Celtic Indian Intermarriage
Celtic people tried to escape their indentured servitude in the colonies by initially becoming traders of the English. These Celtic people moved as traders bringing goods from the colonies into and over the Appalachians. These traders began to intermarry and settle in the Indian nations of the Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Creeks from east Tennessee, northwest Georgia, and northern Alabama. Through the contacts of these traders, interracial families became a natural process of blending with the native people.
Cherokee Chief John Ross-Celtic Indian
In the Creek, Chickasaw, and Cherokee societies of north Alabama, interracial marriages of Celtic men and Indian women were commonly acceptable. By 1800, this was evidenced in tribal leadership of the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Creek being controlled by Celtic-Indian mixed blood chiefs. Cherokee Chiefs John Watts, Jr. and John Ross were Celtic and Cherokee. Chickasaw Chiefs George (Tootemastubbe) Colbert and his brother Levi (Itawamba Mingo) Colbert were Celtic and Chickasaw. Creek Chiefs Alexander McGillivary and William (Red Eagle) Weatherford were Celtic and Creek; therefore, our Alabama Indian societies accepted and many times promoted interracial marriages due to the advantages which were reaped in trade and treaty negotiations.
Many Celtic indentured servants became traders for the English, carrying British goods from Olde Charles Town throughout the north Alabama area to the Cherokee towns along the Tennessee River and the Chickasaw towns on the upper Chattawatchee (Tombigbee) River. By the early 1700s, the British had an alliance with the Chickasaws and Cherokees. As the Appalachian Mountain portion of the Southeastern United States became inhabited with Celtic people, intermarriage, many times with multiple Indian women, became common instead of the exception. Many Celtic traders were seeking the companionship of beautiful Indian women as wives and many times would marry these Indian maidens at a very young age.
One of the better-known Celtic (Scots) persons was James Logan Colbert, who came to the Chickasaw Nation with a large pack train at a young age. Colbert rode with several other pack horsemen through North Alabama, conducting trade with the Cherokees and Chickasaws. “James Logan Colbert...sought refuge among the Chickasaws. He eventually became an influential member of the tribe, proving to be a brave leader in their wars...James Colbert married three Chickasaw women. Two of his wives were pure Chickasaw and the third was a half-breed. His first wife gave him a daughter, Mollie. He fathered five sons by his second wife: William, George, Levi, Samuel and Joseph. James Colbert’s third wife bore him another son, James, and another daughter, Betsy. His sons became legends among the Chickasaws. Their father had tried to live in the ways of the Indians. The sons attempted to copy the life of the white man. George, Levi, and James lived at various times in Mississippi and Alabama. All the brothers seem to have had more than one wife; their daughters and granddaughters were of such outstanding beauty that they wove interesting chapters of romance along the Natchez Trace...The Colbert brothers were patriots, and at least two of them served in the American Army as scouts, guides and leaders of Indian detachments. William was with General Andrew Jackson in his campaign against the Creeks in South Alabama. One source shows George Colbert participating in the American Revolution under Washington. His military record reveals that he fought under St. Clair in 1791, and under ‘Mad’ Anthony Wayne in 1794. He led an expedition against the Creeks in March, 1814, and served as a Captain in the U. S. Army under General Andrew Jackson from November 1, 1814 to February 28, 1815.
Levi, known as ‘the Incorruptible,’ became the most famous of the Colberts. Itawamba Mingo, as Levi was called by the Indians, was living near his brother George’s ferry in 1805. Later in 1812, he opened his own inn, know as a ‘stand,’ on the Natchez Trace at Buzzard Roost Creek near the Bear Creek Ford in what would become Colbert County in Alabama. In 1817 he moved to the Monroe County, Mississippi area. This was after he deeded his Buzzard Roost Inn to a daughter. She had greatly pleased her father by marrying Kilpatrick Carter, an early white settler.
In the Spring of 1834, Chief Levi Colbert set out for Washington on urgent matters pertaining to the negotiations for removal of the Chickasaw Nation. This would eventually send them to Oklahoma. Along the way he stopped at Buzzard Roost where he became sick and died. It is not known whether they returned his body to his home at Cotton Gin Port, Mississippi, or if they laid the old chief to rest in the red soil of a county that would one day bear his name.
James, the youngest of the Colbert brothers, became a leader of great affluence among his people. His properties included a 500-acre plantation worked by over 100 slaves. He used his wealth to help pay the expenses of 50 Chickasaw families when they were forced to move to the Oklahoma Territory in 1837.
George Colbert, the ferryman, was called “Tootemastubbe” by the Indians. Historians have credited him as being one of two or three who guided the destiny of the Chickasaw during a critical period of their history. He was born in 1744 near the Tennessee River in what would become North Mississippi. In most of the treaties with the white man George served as chief negotiator. History records that he was quite shrewd in this role. He served as Chief of the Chickasaws for about twelve years” (McDonald, 1989). George Colbert married two of Doublehead's daughter's. Today, descendants of this powerful Celtic-Indian family still live in north Alabama.
