Part 8 of the Forgotten People of the Southern Highlands
by Richard Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Elate, Elasi, Elachee, Ellijay, Cartacay, Echote, Yuhawle (Euharlee), Bohurons, Chickasaw, Satilecoa, Enotaw (Enota), Chestatee, Choestoe, Sutale, Notale, Taesnate (Tesnatee), Nocose, Sawte, Chote, Hontawesi, Hontaweke, Toccoa, Nukonahiti, Amicalola, Colasee, Cussataw, Alekmanni, Tokale, Apalache, Wahache, Tamacoa, Thamacoggan, Wassaw . . . where did these place names come from?
Has anyone ever met someone in Northeast Georgia or northwestern South Carolina, claiming to be Cherokee, whose DNA test found even a drop of Cherokee DNA? Creek DNA shows up as Mesoamerican and South American DNA markers.
Elate is an Itsate Creek word, which means “Foothill People.” It refers to a confederacy of remnant Creek tribes, mostly from Southeast Georgia and western South Carolina, who settled in the territory of the Highland Apalache (Northeast Georgia) during the 1600s, but kept their separate identity until the Treaty of Augusta in 1784. Most were the descendants of intermarriage between 17th century European gold miners in present-day Northeast Georgia and members of these remnant tribes.
Elasi is an Itsate Creek word, meaning “Foothill People, Descendants of.” Being that the Itsate were descended from Itza Mayas, the word is correctly pronounced, Ĕ : lä : jzhē.
Elljay is the Anglicization of the Hispanization of the Itsate Creek word, Elasi. It was the name of a Spanish-speaking mixed-blood Creek tribe in present day Gilmer County, GA. They also had a village in SE Tennessee. Most of the Ellijay moved to southern Florida, where they joined the Seminole Alliance. They continued to speak Spanish until the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Elachee is the Anglicization of Elasi.
What the history books say
We are told by history books and archaeologists that the Georgia Mountains composed an uninhabited no-man’s land until after the American Revolution. That is not true. I found several accounts by Indian traders and government officials that mentioned thriving villages in the region. Their names were either Itsate Creek or from a language that was neither Muskogean nor Cherokee.
In his History of the Cherokee People (1826) Cherokee principal chief Charles Hicks stated that the Cherokees never lived in Georgia or south of the Hiwassee River until after the American Revolution. Hicks also stated that he lived in Georgia most of his life, except during a period in his teens, when he lived with white relatives in South Carolina. The reason was that his father owned a trading post on the south side of the Hiwassee River. Most of Hick’s younger brothers and sisters chose to live as mixed-blood Creeks. Their descendants now live in the vicinity of Washington, GA and Dublin, GA.
That’s right. Charles Hicks never mentioned the fictional “Battle of Taliwa” or Nancy Ward! The life of Nancy Ward, as portrayed in the outdoor drama, “Unto These Hills”, and a musical traveling around the nation now, is pretty much Cherokee mythology . . . based on a fictitious dime novel, sold in east Tennessee, four years after her death. She was a real person, though. She is mentioned several times in Georgia newspapers and local Georgia county histories in the late 1700s and early 1800s. Most of the people, claiming to be her descendants in Tennessee are actually descended from a cousin of her first lover, Brian Ward. She started shacking up with Brian, while he was garrisoned at Revolutionary War forts along the Tallulah River in Georgia. Prior to the Revolution, he was a member of the Georgia Provincial Rangers (along with my Creek ancestors) at Fort James, near Elberton, GA.
Many of Nancy’s descendants live in Stevens, Habersham and Lumpkin Counties, Georgia today. She was born in the ancient Itsate Creek town of Chote in the Nacoochee Valley of Georgia (now Helen, GA), but lived in the southern (Creek) half of present-day Stevens County, GA until the end of the Chickamauga Cherokee War in 1794. She never married a Cherokee man, but lived with a series of white men all her life. In 2020, DNA Research, Inc. studied the DNA of several of her real descendants in Georgia. Her ethnicity was a mixture of Southern Mesoamerican, Sephardic Jewish and Iberian. That’s right, the great heroine of the Cherokees was not a Cherokee, but a mixed-blood Itsate Creek!
Several colonial archives stated that the southern boundary of the Cherokee Nation was roughly the North Carolina-Georgia line westward to the Hiwassee River, and then the Hiwassee Rive Valley. During the First Anglo-Cherokee War, on June 27, 1760, an invading British Army was attacked and severely defeated when it entered the southern boundary of the Cherokee Nation at Itsate (Echoee) Pass. That’s at the North Carolina-Georgia State Line.
