusati (High King) of the Kingdom of Apalache, he reported that region around the present-day Macon, GA, northward to present-day Atlanta, was the Province of Bemarin. [See The Apalache Chronicles by Marilyn Rae and Richard Thornton]
Marilyn and I thought it was odd that a proto-Creek province would have a French Sephardic Jewish family name. She was intrigued, because she had always thought herself to be part Cherokee, but her Native DNA was Florida Apalachee and she had as much Sephardic Jewish DNA as her former husband . . . a practicing Sephardic Jew!
This became even more odd, when two years later, I read the original transcript of High King Chikili’s speech to the leaders of Savannah. He said that Palache meant the same as Coweta. “Either name for his branch of the Creeks was fine.” Palache is an Iberian Jewish family name!
This was the homeland of the Coweta Creeks 50 years later. By then, colonists had shortened the word to Brim . . . hence the name of the High King of the Creek Confederacy, Emperor Brim. The Creeks changed their tribal name from Apalache to Maskoki in the late 1740s, when Malachi became High King. Malachi is a Hebrew first name.
That evidence finally enabled me to translate Maskoki. It is the Ladino (Spanish Sephardic) word for mixed people (masko) combined with the Muskogee suffix for people (ke). Thus, Muskogee (Maskoki) is a direct translation of Cofaqui (Kofaki). They both mean “mixed people.” It is an appropriate name for the Creek Confederacy.
Who were the Cofache People?
We go back to the expedition of Richard Brigstock to present-day Georgia in 1653 . . . as told by natural scientist Charles de Rochefort in ten chapters of his 1658 book, Histoire naturelle et morale des iles Antilles de l’Amérique. The Apalache Chronicles is an annotated English translation of those ten chapters. Two of those chapters are actually on the Cofachite. However, De Rochefort describes them as a mixed-race people, who originated on the South Atlantic Coast, but migrated around the Southeast. They eventually settled on the periphery of the Kingdom of Apalache.
That description seems to apply to Cofaqui and Cofitachequi. They are the ancestors of the Muskogee-speaking Creeks. While doing the research for The Native American Encyclopedia of Georgia, I found that there are many Gaelic, Proto-Scandinavian, Illyrian and Latin root words in Muskogee, plus the many, many words from southern Mexico. It is essentially an Archaic hybrid European language that absorbed much vocabulary and grammar from the Americas.
There is other information in those 10 chapters, which suggests that the “Pays de Cofache” (Nation of Mixed People) in the Southern Highlands describes people much more recently mixed. Richard Brigstock told Charles de Rochefort that after the High King of Apalache allowed six refugees from Fort Caroline to settle in his realm, he began allowing other Protestant and Jewish Europeans of good character to also live in his kingdom. The two conditions were that all single adults had to marry Native American spouses and that the men had to join Apalache soldiers in the defense of the kingdom.
In 1653, the King of Apalache had just allowed Englishmen from Virginia to settle in present-day Northeast Tennessee. In addition, to the large number of Sephardic Jews already living there, he viewed the Englishmen as a barrier against raids by Northern Indians. These Jewish and English settlers are not mentioned at all in the Tennessee State History book.
In 1646, the King of Apalache even made peace with Spain. He allowed Governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla to build a road from St. Augustine to the Nacoochee Valley in Northeast Georgia. He was also allowed to construct a fortified trading post and small Roman Catholic mission in the valley. With LIDAR and infrared imagery, in 2017, I found the probable footprint of the Spanish fort and mission. It is located in the pasture of Chattahoochee Stables in Sautee, GA.
Asturian and Portuguese miners were allowed to immigrate to the region . . . again with the requirement that they take Apalache (Creek) wives. The black haired, tanned skin offspring of these miners would have looked little different than most Creeks and Seminoles today.
Brigstock spent several weeks with a colony of Spanish-speaking gem miners in the Rabun Gap, GA-Franklin, NC area.
Eye-witness accounts left out of mainstream history books
There are many accounts of Spanish, French and Dutch-speaking settlers living in northern Georgia and the Southern Highlands. Late 20th century history text writers purged this information, because it meant that the region was NOT inhabited by the Cherokees at that time.
During 1673-1674, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur journeyed from northeastern Virginia to the land of the Tamahiti (Tomahitans in English) to establish trade relations. The Tamahiti were a Creek tribe from southeastern Georgia, with a pure Itza Maya name. In their journal, they mentioned on several occasions meeting Spanish or Portuguese travelers on the trails.
In 1693, Carolina Governor James Moore led a party of Redcoat cavalry with Indian guides into what is now Northeast Georgia, but was then part of Carolina. As the party entered the eastern end of the Nacoochee Valley, where I live, they noticed numerous plumes of smoking rising up in the valley. The Indian guides that the smoke was from gold smelters being fired by Spanish miners and their Apalache laborers. Realizing that they were greatly outnumbered, they beat a hasty retreat. Actually, at the time, Spain was an ally of England and Scotland in the Nine Years War.
In 1745, the Cherokees entered for the first time, the Tuckasegee River Valley, where Sylva, NC is now located. They encountered “white men” with skin the color of Indians, black hair and long beards. These people lived in log houses with arched windows and “worshiped a book.” In 2004, Dr. Brent Kennedy and I explored the Sylva Area and were fairly certain that we found the ruins of one of these bearded white Indian villages. Brent was a history professor in Wise, VA, who was best known for his research on the Melungeons.
In 1780 and 1781, Col. John Tipton, the builder of my former house in the Shenandoah Valley, and Captain John Sevier, took parties of settlers from Shenandoah County to what was to become Northeast Tennessee. At several locations in SW Virginia and NE Tennessee, they passed through “ancient” villages, occupied by Spanish-speaking Jews.
During the early 1830s, gold miners in the Nacoochee Valley exposed the timber ruins of villages of European-style houses, containing typical 16th and 17th century European artifacts, especially, Spanish-style gold mining tools. These tools were mentioned along with a drawing of a Spanish gold smelting retort on the official map of the Georgia Gold Belt, produced by the US Congress in 1832.
Forster A. Sondley opens his book, A History of Asheville and Buncombe County , by matter-of-factly stating that during the 1600s, there were Spanish-speaking silver miners in western North Carolina and Spanish-speaking gem miners in the Toe River Valley, north of Asheville. Of course, these locations are in the exact same region that Guillaume de L’Isle denote the “Pays de Cofache.” He states that they were there before Cherokee arrived. This information is left out the North Carolina State History text. It instead states that only the Cherokee lived in the mountains prior to the 1800s.
Several people living near my home in the eastern Nacoochee Valley have come to me in the past four years, telling the same story. They were from “old” families, who always thought they were Cherokee descendants. After paying for DNA tests, they learned that they had no North American Indian heritage, but lots of Asturian, Portuguese or Sephardic Jewish DNA markers.
Then there is my mother’s family, who lived on the Upper Savannah River. We carry no DNA typical of North American Indians, but a significant percentage of DNA typical of the Natives of southern Mexico and eastern Peru. We also carry Sami and Finnish DNA markers, typical of the Uchee People. However, we also carry Basque and Iberian DNA. Where did that come from?
Well, it is fairly obvious. The term Cofache refers to a very large population of Native American-European hybrids, who were living in the Southern Highlands in the late 1600s and early 1700s.
Now you know!