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Saber and Scroll

Abstract

Excerpted on author's behalf:

While clearly scholars have addressed the interactions of individual states and Native American communities during the revolutionary era and while they have also clearly written about the entire frontier region more generally, few have focused on the impact of Brigadier General Griffith Rutherford’s 1776 autumn campaign against the Cherokee in western North Carolina. Known as the Rutherford Trace, his campaign revealed fully the hard hand of total war. Rutherford’s campaign also concomitantly helped shape America’s collective memory of native peoples as “savages” which, in turn, helped frame America’s Indian policies in the years and decades following the conflict. The purpose of this article is to help fill the historiographical gap relative to the nexus of British, American (Tory and Patriot), and Native American interests and designs along the American Revolutionary frontier. The paper argues that Rutherford’s campaign, combined with associated operations in South Carolina and Virginia, helped fuel American post-Revolutionary policy-making, both domestic and foreign, more than any other region of the war. Results indicate that Rutherford’s expedition was anything but pyrrhic in nature as has been advanced by some recent scholarship.In fact, Rutherford’s actions, in conjunction with armed incursions from the neighboring states of Virginia and South Carolina, were wholly transformative. “Patriot” actions during the American Revolution, such as the Rutherford Trace of this study, aided the continued development of the militia system along the frontier, limited Cherokee abilities to coordinate with or support British or American Tory designs throughout the upcountry, divided the Cherokee between those who supported peace and those who called for armed opposition to American patriots as evidenced by the formation of the Chickamauga Cherokee under Dragging Canoe, and also helped frame and advance a successful blueprint for westward expansion that could be found in concerted, multi-state action—a blueprint that would be used by policy-makers in decades following the Revolution.

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