Cherokee Towns - Cherokee buildings after colonization
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Cherokee Towns

Cherokee house
Cherokee house

In the late 1600s AD, Cherokee people were still building their towns about the way they had built them before the Europeans arrived. We have a good description from an English trader called James Needham, who visited the Cherokee town of Chota in 1673 (I have modernized the language): "The town of Chota is on the banks of the river, with very high cliffs all along one side of the river which help to defend the town. On the other three sides the town has a wooden fence built of logs at least two feet thick, standing upright twelve feet high, and on top there is a walkway so they can stand on it to defend the walls and shoot out at their enemies. Many nations of Indians live along this river... which the Cherokees are at war with, and so the Cherokees keep a hundred and fifty canoes ready under the command of their forts. The smallest of these canoes will carry twenty men, and the canoes go very fast because they are pointed at both ends. ... Inside the fort, the houses sit along streets."

Chota Meeting House
Chota Meeting House

Archaeologists have excavated the main meeting house of Chota, and it shows postholes where big posts were set in the ground to hold up the walls and roof. In the center is a big hearth for a fire. Can you see the two darker spots where the posts were, one on each side of the hearth?

In 1725, George Chicken, an English army colonel who spent some time in Cherokee towns, also reported that Cherokee towns had strong walls and kept always ready for war. Some of these wars were with Spanish and English people who were invading, but most of the wars were with other Native American groups, especially Shawnee people.

Vann house
The house of Joseph Vann,
a Cherokee man (1804)

But during the 1700s, many Cherokee people died of smallpox, and their armies were not so strong anymore. Some Cherokee people began to build houses more like European houses, to try to get along better with the Europeans. Joseph Vann, a rich Cherokee plantation owner, built this house for his family in 1804, but he also built plank cabins for the African-American people he kept as slaves to live in.

Learn by doing: touring historic houses near you
More about colonial American architecture

Bibliography and further reading about North American houses:

North American houses after 1500 AD
North American public buildings - churches and theaters
North America home
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter.
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