Jewish refugees from Cartagena, Colombia in the Great Smoky Mountains

A Love Story from the Early 1600s

Part 24 of The Americas Connected Series

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

In my slide presentations to college students over the past decades, I have always begun the talk by urging them to travel and see the world before settling down. It is far easier to expand one’s horizons when not having to work to feed children or pay mortgages.

Many readers are amused when I include vivid accounts of the foreign women, who came into my life while exploring Mesoamerica, working in Europe or promoting my goat cheese at posh Washingtonian parties (LOL). However, that is a very important aspect of one’s emotional and intellectual growth.

When you are a young adult there is just a much larger pool of potential soulmates . . . or playmates. My life was greatly enriched by the beautiful, intelligent women from Cuba, Mexico, France and Sweden, who I bonded with in those years. Any one of them would have been a far more faithful and nurturing partner that the Gringa, who I foolishly married. My great regret in life, was that I didn’t try harder to reconnect with one of these ladies.

Here is another thing that I tell young adults. If you are in a toxic relationship, get out of it ASAP. The damage done by a toxic partner will only increase over time. Don’t worry what other people, even your relatives, will think. I learned on the honeymoon that my new bride had been hiding her other personalities during our dating relationship. My next biggest mistake was not immediately getting an annulment after the honeymoon.

Inspired by the vile comments from Saxon thralls in the waiting line of a local Walmart this past Sunday, the next article in this series will tell the story of my discovery of the first irrefutable proof that Sephardic Jews colonized the Southern Appalachians long before the English. I have a personal connection on this one.

Alicia Rozanes Moreno

My first love was Alicia Rozanes Moreno, a French Sephardic Jew, living two blocks away from my weekend base, during the Barrett Fellowship. Her mother’s house was in Colonia Nueva Santa Maria, Mexico City. Her father lived somewhere in California, but she had not seen him since a toddler.

We started kissing spontaneously on our first date. There were instant fireworks. Both of us soon admitted that we felt like that we had been lovers in an earlier life. Within a week, I wrote in my daily journal, “Alicia shocked me last night! She told me, “Reshard, you can do anything you want with me . . anything . . . and I will love it. ” . . . but she also admitted being quite naive about such things.

At age 19, she looked like a pretty Middle Eastern gal, which was not that different from the predominantly Iberian Upper Middle Class Mexican college classmates, who she hung out with. Without Alicia, I would have barely known anything about the Sephardim, when looking for the vestiges of their 17th century presence in the Southern Highlands.

I actually saw Alicia on my honeymoon. She had just returned from getting a Masters Degree in Paris, when driving past the front yard of the Soto house in her red Plymouth Barracuda sports car. She looked stunning in her French fashions and European hair style. She even had a nose job in France to make her look French . . . and we both were stunned to see each other after 3 1/2 years of being apart. She told me that since arriving back in Mexico in late June, she had been dating a dentist, but he meant nothing to her. I was the only man, who she had ever truly loved. I didn’t tell her yet that I was on a honeymoon!

I later talked with Alicia again on the phone, while my bride was in a drunken stupor in the back bedroom of the Soto house. Her first exclamation was, “Rishard, I have prayed to God for 3 1/2 years that you would return for me. I am woman now and can be with you tonight at my cousin’s hacienda near Pueblo. Tomorrow, or whenever you want to leave Mexico, we can fly to Atlanta and start our life together. I still have my San Diego birth certificate, so I can instantly become a U.S. citizen, once we are in Georgia. We don’t even have to get married for that! ” [Oh boy . . . I have really blown it now!]

Alicia’s ancestors was driven out of Spain by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela in 1492, but allowed to live in North Africa by the Moors for a few generations then given permanent sanctuary in France by the French Protestants – hence her father’s name of Moreno. At the onset of World War II, they lived in Vichy France and so were not immediately sent to concentration camps and gas chambers, like Nazi-occupied northern France.

In 1943, the Nazi’s began seizing Jewish families in Vichy France. Alicia’s grandparents and parents converted to Catholicism in order to be transported to Mexico and given asylum. However, Alicia was actually born in San Diego, CA.

A plastic rooster marked the home of the best fried chicken in the world!

Living in the Great Smoky Mountains

Robbinsville, NC – April 2010: My favorite person, while I was staying in Graham County, NC was a very friendly and attractive Snowbird Cherokee lady, named Suzie Chickalee.  She managed a convenience store – short order restaurant – Crown gas station on the edge of Downtown Robbinsville.  She cooked about the best fried chicken that I have ever eaten. That is one thing that I have never been successful at cooking for myself.  Well, at campsite, it would be even more difficult.  Suzie instantly recognized me as being a non-Cherokee Native American and genuinely liked me. 

