Indigenous Peoples of Tennessee

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Click this button for links to databases, indexes, or sites that help you find an American Indian ancestor by topic or tribe.

Learn about the tribes and bands, history, records, agency, and reservations of the Indian of Tennessee.

Prominent Tribes of Tennessee[edit | edit source]

Cherokees John Ross (Tsanusdi), Colonel E. C. Boudinot Jr., Samuel Smith, Lilly Smith, Walini, Marcia Pascal, Lillian Gross, William Penn, and Thomas M. Cook

The prominent early Indian tribes in Tennessee were the Cherokee and the Chickasaw. The Chickasaws claimed most of western Tennessee as their hunting grounds. The Cherokees claimed southeastern Tennessee and northeast Georgia as their homeland. By 1818, the Chickasaws had ceded their land away by treaty to the State of Tennessee.

The majority of Cherokees living in Tennessee were forced to go to the Indian Territory (now a part of Oklahoma) in the 1830s. A few hid in the mountains bordering Tennessee and North Carolina. "Documenting descent from Native Americans who did not remove from Tennessee is usually a major challenge." Gale Williams Bamman, CG, "Research in Tennessee, "National Genealogical Society Quarterly, Vol. 81, No. 2 (Jun. 1993): 111-113. FHL book 973 B2ng v. 81 (1993). People suspecting such descent may wish to consider Native American DNA tests, such as those available through FamilyTreeDNA (while being aware of the limitations of such tests).

See Indigenous Peoples of Oklahoma for information about the five civilized tribes and their records in Oklahoma.

Tribes and Bands of Tennessee[edit | edit source]

The following list of American Indians who have lived in Tennessee has been compiled from Hodge's Handbook of American Indians...Hodge, Frederick Webb. Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Washington D.C.:Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin #30 1907.
Available online and from Swanton's The Indian Tribes of North America Swanton John R. The Indian Tribes of North America. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of American Ethnology, Bulletin #145 Available online. Some may simply be variant spellings for the same tribe.

(Chickamauga Cherokee = Sac White River Band)

  • See also:
Melungeons, not a tribe, but probably part American Indian. A DNA study for people who believe they are of Melungeon descent is underway at FamilyTreeDNA: "Melungeon Core" Surname Project
1 January 1833 list of Cherokees of Tennessee. The Journal of American Indian Family Research. Vol. 5 no. 1 page 46-51 FHL 970.1 J825j

Maps[edit | edit source]

For maps showing tribal lands in Tennessee, see:

  • Aboriginal Map of Tennessee. Signal Mountain, Tennessee: Mountain Press, 1996. (Family History Library map 976.8 E7a.) This map shows the location of American Indian towns and shows when forts, towns, and stations were created by white settlers.
  • Myer, William E. Indian Trails of the Southeast. Nashville, Blue & Gray Press, 1971. (Family History Library Book 970.1 M992i.) This indexed book predominantly covers the area south of Washington, D.C. and east of the Mississippi River and includes a removable map of trails specific to early Tennessee.
  • Reeves, Charles A. The Cherokee Lands Included in the Sycamore Shoals Agreement (1775).
  • Royce, C.C. Map of the former territorial limits of the Cherokee "Nation of Indians." Originally published 1884.
  • Stuart, Hunter & Royce. The Cherokee Country, Published by J.P. Brown, 1937 (with W.F. Martin's 1999 revisions).
  • Timberlake, Henry. A Draught of the Cherokee Country, 1762.

Histories[edit | edit source]

For a history of Indians in Tennessee, see:

  • Satz, Ronald N. and Tennessee Historical Commission. Tennessee's Indian Peoples: From White Contact to Removal, 1540-1840. Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1979. FHL book 970.1 Sa84t.
  • Williams, Samuel Cole, editor. Adair's History of the American Indians. By James Adair. Microfilm of reprint published: Nashville, Tennessee: National Society of the Colonial Dames of America in Tennessee, 1953. Original published: Johnson City, Tennessee: Watauga Press, 1930. This is an account of Adair's expeditions and associations with the principal tribes of the Indians of the Southeast United States spanning 30 years in the mid-1700's. This annotated edition is indexed and contains a reproduction of the original title page, London, 1775. FHL film 1320683, Item 2

Agencies of the Bureau of Indian Affairs[edit | edit source]

Agencies and subagencies were created as administrative offices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and its predecessors. Their purpose was (and is) to manage Indian affairs with the tribes, to enforce policies, and to assist in maintaining the peace. The names and location of these agencies may have changed, but their purpose remained basically the same. Many of the records of genealogical value were created by these offices.
The following list of agencies that have operated or now exist in Tennessee has been compiled from Hill's Office of Indian Affairs...Hill, Edward E. The Office of Indian Affairs, 1824-1880: Historical Sketches, Clearwater Publishing Co., Inc. 1974. FHL book 970.1 H551o., Hill's Guide to Records in the National Archives Relating to American IndiansHill, Edward E. (comp.). Guide to Records in the National Archives of the United States Relating to American Indians. Washington DC: National Archives and Records Service, General Services Administration, 1981. FHL book 970.1 H551g, and others.

