Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Oconostota

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OCONOSTOTA, head king or archimagus of the Cherokees. The exact dates of his birth and death are unknown, but he had attained to the age of manhood in 1730, and was living as late as 1809. He was a man of herculean frame, undaunted courage, and great physical prowess, and while yet a very young man was one of the six delegates that, in 1730, visited George II. at “his great house across the water.” About 1738 he was elected head king of his nation, and exercised almost despotic sway over the Cherokees and their allies, the Creeks. He sided with the English in the war with France, but afterward, exasperated by an attack on a party of his men by settlers, who accused them of horse-stealing, he invested, with 10,000 allied Creeks and Cherokees, Fort Prince George and Fort Loudon, in the heart of the Cherokee country. At the same time he made a general attack upon the back settlements of the Carolinas. By stratagem he lured into his power and massacred the commander of Fort Prince George, and he soon reduced Fort Loudon to the alternative of surrender or starvation. Being allowed to retain their arms and promised safe conduct to Virginia, the garrison of two hundred surrendered, but was treacherously attacked at the close of the first day's march, and, according to the generally received account, all but Capt. John Stuart, Isaac Thomas, a scout, and a soldier named Jack, were killed. Oconostota then directed Stuart to work the captured guns, with which he proposed to reduce Fort Prince George, and, on his refusal, threatened to burn him at the stake. Stuart's life was saved by the vice-king, Atta-culla-culla (q. v.), who conducted him in safety to Virginia. The English then destroyed the Cherokee towns, and reduced the nation to the last extremities. Peace was finally granted them only on the intercession of Atta-culla-culla. Oconostota was ever afterward the faithful ally of the English. In 1770 a handful of pioneers, under James Robertson (q. v.), crossed the Alleghanies and settled upon the Cherokee territory at Watauga. The Cherokees received them kindly, and Oconostota granted them an eight years' lease of the lands that they occupied, but when, in March, 1775, they demanded an absolute cession of the territory, he opposed it in an eloquent speech in which he predicted the fate of his nation. He was overruled in the great council of the tribe, the cession of the Watauga lands was made, and also of the Cherokee claim to Kentucky. When he had signed the treaties he turned to Daniel Boone, who had been active in the negotiations, and said to him: “Young man, we have sold you a fine territory, but I fear you will have some difficulty in getting it settled.” In a little more than a month the battles of Lexington and Concord were fought. John Stuart, who had been appointed British superintendent of the southern Indians, at once conceived a gigantic scheme for crushing the southern colonies by a combined front and rear attack. A British land and naval force was to descend upon the seaboard, while Oconostota, at the head of 20,000 combined Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, and Cherokees, should attack the back settlements. A year of time and millions of money were expended in the preparation, and in July, 1776, the execution of the plan was attempted. Sir Peter Parker descended upon Charleston, but was beaten off, and a like fate befell the scattered rear attacks, Oconostota himself being driven back by John Sevier with only forty men. A five years' struggle followed, during which Sevier, with at first only 200 men and with never more than 1,000, inflicted defeat after defeat upon the old king and his 10,000 warriors. At last the nation dethroned Oconostota. and elected in his place the peace-loving Rayetayah. This broke the spirit of the old monarch, and he sought oblivion in drink, which soon robbed him of his manhood. For nearly thirty more years he is known to have wandered about, a homeless, weak, besotted, and despised old man, begging a measure of meal or a gallon of whiskey from the “white brother” he so intensely hated, and he did not sink into the grave until he had seen that his own evil policy had brought about the entire subjugation of his country. The last recorded account of him is in the letters of Return J. Meigs, U. S. agent among the Cherokees. He writes in 1809 that his study of the classics was often interrupted by the intrusion into his tent of the “greasy old Oconostota,” who would wail for hours over his departed greatness.