This project is sponsored by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division, with funding assistance provided from the National Park Service National Trails System-Santa Fe Challenge Cost Share Program.
Archaeologists define cultures on the basis of the kinds of artifacts they find in excavations. Based on artifactual evidence, a culture identifiable as ancestral Cherokee goes back at least to the late 1300s, and quite possibly earlier. However, archaeology cannot tell us the language these people spoke, so we have no archaeological way of knowing whether ancestral Cherokees were in the heartland region of western North Carolina, western South Carolina, and northern Georgia earlier or not. In any case, in 1827 after nearly 300 years of contact with European, and later American settlers, the Cherokee wrote a constitution modeled after that of the United States. The installation of a Cherokee republican government marked one of the most remarkable transitions in cultural history. In the short space of several generations Cherokee society began shifting from a relatively decentralized, mixed hunting/gathering/farming economy under largely localized political control to a relatively more centralized political structure, with commercial agriculture developing alongside traditional subsistence farming. The adoption of the new constitution was no accident of history. The Cherokee had made a very considered decision that the best way to preserve their culture was to selectively adopt certain aspects of American culture, including its form of government.
The United States government was unsure of how to deal with the new republic. Constitutional questions (eventually resolved by the Supreme Court in favor of the Cherokee) and the discovery of gold in the Cherokee republic, as well as the increasing demand for agricultural lands, caused many land speculators to eye Cherokee farms with increasing avidity. All of these factors led to congressional action that would eventually result in Cherokee removal, which was part of a larger effort extending over several decades to remove all native peoples from the Southeast. After detention at the forts discussed on this webpage, the Cherokees trekked to their new homes in "Indian Country"—northeastern Oklahoma. Many Cherokees never made it, dying along what came to be known as "The Trail of Tears."
Today, archaeological sites and road traces associated with the Cherokee Trail of Tears are endangered by rapid and ongoing development in northeast Georgia, and are also the focus of intense interest among Georgia citizens. These two factors prompted the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, working under a Challenge Cost Share agreement with the National Park Service National Trails System-Santa Fe to conduct a preliminary survey of locations in the state thought to be the sites of the Removal "forts". This website summarizes the results of that study. It also includes links to other websites of interest, a downloadable driving tour map, and educational tools for local schools. We hope that you will come away from your visit with a better understanding of this tragedy, as well as an increased appreciation for Cherokee culture, which despite tragic events like the Trail of Tears, thrives today in Oklahoma, North Carolina, and in numerous individual families throughout the southeast.