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Volume 5, Number 22 Mountain Press, P.O. Box 400, Signal Mountain, Tennessee 37377, 1-423-886-6369 November 6, 2013
In this article we discuss the Cherokee lands in Tennessee. In particular, we explore the Hiwassee and Ocoee Land Districts. We have just completed a 20 year project of redrawing the original 55 maps in the Ocoee Land Districts. On these maps, each little block is labeled with the name of the first buyer, the type of purchases, and the amount paid for that tract. Hopefully, it will help some in their research of this area.As always, we love hearing your stories after each newsletter. Please email me at email@example.com if you have any comments or questions. Thank you,
James L. Douthat
Cherokee Lands in Tennessee
Throughout history, the Cherokee ranged over most of the eastern portion of Tennessee and surrounding states. As time passed, with various treaties, their lands were diminished down to just a few square miles.
With the Treaty of 27 February 1819 held in Washington, the Cherokee were granted some lands in white territory, especially noted in Robert Armstrong’s Plat Book of those Indians lands given in Reservation. By the time of the removal, these lands had been sold to whites and the Cherokee moved back into the Cherokee Nation.
The 1819 treaty ceded the land between the Tennessee River, the Little Tennessee River and the Hiwassee Rivers from the Cherokee. The land included the present counties of Loudon, Roane [in parts], Monroe, McMinn and Meigs. After this treaty, the only area left in the state that belonged to the Cherokees was the southeastern corner of the state bordered on the north by the Hiwassee River and the west by the Tennessee River.
In this treaty the Hiwassee Land District was created. It was laid off in the usual grid system of six square mile townships. It had a baseline running east to west and a principal meridian running from north to south. The major problem with the Hiwassee Land District was that many of the county court clerks did not understand the surveyors’ notations. Many of the tracts that were in the northeast quarter ended up in the southwest quarter. Using these records frequently leads people in the wrong direction to locate the land in present day terms.
The very last portion of the Cherokee lands in Tennessee to be given up by treaty in 1837 is the Ocoee Land District. This land is south of the Hiwassee River to the Georgia State Line and from the North Carolina border to the point where the Tennessee River runs into Alabama. It included portions of Marion and Hamilton Counties and all of Bradley and Polk Counties. Between Bradley and Hamilton was James County that was created in 1870 and disappeared by 1920.
The Ocoee Land District was not laid off in the usual north-south direction, but was arranged parallel to the Tennessee River. It is a grid system, but with this one slight variance. We began a project to redraw the fifty-five maps of this district and include all of the first sales of the lands. Each township of six square miles would be broken down into as small as forty acre tracts, meaning there were thousands of people who made a purchase of these lands. Each township included a section of 640 acres to be set aside as “school lands” to be sold and the money received for the land would be given to the state to support their “land grant” colleges and schools.
In both of the above districts, the price for an acre of land followed the same formula. For the sales in the first months was $7.50 per acre. Usually this was the river bottom lands and islands in the middle of the river. As time passed, the land became cheaper until it sold for as little as $.01 per acre. In the Ocoee, a couple of developers would purchase mountain lands in Polk County at this price and they would buy whole townships. As most of the townships in Ocoee were fractional notations, they would not be the full six square miles in scope. Some of the townships were as small as a couple of square miles in full scope.
When we started this project, we had not idea of how long it would take to complete the redrawing and cataloging of the buyers. It ended up taking over twenty years to complete this project. The main persons interested are the local surveyors and title guarantee people.
In the process of working with the grid system as opposed to the “meets and bounds” system, there are seldom mention of geographic features as mountains or creeks and rivers. The label for these would have been helpful for the research today, but they were not present in the original maps.
A few items of real interest in these transcriptions are the notation of “OE” or “AOE” on a purchase. This indicates “occupant entry” or “agent of occupant entry”. This would indicate a white living on Indian lands, which was possible with the permission of the Cherokee Council. There are “mill quarters”, “mills” and other notations on some of the sales to make the researcher dig a little deeper to note what they mean.
These land records give a great deal of insight into the relationship between the whites and their Cherokee neighbors. Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs established the Meigs Line in 1802, a survey from Fort Southwest Point into North Carolina to separate the Cherokee Nation from the United States. The Meigs Line was a correction of the first line established by Colonel Hawkins in 1797. When the Hiwassee Land District came into existence, the line between the two nations was moved south to the Hiwassee River.
If you have ancestors that lived in east Tennessee during these times, you might be able to find them in the land records or surveys. Happy Hunting!!!
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