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John Martin :: Kingsport

John Martin :: Kingsport

There is a good article about Joseph Martin and Martinsville Virginia in The Goingsnake Messenger, Vol. IX, No. 3, Aug. 92, p. 61. Following it is an article about the indian branch of the Martin family, entitled "The Cherokee Descendants of Joseph Martin." I have never inquired into the parentage of John Martin in an intentional way, but I feel confident that if John Martin was the husband of Susannah Emory Stuart Fields, then this must have been earlier than the McDaniels sisters unions, or a marriage between one of Martin's sons and Fields. I have not read the article appearing in the Goingsnake Messenger, Volume V #4, November 1988 entitled, "The Frontier Life of Brigadier General Joseph Martin, Jr. Including his Cherokee Families." The Martinsville article recites Martin history, sketchily, back to the crusades! Joseph Martin rode the Brice from Bristol England to Virginia in 1773 where he married Susanna Childes in Albemarle County, rearing 5 sons and six daughters, one of whom was General Joseph Martin (B. 1740) settling Martinsville, Henry County, Virginia in 1778. Jr. married Sarah Lucas in 1762 having 7 children, and 2/24/1784 to Susannah Graves, a widow, and they had 11 more children (altogether 10 boys and 8 girls). He was involved with the Wautauga battle at King's Mountain, turning the Revolutionary War. He was Indian Agent at Holston Long Island, also attorney and legislator, and appointed to run the boundary between Kentucky and Virginia and Virginia and Tennessee.

-The Cherokee’s last great warrior-chief
. John Martin .


Oconostota was born in the Overhill towns of the Cherokee in the Little Tennessee Valley sometime around 1715. While much isn’t known about his early life, he spent his youth as most Cherokee boys training to be a warrior and hunter. In this pursuit, Oconostota found his calling and, in the days of warrior-chiefs, would prove to be not only an able fighter, but a leader who would come to be remembered as one of the greatest in Cherokee history.

Cherokee warriors were, like most southeastern Indians, exceptional woodsmen. As youths, they were taught to swim, use a bow, war club, blowgun, spear, and knife. In hand to hand combat, they were cunning and taught how to use throws, blocks and kicks as any trained fighter. In most battles fought, they would grease their skin to make it slippery and easy to evade an enemy trying to find a hold on them. The rough land of the Smoky Mountains offered some of the best terrain to build stamina and strength. The warriors would often learn how to run and conserve their strength for a fight. In addition, they were taught how to fast and go for days without food – a purification ritual they followed prior to any planned battle.
Oconostota differed from the ancients in the fact that he was also trained in the use of firearms. Rifles had been among the Cherokee for years, but powder and lead could only be obtained from European traders and the weapons were rare. Oconostota, however, had learned how to efficiently use a rifle early in life and was regarded as an exceptional marksmen among his people. In addition, he was a clever tactician and strategist and knew what it took to win on the battlefield. Whether it was fighting other tribes or European traders, he understood their weaknesses and strengths and knew how to stage a battle to win. His quick mind and wise decisions soon earned him recognition in the tribe as one of its greatest warriors. While he did not have the diplomatic and oratory skills of his colleague Attakullakulla, the warrior did have the natural skills of battlefield leadership and that was the catalyst that caused him to rise to prominence in the Cherokee Nation.
Unlike his colleague and rival Attakullakulla, Oconostota did not consider himself a British subject and often tried to maintain a working relationship with the French as a way of keeping his eye on the Creeks – a pro-French tribe that had made themselves enemies of the Cherokee, who were often seen as pro-British by other Native Americans. In fact, Oconostota first shows up in European records when he visited the French at Fort Toulouse. A British trader reporting on the event remarked in his journal:
"Oconostota is returned from the French with powder and ball, and accompanied by some Frenchmen. How many I can not say...Since Oconostota has returned from the French with goods and ammunition, and has had those assurances of peace from the Creeks, he says ‘What nation or what people am I afraid of ? I do not fear all the forces which the great King George can send against me in these mountains.’"
