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Biographical Description

The Cherokee are an American Indian group that once lived in parts of present-day North Carolina, Tennessee, South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. A 1755 report estimated that there were 2590 Cherokee warriors residing in Southeastern America. While the British often dealt with a specific Cherokee leader, which they termed an "emperor," in reality the Cherokee governmental structure was divided into towns, each one having its own leader and operating relatively autonomously.

During the French and Indian War, the Cherokee people initially allied with the British, though some towns participated more than others. However, after a series of disagreements, the Anglo-Cherokee War ignited in 1758, which involved a series of events wherein the British took Cherokee leaders hostage and killed them. In return, the Cherokee laid siege to Fort Loudoun, eventually killing nearly all of the British garrison there. By the end of the war, the British military had conducted a series of raids against the Cherokee, razing several of their towns to the ground. The Anglo-Cherokee War ended in 1761, and in November 1763, Cherokee leaders met other American Indian and British colonial leaders at Augusta, Georgia, where they negotiated for a larger overall peace.

Despite the promises of the treaty, pressures on the Cherokee people only continued to increase as British colonists and later Americans continued to encroach onto Cherokee lands. In 1838, some Cherokee leaders signed the Treaty of New Echota, and as a result, the U.S. Government forcibly removed approximately 16,000 Cherokee people to present-day Oklahoma. It is estimated that 4,000 Cherokee people died along the route. A separate group evaded the removal order through a variety of means and remained in the Great Smoky Mountains, where they were eventually able to purchase their own land around the Oconaluftee River near present-day Cherokee, NC.

Today, there are three federally recognized Cherokee tribes: the Cherokee Nation (Oklahoma), the United Keetoowah Band of Cherokee Indians (Oklahoma), and the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians (North Carolina). As of 2022, the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma is the largest federally recognized tribe in the United States with over 430,000 citizens.

For more information and links to resources, please see our editorial statement on American Indian terminology.

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