Wednesday, March 13, 2019

The Chief Vann House

I remember visiting the Chief Vann house in Northwest Georgia, “The Showplace of the Cherokee Nation,” as a child. Today I’d like to share with you some of the fascinating history I reviewed on my recent research trip, along with photos of what was once known as Diamond Hill Plantation.

As far as historians can tell, James Vann was born to Scottish fur trader Joseph Vann and his half-blood Cherokee wife, Wahli, around 1768. James gained wealth by placing various businesses along the newly established Federal Road at the turn of the nineteenth century. He took multiple wives, but Peggy Scott Vann (b. 1783) claimed the title of principal wife, even though she was not the mother of James’s main heir, Joseph (Joe) Vann. The Cherokees did not own the land, but rather could use it for specific purposes.

On his many travels, James became acquainted with Moravian missionaries, and desired for them to establish a school for children of Cherokee chiefs on his land. The missionary diaries describe his land near the Connesauga River as rich but Vann himself as “very dissipated and drunken.” Indeed, Vann had acquired a reputation for cruelty to his slaves and even his family members. But he became the consummate host to the Moravians, who established Springplace mission in 1801.

Across from the mission, Vann completed construction of his new, Federal-style brick home in 1805. The brick mason came from Virginia, and carpenters from Tennessee. Vann slaves formed the bricks by hand on the plantation, while nails and hinges were made in Vann’s blacksmith shops. The floating stairway offers the oldest example of cantilevered construction in the state. James’s son Joe is believed to have added the elaborate woodwork in the colors of earth and sky as seen in the home’s interior today. The cookhouse was adjacent to the dining room, originally a hewn log structure.

In 1835, the Joe Vann family became victims of the Trail of Tears, removing to Webber’s Falls, Oklahoma. The property valuation included 800 acres under cultivation, 110 slaves, the house, cabins, barns, smokehouses, corn cribs, grist mill, sawmill, blacksmith shops, taverns, peach kiln, whiskey stills, and peach and apple orchards.

Get a glimpse of life as it was, both harrowing and beautiful, at Diamond Hill and Springplace c. 1805, in my upcoming novel, The Witness Tree, this September with Smitten Historical Romance.

Represented by Hartline Literary Agency, Denise Weimer holds a journalism degree with a minor in history from Asbury University. She’s the managing editor for Smitten Historical Romance of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and the author of The Georgia Gold Series, The Restoration Trilogy, and a number of novellas, including Across Three Autumns of Barbour’s Colonial Backcountry Brides Collection. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses! Connect with Denise here:

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  1. Thanks for the post. Sounds like Mr. Vann was a very conflicted person, as are many of us.

  2. Very interesting! Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thank you, Melanie. I enjoy the Cherokee history. Their lifestyle was fascinating.

  3. Fascinating and tragic bit of history. I hope the message shared by the Moravians bore fruit in Chief Vann's life at some point. What a horrible experience to have developed such a way of life and then lose it all.

    1. As far as the Moravians knew/recorded, he did not accept their message before his murder in 1809. The next year, however, his principal wife, "Peggy," did. Many others followed in faith in the period before the Trail of Tears.