north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program
 

 
 
 

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Essay:
     Situated at the confluence of Cowee Creek and the Little Tennessee River, the Cherokee town of Cowee was once the political and economic center of the Cherokee Middle Towns. The ancient mound at the town house site is thought to have been constructed about 600 A.D., long before the Cherokee inhabited the area. Cowee was known to the English and Americans of the eighteenth century, appearing in documents and maps. It is best represented in William Bartram’s travel account Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida, published in 1791.

     Bartram stayed at Cowee for several days in May 1775, describing it as “one of the most charming natural mountainous landscapes perhaps anywhere to be seen.” Cowee’s council-house, he observed, was “a large rotunda, capable of accommodating several hundred people; it stands on the top of an ancient mound of earth, of about twenty feet perpendicular, and the rotunda on the top of it being above thirty feet more.” He noted “about one hundred dwellings” in the community that spanned both sides of the Little Tennessee River.

     As an important Cherokee town, Cowee was a strategic target during conflicts. In 1761, at the close of the Cherokee wars of the past three years, Cowee was burned by British troops. During his expedition against the Cherokee in 1776, General Griffith Rutherford used Cowee as a base before burning it. In 1782, at the close of the Revolutionary War, Cowee was burned by Tennessee troops. Cowee was rebuilt after each disaster, remaining an important town until the Cherokee ceded their lands east of the Nantahala Mountains in 1819. Euchella, an important figure in the Tsali story, was one of the residents of Cowee at the time of the 1819 treaty.

     All that remains visible today is the mound, which has eroded. It is on private property but archaeological studies have been conducted periodically over the years. The mound is best visible in winter, when the trees are bare.


References:
Vicki Rozema, Footsteps of the Cherokees (2007)
National Register Files for Cowee and for the Cowee-West’s Mill Historic District
William Bartram, Travels through North and South Carolina, Georgia, East and West Florida (1791)
Charles D. Spornick, Alan R. Cattier, and Robert J. Greene, An Outdoor Guide to Bartram's Travels (2003)
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