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Wilma A. Dunaway



Review of the Fernand Braudel Center 17 (Spring 1994)

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The North American fur trade has been portrayed as a kinship-based mode of production that "bordered on capitalism" but was "not yet governed by capitalist relations" (Wolf, 1982: 87). Moreover, the land areas where fur trading occurred are viewed as external arenas of the eighteenth-century world-system since these zones specialized in luxury goods that were not economically "essential" to the expanding European core (Wallerstein, 1989). Despite the strategic importance of America's southeastern frontier to capitalist expansion, the southern fur trade has been virtually ignored in scholarly analyses. (1) This paper examines the extensive southern deerskin trade as the key mechanism by which Native Americans and their lands were incorporated into the world-economy. In contrast to earlier research, this study will demonstrate that eighteenth-century southeastern Native Americans were politically-essential allies to the European colonizers and that they produced commodities that were crucial to emergent manufacturing in the European core. Moreover, the present research will underscore the need to re-conceptualize "incorporation into the capitalist world-economy" from the vantage point of the affected peoples. For, despite their relatively insignificant contributions to the power and wealth of the European core, southeastern Native American societies underwent dramatic change, disruption and devastation.

Political Significance to the Colonial Powers

The period from 1600 to 1750 was dominated by the efforts of England and France first to destroy Dutch hegemony in the world-system and then to succeed to the top position. As part of that hegemonic struggle, twenty-eight new colonized zones were established in the Western Hemisphere: three Dutch, eight French, and seventeen English. During the long global economic contraction from 1600 to 1750, a major new peripheral region was absorbed into the capitalist world-economy. This new peripheral region was the extended Caribbean, stretching from northeast Brazil to Maryland (Wallerstein, 1980: 241).  The colonizations of Virginia, Carolina and Georgia and the subsequent incorporation of their Southern Appalachian hinterland ensued as part of the creation of this large new peripheral region. When the European powers turned their attention to competition for the Ohio and Mississippi Vallies, they sought to "check-mate" one another by establishing diplomatic alliances and trade agreements with the inland peoples. By the early 1700s, Southern Appalachia formed a buffer zone between British settlements in Virginia and the French in the Ohio Valley and between British Carolina and Georgia and the French entrenched in present-day Alabama and in the Mississippi Valley (see Figure 1). The French held critical positions in Alabama, Louisiana and the American Northwest from which they carried on trade and diplomatic relations with all the southeastern Indians and with the northern Iroquois Confederacy. Ensconced to the south in Florida, the Spanish might have captured the entire Southeast away from the other two powers had they been successful at forging alliances with the Cherokees and Creeks (Robinson, 1979). (2)


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Each of the colonizers sought to take hold of the Southern Appalachians, out of fear that one of the other powers would capture those crucial mountains. In a sense, their strategy was one of preemptive retention. (3) For this vast region formed a geographical barrier between the coast and the rich inland valleys of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. All three colonizing powers knew that "whoever [was] master of the Cherrockee Nation" might hold the key to further advancement into the continent (Salley, 1928-47, XXVI: 222), for the Cherokees occupied sixty towns of 22,000 people dispersed in three groups: the Lower Towns on the Savannah River, the Middle Towns in western North Carolina and northern Georgia, and the Overhill Towns mainly in east Tennessee (Eliades, 1981). Significantly, the entire land area claimed by the Cherokees stretched from Appalachian Virginia and east Kentucky to northern Alabama and upper South Carolina. The Southern Appalachians were important to the colonizers for four reasons. First, the geographical location situated the Cherokees at a focal point for movement of northern Indians into the Southeast; and those Indians were allied with the French. Southern Appalachia was: "a most important Country by it's nature and Situation, lying in a very extraordinary and remarkable manner among the Mountains in the midst of the Heads of several large Rivers, that ha[d] Communication with different and remote parts on all sides. . . . [T]he Cherokee country [was] the best formed by nature for dominion of the Inland Indian nations on this side of the Mississippi and the [Great] Lakes" (Jacobs, 1954: 48).

Second, Southern Appalachia was crucial to the colonizers because Cherokee and Creek alliances provided the only frontier defense available to the coastal settlements of the British. Since "the design of the French" was to "establish themselves, settle their Indians, and build [inland] forts just on the back of [British] settlements" (South Carolina Gazette, 4 June 1754), English colonists understood that the Cherokee towns formed "the Cheapest and strongest Barrier for the Protection of [their] Settlements" (Jacobs, 1954: 3). South Carolina's governor assessed the situation thusly: "South Carolina is a weak frontier colony, and in case of an invasion by the French, would be their first object of attack. We have not much to fear, however, while we retain the affection of the Indians around us; but should we forfeit that by any mismanagement on our part, or by the superior address of the French, we are in a miserable situation. The Cherokees alone, have several thousand gun-men, all well acquainted with every inch of this province-- their country is the key of Carolina" (Virginia Gazette, 18 August 1751). The entire militia force of Georgia and South Carolina numbered less than 3,500 because the two colonies were "utterly incapable of finding funds sufficient for the defence of this wide frontier, and so destitute of white men, that even money itself cannot here raise a sufficient body of them" (Hewatt, 1779, I: 491). Thus, the Cherokees were of political significance to the British and Spanish in a third way. Indians were also "a Bullwork" at the backs of the coastal settlers because they served as deterrents to runaway slaves and to slave insurrections (McDowell, 1958-72, I: 52). One mid-1700s journalist surmised: "In our quarrels with the Indians, . . . it can never be our interest to extirpate them, or to force them from their lands; their ground would be seen taken up by runaway Negroes from our settlements, whose numbers would daily increase, and quickly become more formidable enemies than Indians can ever be" (Milligen-Johnston, 1836, II: 480).