Maps showed the territory of the Creek Confederacy to include all of Tennessee and western North Carolina, south of the Hiwassee River and the portion of North Georgia, drained by the Conasauga, Coosawattee and Etowah Rivers. That left a huge chunk of land east of Coosa Bald Mountain and north of the source of the Apalache River that was owned by somebody else other than the Muskogee Creeks and ethnic Cherokees.
I also stumbled onto something else very odd. In 1821, Native American villages with Creek names in Habersham and White Counties (NE Georgia Mountains) sold 2000 acres of land to a real estate speculator from Burke County, NC. Another cluster of villages with Creek names in what is now the Alpharetta area of Fulton County, GA sold their land that year to DeKalb County. Both groups of villages then moved southwestward into the territory of the Creek Confederacy.
At that time, neither the Cherokee nor Muskogee-Creek leadership would have been allowed any village to sell tribal lands to private individuals or state governments. Their chiefs would have been executed. Tribal land could only be ceded via treaties with the United States.
The answer to the riddle came from three sources, the memoirs of Colonel Andrew Pickens, the Treaty of Hopewell Plantation and account of a federal official traveling through the new Cherokee Nation in Georgia during 1790. Most of the Native American villages that they described have been erased from the history books.
Battle of Long Swamp Creek
[From the memoirs of Colonel Andrew Pickens] In the last battle of the American Revolution on October 22, 1783, a small army of Patriot Mounted Militia from South Carolina and Georgia, under the command of Col. Andrew Pickens and Major Elijah Clarke, attacked the camp of Cherokee Chief Sour Mush and his 50+ member band, near Long Swamp Creek in present day, Nelson, (Pickens County) GA. Some of my ancestors were their Creek scouts. The Patriots were looking for the Tory Cavalry Company, commanded by Lt. Col. Thomas Waters, who had been driven out of Augusta, GA on June 6, 1781. Since then, Waters’ band of Tories had been ravaging farmsteads and murdering civilians on the Georgia frontier.
Chief Sour Mush had been banished from the Cherokee Nation in 1777 because he refused to comply with a peace treaty with the United States. His band had been allowed to settle on lands within the territory of an Indian alliance that Colonel Pickens called “the Elady.” The Elady were essentially “tenants at will” of the Koweta Creeks, but the Koweta’s had little interest in the Northeast Georgia Mountains because most of the game was gone. Elady is the Anglicization of the Itsate Creek word, Elate, which means “Foothill People.”
Sour Mush surrendered quickly and then told him where the camp of Lt. Col. Waters was. Waters was married to a relative of Sour Mush. Many of the Tories had Indian wives with them. Official local history says that the Patriots killed or executed all of the Tories. That is not true.
Waters and most of his men escaped up the Etowah River and settled at its headwaters, where I lived for six years. Many of their mixed-heritage descendants still live in this region, including across the road from my rental cabin. My cabin was on Waters Road.
Three days later, the Patriots traveled to the Elate (Elady) town of Salakoa, where they met with the 12 town chiefs of the Elate. A provisional peace treaty was signed in which the Elate gave away all of the lands of the Apalache, Chickasaw and Talasee Creeks in the Northeast Georgia Piedmont, but none of their own in the mountains.
Treaties of Hopewell Plantation and Augusta
In December, Andrew Pickens invited leaders of the Creek Confederacy to attend a treaty conference at his plantation, Hopewell. The national Creek leaders refused to attend since under the Articles of Confederation, they could only negotiate with representatives of the national government. Eight Creek village chiefs from Northeast Georgia did attend. Six, including my gggg-grandfather refused to sign the treaty, but Fat King and Quiet King were persuaded to sign , while drunk. Congress refused to ratify this treaty because it was not made between leaders of the Creek Confederacy and American national governments.
Pickens then invited the Elate chiefs to his plantation, who did sign the treaty. They expanded the treaty to include even more Creek Confederacy land being taken. It is also interesting that the Elate chiefs, except for Sour Mush, had Creek, Spanish and English names.
It is important to note that although all “Cherokee History” web sites call the Treaty of Hopewell a Cherokee treaty. It was NOT. In fact, the treaty confirmed the boundary between the Elate and the Cherokees to still be the North Carolina-Georgia state line. Nevertheless, Congress refused to ratify this treaty on the same grounds that is was not made between leaders of national governments.