All was not well with the Cherokee Nation, however, the French either couldn’t or wouldn’t maintain trade with the tribe and soon war erupted with the Creeks, which forced the Cherokee to turn to the British for help. During that time, the lower towns of the Cherokee Nation had to be evacuated and that gave Governor Glen of South Carolina the opportunity to recognize the supremacy of Chota and the Overhills towns as being the capitol territory of the Cherokee.
In 1753, the warrior had become a much respected man in South Carolina’s colonial government and, at the request of Governor Glen, aided the Chickasaw led 400 warriors against the pro-French Choctaws, who had raided and killed white settlers and traders in the region. Within a year, the Cherokee warrior was being called by the British governor as the "sole preserver...of every white man’s life in the nation." It didn’t last long as once again Oconostota sided with Atakullakulla and the other chiefs in wanting to break the trade monopoly held by the British with the tribe.
The matter was settled without a new trade agreement with Virginia, however, and new deals were struck with South Carolina in 1755. The reason was the French and Indian War was in full swing and not going to well for the British. The defeat of British General Braddock by the French and pro-French tribes had scared the Crown into seeking Oconostota’s help in securing warriors for the front lines in the war. In exchange for the warriors’ service, Governor Glen would have Fort Loudoun built in the tribe’s territory in order to protect Cherokee women and children from their enemies while the men were off in the north fighting the French.
Oconostota, who was by now recognized as the "Great Warrior of Chota", traveled to the middle settlements of the Cherokee Nation and began recruiting warriors for the conflict. He and his men were successful at Fort Toulouse and he joined Attakullakulla in a campaign on the lower Ohio River that was also successful. In 1758, Oconostota promised the British 400 warriors would assist Virginia in their campaigns against the French, but the delivery was put off until Fall because of omens read by the medicine men. Oconostota played no role in the battle, but as a group of undisciplined warriors made their way back from Virginia, they stole some horses from mountain settlers. Rather than petition the tribe for restitution, the settlers attacked the Cherokee and killed 15 of them. In the Winter of 1759, Oconostota tried to make peace with the British, but, in May of that year, a Cherokee war party from Settee attacked and killed more than 20 white settlers in the country as revenge for the Virginia incident. The Great Warrior of Chota found himself accused of trying to start a war with the British and they cut off ammunition to the tribe. Oconostota tried to persuade Captain Demere of Fort Loudoun of his innocence in the matter, but was sent to Lt. Coytmore at Fort Prince George, who in turn sent the "Great Warrior of Chota" and his 55-man-delegation to Charleston. Oconostota and the tribal leaders had no other option but to visit the governor, who refused their offers of peace and trade. Then-Governor Lyttleton, who had replaced Glen, decided to march his army into the Cherokee territory and personally arrest the warriors who had killed the settlers. He forced Oconostota and the other chiefs to accompany him on the mission and sent a messenger to inform the Cherokee towns, but Gov. Lyttleton’s messenger betrayed him and told the towns that the group had been taken hostage and enslaved and that was what Lyttleton intended to do to the rest of them. Without Oconostota, however, the Cherokee couldn’t resist the British and the governor arrived at Fort Prince George on Dec. 9, 1759 without a single shot being fired. As a show of "good faith", he released all but 24 of the Cherokee, which equaled the number of settlers killed. Oconostota was among those detained in the fort, but Attakullakulla, who was leery of British intentions, persuaded Lyttleton to release the Great Warrior of Chota so he could help persuade the councils to surrender the warriors responsible for the deaths of the white settlers.
Before turning him loose, Gov. Lyttleton made Attakullakulla and Oconostota sign a paper agreeing to the terms of his release. By this time, a burning hatred was raging in Oconostota and he did what he had to do to be free of the British. Over the next couple of months, Lyttleton saw his army practically vanish because of a smallpox outbreak and retreated back to Charleston in mock triumph.