The Southeastern Indians effected a diplomatic process in which they held the British "in one hand and the French in the other. . . as if they meant to play between [them], in order to trade with and get presents from both, and if forced out of this state of neutrality to side with the strongest" (Shaw, 1929: 9). The French might have gained the alliance of all the Indians between the Gulf of St. Lawrence and the Gulf of Mexico, had it not been for the fact that the English were consistently able to furnish the Indians with better trade goods at cheaper prices (Alden, 1966). The French recognized that "they Effect [the Indians] most who sell best cheap" (Salley, 1928-47, V: 196). In the early 1700s, one Louisiana official lamented that: "All the Indians like the French much better than they do the English and if we could give them the same prices as the latter when we pay them for the skins that they offer in trade, we should attract them all" (Rowland & Sanders, 1927-32, II:23). The cornerstone,then, of British political leverage with the Cherokees was trade, as this 1700s military document indicates. "As the being supplyed with European goods is to the Indians the first essential interest of their politicks: Is the sole and actual object of their alliance with us, and the only real and permanent motive of their attachment to us. . . . The first and fundamental object of the English measures should be to provide for these in a regular and sufficient manner, the being able to do this is our peculiar advantage and superiority over the French" (DeVorsey, 1961 :11).

The British were careful not to "disgust the Cherokees by stopping all Trade to that Nation, for they [would] certainly throw themselves into the Arms of the French" (McDowell, 1958-72, I: 53). In fact, Cherokee chiefs courted the Spanish or the French when the British threatened to cut off the supply of manufactured commodities to their towns (Logan, 1859). As a diplomatic strategy, the British treated their Cherokee allies as though they had favored nation status. South Carolinian traders charged higher prices to the Creeks, who were less stable political allies to the British (McDowell, 1955: 269). Even in the face of low profits by the mid-1700s, the British nurtured their political alliances with the Cherokees by sustaining trade. Even though exchanges with the Creeks and the Chickasaws were much more lucrative, South Carolinians continually reinforced their trade agreements with the poorer Cherokees (Crane, 1916). Virginia even devised a scheme during the 1760s to exchange manufactured goods at cost for pelts in order to keep the Cherokees friendly to the British cause (Franklin, 1933). After 1763, Charleston's skin trade was confined to the Cherokees even though their trade was not very profitable. (4)

European Instigation of Indian Wars

Articulation of the Cherokees with the European world-system was accompanied by repeated warfare among the Southeastern Indian groups. The promotion of Indian strife was a significant strategy followed by the Euroamericans to protect their own settlements, as is demonstrated by this 1730s policy statement by the South Carolina governor. "It is always the maxim of our Government upon the Continent to promote war between Indians of different Nations with whom we Trade and are at peace with ourselves, for in that consists our safety, being at War with one another prevents their uniting against us" (Ward, 1971: 156).  In addition, the three colonizing powers promoted warfare among those Indians allied with their competitors (Goodwin, 1977). As a microcosm of the global conflict between France, Spain and England, hostilities between the Southeastern Indians were transformed from short-term traditional revenge disputes because the European rivals recklessly played these Native American populations off against one another. When the French began to feel the disadvantage from these frequent wars, they outlawed slave raids to deter intertribal strife and to protect their Indian alliances. It is not an evil that the Indian nations should be at war with each other, wrote a Louisiana official; however, the English: "profit by their quarrels to penetrate into the nations that are most attached to us, which cannot be prevented except by keeping as we do all the nations in peace among themselves, making them understand that the English are seeking to have them destroyed among themselves in order to be masters of their country. . . . [W]hen they see that we do not wish any slaves and that we forbid the trade in them they will be easily persuaded that we are better friends of theirs than the other European nations" (Rowland & Sanders, 1927-32, II: 573-4).

Agreements to fight the enemies of their diplomatic ally were typical requirements of trade treaties between the Indians and the European nations. (5) As a result of their alliance with the British, the Cherokees were engaged in chronic warfare with their Indian neighbors throughout the eighteenth century (Mooney, 1900). The British planned numerous schemes in which the Creeks and Cherokees would attack and destroy the French-allied Choctaws, Chickasaws or Yazoos-- thereby permitting the establishment of new forts from which they could attract the Indian trade of the Mississippi Valley and weaken Spanish Florida (Crane, 1916). The French tried to exterminate the British-allied Chickasaws by inciting the Choctaws and prodded the northern Shawnees to make raiding parties into Cherokee territory (Caldwell, 1941); and the Spanish repeatedly tried to inflame the Creeks and Cherokees against the other two powers (Corry, 1936). By engaging in an eighteenth-century arms race in which they supplied guns and ammunition to both sides, the Europeans stimulated the Creeks and the Cherokees toward mutual destruction (Cotterill, 1954). The British aroused the Cherokees several times against the Lower Creeks when they aligned themselves with the French, instructing their traders to: "[U]se your utmost endeavors to set the Cheerokees out against the Lower Creeks, & in as many parties as possible you can; if you find that they are backward in going out, you must bribe some of the young fellows to head parties out, cost what it will" (Salley, 1936: 22).  After selling guns to the Creeks in 1718, the British denied to the Cherokees their role in agitating intertribal warfare. We are surprised, the Trade Commissioners wrote: "that the Charikees should suspect our Men of joyning with their Enemies against them; and if it be true that there was white Men with the Creeks. . . they were certainly French or Spaniards, for it is not our Way to deal so perfidiously; and. . . if we had had such a Design, we should not supply them with Ammunition to oppose us" (McDowell, 1955: 290).