Records of the Cherokee Indian Agency in Tennessee, 1801-1835. M208. 14 rolls. FHL Film: 1024418 (first film of 14)

Records[edit | edit source]

The majority of records of individuals were those created by the agencies. Some records may be available to tribal members through the tribal headquarters.They were (and are) the local office of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and were charged with maintaining records of the activities of those under their responsibility. Among these records are:

History of the Cherokee Indians[edit | edit source]

The Tennessee State Library and Archives (TSLA) offers a free research guide at their website:

There are many sources with information about the Cherokees; for example:

  • Allen, Maud Bliss. Census Records and Cherokee Muster Rolls. Washington, DC, N.p., 1935. FHL book 970.3 C424am, film 908999 item 2. This contains the Cherokee census of 1835 of Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. The record also includes Cherokee muster rolls for 1834, 1837, and 1838.
  • Finger, John R. The Eastern Band of Cherokees, 1819–1900. Knoxville, Tennessee: University of Tennessee Press, 1984. FHL book 970.3 C424f.

The record includes a bibliography, maps, and an index.

  • Blankenship, Bob. Cherokee Roots. Two Volumes. Cherokee, North Carolina: B. Blankenship, 1992. (Family History Library book FHL book970.3 C424bL
    *Volume 1 has rolls of Cherokees east of the Mississippi for the years 1817; 1818–1835; 1848; 1851; 1869; 1883; 1908; 1909; and 1924.
    *Volume 2 lists Cherokees west of the Mississippi from rolls prepared in the years 1851; 1852; 1898–1914.

The name of the person and the roll number are given. A transcript of the 1851 list is also in The Eastern Cherokees: A Census of the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, and Georgia in 1851, described below.

1835: Lists were made by white census takers in 1835 of Cherokees in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, and Tennessee. Anyone who was at least one-fourth Indian was considered Indian. See:

  • United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs. Census Roll, 1835, of the Cherokee Indians East of the Mississippi and Index to the Roll, Tennessee, Alabama, North Carolina, Georgia. Washington, DC: National Archives, 1960. 833322. This census lists heads of families; their residence; and the number of males, females, and slaves in the household.
  • Tyner, James W. Those Who Cried: The 16,000: A Record of the Individual Cherokees Listed in the United States Official Census of the Cherokee Nation Conducted in 1835. Salt Lake City, Utah: Chicago, Illinois 1974. FHL book 970.3 C424tj. Entries list heads of households; number of full-bloods, half-breeds, quarter-bloods, or whites in the home; occupations; number of slaves; whether they read English or Cherokee; or if they owned property. The book is indexed and has maps of the period. There are some errors because census takers did not understand the native languages.

For a history of the Cherokees to about 1835 in the Tennessee area, see:

  • Malone, Henry Thompson. Cherokees of the Old South: A People in Transition. Athens, Georgia: The University of Georgia Press, 1956. FHL book 970.3 C424ma. See the maps before the preface. At the end of the book there is a bibliography.

1851: A list of the Cherokees living in Tennessee in 1851 is:

  • Siler, David W. The Eastern Cherokees, A Census of the Cherokee Nation in North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Georgia in 1851. Cottonport, Louisiana: Polyanthus, 1972. FHL book 970.3 C424sd. It contains the names of all family members, with their ages and relationship, for De Kalb, Jackson, and Marshall Counties. An index is included.

Some additional Cherokee records that you might find useful are:
Chickamauga Cherokee Indian Nation (Oklahoma). Application for Chickamauga Tribal Enrollment. Salt Lake City, Utah: Genealogical Society of Utah, 1992, 1997. FHL film 1597951 ( first of 19 films). This source contains vital records certificates, pedigree charts, family group sheets, and numerous miscellaneous records.

  • United States Bureau of Indian Affairs. Cherokee Agency. Records of the Cherokee Agency in Tennessee, 1801–1835. National Archives Microfilm Publication, M0208. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1952. FHL films 1024418–31. These records deal with the entire Cherokee nation. They contain information about passes for whites who wanted to pass through Cherokee lands from 1801–1804; claims filed 1816–1833; Army officers at posts; unauthorized settlements on Indian lands; land office records; names of traders, settlers, missionaries, chiefs, and members of the tribe. An introduction on the first microfilm describes the contents of these records.
  • United States Office of Indian Affairs. Letters Received, 1824–1881; Registers of Letters Received, 1824–1880. National Archives Microfilm Publication, M0234. Washington, D.C.: National Archives, 1942, 1956. FHL film 1638620, first of 1088 films. These letters, pertaining to each of the major tribes, contain many names but are not indexed.

Family History Library[edit | edit source]

For more sources on specific tribes, use the Subject Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under the name of the tribe. Other sources are listed in the Place Search of the FamilySearch Catalog under:

  • Chickamauga Tribal Enrollment 6 films Family History Library 1st film 1597951
  • Haywood, John. The Natural and Aboriginal History of Tennessee Up to the Earliest Settlement Therein by the White People in the Year 1768. FHL Film 962597 item 2 or microfiche 6146012. WorldCat

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

See also:

References[edit | edit source]