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Numbers of Cherokee Warriors

Explanatory Note by Doug Wood

Grasping the significance of the Cherokee role in the war, historian Gregory Dowd wrote, "Before 1759, no Indian people would contribute a larger body of warriors or a more important service to British efforts."note#1 Many popular histories of the French and Indian War detail the efforts of the Mohawks on behalf of northern colonies late in the war, but the significant contributions by the Cherokees are nearly ignored. Dowd compared the efforts of these two British-allied native nations:

"In the Seven Years’ War, their [the Cherokees'] martial alliance bore promise; at one time in 1758 they fielded some 450-700 warriors for Britain. Not even the Mohawks in friendship with Sir William Johnson could match that record before 1759, when British victory was imminent."note#2

Dowd's estimate of Cherokee warriors afield is low, as the following references will show. Evidence of the large number of southern American Indian warriors that had taken the field in 1758 alone is found in the testimony of a Delaware named Shamokin Daniel, who revealed to Shingas, a principal French-allied Delaware war commander, that the English had recruited a large number of mercenaries from amongst the Delawares' traditional enemies. On August 28, 1758, Moravian minister the Reverend Frederick Post, on a peace mission to the Ohio Valley French confederates (i.e., Delawares, Shawnees, and Mingoes) recorded:

"Then Daniel interrupted me, and said [to Shingas] [']Don't believe him, he tells nothing but, Idle Lying Stories, for what did the English hire 1200 Indians to kill us.['] I protested against it, he said, [']God Damn you for a fool did you see the Woman lying in the Road that was kill'd by the Indians that the English hired?'"note#3

Was Shamokin Daniel's estimate of mercenary Indians afield in 1758 inflated? The numbers of Cherokees, Catawbas, Tuscaroras, Nottoways, Chickasaws, and other southern AmerIndians fighting on behalf of the British is not certain, but there is a good deal of evidence that the warriors numbered above 1,000, as Shamokin Daniel testified. Edmond Atkin wrote to Major General Abercrombie on May 20, 1758:

"He [Colonel Howarth] says that it was computed in the nation [Over Hill Cherokees] between 4 or 500 had gone to Virginia & near 200 down the Tennessee River towards the French fort [De L'Ascension] twenty days westward... Mr. Byrd... set out from thence the first Inst. to Vause's Fort in Virginia by way of the Atken [Yadkin] River, with sixty Indians... seven or eight as it was said following him the next day... Attakullakulla... resolved to set forward to Virginia... and it was supposed he would carry from the Overhill Towns between 100 or 150 men more."note#4

This correspondence from Atkin gives a range of approximately 767-918 Cherokees fighting on behalf of the English colonies in the early summer of 1758. By subtracting the 200 estimated to have gone down Tennessee River from the lower estimate of 767, we get 567, a number in close agreement with Bosomworth's tally of 539 Cherokees in Virginia and Pennsylvania at the end of April. This is the lower estimate of the range. Acknowledging that some gangs, like those with Ostenaco and Oconostota near Fort Duquesne, may not have been counted, the higher estimate seems more likely to reflect the actual number of Cherokee warriors afield. Based upon the several hundreds of Cherokees mentioned by Edmond Atkin, Virginia Governor Dinwiddie, and South Carolina Captain Raymond Demere in their correspondences in 1757 and 1758, it appears that there may have been around 900 Cherokees involved in military campaigns on behalf of the English colonies. With the addition of the other nations' warriors, the total number of southern American Indians campaigning against the French and their allies might easily have been around 1,100.

On the other hand, in Warpaths: Invasions of North America (New York, 1994, p. 191), Ian Steele tallied the number of Six Nations warriors fighting for the British in the 1755 Battle of Lake George at 300. Most were likely Mohawks, but the number of warriors from any one member nation of the Iroquois Confederation during that campaign was less than 300. After the deaths of many of the warriors at Lake George, most Iroquois warriors dropped out of the fray between the European superpowers until 1759, when the efforts of the colonial forces, the British regular forces, and their southern Indian allies over the intervening three years made victory for the British imminent.

1. Dowd, Gregory Evans. 1998. "'Insidious Friends': Gift Giving and the Cherokee-British Alliance in the Seven Years' War." In Contact Points. American Frontiers from the Mohawk Valley to the Mississippi, 1750-1830. Edited by Andrew R. L. Cayton and Fredrika J. Teute. The University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, North Carolina. p. 115. (Hereafter referred to as Dowd 1998).

2. Dowd 1998:150.

3. Frederick Post, A Daily Journal Kept by Frederick Post Commencing July 15th, 1750. Forbes HQ, Papers of John Forbes (manuscript), call no. SC-MCGR-X : MSS 10034 : 2094910-1001:1, Special collections of the University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, Virginia.

4. Mays, Edith, editor. 1999. Amherst Papers, 1756-1763. Heritage Books, Bowie, Maryland. pp. 63-64.

 

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updated: 7/29/08