Changes in Cherokee Governance during the Colonial Era

As a result of such international intrigues in Southern Appalachia, Cherokee governance was restructured to effect articulation of the region with the interstate network that comprised the capitalist world-system. During the Colonial era, the British were most instrumental in pressuring the loosely-knit Cherokee towns toward secularization and centralization of their nonstate political traditions and structures. Because early Cherokee law was grounded in spiritual traditions and executed by a priestly complex, eighteenth-century British observers erroneously believed that "there [was] no law or subjection among them" (Williams, 1927: 93).

In reality, each Cherokee town was structured around a bifurcate political organization comprised of complementary hierarchies. The Red or White organizations were never in operation at the same time since they alternately exerted control during times of war or peace respectively. The White organization was headed by an older "beloved man," whom Colonial officials equated with their European notion of king. The White Chief convened and presided over council meetings and served as the overseer in important communal activities (Strickland, 1975). The Red organization assumed town leadership only in times of military emergency. Headed by the "Raven" (the greatest warrior elected to this office), the Red organization functioned during three significant dilemmas faced by the town: external warfare, diplomatic liaisons with foreign powers and the establishment of trade agreements with outsiders. In cases of conflict in authority, the White group controlled the younger Reds (Gearing, 1956).

Before European contact, then, the Cherokees were an agglomeration of independent villages, without any unifying structure to facilitate coordination of all the dispersed settlements. When diplomatic matters were to be negotiated, the Colonial governments summoned, as in 1721, "A Head man out of each Town" (Salley, 1930: 18). In addition, the British specified a leadership pattern in treaties or "commissioned" certain Cherokee warriors to control their settlements (Bloom, 1942). By 1725, the British Colonies behaved politically as though there were four prominent Cherokee leaders in control of all the settlements-- two from the combined Overhills and Middle Towns and two from the Lower Towns (Corkran, 1962). In addition, the British set one scale of prices on trade goods for all the Cherokee towns and required the Cherokees to use a centralized pass system when travelling to British settlements. The British also pressured the Cherokees toward centralization by establishing regional store houses that were to be utilized by several towns (Williams, 1928: 109). Moreover, it became advantageous for the Cherokees to relocate their towns closer together in order to organize a more rapid and concerted defense in times of war (Cotterill, 1954). (6)

By 1730, however, a new Cherokee priest-state had emerged in response to crises that grew out of articulation of Cherokee towns with the European trade and war complex. Ultimately, the British coerced the Cherokees to "elect" a puppet government derived from the war hierarchy rather than from a coalition of the traditional bifurcated village organizations. In his 1730 journal, Sir Alexander Cuming reported the significant structural reorganization of the Cherokees under a single hand-picked emperor who controlled key town elites that were easily co-opted by the British. The whole Cherokee "nation" was governed, he reported: "by seven mother Towns, each of these Towns chuse a King to preside over them and their Dependants. . . . There are several Towns that have Princes. . . . Besides these, every Town has a Head Warrior, who is in great Esteem among them, and whose Authority seems to be greater than their Kings. . . . Their Conjurers are the Persons consulted in every Affair of Importance, and seem to have the Direction of every Thing. . . .[Cuming required] all the head Warriors to acknowledge themselves dutiful Subjects and Sons to King George. . . . Sir Alexander order'd that the head Warriors should answer for the Conduct of their People to Moytoy, whom he appointed their [Emperor], by unanimous Consent of the whole People" (Williams, 1928: 122-6). With the emergence of this "tribal half-government," traditional shared leadership by the Red and White Councils was destroyed (Gearing, 1956). (7)

Articulation with the European world-system necessitated a political structure that permitted the western powers to relate to the Cherokees as a single corporate entity. It was more rational and more efficient to collect trade debts, make treaties, arrange war alliances and seek reparations from one leader who was the "Mouth of the Nation. . . to enter into such agreements with th[e British] Government as should be thought proper, which should be binding upon him and all the Nation" (McDowell, 1955: 188). (8) The priest-state was the first joint attempt by the several Cherokee villages to prevent any tribe member from acting in a way that would bring reprisals against the entire group. (9) Now the Cherokees were forced to abandon their ultra-democratic methods to support, instead, a single tribe-wide sentiment and to legitimate that decision with universally-applied sanctions against violators.

