The treaty of 1721 [refer to part 1: Preserving the Culture: Introduction] between the Cherokee and the British, marked the beginning of the European influence on the Cherokee Culture and the first real challenge to the preservation of the Cherokee culture. This treaty not only introduced new concepts (“boundaries”, “treaties”, “government agents”) but also established an exclusive relationship with the English.
Seven years previous, the French had built Fort Toulouse on the Coosa river a few miles north of present day Montgomery, Alabama. They quickly extended their influence among the neighboring tribes so that by 1721, many of the tribes that once traded with Carolina had been “entirely debauched to the French interest.” James Mooney wrote, “The Cherokee, although nominally allies of the English, were strongly disposed to favor the French, and it required every effort of the Carolina government to hold them to their allegiance.
“In 1730, to further fix the Cherokee in the English interest, Sir Alexander Cuming was dispatched on a secret mission to that tribe, which was again smarting under grievances and almost ready to join with the Creeks in an alliance with the French.”
The “secret mission” Mooney refers to may have been more of a “private mission”. Mathew Newsome writes, “In 1725, Cuming’s father died making him the second Baronet of Culter. Cuming now had lands and title, and was set on making a better name for himself. It is at this point in the story that his ambitions begin to get the better of him. He was an elected fellow of the Royal Society of London for Improving Natural Knowledge, and had as he himself put it, ‘His Majesty’s Leave of Absence to travel where he pleased.’ In September of 1729, he took advantage of this freedom and set sail for the Carolinas.”
There is evidence, however, that his trip was for more than just making a better name for himself. More likely, Cuming was in deep debt and may have had visions of increasing his wealth. At the point when he arrived in Carolina, he does not appear to have been acting in any official capacity. Historian Barbara McRae says that Cuming claimed to have made the trip overseas because of a strange, prophetic dream that his wife had. She had dreamed that Alexander would accomplish great things among the Cherokees of the New World, and it was this vision that inspired him to sail across the ocean and serve as a diplomat in dangerous territory, with no authority from his government.
According to Cherokee historian, Lowell Kirk, “Moytoy, headman of Great Tellico, gave Cuming a tour of the palisaded town. Moytoy pointed out scalps of enemy French Indians which hung on poles in front of the houses of warriors.”
Again from Matthew Newsome, “Accounts of those traders travelling with Cuming describe him as either brave, brash, or mad, but by all interpretations he was a man with a momentum. When he heard of the legendary “Crown of Tannassy”–a dyed cap of opossum hair–he immediately desired to have it as a good symbol to give to King George upon his return.”
Cuming travelled to Tannassy and convinced the Warrior of Tannassy to accept Moytoy as Emperor of the Cherokee and submit his homage to King George II. Securing the crown, he returned to Nequassee and convinced the Cherokee council to accept Moytoy as their “emperor” and to give allegiance to King George II. Hoping to impress King George II, he put together a group of Cherokee Chiefs to accompany him back to England. Moytoy declined, stating that his wife was sick.
Once in England, Cuming secured lodging for the Cherokee delegation and then disappeared. They would not see him again except in a court reception and then again when they were presented to the king. Cuming wrote in his memoirs, “On the 22d day of June 1730 Sir Alexander Cuming had an audience of His Majesty in Windsor Castle being attended by the seven Cherokee Warriors which he had brought over to England as witnesses of the Power conferred upon him on the 3d day of April 1730 at a place called Nequisee in the Cherokee Mountains and in virtue of the unlimited Power given him by the Cherokee Nation as their Lawgiver Sir Alexander laid the Crown of the Cherokee Nation at His Majesty’s feet as a token of their Homage and Submission [to] His Majesty as Subjects to the Crown of Great Britain, their Eagles Tails at His Majesty’s feet as Emblems of Glory and Victory, and four Scalps of their Indian Enemies at His Majesty’s feet to shew that in their State of Savage Liberty they were an over match for any one nation of their Indian Enemies and under the conduct of a proper leader might probably be an over match for many more.”
