A Native American people (Plains Peoples) who traditionally inhabited a region stretching across western Virginia and the Carolinas, eastern Kentucky and Tennessee, and northern Georgia and Alabama. Their prehistoric ancestors built ancient Etowah (Georgia), an important ceremonial centre of the eastern Mississippi cultures, visited by Hernando De Soto in his explorations of 1540–42. The Cherokee lived in towns of longhouses, and were at first easily assimilated into the expanding USA. Smallpox and other European-introduced diseases had greatly reduced their population by the 17th century, when French and English traders made contact. Conflict with White settlers moving westwards led to several wars, which reduced their lands. However, they adopted European methods of farming and government, including a bill of rights and a written constitution. The Cherokee also developed a distinct and original written language in the early 19th century, which gave rise to an indigenous literature and, later, a Cherokee-language newspaper.
The Cherokee had supported the British in 18th-century wars against the French and during the American War of Independence. American forces attacked them and by the end of the war their population and territories had been greatly reduced, so in 1827 they established the Cherokee Nation in north-west Georgia through a series of treaties with the US federal government. The discovery of gold on their land resulted in pressure from the White settlers to encroach further onto Cherokee territory. Although their treaty rights and tribal autonomy were upheld in the Supreme Court, they fell foul of both the state authorities and Jackson's policy of removal of Native American tribes to land west of the Mississippi. In 1838 President Van Buren ordered the deportation of the remaining Cherokee to the Oklahoma Indian Territory (see Trail of Tears). In 1906 the Cherokee finally gave up their tribal allegiance and in 1924 they gained the vote as US citizens.
Subjects: World History — Literature.