Thursday, January 11, 2024

Long Canes Indian Massacre: The Backstory that Birthed a Novel

Markers for Fort Boone on a lonely backroad

by Denise Weimer

Suppose you lived in the 1700s. You survived an attack by the fierce Cherokee Indians on the edge of the South Carolina and Georgia frontier. And then, when you became an adult, your church and your fledgling country asked you to reach out to those same Indians in an attempt to make them allies. This was the “what if” that hooked me to write A Cherished Betrothal, Book Three of the Scouts of the Georgia Frontier, releasing this month.

The setting is current-day McCormick County, South Carolina, first discovered by white hunters, traders, and drovers in the early 1700s. These explorers described fertile land with wild cherries, persimmons, peas, and canes that grew to twenty or thirty feet. And trees so far apart, deer and buffalo (yes, Eastern buffalo) could be seen from afar, and those herds numbered up to seventy deer and a hundred buffalo each.

During the French and Indian War, families on the frontiers of Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania, mostly Scots-Irish, were ravaged by Indian attacks. Many made their way down the Great Wagon Road to Waxhaws, South Carolina. The Calhouns, including four brothers (James, Ezekiel, William, and Patrick), their sister, Mary, and their mother, Catherine, were among these. At Waxhaws, they heard the reports of long hunters who had been to the Long Canes district of South Carolina, which abutted the Savannah River and the Georgia colony. The Calhouns were eager to establish a Presbyterian church there.

The Calhoun party arrived in Long Canes in February of 1756 and settled on the east side of Long Cane Creek. Before the end of the year, they crossed the creek and relocated a few miles to the north on the Little River. The land the Calhouns claimed was known as the Flatwoods, a Cherokee hunting ground which they assured the provincial government they had secured permission of the Cherokee leaders to settle. However, according to a 1747 treaty, the land was not legally open for settlement. 

Patrick Calhoun became the official surveyor and later a justice of the peace. Other Scots-Irish settlers followed, some relatives or former neighbors. By 1759, there were up to thirty families in the area.

On the cold morning of February first, 1760, settlers received warning of an attack planned by Cherokee warriors. They prepared to flee sixty miles to Tobler’s Fort across the Savannah River from Augusta, Georgia. Within hours, the first group of a hundred people reached the fort. The second group of about a hundred and fifty in thirteen wagons became mired after recent rains on the east side of Long Cane Creek, only a few miles southeast of their homes. Take note of my photo of flooded Long Cane Creek, which I visited on a research trip the same time of year. I had to cross this on a one-lane wooden bridge built in the 1930s! 

Would you be scared? I prayed the whole way across!

he sounds of the party attempting to cross the creek drew the notice of the hundred braves led by Chief Big Sawny and Chief Sunaratehee. They crossed at another spot, hid, then attacked.

Only a few of the fifty-five to sixty white men could access their guns stowed in the wagons. They held off the attackers for half an hour. William Calhoun saw his daughter Catherine, seven, killed and daughters Anne and Mary, four and two, taken captive. He sent his pregnant wife, Agnes, and their nine-year-old son away on a horse. Five of the Norris family fell in the attack, as well as Calhoun matriarch, Catherine.

A message was sent to the governor from Tobler’s Fort. Two or three days later, Patrick Calhoun returned with the militia and found the bodies of twenty-three people which they then buried in a mass grave. Incredibly, they also found nine children alive who had been left for dead, including Rebecca Calhoun, fifteen, who had concealed herself in the canebrake. In 1765, she married Andrew Pickens, who became a Revolutionary War Patriot leader. 

Many survivors returned to Waxhaws, where Andrew Pickens met Rebecca Calhoun. Incredibly, a group returned to the south fork of Calhoun Creek in October of 1760. This time, Patrick Calhoun built a fort of poplar logs, a blockhouse twenty feet square, and a stone chimney that took up most of one end of the blockhouse. The fort was armed with swivel guns and blunderbusses. He posted a party of Chickasaw Indians posted as guards. Fort Boone also served as a school, meetinghouse, and church.

Patrick Calhoun’s letter from December 26, 1763, when the Creek Indians killed fourteen people along the Savannah River, stated that twenty-seven men and a hundred and three women and children had holed up at Fort Boone for protection.

Not only did the Long Canes settlers return to face two hostile Indian tribes, but in the next decade, when A Cherished Betrothal is set, they faced a war on multiple fronts. They were urged to court the friendship of both Creeks and Cherokees so the tribes would not ally with the British Loyalists during the American Revolution. A clash of multiple cultures loomed in the South Carolina and Georgia backcountry! 

Map that shows Fort Boone

Denise Weimer writes historical and contemporary romance from her home in North Georgia and also serves as a freelance editor and the Acquisitions & Editorial Liaison for Wild Heart Books. A wife and mother of two daughters, she always pauses for coffee, chocolate, and old houses. 

NEW this month, Book Three of Scouts of the Georgia Frontier, A Cherished Betrothal:

Patriot Ranger Alexander Morris vowed revenge on the warrior who killed his brother and father. Elspeth Lawrence, a survivor of the same massacre whose sister was taken captive, teaches Cherokee children at her father’s school. She’s never stopped longing for the boy who saved her, but when their paths are reunited on the eve of revolution in the South Carolina backcountry, more than her Loyalist suitor stands in the way. Alex can’t remember the massacre, or Elspeth, but his hatred for the Cherokees he’s been ordered to court as allies threatens to choke out the seeds of love and healing.

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1 comment:

  1. Thank you for posting today, and Happy New Year. The saddest line in your post today is the one that says that the land was not legally open for settlement.