Matthew Newsome writes, “A formal treaty was then drawn up in Cuming’s residence between Britain and the Cherokee Nation. The seven Cherokees were forced to sign it as representatives of their Nation. … The treaty decreed that the enemies of the English were the enemies of the Cherokees and likewise with their friends. It demanded that the Cherokees treat the English as their own brothers, and must be ready to fight against any one who opposes the English. Most importantly, though, the treaty called for the English to increase their lands so that they may stretch from Charles Town to the Cherokee Nation. “And as the King has given His Land on both sides of the great Mountains to His own Children the English, so He now gives to the Cherokee Indians the Priviledge of living where they please.” In return, the Cherokee must “keep the trading Path clean, and that there be no Blood in the Path where the English White Men tread; even tho they should be accompanyd by any other People with whom the Cherokees are at War.” The treaty also prevents the Cherokees from trading with anyone other than the English, nor can they allow any other white nation to settle or build forts on their lands. The Cherokee and the English alike who live in the Cherokee Nation would be subject to English, not Cherokee law, should any such man be killed. This “Agreement of Peace and Friendship betwixt the English and the Cherokees” was to be binding “as long as the Mountains and Rivers shall last, or the Sun shine.” The English basically forced this agreement upon the Cherokees. The seven warriors could not very well refuse while they were but seven in a foreign nation. When they returned home and told of the treaty, they faced the anger of their own nation.”
In their own words, “There was a person in our Country with Us, he gave a Yellow token of his Warlike Honour, that is left with Moytoy of Telliko; And as Warriors, we received it. He came to Us like a Warrior from you, A Man he was, his talk was upright, and the token he left, preserves his Memory amongst Us. . . We have looked round for the Person that was in Our Country, he is not here, however We must say, that he talked upright to Us, and We shall never forget him.”
From Newsome’s account, “The Cherokees spent the remainder of the summer as spectacles in London, and continued to see little of Cuming. He was apparently having strenuous financial difficulties stemming from notes he had issued in the colonies, and was constantly seeking support from the Duke of Newcastle, and King George himself. While claiming no responsibility for the Cherokee men (thereby trying to avoid any bills they accrued), he found every opportunity to suggest that he be named Overlord of the Cherokee Nation-a position that was denied him.
“It is only natural for him to assume that this title would be granted to him, as he was the one who arranged for their allegiance (and submission) to the English. In fact it can be argued that the obtaining of such a position could be the very reason why Cuming made the dangerous voyage. In a letter written directly to King George II, Alexander Cuming reminds the King that it was he who won the Cherokees’ allegiance, and then asks outright ‘to enjoy by Your Majesty’s Gracious Favour, the Same Power over the Cherokee Nation which He has obtained by their own consent, and this will enable Your Memorialist to answer for their Behaviour with respect to Your Majestys Service.’
“In 1736 he was thrown in debtor’s prison. … Later, in a letter dated August 6, 1737, Alexander Cuming wrote to King George, ‘I made the Cherokee Indian, the most considerable Nation of the American Savages pay their Homage to Your Majesty by my laying the Crown of their Nation at Your Majesty’s feet on virtue of a Power which I obtained by means of Providence without either fraud or force. I neither had nor desired any reward for this proof of my Loyalty and Zeal.'”
Lowell Kirk writes, “For twenty years after their return these seven Cherokee told stories of British power and majesty which helped to maintain cordial relationships between the Cherokee and the British. One of the Cherokees taken to England was Attakullakulla, known to the British as “the Little Carpenter”, For the next three decades Attakullakulla, who became a “white” or “peace” chief, used his exceptional speaking skill to discourage Cherokee alignment with the French.”
Moytoy continued to serve as “Emperor of the Cherokee” until his death in 1741. But the culture of the Cherokee was forever changed.