Southeastern Native American log houses . . . 1740-1840

Once the Southern tribes had access to steel axes and wedges, they quickly switched to building log homes as their main residence. However, towns, villages and farmsteads in locations with colder winters continued to build insulated winter houses or else applied clay plaster to the exteriors or interiors of the log walls. The Cherokees built compact versions of the traditional Maya-Creek barn on posts, while the Creeks tended to build large log barns in Georgia and Alabama.

PART FIVE

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

(Historic Photograph Above) Remember Corra White Harris’s name from a previous article in this series? Growing up, she was a member of Ruckersville Methodist Church. Like many members there, she had some Creek and Uchee Indian ancestry, but did not publicly acknowledge it. Corra married the Rev. Lundy Harris at age 17. The experiences of being a teenage bride of a Methodist minister in the Georgia Mountains became the best-selling book, A Circuit Rider’s Wife and the popular movie, “I’d Climb the Highest Mountain.” She soon became the first Southern female writer of national prominence.

What the book and movie does not tell you was that Lundy was becoming addicted to laudanum, a popular medicine of that era, derived from opium sap. In 1910, he died of an overdose in a ditch near the former Natchez, later Cherokee village of Pine Log, GA. In order (she stated) to be close to Lundy’s haunted spirit, she purchased a farm adjacent to where he died. The farm was a large, flat-topped hill, which happens to also be a major archaeological zone. From around 2000 to 1400 year ago, it was a fortified town, which also contains royal tombs, excavated into its slopes. Several of the survivors of the Battle of Etowah Cliffs, a disastrous Cherokee defeat, took refuge there. They included the Hicks Brother, Vann Brothers, George Gist (Sequoyah) and Major Ridge. These men were destined to become leaders of the Cherokee Nation.

Charles Hicks built his first home there around 1800. Throughout the 1700s and early 1800s, it was the custom of Cherokee men and women to have several mates in their lifespans. When Hicks moved on to wife No. 2 around 1817, he left his first family and younger brother at this house. By this time, Hicks was Second Chief of the Cherokee Tribe and because he was fluent in English and well-educated for his time, he functioned as the true leader of the Cherokees until his death in January 1827.

While living on the former Hicks Farm, which she called “In the Valley.” Corra Harris began holding weekend retreats for the intelligentsia of northern Georgia. Key attendees were Rebecca Felton, the first woman US Senator, educator Martha Berry, car-maker Henry Ford, plus the editor and publisher of The Atlanta Constitution. They usually brought along their favorite young reporter, Margaret Mitchell.

The conversations would frequently flip back to life in Anti-bellum South and the Civil War. Rebecca Felton was the young wife of a doctor on a plantation near Cartersville, GA when the Civil War broke out. Both she and her husband, William H. Felton, were Unionists, but he soon volunteered to serve as a surgeon in the Confederate Army. His principal hospital was a large pasture beside railroad tracts, near their farm. After the Civil War, William Felton served several terms as Populist Independent in the United States Congress. He died in 1909, a year before Lundy Harris.

Their first objective was getting women the right to vote. After that was accomplished, their objectives became (1) opening up the professions to women and (2) promoting the economic and cultural development of the Southeast. An upstairs bedroom became known as the Berry-Ford Bedroom. It was here that Southern Belle (and educator) Martha Berry and industrial magnate, Henry Ford, maintained a secret paramour relationship until their deaths. Millions of Ford Foundation money developed Berry College into the large college campus in the world. Henry Ford personally funded most of the efforts to get women in the South the right to vote, while frequently speaking against women’s suffrage in his home state of Michigan.

Throughout the time that Margaret Mitchell was attending the weekend retreats at “In the Valley,” she was also writing Gone With the Wind. Rebecca Felton’s physical appearance and life’s experiences exactly matched that of Scarlett O’Hara . . . except that Rebecca enjoyed a long, happy marriage with the real Ashely Wilkes and that she was a Methodist . . . not an Irish Roman Catholic like Scarlett. However, Margaret Mitchell was an Irish Roman Catholic. Martha Berry became Melony Wilkes. Henry Ford became Rhett Butler. Corra Harris became part of the model for Belle Watling. Virtually all the famous statements by Scarlett O’Hara in Gone With Wind were first uttered by Rebecca Felton . . . including the scene where their mule wagon rolls up to the Felton Plantation and she sees that the house has survived. Rebecca and Scarlett shouted, “I swear by God that I will never be poor again.

I was Consulting Architect for the restoration of “In the Valley,” plus the Felton Plantation during 1997 and 1998. You see . . . Native American History IS American History.

c. 1740 – Black Creek Village in northern Florida

(Later known as Black Seminoles) The original Underground Railroad ran from the Savannah River to the Spanish province of La Florida. Slavery was illegal in Georgia until 1752, and really not firmly established until the cotton gin was invented by Eli Whitney on Cumberland Island, GA. By 1720, the indigenous peoples of La Florida were almost extinct. Bands of Creeks, Uchees and Shawnees began migrating into the uninhabited interior of La Florida. Almost immediately these immigrants and their kin in southeastern Georgia began assisting runaway African and Native American slaves to reach Florida, where they were given their freedom and “start up” assistance by Spanish authorities in return for promising to function as militia in defense of the province.

In gratitude to their saviors, the freed slaves totally adopted all facets of Creek culture, including language. They had learned how to build log structures for the plantation slave cabins and barns in South Carolina, but arranged them formally in villages planned by Creek surveyors. They built traditional Creek pole frame structures for their cooking sheds and barns, plus ventilated chikis for their warm weather sleeping rooms. We will next devote a whole article to the Black Seminoles.

