In the 1750s, neither the state of Tennessee nor the United States of America existed yet. The area now known as Monroe County was at the far reaches of the British empire, and the British colony whose influence was strongest in this area was South Carolina.
In 1757 South Carolina's colonial government built a fort here called Fort Loudoun. The structure now located at the Fort Loudoun State Historic Park is a copy of that fort, located at the exact location of that fort. But the story of the original fort, and what happened to its inhabitants, is a harrowing one.
Fort Loudoun was built because England was at war with France, and the colonies were a part of that international struggle. The fort, in the heart of Cherokee territory, was meant to ensure that Cherokee warriors fought against the French rather than the English.
Cherokee chiefs were receptive to the idea of Fort Loudoun because they thought it would give them access to European-made goods for which they could trade. In fact, when soldiers arrived in 1756 and began building the fort, they gave guns, powder, tools, iron cookware, clothes and other things to ensure friendly relations.
For a year or so, things appeared to be cordial between the colonial soldiers and the neighboring Cherokee. Soldiers built the fort -- a large, wooden, enclosed palisade that contained barracks, a blacksmith shop and various storehouses. (A palisade is a fence of stakes set firmly in the ground for defensive purposes.) Trade between the colonial soldiers and the Cherokee occurred on almost a daily basis. A few Cherokee war parties left and fought skirmishes against the French, just as the British hoped they would. Some of the soldiers' wives came to live at the fort, and a few of them even had children (which are believed to be the first English children born west of the Appalachian Mountains).
But in 1758 and 1759 relations broke down between the colonists and the Cherokee on many fronts. When the general in charge of British forces in America ordered his men to stop trading arms and gunpowder with the Cherokee, the Cherokee people near Fort Loudoun retaliated by refusing to trade food with the soldiers there. There were numerous acts of violence between Cherokee and colonials in Virginia and South Carolina, often started by misunderstandings and driven by the desire to retailiate for other events. Soon Fort Loudoun was surrounded by hostile Cherokee warriors.
The British government sent an army to relieve Fort Loudoun, but that army was attacked and never made it through the mountains. For much of 1760 the people inside the fort held out on the verge of starvation. Finally, in August, Captain Paul Demere of the British army surrendered the fort. The 230 people men, women and children were told that they would be allowed safe passage east across the mountains if they laid down their arms and turned over the fort's 12 cannon.
However, that's not what happened. On August 9, the British garrison spent the night about 15 miles east, next to a small body of water called Cane Creek. The next morning Cherokee warriors attacked and killed about 30 people, including Captain Demere. The rest of the soldiers and other people who had lived at Fort Loudoun were taken prisoner. Some died during the next few months, some were later exchanged back to the colonists, and some chose to live out the rest of their lives with the Cherokee.
(History books refer to this attack on the English soldiers as the Cane Creek Massacre. The Cherokee, however, believed this attack to be justified revenge for the execution of Cherokee hostages at Fort Prince George, another colonial fort located in present-day western South Carolina.)
This is the sad, bloody tale of Fort Loudoun. For nearly two centuries, the charred remains of the fort sat neglected. But in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s there were several initiatives to research the site and rebuild the fort. In the 1970s, TVA's plan to create Tellico Lake threatened to flood the rebuilt fort site under several feet of water. Instead, the replica was torn down, the Fort Loudoun site elevated 20 feet, and a new replica built. So today, the fort looks as close to the original as possible. But the view from the fort is nothing like it would have been when the fort was being used in the 1750s. Once flanked by Cherokee villages, the fort is now flanked by a lake.
When you visit Fort Loudoun today, start with the visitor's center. Inside you will find all sorts of exhibits that demonstrate what life would have been like in a British fort 250 years ago: Things like weapons and tools; cutlery and bottles; clothing and furniture.
There's also a short film we recommend you watch.
You'll find a diorama (a model) of Ft. Loudoun.
The visitor's center also contains displays that tell you some things about the Cherokee villages once located near here. One of those villages, Tuskegee, produced a blacksmith named Sequoyah, famous for producing the Cherokee alphabet. Another, Tanasi, is the village for which the Tennessee River, and the state of Tennessee, are named.
As we move out to the fort, we want to make a point about visiting Fort Loudoun: The best time to do so -- by far -- is when a living history event is occurring and re-enactors are in full dress at the park. These events take place about half a dozen times a year, and the schedule of them can be found by clicking here.
Here are some photos taken at a living history weekend. Click on each to see a bigger version:
Here's a British army surgeon, explaining his instruments of work. On the day we took this picture, he explained the process of amputation to several guests. One of them, a young lady of 17, fainted from the details. So ask the surgeon about amputation at your own risk.
The blacksmith would have been a busy man at Fort Loudoun, repairing swords, guns, horseshoes and other metal implements.
A view of soldiers mustering taken from inside one of the barracks.
This man is demonstrating the long lost art of woodworking by hand, creating grooves in a flat piece of wood as a first step toward building a wooden box.
And this woman and her daughter are making scones (an English bread) the old fashioned way.
Here are the members of the garrison firing a three-pound cannon (which means, by the way, that the cannon fired a ball that weighed three pounds). The original Fort Loudoun had 12 cannon, which were all turned over to the Cherokee when the fort was surrendered.