As soon as he was out of sight, however, the Cherokee launched full scale attacks on the frontier outposts. The Great Warrior of Chota returned to Fort Prince George to repudiate the contract and demand the release of the hostages. When he saw it wasn’t going to happen, he lured Lt. Coytmore from the fort and killed him in a surprise attack. The Cherokee warriors started yelling at those inside to start fighting, but the door to their room was knocked down and every Cherokee inside killed. Oconostota rode to the French Fort Toulouse for ammunition and supplies to make war on the British. Attakullakulla tried to make peace, but Oconostota would have none of it and exerted his influence to go to war with the British. Although the French were on their last leg in America, they managed to come up with enough ammunition and supplies to help launch the Cherokee into war with the British.
It was the moment where Oconostota became the closest thing to a tribal chief the Cherokee had ever known. He launched an all out attack against the British and put Fort Loudoun under siege. When Attakullakulla tried to warn them of a night attack, Oconostota threw him off of the council and exiled the Cherokee leader and his family to the woods. With the forts under attack, Oconostota left Ostenaco and his other captains in charge while he took off to meet the advancing British force under Colonel Archibald Montgomery who were being sent by General Amherst from New York to put down the uprising.
On June 26, 1760, Oconostota and his men arrived in a narrow mountain valley near the British force and the Great Warrior of Chota spaced his men along the route with the best fighters in central locations to assist any weakness in the lines. They laid low and patiently waited until the British had marched between them. On orders, the Cherokee sprang from the positions and tore into the British unit. In a short time, 20 British soldiers were killed and more than 70 wounded by the warriors. With the defeat of General Braddock still fresh in his mind, Col. Montgomery felt he had "taught the Cherokee a lesson" and retreated full force to Charleston – leaving the men at Fort Loudoun on their own to deal with the Cherokee without any hope of relief.
Oconostota returned to the Cherokee Nation a hero and continued his siege on Fort Loudoun until the British offered terms of surrender. When it was completed, Oconostota told the warriors that he would personally kill any warrior who hurt the whites as they retreated. During the British march out of the region, however, a massacre did occur that left 24 dead – the same number of the Cherokee leaders who had been killed at Fort Prince George. Following the incident, Oconostota, who probably permitted the massacre, returned to the site and buried the British dead. British Capt. John Stuart, who was captured in the brief battle, had his life claimed by Attakullakulla and both left for Virginia where Stuart was turned over to the British.
Oconostota had succeeded beyond his wildest hopes and became the first Native American in history to capture a British Fort. Now the weight of a war was upon him. He no sooner took control of Fort Loudoun when he made signs of peace to the British. He ended the siege of Fort Prince George and raised the Union Jack flag at the village Nequassie where he spoke for peace to 2,000 Cherokee who had assembled. At first South Carolina welcomed the word, but soon news of the Fort Loudoun massacre reached Charleston and the British were enraged. The killing of white settlers in the backcountry, however, continued and caused problems for hopes of peace. A force of Virginians had been recruited and were heading towards them. Oconostota worked out a truce and bought himself some time to make arrangements with the French. He ended up traveling to New Orleans where he was given a commission as a Captain of the French Army, but otherwise returned empty-handed and had to face making peace with the British. He led an attack on British Col. James Grant, who had been dispatched to regain British honor in defeating the Cherokee, but Oconostota couldn’t match the glorious victory over Montgomery. It resulted in more than 15 Cherokee villages being torched by the soldiers.
When peace finally came, Oconostota accepted it. In his time as warrior, however, he had restored the Cherokee as a great warrior tribe among Native Americans and his voice became the voice of his people - stripping Standing Turkey and Attakullkulla of official power in British eyes. He went on to lead other war parties that were successful and earned the respect of both European and succeeding American leaders.
In late 1773, he was inducted into the St. Andrew’s Society – a fraternal organization of Scots in Charleston where Capt. John Stuart was President at the time. He lobbied to get the British to help him make peace with the western tribes, but the opted to fight the whites in coming wars and his wish of peace was never fulfilled. Oconostota did make peace with the British and the new American government.
