Trade is Trade

I’m reading for my Nashville book and the more I read, the more I’m kind of shocked that no one has written a book like this before. I’m also feeling more confident that I can come to have a reasonable hypothesis for why Richard Finnelson changed his mind and decided to warn Nashville about the impending raid. I wish we knew anything about his wife. Because what seems obvious to me now is that we can’t say that Finnelson was Chickamauga. Yes, he was living in Nickajack and wintered in Crowtown. But with his wife and son. Cherokee men lived in their wives’ villages, among their wives’ families. Finnelson’s wife was a Chickamauga. There’s no reason to believe that Finnelson was.

I’m still struggling a little to find my voice, which is funny, considering how much experience I have blathering on in non-fiction form. But making a sustained, multi-pronged argument over pages and pages while still keeping it interesting is a lot more difficult than writing a post or an article.


3 thoughts on “Trade is Trade

  1. Chickamaugas (Lower Town) are Cherokees — just with different diplomatic alignments and town locations/leadership in the 1770s-early 1790s. The Lower Town people backed the British and the Upper Town people tried to be neutral — for Americans who had fought in the Revolution, that meant that Chickamaugans were Tories and the Cherokees were little better than Tories. 1780s and 1790s Americans used Chickamaugas as a word to connote “enemy” and Cherokee as a word meaning “Indians who aren’t trying to kill us right now” (which made Blount identify Finnelson as a Cherokee because Finnelson was acting collaboratively). Things might have been somewhat tense at the time (a tension that modern Cherokees paper over a bit, I think), but honestly, the Cherokee don’t recognize fine distinctions between the two and they are linguistically, ritually, and ethnically pretty much identical. Once Dragging Canoe dies in 1792 (a moment of potent political/diplo realignment and internal struggle that I think is pertinent to the particular story you’re investigating), the two seem to me to merge back together politically until after 1794, the Lower Cherokees pretty much dominate Cherokee political life and the early principal chiefs all come from the Lower Towns until the mid-1820s.

  2. Oh, no, the Cherokee didn’t recognize any difference between the Chickamauga and the rest of them in any ethnic sense. It’s definitely a political term. The Chickamauga, in general, believed that the best strategy for dealing with the encroaching U.S. was to remove themselves as far as possible from them and then act aggressively against them. The Upper Town people did try to go along to get along as much as possible, at least until the Cumberland Settlements adopted a strategy of killing any Cherokees in retaliation for the actions of the Chickamauga.

    Couple that with the fact that the Upper Towns were less comfortable with allying with the Creeks and I think we start to get a feel for what was going on with Finnelson. We know he worked as a translator and go-between for Robertson and the Spanish, which isn’t exactly behavior we’d expect out of someone from the Lower Towns. And the times he’s mentioned in the historical record after 1792, he’s leading the militias out of Nashville against combined Creek/Cherokee forces, not a crowd you’d expect a Chickamauga to have problems with

    I’ve got to run by the library and get a new book this guy’s just done about inter-village and inter-clan conflict among the Cherokee during this time. I think that’s the last piece of the Finnelson puzzle. He was, I think, neutral on whether the Cumberland Settlements should be there and happy to make money from them when he could, but obviously not so unsympathetic to the Chickamauga position that he moved away from Nickajack. But I just don’t think he ever completely trusted that an alliance with the Creeks was a good idea. I’m hoping this new book will shed some light.

  3. Have you encountered John Grenier’s The First Way of War? It’s a military history of intercultural warmaking in what’s now the US from 1607-1814. His chapter on the 1790s has a lot of stuff on the warmaking you are interested in and especially might be useful to you so that you can pan around the mid-South quickly (like, in 30 pages) and get a handle on the dynamics of all the groups as they interact. It’s been a year or two since I read it, but I remember that Grenier’s understanding of internal Creek politics (and indigenous diplomatic imperatives generally) was more informed than most guys who write from a US diplo/military perspective.

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