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 colony whose influence was strongest in this area was South Carolina.
South Carolina’s colonial government built a fort here called Fort Loudoun, and the story of this fort and its inhabitants is a tragic one. The structure now located at the Fort Loudoun State Historic Park is a copy of that fort.
Fort Loudoun was built because Britain was at war with France, and the colonies were a part of this struggle (the French and Indian War). The fort, in the heart of Cherokee territory, was meant to ensure that Cherokee warriors fought against the French rather than against the British.
Cherokee chiefs were receptive to the idea of the fort 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 traded guns, powder, tools, iron cookware, clothes and other things to ensure friendly relations.
For a couple of years, things went well between the colonial soldiers and the neighboring Cherokee. Soldiers built the fort — a large, enclosed wooden fence that protected a big parade ground, barracks, a blacksmith shop and various storehouses.
Trade between the colonial soldiers and the Cherokee occurred almost daily. 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. These 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. 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 responded by refusing to trade food with the soldiers.
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 retaliate for other events. Soon Fort Loudoun was surrounded by hostile Cherokee warriors.
The British government sent soldiers to relieve Fort Loudoun, but that small force 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 cannons.
However, that’s not what happened. On August 9, the British garrison spent the night about 15 miles east of Fort Loudoun, 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.)
So what happened after 1760?
For nearly two centuries, the charred remains of Fort Loudoun were neglected, although some maps showed the previous location of the fort. Starting in the 1930s, there were several initiatives to research the fort, and eventually the site was cleared and a replica was built.
In the 1970s, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s plan to create Tellico Lake threatened to flood the 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 that was based on extensive archaeological work.
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 and a small river, the fort is now beside a lake.
When you visit Fort Loudoun State Park, 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.
We also recommend that you watch the video called Ft. Loudoun: Forsaken by Man.
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.