Emergence of a Capitalist Export Economy

Prior to European incorporation, Cherokee settlements engaged in a communal-subsistence mode of production, organized around mixed hunting, fishing, gathering and agricultural functions. Before guns were introduced, hunting and gathering were secondary to agriculture; and communal hunts were only conducted during the winter season. Articulation of the Cherokees with the European world-system triggered far-reaching transformations in that traditional economy. Within a few decades, Cherokee village activities were restructured into an export economy in which hunting for slaves and deerskins and gathering marketable herbs assumed primacy (Lawson, 1714). English merchants shipped Cherokee ginseng and other native herbs from Charleston to China and to Europe where it was marketed as an aphrodisiac and to combat venereal disease (Carlson, 1986). In 1767, six tons of Cherokee clay were transported by pack horse to Charleston and then exported to Europe for the manufacture of Wedgewood porcelain (Anderson, 1986). The Euroamericans also traded with the Indians for livestock (particularly horses and hogs) and for food for their forts (Morrison, 1921). Indians represented about 10% of the total slave population in South Carolina in the early 1700s. By 1710, perhaps as many as 12,000 Indians had been exported from South Carolina to the northern colonies and the Caribbean (Snell, 1972). The most coveted Cherokee commodities, however, were their deerskins. In the early 1700s, Charleston merchants exported as many as 121,355 skins annually; and that number rose steadily to 255,000 skins by 1730 (Corry, 1936).

Because of the demands for labor in the West Indies and in the emergent North American colonies, Indian slaves were the first profitable commodity to attract the interest of the world-economy in Southern Appalachia. By 1681, the capture and selling of Cherokee slaves had begun; and the Cherokees' first diplomatic mission to Charleston in 1693 was aimed at seeking relief from slavery raids (Snell, 1972). By 1700, guns had been introduced so that the Cherokees could protect themselves against the slave raids of neighboring Indians; and by 1703, the Cherokees were marketing Indian slaves themselves (Thornton, 1990).    Slavery raids were an organized extension of European instigation of warfare among the Native Americans. Indian enslavement was not just profitable business; it also offered military advantages, as this 1680 South Carolina policy statement indicates.

The good prices The English Traders give them for slaves Encourage [the Indians] to this trade Extreamly and some men think it both serves to lessen their number before the French can arm them and it is a more Effectuall way of Civilising and Instructing (Salley, 1928-47, V: 197). The Europeans traded their manufactured goods for war prisoners, so this commodification stimulated the Indians to further conflict (Crane, 1916). The British even organized slave raids in which white traders led warriors to attack the settlements of Indians allied with their European rivals. As the result of such forays, for instance, 25,000 Indians were exterminated from Spanish Florida (Sturtevant, 1979).  As world marketing of African slaves expanded, Appalachian deerskins became much more essential to the core than Indian laborers. In contrast to their northern counterparts, the Cherokees did not produce luxury furs; rather the Southern Indians provided to the world-market the raw commodities needed to fuel the European leather manufacturing industry. By the fifteenth century, there was a shortage of fur-bearing animals in Europe; so American deerskins were cheaper than other hides to use in the production of shoes, gloves, jackets, artisan aprons, book covers, box and trunk coverings, and a wide array of products in demand for daily use. In addition, deerskins were in demand for production of military uniforms and equipment used by troops in European wars (Phillips, 1961).

Deerskins were important enough to core manufacturing that England placed them on the list of "enumerated" items requiring her colonies to ship them only to British ports. Consequently, deerskins were the most stable economic product of the Southern colonies before the Revolutionary War (Sellers, 1934). Deerskin exports to England were so crucial to the development of the Southern colonies that Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia competed intensely for monopolistic control over the Indian trade (Ward, 1971). In South Carolina and Georgia, the Indian trade was the chief instrument of economic expansion during the early Colonial period (Bernard, 1973). (10)    Charleston was the most important center for the southeastern Indian trade, "overshadowing the French Mobile and the Spanish St. Augustine; superior in strength and importance to Montreal and comparable only to Albany, the great fur mart of the northern colonies" (Corry, 1936: 32). Until rice and naval stores were produced in quantity after the beginning of the eighteenth century, deerskins to England were the most important export from Charleston; and two-thirds of those pelts came from the Cherokees (Logan, 1859). Even after 1730, the deerskin trade remained South Carolina's second most lucrative economic activity. In fact, when world markets for naval stores and rice were depressed in the late 1720s, Charleston's export of deerskins tripled (Clowse, 1963). By 1765, Charleston had widened its markets so that its three-hundred top-sails transported deerskins and leather manufactures principally to Holland, the Mediterranean and Portugal (Sellers, 1934). In similar fashion, deerskins were second only to tobacco as the most profitable 1674 commodity exported by Virginia. Savannah, Georgia emerged by the mid-1700s as a commercial rival to Charleston because that new port was able to supply the world-market with hides from half a million deer between 1764 and 1773 (Phillips, 1961).

Deerskins were essential to the European core in five ways. First, trading for these commodities was utilized to reinforce political alliances with the Indians located in areas adjacent to European colonies on the North American continent. Second, these hides provided needed raw materials for the development of its burgeoning leather manufacture. Third, the deerskin trade provided a highly profitable peripheral outlet for European manufactured goods, particularly irons and woolens. Fourth, duties on deerskins were the biggest revenue producers for the provincial governments, thereby relieving the colonizers of the financial burden of funding the infrastructure of these new peripheral areas. (11) Finally, deerskins helped the European powers to maintain their balances of trade with other world-market participants through an elaborate chain of commodity exchanges that circled the globe (Clowse, 1963).

