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This article is from the Encyclopedia of North Carolina edited by William S. Powell. Copyright © 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. Used by permission of the publisher. For personal use and not for further distribution. Please submit permission requests for other use directly to the publisher.

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by William L. Anderson and Ruth Y. Wetmore, 2006.
Additional research provided by John L. Bell.

Part i:Overview; Part ii: Cherokee origins and first European contact; Part iii: Disease, destruction, and the loss of Cherokee land; Part iv: Revolutionary War, Cherokee defeat and additional land cessions; Part v: Trail of Tears and the creation of the Eastern Band of Cherokees; Part vi: Federal recognition and the fight for Cherokee rights; Part vii: Modern-day Cherokee life and culture; Part viii: References and additional resources

Part ii: Cherokee Origins and First European Contact

Greenfield LakeThe Cherokee, members of the Iroquoian language group, are descended from the native peoples who occupied the southern Appalachian Mountains beginning in approximately 8000 b.c. By 1500 b.c., a distinct Cherokee language had developed, and by 1000 a.d. the Cherokee were living a Woodland lifestyle with unique cultural characteristics influenced by Mississippian religious traditions. The growing and harvesting of corn, or selu, beans, and squash—the Cherokee "three sisters"—were ascribed deep spiritual significance, as were other occupations, including hunting, the care and cleaning of homes, the gathering of other essential foods, games, dances, and religious ceremonies. The central philosophy of duyuktv, meaning "the right way," prescribed that the Cherokee attempt to obtain harmony and balance in every aspect of their lives, particularly with respect to the natural world. Communal responsibility and sacrifice were essential to the Cherokee vision of life, as symbolized by the central plaza—used for public ceremonies—and the council house, or town house, which held the "sacred fire," embodying the spiritual essence of the town. Besides food, the environment provided all that the people needed, including medicine, clothing, weapons, shelter, musical instruments, and personal adornments. The governing of Cherokee towns was through democratic consensus as well as the leadership of priests, war chiefs, and peace chiefs. Familial ties and clan affiliations came through Cherokee women, who owned the houses and fields and passed them on to their daughters.

Although initial contact took place during Hernando De Soto's expedition in 1540, sustained relations between Europeans and the Cherokee were not established until the late seventeenth century by traders from Virginia and South Carolina. During the seventeenth century, Cherokees living in what became North Carolina were distributed among the "Middle Towns" along the Little Tennessee River, the "Valley Towns" along the Hiwassee and Valley Rivers, and the "Out Towns" on the Tuckasegee and Oconaluftee Rivers. As British and French colonial aspirations began to clash, the Cherokee became increasingly important as a buffer and continued to alternate alliances between the two nations. In 1730 Alexander Cuming took seven Cherokees to England, reinforcing Cherokee alliances with the English that had been established through a treaty signed at the Town of Neguassee. The increasing pressure of European expansion, and the subsequent loss of much of their territory, led the Cherokee to initiate hostilities as the French and Indian War (1754-63) progressed. Virginian hostility toward the Cherokee led to the Cherokee War of 1760-61, a war in which the tribe suffered extensive losses.

Keep reading > Part iii: Disease, destruction, and the loss of Cherokee land  keep reading

Image credits:

Sommer. "Greenfield Lake, Wilmington," 1950. Photograph no. ConDev8276A. Views from Variety Vacationland. From the North Carolina Conservation and Development Department, Travel and Tourism Division Photo Files, North Carolina State Archives, Raleigh, NC, USA. Online at:,1879



Hello! I have found on Ancestry that the Chief Moytoy and some of his decendants are in my tree. It says he is my possible 7th great grandfather. Perhaps further back. My DNA does not say I have any native blood but I know after not many generations it disappears. Just wondering if you have any info that would help me to find out if this is true. Thanks and God bless!!!


Moytoy has no known descendants.


I am a descendant of Johann Barnhart Eytel who who immigrated from Germany in 1752. He married Elizabeth Meier in Philadelphia in 1762.(?) Later moved to North Carolina. My father had traced our lineage back to that point, but there were a few blanks. Some family believe we had a male member who married a Cherokee female at some point. I haven’t been able to trace that information. Any help you could give me would be very much appreciated!


My Ancestors are Cherokee but the closest one to me before hey married out of the nation was my great-great grandmother. Sadly I don't her name but I have a project that really need some help. I would like to have information on the Cherokee before Christopher Columbus came. If its not a problem I would like to have the information before the 14th.


Hello Keyami,

Thank you for visiting NCpedia and for leaving your inquiry!

Here is a link to all NCpedia articles discussing Cherokee Indians:

Two books that may be useful for your research include:

  • Dickens Jr., Roy S. Cherokee Prehistory: The Pisgah Phase in the Appalachian Summit Region. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1976.
  • King, Duane, ed. The Cherokee Indian Nation: A Troubled History. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1979.

These books are available at the State Library of North Carolina’s

If you are resident of NC, you can sign up for a GHL card here:

A useful database that contains primary sources and scholarly journal articles is JSTOR. If you have GHL library card, you can access this database by visiting the online resources page and clicking on the JSTOR link in the alphabetical list of resources:

You can also check with your local library to see if they have access to any of the resources mentioned above. I hope this helps with your project!

Molly Goldston, NC Government & Heritage Library  


My grandmother was a sixteenth Cherokee. Her maiden name was Puntenney. I haven't been able to find anything on her lineage. Any possibility?



Thanks for visiting NCpedia and asking your question.

I am forwarding your query to our Reference services who can assist you:

Erin Bradford, Government and Heritage Library


My mother was born in cherokee,nc. My grandmother name is Laura Hembree just wondering if you have information on her or her last name.



Thank you for your comment and for visiting NCpedia! I am forwarding your inquiry to our library's Reference Team at so that we can assist you further with your question. A member of our staff will be reaching out to you via e-mail soon!

Taylor Thompson, Government & Heritage Library



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