Not only was Chickasaw society impacted by Celtic intermarriage but also Cherokee lifestyles were rapidly changing because of the influx of Celtic blood. John McDonald from Scotland became a trader and an agent for the British during the Chickamauga War. John settled close to present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee near the mouth of Chickamauga Creek and married Ann Shorey, the half blood Cherokee daughter of William Shorey. John's mother was Barbara Ross and may have been the reason John bought the freedom of Daniel Ross, a captive of Bloody Fellow. Daniel Ross became a partner of John McDonald and married John's daughter Mollie in 1786. The McDonald and Ross families were forced to move because of the war that was occurring with the Americans to Turkey Town near present-day Center, Alabama where John Ross was born in 1790. Even though John Ross was only one eighth Cherokee, he was a Celtic Indian that served as chief of the Cherokee Nation for some 40 years.
Doublehead’s older sister married John Watts who was Scotch. From this marriage came two notable mixed ancestry Celtic Cherokee people. As stated earlier, their son John Watts, Jr. became chief of the Cherokee Nation. Also their daughter Wurteh Watts married trader John Benge, who was Scotch, and Nathaniel Gist. In 1776, George Gist or Sequoyah was born from the marriage of Wurteh Watts and Nathaniel Gist. Wurteh became the mother of one of the most famous Indian people in the United States — Sequoyah.
John Benge and Wurteh Watts had three sons — Robert Benge, Talohuskee Benge, and Utana Benge. Robert Benge was known as The Benge, The Bench, Bob Benge, Captain Benge, and Colonel Benge. Bob Benge rode with his great uncle Doublehead and became one of the most feared Cherokee warriors of the Appalachian frontier. Bob Benge was red headed, blue-eyed, fair complected, spoke perfect English, and was lethal as a rattlesnake toward his enemies. Talohuskee (Tahluntuskee) Benge signed the 1806 Cotton Gin Treaty with Doublehead and feared assassination that his uncle Doublehead received. In the summer of 1808 by agreement with President Thomas Jefferson, the Cherokees loyal to Doublehead were given land west of the Mississippi River. In 1809, Taluntuskee Benge and some 1130 Cherokee left north Alabama for lands west of the Mississippi. This group of Indians became known as the “Cherokees West” or “Old Settlers.”
Many North Alabama Indian people have mixed ancestry of Celtic and Indian blood lines and are members of the Echota Cherokee Tribe of Alabama. Many of these people do not have the features which meet the expectations of what an “Indian” looks like, but since our Indian people are of mixed Celtic origin, they are not supposed to look like full bloods; however, we have a unique culture here in the Southeast like no other in the world; therefore, we encourage our mixed-blood Indian people to be proud of their heritage no matter what they look like. Probably Mr. John Knox summed up the situation in 1964 as well as anyone. “ A few days ago we were asked, what do you make of all these red-headed, blue-eyed Cherokee Indians you hear about? We gave the usual easy answer: that traders were in the Alabama wilds long before the settlers came. Many became ‘Countrymen,’ married Indian squaws, joined the tribes. Many — if not most of these — were Scots or kindred Gaels.”
Not all mixed ancestry Indian people had an easy life. Even though intermarriages of our local people basically improved lifestyle, it also created dilemmas and problems in Cherokee society. According to The Dividing Paths by Tom Hatley, “...it is not surprising that at least some village women chose to enter into sexual liaisons and even marriages with colonial traders....In the Cherokee towns as late as the mid-point of the eighteenth century, indigenous women continued to choose to live with colonial traders. However, a gradual change had taken place in the some villages which had witnessed the first interaction between Cherokees and colonists. The slow learning about Euroamerican society — and vice versa — which had brought a degree of alienation in diplomacy and even in trading was also reflected in the politics of gender relationships. Intimate interaction resulted in a rejection by some indigenous women, not of colonial men as individuals, but of colonial expectations of behavior...The intermarriage of Cherokee women and colonial men posed an immediate challenge to these limits. The paradox posed for Cherokee society at large did not stem from these interactions themselves. Traditional lines of authority and governance, except in the most stressful times, were strong enough to have resisted the potential for disintegration growing from relationships between tribal women and colonial men. The real difficulty faced in the villages was due to the children born to bicultural marriages. The conventional solution was consistent with matriarchal kinship: ‘when they part,’ Henry Timberlake observed, ‘the children go with, and are provided for, by the mother.’