Through articulation with the commodity chains depicted in Figure 2, Southern Appalachia was inexorably hooked "into the orbit of the world-economy in such a way that it virtually [could] no longer escape" (Wallerstein, 1989 :130). The Cherokees marketed slaves and deerskins to Charleston for export to the West Indies and to the northern colonies (Lauber, 1913). Cherokee deerskins were exported via Charleston, Virginia and Georgia primarily to England, with about 5% going to the northern colonies (Clowse, 1963). In return, Charleston received sugar and tobacco from the West Indies and rum from the northern colonies (Rivers, 1856). The rum traded to Charleston merchants, a large part of which ended up in Cherokee villages, had its origins in West Indian molasses-- for which the northern colonies swapped lumber and provisions. In exchange for the deerskins exported to England, Charleston received manufactured goods-- including woolens, clothing, guns, and iron tools that were bartered to the Indians for slaves and deerskins (Sellers, 1934). In return for the leather goods it manufactured from Cherokee deerskins, England received raw materials, luxury goods and meat provisions from all over the globe (Phillips, 1961).

Figure 2 is not provided.

Colonial Restructuring of the Cherokee Economy

The English fur trade in America was controlled by one group of politicians in England. "Hudson Bay, New York, and the southern colonies of Virginia and Carolina were three fields of exploitation by which the fur business of the world was made to revolve about London" (Phillips, 1961, I: 170). The southeastern deerskin trade was dominated by a narrow field of mercantile interests who secured Crown charters to explore and exploit resources. Except for short periods when special acts created governmental monopolies, the southeastern Indian trade was carried on by speculative trading companies that were licensed and regulated by the colonies. These public-subsidized companies explored the inland mountains, establishing trade linkages that connected Virginia, the Carolinas and Georgia via trading paths through Cherokee settlements. (12)

In Virginia, the earliest Southern Appalachian trade was controlled by a handful of planters, like Abraham Wood and William Byrd, who imported "Goods proper for such a trade from England and then either venture[d] them out at their own Risk to the Indian Towns or Credit[ed] some Traders with them. . . to be paid in Skins at a certain Price agreed betwixt them" (Byrd, 1901: 235). Byrd operated from his plantation located on the James River near the great trading path southward to the Catawbas and the Cherokees. His trading caravans consisted of fifteen or more hired traders utilizing more than a hundred pack horses to transport European goods to exchange for light furs and skins (Phillips, 1961).  By 1721, however, Virginia's trade with the Cherokees had been eclipsed by that of Charleston (McIlwaine & Hall, 1925-66, IV: 1-2). A 1725 journalist reported that: "The Virginia traders. . . cannot do any prejudice to [South Carolina's] in the way of Trade, there not being above 2 or 3 of them and their goods noways sortable or Comparable to ours" (Williams, 1928: 137).

In South Carolina, there were at least thirty-one Charleston firms engaged in the Cherokee trade; and there were more than 150 traders and pack horsemen in the Cherokee settlements by the mid-1700s. The trade was regulated by the Commons House of Assembly which appointed commissioners and an agent, who was responsible for licensing all traders. The Indian Trade Commission was comprised of five Charleston merchants who received 2.5% commission on the sale of skins and 2.5% commission on the purchase of goods for the Indian business (Meriwether, 1940). The Trade Commissioners used public funds to supply the Indians with British manufactures "at a cheap and easy rate to prevent their seduction by the French and Spanish" (Cooper & McCord, 1836-40, IV: 168-9). In addition, the Commissioners sold at Charleston auctions the deerskins brought from Cherokee country and fixed the rate of exchange at which goods were to be sold to the Indians (Cooper & McCord, 1836-40, IV: 188).

The century from 1660 to 1760 was an era dominated by global merchant capitalism; and the American Midland and Southeast were dependent on the great mercantile houses of London for the handling of their goods and for credit. Consequently, trading on the world-market bore a high cost for Southern Appalachia's Native Americans. The Cherokee economy was transformed into a putting-out system that destroyed traditional economic activities, generated dependency upon European trade goods, and stimulated debt peonage. As had been the case with the development of proto-industrialization in Europe, the Cherokee deerskin trade was dependent upon merchant capital from foreign entrepreneurs.    Three distinct levels of speculators were engaged in the deerskin trade. London importers and commission houses made advances to the exporting companies located in the North American colonies who "received supplies from their British correspondents on credit or in partnership and fitted out traders" (Bernard, 1973: 55-6). Coastal planters and merchants hired their own Indian hunters, invested capital and lobbied in the legislative bodies that regulated the trade (Clowse, 1963).

South Carolina established its "fur factory" system in 1716, dividing the Cherokee territory into five trading districts, each with a "trading house" located at a fort (Goodwin, 1977). After 1721, British "factories" operated directly out of Cherokee villages (Blackmun, 1977). By 1750, the deerskin trade had expanded so much that Cherokee settlements were marked off by the British into thirteen hunting districts with 200 warriors to each district (Logan, 1859).  "Remote and small indeed was the Cherokee village which by the second quarter of the eighteenth century could not boast of traders, white men of English, Spanish, French, or even of all three, nationalities" (Rothrock, 1929: 8). Charleston merchants extended credit or financed lower-level trading companies that were licensed to operate in specific Indian towns. These smaller traders established direct linkages with the Indians-- often residing in the distant settlements nine months of the year (Brown, 1975).  As the last link in the chain, these village-situated traders extended commodity advances to the Cherokee producers. Local traders proffered goods, including rum, on credit to the Cherokees, to provision the settlements between hunts (Corry, 1936). Traders supervised processing of the skins so that hooves and snouts were removed and the pelts were dried properly to prevent molding. Then deerskins were graded into three sizes and priced according to weight and quality (Rowland & Sanders, 1927-32, I: 262). Finally, the skins were branded with a legally-prescribed code for each different Cherokee town to designate them as commodities to be exported from Charleston (McDowell, 1955: 191).

