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On June 27, 1760, a British army led by Colonel Archibald Montgomery was defeated by Cherokee warriors at the battle of Echoe, near present-day Franklin. The battle was the high tide for the Cherokee in their four-year war against both North and South Carolina. In 1758 South Carolina began the conflict against their Native American neighbors to the north and west because of French efforts to incite Southern Indians against the British in the French and Indian War. In late 1759, several Cherokee chiefs who had gone to Charleston as a peace delegation were taken hostage and killed. In response, Cherokee chief Ostenaco stated “Make peace, who would, I will never keep it.” The Cherokee retaliated by laying siege to the British garrison at Fort Loudon near present-day Vonore, Tennessee.
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South Carolina Governor William H. Littleton had begun the first expedition against the Cherokee in 1759, but his force, comprised mostly of provincial troops and militia, was racked by a smallpox epidemic. His successor, William Bull, chose to rely on British regular forces, and called on British General Jeffrey Amherst to assist. Amherst sent from the northern theater Colonel Archibald Montgomery, commander of the 77th Foot, known as Montgomery’s Highlanders, with 700 men from his regiment and 400 from the 1st Foot, the Royal Scots.
Montgomery’s force, which consisted of veterans of extensive fighting in New York and Pennsylvania, landed in Charleston on April 1, 1760. The expedition marched northwest, reaching Fort Prince George on June 2. Joined by nearly 400 South Carolina provincials, Montgomery’s force now numbered 1,600 men. Guided by his belief that the destruction of the Cherokee Middle towns would bring the Indians to terms, Montgomery set out on June 24, following a known Cherokee trading path across the Keowee and Oconee Rivers, burning every Cherokee Lower village in their way. At 4:00 A.M. on June 27, the troops crossed Rabun Gap, entering the Little Tennessee River Valley, headed directly for the village of Echoe.
Six hours later, as Montgomery’s advance guard passed through a gap in the mountains near the river, Cherokee warriors led by Chief Occonostota attacked the column on both sides, forcing Montgomery’s men to fall back. Having regrouped, the British commander ordered the South Carolina provincials to move forward while the 77th Foot took mounted the ridge to his left and the 1st Foot the ridge to the right. After four hours of intense fighting, Occonostota’s men withdrew, allowing the British to ford the river just north of the battlefield. One British participant recorded that “During the action they endeavored to frighten us with their yelling, but we turned the Cheer upon them, with three Whirra’s, and three waves of our Bonnets and hats, which they did not seem to relish.”
Montgomery’s force entered Echoe briefly, burned what they could, and then retreated back to Fort Prince George, which they reached on July 1. He had been unable to destroy Cherokee resolve or lift the siege of Fort Loudon, which surrendered to the Cherokee the following month. During the battle, the British lost 22 killed and 94 wounded. Indian losses are unknown, but likely comparable in numbers.
The following year a 2,800-man expedition under Colonel James Grant, previously Montgomery’s second-in-command, destroyed the Cherokee at the Second Battle of Echoe. Fought two miles southeast of the 1760 battlefield, the engagement marked the beginning of a long series of reverses for the Cherokee.
Barbara R. Duncan and Brett H. Riggs, Cherokee Heritage Trails Guidebook (2003)
Tom Hatley, The Dividing Paths: Cherokees and South Carolinians through the Era of Revolution (1993)
Douglas L. Rights, The American Indian in North Carolina (1947)
John P. Arthur, Western North Carolina: A History, 1730-1913 (1914)Franklin Press, July 2, 1964
John P. Brown, Old Frontiers (1938)
Bartram Trail website: http://www.bartramtrail.org/pages/Bartram_Trail/nc.html