In July 1782, the aging warrior chief with the consent of the Cherokee Nation resigned his 44-year-old authority as Great Warrior to his son Tuckesee. The Cherokee, however, did not accept the new Great Warrior, whom they saw as a man of only little ability. In 1783, Oconostota lived with Virginia Indian Agent John Martin at his home on the Long Island of the Holston River. The two men were very close and, as death began creeping towards the old chief, he requested that Martin accompany him back to his beloved Chota.
He and the Indian Agent traveled by canoe to the then-dying city. Oconostota told Martin he wished to be buried in the manner of the whites. The chief had been impressed with coffins he had seen whites buried in and, when finally laid to rest, he wanted to his head to face towards the "Long Knife"– his name for Virginia.
When death was finally near, Martin fashioned a canoe into a make-shift coffin and, following a ceremony reserved for only the greatest of his tribe, Oconostota, the Great Warrior of Chota, was laid to rest in front of the city’s Council House where his voice had once carried the weight of the Cherokee Nation.

It is hard for historians to put into words what Oconostota accomplished in his lifetime of service to the Cherokee. Hollywood and other fictitious portrayals of Native American leadership have always illustrated chiefs as being hereditary "kings" of their tribes. This, especially among the Cherokee, is a myth that has been perpetuated throughout the years.
A Native American’s abilities in war, trade, and diplomacy, brought them influence and the right to serve as a consultant to the tribal council. The power of these political structures was found in an individual’s ability to influence others. Once such a position was attained, it had to be held and proven over and over. Oconostota in any European context would be likened to a famous general. His ability to respond quickly to threats and his fearless courage of battle made him a natural leader among the Cherokee and other southeastern tribes. There were many contemporary descriptions of him in British and French writings of the day and even President George Washington wrote of him and the problems he could pose to American security.
For government officials, Oconostota was the worse kind of threat. Throughout the early history of America and the old west, officials feared a leader like a Genghis Khan could rise from the tribes and forge an alliance between them that would have conquered America. While Tecumseh would later occupy such a position, political differences among tribes created turmoil among Native Americans and prevented such an uprising from happening.
The Cherokee Capitol of Chota fell in tribal influence over the years following his death and was eventually evacuated when the Cherokee were forced to start surrendering their ancient lands in the Southern Appalachian region. It eventually became thought of as more myth than fact and, after the removal on the "Trail of Tears", its location even became a source of speculation.
Oconostota’s commission as a Captain in the French Army is in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. In the late 1960s as T.V.A. was preparing to flood the Little Tennessee River into Tellico Lake, University of Tennessee Archaeologists Dr. Jeff Chapman and Charles Faulkner led an excavation of the region and found the Council House of Chota. They located the seven columns of the circular structure, which is said to represent the seven clans of the tribe, and a variety of other artifacts associated with it. In addition, they excavated the front entrance of the Council House and discovered the remains of a man between the ages of 69 and 72 believed to be Chief Oconostota.
"It says a lot about the stature of Oconostota among the Cherokee," said U.T. Archaeologist Dr. Charles Faulkner. "Their burial of him at the front door of the Chota Council House was a high honor that indicated he was regarded as being above the stature of most Cherokee leaders. The members of the Council would have to walk over his grave to enter the structure and remember his contributions to the Chota village."
While some scholars expressed doubt early on about the remains of Oconostota, the description given by John Martin’s son describing the makeshift coffin and other details matched perfectly the body that was discovered. Some of the artifacts and photographs taken during the excavations in the region can be seen in displays in the McClung Museum’s Native American displays on U.T.’s Knoxville campus. The artifacts found in Oconostota’s burial site, however, were carefully placed back in the grave.
When the studies were concluded, it and the columns of the Chota Council House were placed back in their original positions where concrete was poured over them to prevent looting of the site. It is now under the dominion of the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian and overseen by the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum in Vonore.
The site is still used in ceremonies by the Cherokee and regarded as the most sacred site of the Cherokee Nation. It is located south of the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum and Fort Loudoun State Park on the same stretch of road. It is an easy one-mile hike from the parking lot. Admission and directions are available from the museum.
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