The average trading company received a 500-600% profit on the goods advanced in exchange for skins (Williams, 1927: 87), yet the Cherokees became "perennial debtors to the traders who staked them in their winter hunts. The Cherokees roamed the forests almost as employees of a trading system built around the faraway demands of European society" (Corkran, 1962: 6). In 1711, the Cherokees owed British debts amounting to 100,000 deerskins (Salley, 1945: 13 June 1711). In one settlement, for instance, the warriors could not be collected to attend a diplomatic meeting because: "they being all out a hunting about sixty miles from hence & being so much indebted to the Stores here that I believe it impossible to get them back" (Salley, 1936: 5). Several techniques were utilized by the traders to keep the Cherokees in debt peonage. Because Cherokee demand for manufactured goods was relatively inelastic, British traders identified a commodity that would be in constant demand. Introduced to the Cherokees by 1700, rum became the trade good that spurred abandonment of subsistence production and intensified dependency upon deerskin exporting (Wilcox, 1985). In addition to its addictive quality, rum was advantageous because traders could follow the Cherokee "black drink" custom and offer alcohol to initiate each exchange. According to the British Indian Commissioner's report for 1755: 

Many Traders licensed and unlicensed. . . have made a constant Practice of carrying very little Goods, but chiefly. . . Rum from Augusta; from whence as soon as the Indian Hunters are expected in from their Hunts, they set out. . . . Then some of those Rum Traders place themselves near the Towns, in the way of the Hunters returning home with their deer skins. The poor Indians in a manner fascinated, are unable to resist the Bait; and when Drunk are easily cheated. After parting with the fruit of 3 or 4 Months Toil, they find themselves at home, without the means of buying the necessary Clothing for themselves or their Families (Jacobs, 1954: 35).

Price gouging, stealing, and watered rum were also utilized to cheat the Cherokees out of their raw commodities (McDowell, 1955: 205). Like their northern counterparts, Cherokee traders utilized "overplus" tactics, cutting yard sticks short or tampering with weighing mechanisms to permit them to grade skins into cheaper price categories (Logan, 1859). More significantly, the British utilized the puppet priest-state to treat each Cherokee settlement as a corporate entity. The unpaid debts of any single member of the town became the obligation of the entire settlement (Goodwin, 1977). If one or a few Cherokees stole from a trader, for example, the Charleston Commissioners would threaten to withdraw all trading unless the settlement paid the debt in skins. In addition, traders seized skins or horses from the clan who were kin to a deceased debtor (Logan, 1859). (13)

Once the deerskin trade and the European impetus to war became the central economic and political foci, a new division of labor emerged in Cherokee towns-- one that disrupted traditional production of survival essentials and intensified Cherokee dependency upon expensive core-manufactured commodities. When hunting and warfare were transformed into year-round activities, there emerged a growing sexual bifurcation of tasks. Emphasis upon hunting and the trading-diplomacy process siphoned Cherokee males away from the traditional seasonal rhythm of economic production (Dickens, 1979). In addition to commercial hunting, the male labor force was proletarianized as burdeners, canoers, or pack horsemen for traders (McDowell, 1955: 272), to help build forts (McDowell, 1958-72, I: 195), to engage in slave raids, and to fight wars (Crane, 1929). The new emphasis upon hunting and warfare also necessitated greater male labor time for the production of weapons and canoes. Moreover, the labor of young males especially was lost due to the consumption of rum (Woodward, 1963).

Prior to European incorporation, males were involved in agricultural production, leaving only the lighter field maintenance to the women, children and elderly. Before the priest-state entrenched the Red organization as the village leadership: "all members of the town. . . were periodically summoned by the leaders of the White organization to work together in clearing, planting and harvesting crops. A part of these communally raised crops was divided among the members of the town. Another part was stored in a communal granary for use in time of emergency" (Gulick, 1960: 89).   Sexual and economic bifurcation weakened these gadugi traditions by which the entire village engaged in communal production because Cherokees were now drawn away from subsistence into those activities that sustained the export economy (Fogelson & Kutsche, 1961). By the mid-1700s, British observers reported that the Cherokee "women alone do all the laborious tasks of agriculture" (Williams, 1927: 68) freeing the men to hunt or go to war and "leave their women to hoe their corn" (Salley, 1936: 28). Even a large segment of the labor-time of the women was drained away from agriculture and household production. Export production required many hours of the time of Cherokee females to help with animal drives associated with annual burning and to cure and dress the deerskins to meet British trading guidelines (Swanton, 1946).