Some children slipped out of the hold of Cherokee mothers...Male children are retrospectively more visible because at least some seem to have followed their fathers into the leather trade — or their mother’s side into warriorhood. The timing of the 1731 Carolina trade statute, which banned tribal or metis participation in colonial commerce, may have reflected the coming of age of a generation of metis youth, and white anxieties about their increasingly high profile in the trade. More direct confirmation of the presence of such children, and their integration into the economic world of their colonial fathers...however, the rules of racial ranking developing in the colonies kept metis individuals on the margin, confined to trading communities far removed from polite towns such as Charlestown, literally middlemen between the world of their mothers and that of their fathers.
Racial gradations prevalent in colonial society, such as ‘mustee’ and ‘mulatto,’ either did not exist or were subdued among the Cherokees. The most important and lasting distinction was not whether men or women were white or black, but whether they counted themselves Cherokee or not...Cherokee women, however, continued to keep open the door which, in times of war, the warriors wished to slam shut. At least through most of the century, colonists taken captive often had the chance to become Cherokee....but it was not captives or visitors — outsiders to the tribe — who felt the tension of ethnic identity most directly. Instead it was metis children born within Cherokee villages. As the first generation of these children became adults, the middle ground confidently crossed in the first decades of the century by their parents had become a kind of quicksand.
These abstractions became intensely sharp by the middle decades of the century for young male Cherokee mixed-bloods who had grown up confident in their mothers’ lineages....they aspired to full rights in warriorhood but found obstacles in their way. As raiding became more focused on white settlements rather than on other tribes, metis children confronted profound questions of cultural and personal allegiance. For some mixed—blood men, the tensions of proving their Cherokee allegiance were shown in harsh, hostile acts of cultural disavowal.
Under growing white-red confrontation, psychological stress could also push Cherokee metis (and their mothers) toward loyalty to the English. Thus “Indian wenches, half-breeds and others” became a familiar line-up of informants to backcountry officials. Though some mixed-blood males appeared as mediators in times of conflict, women much more often played that role, sometimes acting in concert with “war women.” “Half-breeds” caught in the middle were vulnerable, and, like women, were often singled out as victims of violence. Confusion about the victim’s ethnic identity was a common excuse given by Cherokee warriors when non-combatants and allies were killed in war” (Hatley, 1995).
Regardless of biracial problems seen during the early 1800s with mixed blood Celtic Indian people, they were able to advance to the highest positions in local Indian societies; however, with passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830, many of our mixed blood Indian people had to make heartbreaking decisions in order to stay in the land they loved, walk the paths of their ancestors, and seek the freedom from bloodshed, violence, and war.
The primary trade routes traveled by Celtic traders working for the British and later the American government were Indian trails that were also used during removal. These primitive trails meandered across northern Alabama and became major migration routes of the Celtic-Indian families as they travelled into the Warrior Mountains of this area. They brought their agrarian lifestyle into this hill country of the southern Appalachian Mountains that was already home to many mixed bloods. In the Warrior Mountains, they continued to intermarry and raise families of mixed ancestry. At last, Celtic people thought they had found among the Indian nations the freedom they had sought over two continents and two thousand years; but, bloodshed would come again and again. The Celtic-Indian families would again be dominated and driven from their homes. Many of the families of mixed ancestry would trudge further west during the Indian removal of the early 1800s, still hoping for their freedom; but many would remain in their Appalachian homes of the Warrior Mountains, refusing to leave. The mixed families who chose to remain were forced into some 150 years of denial of their true heritage, with many claiming to be Black Dutch or Black Irish. They hid in the coves, hollows, and distant creek bottoms of North Alabama’s Warrior Mountains and eked out survival in the isolation of the hills as their ancestors had done in the Appalachians and highlands of Scotland and Ireland.
Fearing not only for their personal property but also their lives, the remaining Indian people in much of the Southeast denied their Indian race, held to white man’s ways and religion, and almost lost their Indian and Celtic cultural heritage. As children of mixed ancestry grew older, they were told of their Indian ancestors, but were not allowed to claim their rightful heritage. Since Indian removal, the degree of Indian blood in Southeastern people has steadily diminished and will continue to do so throughout future generations.
With the passage of Sections 2 through 7 of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, it became legal to be Indian and live in Alabama. Many Indian descendants of mixed Celtic ancestry began to seek and reclaim their Indian heritage, but for many it was too late. In 1972, the Indian Education Act passed, allowing tribes across the United States to teach their cultural traditions. On March 16, 1980, the Echota Cherokee Tribe was officially organized. During 1980s, several north Alabama school systems initiated Indian education programs funded by the United States Department of Education, Office of Indian Education. Finally we, as mixed ancestry Celtic-Indian people in the Warrior Mountains are still trying to overcome the dual loss of the identity in two ancient societies and assimilate ourselves within a relatively new and unique cultural environment as true American citizens of Indian and Celtic blood.