1740s – Creek or Uchee Log Cabin in Eastern Georgia

1750s – Mixed-blood Creek log cabin on the Upper Savannah River

Creek men quickly took a liking to raising livestock, particularly cattle.

Cherokee summer houses did not have chinking between the logs.

1770s – Chickasaw village in northern Alabama

1780 – Tuckabachee on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia

The log houses of the more affluent residents of Tuckabatchee were stuccoed with clay. Virtually no academicians in Alabama know this. Tuckabatchee moved backed to its original location on the Chattahoochee River in 1776. The site is now Six Flags Over Georgia amusement park. It was on the Chattahoochee River that William Bartram visited this town twice. A few months later, several of my Creek ancestors in the Georgia Rangers rushed to Tuckabatchee to protect it from Upper Creek towns, allied with the British. Tuckabatchee remained on the Chattahoochee River until 1827. (Detail of model built by author for the Muscogee-Creek Nation)

1790 – View inside a “regular folks” log house in eastern Alabama.

Note that most early Creek log houses in Alabama had no chimneys. Just as in a traditional Creek wattle and daub house, the hearth was in the center of the space and smoke drifted up through the roofing, which was either thatch or sheets of bark, tied to a sapling frame.

1800 – Amajor and Absylla White Home – originally in Gilmer County, GA

This home would have been considered a “show place” in the Cherokee Country, because it had double chimneys, four doors, glass windows and a wide front porch. The house was dismantled then moved to Gainesville, GA and restored. Nearby Turniptown was described by surveyors as being “a Negro shanty. It is very possible that they were occupied by African-American slaves, belonging to White. Alternatively, they may have been laborers for White’s farm, who were essentially serfs.

Restored interior of the Amajor White Home

Amajor and Absilla White, were Quakers, who lived in Northhampton County, NC before moving to the Cherokee Nation. Apparently, they were missionaries or traders. Neither had any Cherokee ancestry, but Amajor was 1/16th Penobscot Indian from Maine. Given the name “Chief Whitepath” by generations of local residents and inept historians, his life has been grossly fictionalizes in history books and historical markers. To learn the real history of this man and the house he built in the Cherokee Nation, go to “The Secret History of the “Great” Cherokee Chief, White Path and Ellijay, Georgia.” 

1810 – Typical Cherokee summer house

Like the early Creek log houses in Alabama, these cabins did not have chimneys. Poorer Cherokee families lived in very similar houses year round up until the Trail of Tears. The only difference in the year-round houses was that the door wad full height and the logs were chinked.

1812 – Sandtown – on the Chattahoochee River at Utoy Creek

The Bohurans were first mentioned by the Spanish in 1598 AD as a troop of 100+ mixed-blood horsemen, which patrolled the southern frontier of the Proto-Creek Kingdom of Apalache. Bohuran is a Ladino (Sephardic Spanish) word, which means “noblemen.” They played a key role in the overwhelming victory of the Coweta Creeks against the Cherokee Nation in the autumn of 1754, because the Cherokees had nothing to match mounted riflemen, who were essentially professional soldiers. Around 1805 the Bohurans moved from the region that is now Banks, southern White and Hall Counties, GA to what is now southwestern Metro Atlanta. Sandtown was the base of operations for the Bohuran Creeks in their raids against Red Stick Creeks on behalf of the United States Army. The Bohurans probably relocated to eastern Texas in 1827. (Model built by author for the Muscogee-Creek Nation)

1817 – Cherokee “commoner” log home – NW Georgia

Unlike Creek log houses, most Cherokee log houses did not have windows. The stone chimney was added by White occupants of the house after the Trail of Tears. The original chimney would have been stacked logs, covered with red clay.

1817 – William McIntosh House and tombstone – Carroll County, GA

McIntosh was the leader of the Coweta Creeks until assassinated in late 1825, This house would have been considered a “show place” in the Creek Nation, and was much larger than most White-occupied houses on the frontier at that time.

1986 – Rear of restored McIntosh House

1825 – Cherokee Middle Class home in Northwest Georgia

The construction of a front porch and installation of glass windows were the signs of a prosperous Cherokee family. The builder of this home was a tribal leader. The stone chimney was added by White occupants of the house after the Trail of Tears. The original chimney would have been stacked logs, covered with red clay.

1840 – Creek Refugee Cabin – Holmes County, Florida

While visiting Holmes County in April 2006, I didn’t see a single rock, so I strongly suspect that this cabin on the Choctawhatchee River originally had a chimney composed of stacked logs, covered with clay. Perhaps, the rocks were brought down river from Alabama, later in the 1800s.

3 Comments

  1. I’d Climb the Highest Mountain is on YouTube, free to watch.

    These are beautiful homes. The only ones prettier than log is stone, though adobe hath its place.

    After the Dred Scott decision by liberal SC judges, one g-great-grandfather was arrested for helping escaped slaves get from Nescopeck, PA, to the next stop on the underground railroad. He got free because Jews and Lutherans threatened to do a mass protest.

    Folks used to joke, thank God for the Cherokee, or we wouldn’t have horses and cattle. The joke was, of course, not long after the ani ‘acquired’ them from Ponce de Leon, Susquehannocks stole them in several raids. Whites already living among us (outcasts from different peoples) taught us the value of livestock. They managed to take Cherokee women and children, as well. And, the first blacks among us came from down that way. niio

    Liked by 1 person

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