Pickens then invited leaders of the Elate, Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes to his plantation, in the company of agents officially representing Congress. The general terms of the treaties with these tribes were worked out, but the formal presentation and signing of these treaties occurred in Augusta, GA in 1785. The Elate chiefs ceased to sign treaties with the United States as a separate political entity after the Treaty of Augusta. They had been scammed by having their lands re-labeled “Cherokee.”
In the 1785 Treaty of Augusta, the United States gave the Cherokee Nation, the Creek lands in northwestern Georgia solely as hunting grounds. They would not be allowed to live there. In the Creek version of the Treaty of Augusta, the Creeks only ceded a small strip of land between the headwaters of the Chattahoochee and Savannah Rivers.
Col. Marius Willett journey to the Creeks
It would not be until 1790 that the Creek Confederacy realized that Northern Georgia had been stolen from them by Georgians representing the United States. The Creek Confederacy then declared war on Georgia. In short, the Cherokees were given North Georgia in a Machiavellian land swindle, they did not conquer it.
President George Washington asked a Revolutionary War hero, Colonel Marius Willett, to make contact with the Creek leaders to explain to them that war with Georgia would now mean war with the United States. Willett’s very detailed memoir on the trip to the Creek Nation states that he met the leaders of the Creek Confederacy at a town near Centre, Alabama. The micco (kings) that he met with was NOT the Principal Chief of the Confederacy, but an Upper Creek member of the National Council. Nevertheless, he got the message across. The Creek National Council withdrew the declaration of war against the State of Georgia. However, Upper Creeks continued to kill white squatters on Creek lands and sometimes kill whites and Itsate Creeks, east of the Oconee River, while stealing livestock until 1795.
The Redstick War really began in the late 1700s
The capital of the Creek Confederacy had shifted to Pensacola, Florida because half-blood Tory and self-proclaimed Principal Chief Alexander McGillivray had moved there. The Itsate (Hitchiti) speaking Creeks of northern and eastern Georgia deeply resented McGillivray’s dictatorial behavior and domination of the confederacy by Muskogee speakers. They and the Elate cut separate deals with the United States at the 1785 treaty conference and pocketed the land payments themselves, rather than passing the money on to McGillivray.
Furious, McGillivray dispatched Upper Creek war parties with close ties to the Chickamauga Cherokees to raid Itsate Creek and Elate farms in Northeast Georgia. The Northeast Georgia Creeks had always had a tradition of intermarrying with their white neighbors in order to maintain peaceful relations. Many white farmsteads were attacked also, resulting in a bloody guerilla war between the Upper Creeks in what is now Alabama and the Georgia militia. Ironically, many of the Chickamauga Cherokee villages were now illegally in Georgia, but their war was with the Tennessee Militia. There is no record of the Georgia Militia attacking Cherokee villages during this period.
Vast numbers of Overhill Cherokee refugees began squatting on the “Northwest Georgia hunting lands” after the 1785. This was not anticipated by the Georgia land swindlers and they immediately complained to the federal government about it. In 1802, the State of Georgia was promised by the federal government in writing that all Cherokees would soon be removed from the state’s boundaries.
After 1802, Cherokee leaders were formally urged to relocate their people to Alabama. This is why the principal chief was located in Turkeytown, Alabama. The plans by Acting Principal Chief Charles Hicks to build a capital at New Echota were specifically designed to thwart the federal government’s promise to move all the Cherokees out of Georgia into Alabama.
By 1794, the Elate were a powerless minority that was now being labeled “Cherokees,” even though most spoke a Creek language. In the 1794 Treaty of Philadelphia with the Cherokees, the Elate were not even represented. Northwest Georgia was given as a permanent home to the Cherokee Nation by the federal government. In the 1794, 1805 and 1817 treaties, most of the Elate and remaining Itsate Creeks lands were given to Georgia. From then on, the Elate ceased to exist as a distinct American Indian polity in the eyes of the United States government.
Outraged at being made landless by the bullying of the Cherokees, Creek Confederacy, Georgians and United States, many of the Elate and Itsate Creeks in Northeast Georgia either elected to assimilate with their white neighbors, move to western Alabama or else move to Florida. However, those still in Northeast Georgia secretly maintained Creek traditions until the late 20th century. Within a drawer of my grandparents’ big office desk in the parlor were late 19th century photos of ancestors, who were wearing “Seminole” style clothing in some photos and American style clothing in others.
Now you know!