Nashville's History Just Got a Little Clearer

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I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy of the new book by Paul Clements, Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements. There's a great write-up on it over at The City Paper, and it all looks fantastic.

But I'm especially curious about this part:

Historians have always assumed that most of the attacks upon early Nashville were made by the Chickamaugans, a warlike branch of the Cherokee who lived along the Tennessee River, just downstream from present-day Chattanooga. Chronicles of the Cumberland Settlements contains evidence that many of the attacks could be traced to these villages — including first-person accounts of people in those villages celebrating with scalps. Because of this, the settlers destroyed two of those villages (Nickajack and Running Water) in the 1794 offensive known as the Nickajack Expedition.

But the book contains evidence that attacks also came from Delaware Indians living in the present-day site of Muscle Shoals, Ala., and Creeks from present-day central Alabama.

“We proceeded near to the edge of the branch, which was margined with bushes,” recalled Edward Swanson, a veteran of the battle. “We discovered the Indians, 250 Creeks, lying in the coverts of bramble before us.”

This heavy involvement by the Creeks raises a point that may have been understated in history books to this point: that the Spanish (who controlled the Mississippi River in the South) wanted the Middle Tennessee settlements to fail, which is why they armed the Creeks and encouraged them to attack.

“The Spanish wanted the American settlers to stay as far away from New Orleans as they could,” Clements said. “They understood the threat of having settlers on rivers that flowed into the Mississippi.”

This is something that I learned about when I was writing my piece on the Battle of Buchanan's Station. I was really surprised by the great disconnect between how academic historians understand that battle — as a crucial turning point in U.S./Spanish/Indian relations — and how our more public history of this era gets told — with the battle as barely a blip on the historical radar.

If Clements' book only causes us as a city to better understand our role in shaping the early United States, that will be a great accomplishment. But the thing I'm excited about is that it seems poised to reveal to us even more of our early history than that.

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