Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Day 3 -- Survey of Washington County

By Project Director, Dr. Kathryn Sampeck

Moving out of our home base and environs, today we broadened horizons and explored the numerous historical sites of Washington County, Tennessee. In comparison with the parts of Greene County we visited yesterday, we could appreciate some of the unique features of early historic settlement in Washington County. One of these is the abundance of rich soils near the Nolichucky River. Cherokee towns in Washington County often were situated in pairs, one on each side of the river, a pattern not seen in Greene County, where fertile river plains on one side often face steep bluffs on the other shore. These paired villages in Washington County may have had a distinctly different sociopolitical dynamic because they could see each across the river.

The Nolichucky River

We have to remember that the more recent sociopolitical division of Washington and Greene Counties should not overshadow our interpretations of the past. We also noted that today's county divisions perhaps encourage us to think that areas were divided, but we could see that some areas between Washington and Greene County were easily accessible by the old road system. We noticed that in general, Washington County had more early historic Cherokee towns (after contact with Europeans) that were fairly regularly spaced along the Nolichucky River, and a few other early historic Cherokee towns near smaller creeks such as Little Limestone Creek.

One of the most distinct settlements in the region is found in Washington County, on National Forest Service land at the edge of the Cherokee National Forest. One of the largest Cherokee towns in eastern Tennessee was located near Jackson Island. Archaeological excavations conducted in the 1970s revealed Spanish goods and extensive settlement. Also, the site was probably occupied earlier than many of the Cherokee towns in the region, judging from the presence of artifacts not in use after European contact.

This area was also one of the first homes of John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee. Overgrown with trumpet vines, tickweed, and river cane, the chimney of his house look for all the world like an ancient jungle ruin, less preserved than persisting. While visiting the grounds, we found on the road surface, and left according to federal regulations, a fragment of a 19th century stoneware vessel, possibly a product of the nearby Decker pottery. The Sevier house is located on a hill with a dramatic view of the river plain.

Federal warning about damaging the site or removing materials

20th century stairs leading to the 18th century ruins of the John Sevier House

Examining the chimney

19th century stoneware found, and replaced, on the surface of the road.
This may have come from a Decker vessel.

After visiting nearly a dozen archaeological sites in Washington County, we stopped and enjoyed (literally) the fruits of the land, on sale at a local farmers' market.

After these two days of focus site survey, we can appreciate the special place in Cherokee history of the site we will begin mapping and excavating over the coming weeks, the Yellow House Site.

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