Suzie was proud of her Snowbird Cherokee heritage, but definitely did NOT want to spend the rest of her life in a small, isolated western North Carolina town. Graham County is beautiful. Most of its residents maintained their homes immaculately and they kept their landscape in pristine condition, making the county look very prosperous . . .   but actually, Graham  was classified by the US Census as the poorest county in North Carolina. In 2010, it had one of the highest unemployment rates in the nation – 25%.

Perhaps I should explain that the Snowbird Cherokees are very different in physical appearance and personality than the Qualla Cherokees, who live about 50 miles to the east.  The truth is that I now know much more about the Cherokees than what they know about themselves, but back in 2010 was merely making copious notes, questions and photographs. 

“The History of the Cherokee People” by Charles Hicks

Among many assets, I now have a photocopies of the original handwritten manuscript of The History of the Cherokee People [1826]  by Cherokee Principal Chief Charles Hicks.  The Cherokees don’t have it and I am certain many white academicians in North Carolina hope you never see it.  It greatly contradicts the mythology about the Cherokee history that these academicians created in the late 20th century . . . like that the Cherokees have lived in North Carolina for 12,000 years.

The ancestors of the Snowbirds were non-ethnic Cherokees and non-ethnic Creeks living outside any tribal lands to the east of the Cherokees and north of the Creeks in North Carolina and Georgia. They were Uchees (Yuchi’s), Soques, Polynesians, Arawaks, etc.  They were illegally rounded up and dispossessed of their farms by federal troops, but somehow found their way back to the most inaccessible region in the Southern Appalachians.  They were not ethnic Cherokees and thus lived apart until forcibly joined with the Quallas by the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Even today, the Snowbirds strongly resemble the descendants of the Olmec Civilization in southern Veracruz and western Tabasco. In many families, you can see the faces on the famous Olmec Civilization giant stone heads. Other families look like the Zoque/Soque/Mixtecs of Mexico.  The Qualla Cherokees derisively call the Snowbird Cherokees, “Moonfaces,” because so many of the Snowbird Cherokees have Polynesian features like the Olmec heads. 

Five years later, I would be mystified as to why one of the more prominent Snowbird Cherokee families . . . Chickalee’s . . . had pretty much the same name as the High King of the Creek Confederacy, who in 1735 authored “The Creek Migration Legend.”  I still don’t have a definite answer.  I do know that a significant number of Uchees, living in the Cohutta Mountains of Georgia, moved to Graham County, NC when the US Forest Service seized their lands in the early 20th century. 

Back in the spring of 2010, I had to much more pressing dilemmas.   The first was lack of money. All of the $1200 that former National Park Service Director, Roger Kennedy, gave me in March went to paying my monthly auto loan note and buying food.  By late April I was also getting significant payments from my National Examiner column, but by then I was also living in a tent on Lake Santeetlah. 

De Soto came through here

Suzie would often take a break to chat or even eat fried chicken with me on one the picnic tables outside the convenience store.  We usually talked about either Native American history or one of the scenic spots around the spectacular setting of Graham County. 

On the first warm, sunny day in April, we started chatting about the Hernando de Soto Expedition.  I told Suzie that Roger Kennedy was going to send me some “gasoline money” for me to explore the possible routes of the De Soto and Pardo Expedition.   Suzie informed me that the Cherokees knew for sure that the college professors got it wrong by sending those two 16th century Spanish explorers through the French Broad River Valley and Asheville.  There are no Spanish artifacts around Asheville, but many have been found in the Cherokee Reservation and westward.  She was absolutely correct.

The beautiful trail to the boulders at Hoopers Bald

Suzie told me that there was a boulder up on Hoopers Bald in the Great Smoky Mountains that had Spanish words engraved on it by De Soto’s men. When a teenager, she would go up there on picnic dates.  She told me how to reach the boulder.

Details of the date

I drove up there with my three dogs.  Hoopers Bald is  5,429 ft/1,655 m. above sea level and offers magnificent views of the Little Tennessee River Gorge and the Smoky Mountains. I found several boulders with very old graffiti on them, but could only find one engraving that was obviously not English.  Initially, the inscription did not make much sense, but was dated to be in 1615!  That couldn’t possibly be De Soto (1540) or Pardo (1567). 

p-r-e-d-a-r-m-s  c-a-s-a-d-a . . . 15 Sep 1615 !  

There was more writing below it, but dirt covered most of the letters and one is not allowed to dig at archaeological sites on federal land without permission. In fact, there was all sorts of writing and abstract designs chiseled into rocks on Hooper Bald. With time and the right technical skills, perhaps an archaeologist could make some more discoveries.

