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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 iii: Disease, Destruction, and the Loss of Cherokee Land

Cherokee medicine pouchSmallpox and other diseases brought by Europeans and enslaved Africans were more devastating to the Cherokee and other southeastern Indians than war. Since the Indians did not have the immune system the Europeans had built up after centuries of contact with these diseases, simple contact could set off an epidemic. Cherokee people were exposed to smallpox for a period spanning over three centuries. Probably their first exposure was in 1698, when a smallpox epidemic decreased their population measurably. In 1738-39 the tribe experienced its worst epidemic from smallpox, when the disease was brought by traders or was brought back from an expedition in which the Cherokee aided the British against the Spanish in Florida. Between 7,000 and 10,000 Cherokees died, representing about one-half of the tribe's population. Since medicine men were unable to provide a cure, the Cherokee tried a traditional method of purification—sweat houses followed by plunging into icy streams. This practice only added to the number who died. Others who survived the disease were horror stricken by their disfigurement and killed themselves rather than live in disgrace.

In addition to population losses, the 1738-39 epidemic had other consequences for the Cherokee. Towns were relocated, Cherokee distrust of the English increased, and the French gained a foothold among the tribe. The epidemic also brought a deterioration of Cherokee culture by challenging religious beliefs, almost destroying the medicine man's perceived power. Smallpox struck the Cherokee people again in 1759-60 during the French and Indian War.

Although the Cherokee first made land cessions to Europeans in 1721 and 1755, British victory in the French and Indian War in 1763 ended the need for the tribe as a buffer and brought increasing pressure of colonial expansion. Although the Proclamation Line of 1763 officially prohibited white settlers from entering Indian territory, white encroachment on Cherokee lands continued after the establishment of the line. The years 1768, 1770, 1773, and 1775 saw a series of "voluntary" land cessions made by the Cherokee. The 1775 cession, led by land speculator Judge Richard Henderson, involved most of the upper half of Cherokee hunting grounds and included most of what is modern-day Kentucky. In all during this period, the Cherokee people ceded almost 50,000 square miles of land.

Map of the Cherokee nation, 1760

Keep reading > Part iv: Revolutionary War, Cherokee defeat and additional land cessions right arrow

Image credits:

"Medicine pouch," 1700-1850. Accn no. H.19XX.377.1. Online collections. From the North Carolina Museum of History, Raleigh, NC, USA.

Kitchin, Thomas. "A New Map of the Cherokee Nation," c. 1760. Call no. Cm9121760k. North Carolina Maps. Online at:



I dedicated all I could to kylie and geremo, so I was supposed to recieve a msg but I don't know what it was. Thanks for all this pls leave this msg up so they can see it. Thank you


If some knows an anthony or a geremo jeerrmo gerramo geeramo I do not remember exactly how to spell his name I have a star to dedicate to the cherokee people and I've been trying to get in touch with him here like he asked me


Hello Robert,

Thanks for visiting NCpedia and using the NCpedia comments. We wanted to let your know that we try to respond to users within a couple of days and approve comments as soon as possible. It also seems that you are trying to contact other users though NCpedia comments. We appreciate the communication, but it might be best to contact them individually. We also enjoy feedback about specific NCpedia articles through the comment sections. Please let us know how else we can assist your in the future.

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I've been told several people on the trail of tears died of lyrna disease but I'm sure he meant lyme disease. he jus could not see how to spell lyme


Can some one help me with my project


Hi would love to help



Thank you for visiting NCpedia. We will be glad to help you locate resources for your project. Please feel free to contact our Reference Team at

Best wishes,

Elizabeth Hayden, Government & Heritage Library


What diseases did the Cherokees face on the trail of tears?



There were a variety of diseases that the Cherokee would have faced on the Trail of Tears. The diseases like smallpox that the Europeans brought over had mostly run their course through the tribe by this time, but some small number may still have been affected by them. However, they also faced diseases that were common to all people at the time, especially those traveling, like diphtheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis, typhoid, and influenza.

You can visit our page on infectious diseases the were common in North Carolina in the Nineteenth Century: These diseases would have been more prevalent and harder to treat while the Cherokee were traveling because of the unsanitary conditions and lack of medical treatment available on the forced march.

I hope this helps, if you need more information please feel free to respond to this post.

Best Wishes,

Christopher Luettger - NC Government and Heritage Library


I am studying European diseases effects on native Americans (east coast vs. west) and was wondering what a good primary source would be for this topic?

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