James Needham and Gabriel Arthur

Major General Abraham Wood's men, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, in the summer of 1673, went all the way, indisputably, all the long way from Appomattox Falls to the Little Tennessee River.

Since Edward Bland's progress of 1650, the path may have been both known and traded over, from the Appomattox to Occoneechee Island on Roanoke. Needham and Arthur passed Occoneechee, kept on Southwest in the Piedmont, and then west-north-west into the Hills of Laughing Waters and Tomahitan Cherokee. Leaving Arthur to learn the language, Needham returned to General Wood's and on his way out again was killed by an Occoneechee, Indian John, whom he had hired as a porter, a little beyond the Yadkin River in North Carolina.

"So died," wrote General Wood, "this heroick Englishman, whose fame shall never die if my pen were able to eternize it, which had adventured where never any Englishman had dared to atempt before him, and with him died one hundred forty four pounds starling of my adventure. I wish I could have saved his life with ten times the value."

Needham, it may be, was that James Needham who was associated in Carolina with Dr. Henry Woodward, first and famous Indian trader of the Charles Town country. Carolina was growing to be a fact, of the British Empire, from 1670 to 1673. There is indication that Dr. Woodward in 1671 travelled up, by the paths as they were from Carolina to Virginia. What if James Needham went with him and so made acquaintance with General Wood at that time?

Far western European curiosity about northern America was becoming settled interest in 1673. To the alarm of some of the old inhabitants, it appeared that far western Europe was intending not for a little but for a great deal of North America.

The Hudson's Bay Company was doing business. The Dutch and the English were balancing power at Manhattan, Tawasentha, and that region. The Carolinians had got footing by this time. And the French were making way from the Lakes down Mississippi Valley. The Spanish and the Indians, by no means of a common cause, must have been alarmed.

About the month of June 1673, the French Marquette party were at the mouth of the Ohio: there they found Indians armed with guns and supplied with European implements and glass.

In July 1673, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur came to the Tomahitan town on the Little Tennessee River. The Cherokee there had among them sixty guns with locks of a strange fashion, and those Indians spoke of white people "down the river," who rang bells and lived in brick houses. All that, by the unfolding of the times, meant a changed America.

We count 1673, from the circumstances of the American case, as a year appropriately chosen for the beginning of a closer survey of the southern Indian trade.

The first reported contact of the Cherokee with the English colonists came in 1654. The Virgina colony was alarmed to find that a large group of Rickahockans (as the Cherokee were known by the Powhatan tribes) had settled at the falls of the James River - the present site of Richmond VA. The Virginians, having just fought an exterminating war with the Powhatans, resolved "that these new come Indians be in no sort suffered to seat themselves there, or any place near us, it having cost so much blood to expel and extirpate those perfidious and treacherous Indians which were there formerly." The Virginians, with their Pumunkey Indian allies, attacked the Cherokees but were soundly defeated in a bloody battle and forced to sue for peace.

In 1673, Major General Abraham Wood sent two men, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, to the Cherokees' Overhills capital of Chota for the purpose of establishing trade. Needham's letter book gives a description of Chota: "The town of Chote is seated on ye river side, having ye clifts on ye river side on ye one side being very high for its defence, the other three sides trees of two foot or over, pitched on end, twelve foot high, and on ye topps scaffolds placed with parrapets to defend the walls and offend theire enemies which men stand on to fight, many nations of Indians inhabit downe this river . . . which they the Cherokees are at warre with and to that end keepe one hundred and fifty canoes under ye command of theire forts. ye leaste of them will carry twenty men, and made sharpe at both ends like a wherry for swiftness, this forte is four square; 300: paces over and ye houses sett in streets."

Needham went back to Virginia to procure trade goods, leaving Arthur behind to learn the Cherokee language. On the return trip, Needham was killed after an argument with his guide, "Indian John." Indian John then encouraged the Cherokees at Chota to kill Arthur but the chief prevented it.

