James Vann bigraphy, stories - Scottish-Cherokee planter and businessman from Georgia

James Vann : biography

1766-2 - February 19, 1809

James Vann (ca. 1765–68 – February 19, 1809) was an influential Cherokee leader, one of the triumvirate with Major Ridge and Charles R. Hicks, who led the Upper Towns of East Tennessee and North Georgia. As the son of Wah-Li Vann, a mixed-race Cherokee woman, and a Scots fur trader, he belonged to his mother's Wild Potato clan (also called Blind Savannah clan).Miles (2010), p. 40

Vann was among the younger leaders of the Cherokee who thought its people needed to acculturate to deal with the European Americans and the United States government. He encouraged the Moravians to establish a mission school on Cherokee land, and became a wealthy planter and slaveholder.

The Chickamauga Wars

A story was repeated about James Vann that indicates the violence of his times. As a young man, he helped lead the John Watts' 1793 offensive against the Holston River colonial settlements. They originally planned an attack against White's Fort, then capital of the Southwest Territory (as Tennessee was known). As the war party was traveling to the destination, Vann argued they should kill only men, against Doublehead's call to kill all the settlers. Not long after this, the war party of more than 1,000 Cherokee and Muscogee came upon a small settlement called Cavett's Station. Bob Benge, a leading warrior, negotiated the settlers' surrender, saying no captives would be harmed. But, Doublehead's group and his Muscogee Creek allies attacked and began killing the captives, over the pleas of Benge and the others. Vann managed to grab one small boy and pull him onto his saddle, only to have Doublehead smash the boy's skull with an axe. Another warrior saved another young boy, handing him to Vann, who put the boy behind him on his horse. Later he gave him to three of the Muscogee for safe-keeping; a few days later, a Muscogee chief killed and scalped the boy. Vann called Doublehead "Babykiller" for the remainder of his life.Miles (2010), pp. 36

The events were the start of a lengthy feud between the two men. This contributed to the confrontational politics between their respective Upper and Lower Towns of the early 19th-century Cherokee Nation., Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 16, No. 1, March, 1938


Representation in other media

Dee Alexander Brown wrote a novel featuring a fictionalized version of Vann's life, called Creek Mary's Blood (1981).


In national Cherokee politics, Vann led the so-called "young chiefs" of the Overhill Towns, who rebelled against the oligarchy of those, primarily from the Lower Towns, referred to as the "old chiefs," who were led by Doublehead. The Lower Town chiefs followed more traditional practices. Vann and Charles R. Hicks persuaded a reluctant National Council to permit the establishment of a school operated by the United Brethren (Moravians) of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Vann furnished the land and building for the Moravian school next to his home at Spring Place, Georgia.

His feud with Doublehead ended in 1807. The Council ordered Doublehead executed for having secretly profited from the private sale of Cherokee land, a capital offense under tribal law. The council appointed Major Ridge and Alexander Saunders from the Nation to carry out the sentence. Vann was also appointed but was said to be too drunk to participate.

As part of changes in tribal practices, in 1808 Vann helped form the Cherokee Lighthorse Guard, a kind of police force to monitor the roads in the Nation to suppress horse stealing and other thefts. That same year, chiefs of the seven clans, plus Black Horse as chief and Pathkiller as his assistant, signed the Act of Oblivion on September 11, 1808, which ended the traditional clan blood law requiring vengeance killings., Cherokee Observer ᎠᏣᎳᎩ ᎠᎦᏎᏍᏗ, Vol. 15, No 11 & 12. Nov/Dec 2007, p. 2Note: James Mooney in 1900 wrote that the Act was passed in 1810., 1900; reprint 1995

While riding patrol, Vann was shot to death at Buffington's Tavern on February 19, 1809. Speculation was that his killer might have been someone related to someone he had wronged, or Alexander Saunders., About North Georgia, accessed 18 December 2011

Living octopus

Living octopus

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