Graham County, NC County Library in 2010

I drove directly back to Robbinsville, NC and questioned the librarian at the Graham County Library.   He informed me that there was a mention of the mysterious stone engraving on a web site maintained by a Marshall McClung of Graham County.  His web site said that Dr. David Anderson, an archaeologist with the McClung Museum and Director of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville had looked at a photo of the stone and said that they were Latin words, which meant, “We will defend with arms, what we hold.”   

So much for the value of a PhD in Anthropology . . . I had two years of Latin in high school. Those were definitely not Latin words. They seemed to be some Iberian language. Casada means “married” in most Iberian languages, but has no meaning in Latin.

I wrote an article in the Examiner about the evidence for De Soto coming through the Little Tennessee River Gorge and briefly mentioned that despite local folklore, the boulder had nothing to do with De Soto.  What did it really mean?

My campsite at Lake Santeelah

Struggling with a rock engraving

The archaeologist at the University of Tennessee obviously did not speak Spanish.  “Casada” is Spanish means MARRIED!  The word for arms in Spanish is “armas” and Spanish abbreviations to do not drop last vowels.  “Pre” is the Aragonese word for “price,” but may have nothing to do with the inscription.  “E” was the medieval Aragonese and Castilian way of saying “and.”  

Was this inscription the initials of a couple, who married each other on that day long ago of September 15, 1615?  They most likely were Protestants, Sephardic Jews or Moors, who escaped the Inquisition by living in the mountains of the New World.   There is permission in Judeo-Christian tradition for a couple to state seven times “I marry you” and they are legally married, if no priest or rabbi was available.  For those readers who have seen the movie, “Cold Mountain,”  the lead actors use that biblical clause to marry themselves, since there was no parson available.

Then, it all made sense. On that day, a man and a woman stood on top of that rock on that mountain, where they could see forever, and pronounced their love for each other.  The man then chiseled a record of their marriage in stone, to make it all legal.

The riddle that remained for several years, though, was the meaning of the first group of letters predarms. Is it the abbreviation of the Aragonese, “pre-dar-mesa”  . . . before giving mass?  Does it represent the initials of two people’s names plus some words?  Is it the abbreviation of Latin words used in the Catholic Mass?  It is an abbreviation of several Hebrew words?  Are they words in Basque or some North African language?  “Darm” means “morning” in Moorish.

Book by Charles de Rochefort, which we translated for “The Apalache Chronicles”

Jewish Cherokees

The answer to this riddle came in 2013 from my research partner for the book,  The Apalache Chronicles, Marilyn Rae.   Marilyn’s former husband was a devout Sephardic Jew, although she was a part-Cherokee Presbyterian.  She was a direct descendant of the last traditional chief of the Cherokee tribe, Pathkiller.

Marilyn loaned me a Ladino Dictionary.  Ladino is the dialect of Spanish, spoken by Sephardim in Iberia.  I quickly learned that Sephardim used the word, “pre” for prayer, while Spanish Catholics used the word “supplicacion”.   The Hoopers Bald engraving means, “Prayer, we will give . . . married September 15, 1615.” A beautiful, romantic movie, this story would make.  On September 15, 1615, two lovers stood on top of a high mountain and proclaimed their eternal love. 

Then, while we working together, Marilyn had the shock of her life.  She and her daughter obtained DNA tests.   Marilyn had more Semitic DNA than her husband!    She had NO Algonquian DNA test markers that were typical of Cherokees and Shawnees.  

All of her Native American DNA was typical of 17th century Florida Apalachee burials and a vague category “South American.”  However, the Florida Apalachee were actually Southern Arawaks from Amazonia, so in reality this descendant of Cherokee royalty was Scottish, Sephardic Jewish and South American Indian.  That made no sense at all . . . at first.

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena, Colombia

When began doing research in the records of the Spanish Colonial Archives.  We learned that most of the “Pirates of the Caribbean” in the 16th and 17th centuries were actually Sephardic Jews or else their buddies – the French Huguenot Protestants.  Marilyn learned that during the 1500s,  Spanish authorities looked the other way, if wealthy Sephardim practiced their religion discretely.   This was especially true for Cartagena, which was one of three cities in all of the Americas, where the Spanish legally allowed human slavery and the public auctioning of slaves. Cartagena was the starting point each year for the famous Spanish treasure fleets.

The upper and middle classes of Cartagena were predominantly Jewish.  Although the governor and governing council were Roman Catholics, appointed by the Viceroy or King, most other aspects of the community were controlled by Sephardic families.  Many families had accumulated vast wealth from gold and silver mines in the interior, where most of the laborers were American Indian slaves.  Other Sephardic families had grown wealthy as the factors, middlemen and warehouse owners for the Jewish pirates of the Caribbean.

