Franklin, the seat of Macon County, is located on the remains of a sacred Cherokee site, Nikwasi. Within the Cherokee culture, the name is translated to mean “center of activity.” The mound itself has decreased in size since its construction. The estimated date of construction is ca. 1000 A.D. Ancient mounds were common in what is now North Carolina when the first European explorers and settlers arrived. The mound at Nikwasi is one of about thirty formerly in place in the mountain region. An active Cherokee village until 1819, today all that remains is a large mound.
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The Cherokees treated Nikwasi as a spiritual and ceremonial center. The town is thought to have occupied around 100 acres, with a large square to the east of the mound. Remnants of a ramp leading from the town square in the east to the top of the mound are still visible today. Nikwasi was the ceremonial town of the Middle Cherokees, who inhabited present-day Macon County until their lands were overtaken in 1819.
In 1730 Scotsman Sir Alexander Cuming held a council of Cherokee leaders at the council house, then located on the mound. Cuming recruited local headman Moytoy to act as “Emperor of the Cherokee.” With Moytoy’s support, Cuming persuaded those present to pledge their allegiance to King George II. Soon thereafter, Cuming traveled with a group of Cherokee representatives to England, where the men were coerced into signing "Articles of Friendship and Commerce."
In September 1776 state militia led by Griffith Rutherford marched across the region destroying all Cherokee crops and villages, including Nikwasi. The campaign was an act of retribution for the punishment enacted by the native people against the newly arrived settlers.
The Cherokee continued to inhabit the sacred site until 1819, but were slowly pressured from the surrounding areas by European settlers. After the formal concession of their lands to the United States government, the town of Franklin was built on the former land of Nikwasi. Today the large mound in the center of Franklin’s commercial district best displays the ancient past of a sacred Cherokee and earlier aboriginal tribes’ town.
Barbara McRae, Franklin’s Ancient Mound: Myth and History (1993)
Burt Kornegay, “Nikwasi: Sacred Fire,” Wildlife in North Carolina (July 2000)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
William S. Powell, North Carolina Gazetteer (1968)
Articles of Friendship and Commerce:
Unpublished paper on Cuming’s visit: http://www.iga.ucdavis.edu/Research/All-UC/conferences/2006-fall/Chambers.pdf