Arthur, disguised as a Cherokee, accompanied the chief of Chota on raids of Spanish settlements in Florida, Indian communities on the east coast, and Shawnee towns on the Ohio River. In 1674, he was captured by the Shawnee who discovered that under his coating of clay and ashes he was a white man. Surprisingly, the Shawnee did not kill Arthur but allowed him to return to Chota. In June of 1674, the chief escorted Arthur back to Virginia.

Contacts by explorers and traders with the Cherokee continued in the subsequent years. Early manuscripts make reference to a treaty between the Cherokees and the South Carolina colony made in 1684. In 1690, the secretary of the colony, James Moore, ventured into the Cherokee country looking for gold. Some Cherokee chiefs visited Charles Town in 1693 demanding firearms for their wars against neighboring tribes.

By all reports of the colonists, war was the "principal occupation" of the Cherokee. This was apparently a matter of necessity. Colonel George Chicken, sent by the crown in 1725 to regulate Cherokee-British trade and alienate the Cherokee from the French, reported heavily fortified towns -- as Needham described Chota in 1673 -- and stated that "Otherwise ...[the residents] would be cut off by the enemy who are continually within a mile of the town lurking about the skirts thereof."

Gabriel Arthur's name when first found described him as a young Englishman, 19 years of age, with little or no education, however highly intelligent. In Virginia he met and became the partner of James Needham and both were intent on entering the fur trade business. They soon met with Major General Abraham Wood and became involved in his plans for opening up the west to exploration and settlement and to cash in on the trade for beaver furs from the Cherokee Indians in the Tennessee area.

General Wood was also interested in finding a water route across the continent.

In 1671, he commissioned Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam, professional explorers, to search the western lands for such a passage. One discovery that they made was the New River which led to their claim to the whole Ohio valley. Batts and Fallam marked four trees as they crossed the mountains to identify their claim. One for the King of England, one for the governor of Virginia, one for Abraham Wood and one for themselves.

In 1673, Major General Abraham Wood promoted an expedition by James Needham and Gabriel Arthur to establish direct trade relations between the Colony of Virginia and the Cherokees. This meant breaking the control of the Occaneechi Indians who had been serving as middlemen between the English colony and the Cherokees. Its second purpose was to discover a possible passageway by water to the southwest.

In their first attempt the group was turned back by the Occaneechi. In their second attempt, they made it across the Blue Ridge Mountains and the headwaters of the New River. They then entered the valley of the Tennessee River.

After securing a treaty with the Cherokee, Needham returned to Fort Henry to report and prepare for the third expedition. Arthur was left with the Cherokee to learn their language and customs. Upon Needham's return to the village he was murdered by his guide, an Occaneechi Indian.

Gabriel Arthur was left with the Cherokee, some believing that he was being kept as a prisoner. Apparently he was not treated as a prisoner as he was soon dressing as the Indians and even joined with them on some of their war parties. In Northern Kentucky, they met a war party of Shawnee Indians and Arthur was wounded and taken prisoner in their village in Ohio on the Scioto River. He soon became a favorite of the chief who wanted to adopt him into their tribe. Upon learning that he had married a Cherokee Indian maiden in the Cherokee in Tennessee, he was released and allowed to return to his family there.

Later Arthur joined with a number of Cherokee on an exploration trip to the southern part of America. They skirted the western ends of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian Mountains, finally arriving in what is now western Florida on the Gulf of Mexico. On their return trip they traveled westward to the Mississippi River and then followed it to the Ohio and up the Ohio to the mouth of Big Sandy River in Kentucky.

They then entered into the present West Virginia and finally found a river that flowed to the east. The stream is now known as Coal River with its mouth at St. Albans. Here the party found a tribe of friendly Indians known as the Montons. After resting there for a time, they traveled down the Kanawha to the Ohio and later visited the Shawnee on the Scioto. After this visit, they returned to their home in Tennessee.

Click Here to read Major General Abraham Wood's letter containing his account of the 1673 expedition of James Needham and Gabriel Arthur.


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