Disarticulation between subsistence activities and the export sector of the Cherokee economy brought serious repercussions for the Cherokee villages. As commercial hunting expanded, the Cherokees became less sufficient in agriculture (Wright, 1981). Public granaries were de-emphasized since the villages could now depend upon the British trading process to meet emergency needs (Shaw, 1929). By the early 1700s, the British were supplying corn, pork and beef to Cherokee settlements that encountered shortages (Fant, 1931). When trade was cut off by the British in the mid-1700s, some Cherokee towns broke up and combined with other villages because they could no longer survive the scarcity of food, guns and ammunition. (14) As traditional artisan crafts were devalued for the consumption of imported European guns, axes, tomahawks, hatchets, knives, beads, pipes, pottery, fur-stretching equipment, clothing, and cooking utensils (Logan, 1859; Smith, 1987), Cherokee villages were deindustrialized. Even specialized copper work, body paint preparation, and salt manufacturing were displaced by European commodities (Smith & Williams, 1978). By the mid-1700s, the British could report that: "The Indians, by reason of our supplying them so cheap with every sort of goods, have forgotten the chief part of their ancient mechanical skill, so as not to be well able now, at least for some years, to live independent of us" (Williams, 1930: 456).

Only twenty-five years after organized trading had begun, a new generation of young Cherokees had "been brougt up after another Manner then their forefathers;" and their head warriors taught them that "they could not live without the English" (Williams, 1928: 112). Commercial hunting, population declines and frequent warfare resulted in lowered production in those agricultural and craft functions that were essential to the survival of the villages. (15) Cherokee craftsmen further disrupted traditional economic activities by concentrating on the production of items that could be traded to other Indians for deerskins to be exported. "Those who [were] not good hunters dress[ed] skins, ma[d]e bowls, dishes, spoons, tobacco-pipes, with other domestick implements. . . . These manufactures [we]re usually transported to some remote nations, who having plenty of deer and other game, [some Cherokees] barter[ed] these commodities for their raw hides with the hair on, which [we]re brought home and dressed" for export to the British (Catesby, 1731-43, II: xi).

Such trade-induced acculturation provided the leverage needed by the British to manipulate the Cherokees into land cessions and war alliances. In agreeing to the 1730 treaty, for instance, the Cherokees accepted several provisions that had nothing to do with trading, as these remarks of Chief Ketagustah indicate:

We are come hither from a dark mountainous Place, where nothing but Darkness is to be found; but are now in a Place where there is Light. . . . In War we shall always be as one with you, the Great King George's Enemies shall be our Enemies, his People and ours shall be always one, and shall die together. We came hither naked and poor as the Worm of the Earth; but you have every Thing, and we that have Nothing must love you, and can never break the Chain of Friendship which is between us. . . . If we catch your Slaves, we shall bind them as well as we can, and deliver them to our Friends again, and have no Pay for it. . . . Your White People may very safely build Houses near us, we shall hurt Nothing that belongs to them (Williams, 1928: 142-3).

Little more than half a century after trade had been initiated with the Europeans, the Cherokees recognized that they could not "live independent of the English" (McDowell, 1958-72, I: 196-7). The greater their export of deerskins, the more deepened was their dependency upon British commodities. "Once a demand for merchandise not manufactured by the Indians was created or the native Indian industries had fallen into disuse, a threat to cutoff the trade was sufficient to bring a recalcitrant tribe to terms" (Bernard, 1973 :55). For example, when the Cherokees permitted French-allied Indians among them, South Carolina ceased the flow of commodities to bring the rebellious villages to terms. At the end of subsequent 1751 treaty negotiations with the South Carolinians, the Raven celebrated the promise of reopened trade thusly:

We are a poor people and can make nothing ourselves, nor have we anything but what we get from the white people. . . . We know we cannot be supplied with anything but what comes over the Great Water, from the Great King George. . . . We own we came here naked and now we go away well cloathed (McDowell, 1958-72, I: 196-7).

By 1765, European commodities were necessities of survival for Cherokee villages where so much social change had occurred that any young warrior "would [have] handle[d] a flint ax or any other rude utensil used by his ancestors very awkwardly" (DeVorsey, 1961 :12).

Theoretical Reprise

After 1690, the incorporation of Southern Appalachia as a peripheral fringe of the British coastal colonies entailed three historical transformations: (a) establishing political control over the Cherokees and their territory; (b) securing initial Appalachian markets for British commodities; and (c) European export of a white settler class into Southern Appalachia to supervise the region's first "cash-crop" production. By the early 1700s, Southern Appalachia formed a buffer zone between British settlements in Virginia and the French in the Ohio Valley and between British Carolina and Georgia, Spanish Florida and the French entrenched in present-day Alabama and in the Mississippi Valley. Seeking to minimize contraction of their economic activities, England, France and Spain competed intensely, partly by seeking pre-emptive control over the Indians of the American Southeast. The three European powers colonized the North American coastal areas and sought to keep each other from colonizing strategic inland areas, like the Southern Appalachians. Because it was too expensive to seize the territory outright, the three powers instigated intertribal warfare in an attempt to weaken their rivals.

Effective incorporation of the region, which did not begin until about twenty years after the founding of Charleston, was propelled initially by the world-system's search for cheaper labor. Thus, Indian slaves were the first Southern Appalachian commodities marketed globally. When African slaves replaced Indian labor on the world-market, Southern Appalachia provided raw materials to support core manufacturing and British re-export to the Orient. Once deerskins became essential to core leather manufacturing, the Cherokee economy underwent massive alteration of its relations of production to become restructured around export activity that was part of the commodity chains of the capitalist world-economy. Moreover, the region became enmeshed via Charleston in the "triangular trade" that linked Europe, the West Indies, Africa and the North American colonies.