And then in 1610 . . . word reached Cartagena that a ship was headed there from Havana, carrying the priests and soldiers of the Inquisition.   Absolute terror spread through the city.  In a matter of a few days, over 3,000 wealthy Sephardim disappeared from Cartagena, along with their domestic servants and slaves.  They had boarded Sephardic owned pirate ships and merchant ships, headed north and never to be seen or heard from again.  Spanish authorities in Mexico, Cuba and La Florida could never find these refugees. 

Those Jews in Cartagena, who did not escape were tortured and burned.

Here is what Marilyn and I found out by reading a wide assortment of credible books and British colonial archives that are today ignored by North Carolina and Georgia academicians, since they conflict with their late 20th century mythology about the Cherokees.

  • In 1610,  the Spanish colonial archives recorded numerous eyewitness accounts of a party of white, bearded horsemen, numbering over 100 men, that was seen moving back and forth in what is now the Georgia Piedmont.
  • In 1653, British explorer and planter, Richard Briggstock, visited with a large Spanish-speaking gem mining colony in the area around Franklin, NC.  The miners typically had Native American wives.  Marilyn’s ancestor, Pathkiller, is believed to have been born in the region near Franklin.
  • North Carolina historian Fostor Sondley stated that the Toe River Valley in NW North Carolina was densely populated by Spanish-speaking gem miners until the 1700s.
  • During the 1980s,  geologists, based in Asheville, NC analyzed the timbers in ancient mines near Mt. Mitchell, the Toe River Valley, NC, the Andrews Valley in North Carolina, Nantahala Gorge, NC and at the foot of Fort Mountain in Georgia.  They dated the tree rings to place the age of these timbers varying between 1585 and 1615. Their book on this study was in Western North Carolina libraries until 2012, when the Eastern Band of Cherokees demanded they be removed from the shelves.
  • The Colonial Archives in South Carolina state that when the Cherokees first entered the upper Hiwassee River Valley around 1793,  they encountered white miners with long hair and beards, who spoke Spanish.  They Cherokees killed them all.
  • The Colonial Archives in South Carolina include a report that in 1745, when the Cherokees first entered the upper Tuckasegee River Valley, they encountered with skin the color of Indians, but with long hair and beards. They lived in log houses with arched windows and “worshipped a book.”  The Cherokees killed or drover off these old-time residents.
  • Trader and historian, James Adair, wrote in his 1775 book, History of the American Indians, that several of the “Cherokee” tribes in western North Carolina actually spoke medieval Hebrew and did not understand the Cherokee language spoken in NE Tennessee. Adair himself was a descendant of Sephardic Jews, who were invited to Scotland by Protestants there in order to stimulate commerce in Scotland.  Adair’s wife was the daughter of Jewish trader and mixed-blood Chickasaw-Jewish wife, who lived near Fort Mountain, GA
  • In 1780-1783, the builder of my former home in the Shenandoah Valley, Colonel John Tipton, stated that he passed through numerous, “ancient”, Spanish-speaking, Jewish villages in southwestern Virginia and present-day NE Tennessee, while leading wagon trains of settlers.
  • The ruling family of the Creek Confederacy from the middle 1600s until the middle 1700s had the name Bemarin, which British colonists shortened to Brim.  Bemarin is a French Sephardic Jewish family name, which is derived from their original Sephardic-Arabic name in Spain. 
  • The mother of Creek Micco William McIntosh, was the daughter of a Jewish trader and his Creek wife, who lived on the Chattahoochee River near present day Whitesburg, GA.  Her name was Senoia, which is the feminine form of the Sephardic angel, Senoy, who watched over young children.  Jewish settlers on the frontier often carved Senoy’s name on wooden cradles.
  • Cherokee Principal Chief,  Charles Hicks, was the son of a Scottish trader and a woman, who was half Creek and half Jewish.    The village where he was born was in the Creek Confederacy’s boundaries until 1784.  Most of his brothers and sisters migrated to the Oconee River Valley in the Creek Nation of Georgia.  They took allotments on the Oconee River after the lands were ceded to the United States and their descendants continue to live in Georgia.  
  • On a boulder at Track Rock Gap is the engraving,  “Liube 1715.”  Liube was a common name given to the first-born daughter of a Rabbi during Middle Ages and Renaissance.
  • My Creek grandmother always said, “There were white men living in the mountains of Georgia and North Carolina, at least a hundred years before there was such a thing as a Cherokee.”

Thus, Marilyn and I learned that Jewish colonists were living in the heart of the Southeastern United States long before the region was entered by British settlers.  These early settlers intermarried with Native Americans and their offspring became some of the most famous Cherokee and Creeks leaders of the Late Colonial and Federal Periods.  The profound Jewish influence on the early history of the United States has been erased from our textbooks.

Now you know!


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