Incorporation necessitated a reorientation of pre-existing subsistence patterns and the creation of new economic activities geared toward commodity production, market exchanges and the creation of surplus. Consequently, Southern Appalachia's precapitalist mode of production was displaced by the deerskin trade, a putting-out system financed by foreign merchant-entrepreneurs. As they became more dependent upon European trade commodities, the Cherokees increased their deerskin production, thereby intensifying their debt peonage, "deindustrializing" their traditional crafts, and locking them into an "unequal exchange" that drained Cherokee surpluses away to benefit the expanding core. Within less than fifty years, the Cherokees lost economic and political autonomy and became dependent upon the world-wide network of production.

During the eighteenth century, a prime response by Cherokee villages to the need to meet debt obligations for survival commodities was to increase deerskin output for market disposal. Establishment and continuation of this type of relationship with the capitalist market entailed far more than simply increasing surpluses. Economic articulation with the world-system brought about dramatic political and cultural transformations in Cherokee society. As export production was entrenched, there emerged new hunting and warfare techniques, an altered division of labor within the household and within the village, and a reformed relationship with precolonial political and kin groups. The British coerced the indigenous society toward secular and national governance, eventuating in the "tribal half-government" that permitted the Europeans to treat the Cherokees as a unified corporate entity.


1. Phillips (1961) and Wolf (1982), for example, concentrate upon the exporting of Hudson Bay luxury furs, only to mention the southern deerskin trade in passing.

2. 2. "Which side held the upper hand depended largely on which side had the most loyal and most numerous Indian allies. Of the four great nations in the [Southeast], the Choctaw generally sided with France, while the Chickasaw and Cherokee favored England; the Creek sought to play off the two powers to their best advantage though they were most often aligned with the English" (Eliades, 1981: 106-7).

3. For discussion of pre-emptive colonization, see Wallerstein, 1980: 237. In all the colonized areas of the European world-system "over small groups of the natives who lived adjacent to the settlements of the Europeans, the rights of a protectorate. . . were gradually assumed;" see Osgood, 1904-1907, I: 527.

4. "South Carolina's Governor Bull] thought they commanded the attention of the government more upon political than commercial considerations as they formed a barrier against the incursions of the powerful Indians of the Ohio and Illinois tribes and a counterbalance against the Creeks in case of war" (Sellers, 1934: 170).

5. For example, the 1730 and 1751 British treaties required the Cherokees to assist against the enemies of the English; see Saunders, 1886, III: 129-33; McDowell, 1958-72, I: 187. For other examples of this treaty policy, see: Willis, 1955.

6. For example, the 1721 treaty specified a principal chief for the Cherokees; see Bloom, 1942: 338. In a 1727 meeting with the Lower Towns, Colonel Herbert told the Cherokees: "that the Warrior of Keewohee had a Com'icon to Com'and all the people of the Lower Towns wch. [he] produced to them & told them that they must allways remember to Obey him as their Comander;" see Salley, 1936: 14. The French and Spanish also used commissions to try to centralize control over the Cherokees; see Corkran, 1962: 13 and Logan, 1859, I: 480-1. The 1763 Proclamation designated the "Beloved Men" process as the required leadership for British-allied Indians; see Shaw, 1929: 30.

7. In the face of their incapacity to cure new European diseases, the White chiefs were further overshadowed. After numerous smallpox epidemics, the White organization was no longer granted shared-leadership over villages, as had been customary (Satz, 1979).

8. "The whole Indian community was held responsible for the behavior of each individual, and the loosely tied villages as a group were strictly accountable for the dereliction of any

one. . . . Agreements reached with one town or even one individual were frequently considered as binding upon all" (Robinson, 1964: 31).

9. "Structurally, the priest-state was the traditional village structure for general councils of the capitol village plus a system of representation from all other villages. . . . Spatial distance required that villages articulate with the state through village spokesmen. Village spokesmen, at the capitol, were required to think and act on behalf of villagers and then return to the villages bearing a decision which. . . could run counter to earlier village sentiment" (Gearing, 1956: 122).

10. "The profits of the Indian trade supplied capital for agricultural development and sustained the infant colonial establishment until agriculture could gain a foothold" (Gray, 1958, I: 129).

11. Virginia even used duties on deerskins to fund the establishment of William & Mary College; see Robinson, 1964.

12. Such monopolies were politically opposed by merchants, however; and private trading was reinstated after only brief periods of public monopolization; see Eliades, 1981, 119-20. A Virginia Company held the Crown monopoly from 1714-1721; South Carolina and Georgia companies were later granted the Crown monopoly over the entire southern Indian trade; see Phillips, 1961, I: 85-8. For example, the Virginia Assembly encouraged explorations into the Blue Ridge in the late 1600s by granting monopolistic licenses "to discover the Mountains and Westward parts of the country;" see Williams, 1928: 18.

13. For reprisals for Cherokee stealing, see, e.g., Salley, 1936: 18, 28. Treaties with the British typically included agreements to make restitution for any harm done to traders in Cherokee villages; see, e.g., 1733 treaty in South Carolina Gazette, June 1-8, 1734. For actions against deceased debtors, see Logan, 1859, I: 473.

14. For example, in 1751 the Lower Towns broke up and moved to the Overhills villages; see McDowell, 1958-72, I: 118-19, 151.

15. Population declines resulted in increased dependence upon European weapons; see McDowell, 1958-72, I: 255. Declines in agricultural and livestock production also increased Cherokee dependence upon the British for food; see Logan, 1859, I: 290.


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