Last week's exploration of Cherokee-Chickamauga history focused on the roles played by Little Carpenter and his son, Dragging Canoe, in the wars between the Chickamaugas and the white settlers steadily moving westward into current East Tennessee. Today we return to Cherokee history for a brief genealogical study of the Ross and McDonald families, referred to as "the dynasty of the Cherokee Nation in the 1800s" in a recent Cherokee Nation editorial.
At a young age, John Ross, the future principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, was aware of his mixed heritage. He was the son, grandson and great-grandson of colonial traders, each of whom had served as a vital link between the Cherokee people and the world Ross would once refer to as the "whiteside." His Scottish ancestors crossed the lines between the two worlds and thereby played a prominent role in the exchange of cultures and languages while also fostering an effective economic system that benefited both worlds. Additionally, each married a native woman, explaining Ross's Cherokee blood and the cultural influences that guided his eventual choice to identify as Cherokee even though his ethnicity was more Scottish than Cherokee. Ross would write that, while he dressed as a white child, his closest childhood friends were Cherokee, and he chose, as an adult, to honor his ancestry in the Cherokee Bird Clan with his bird name, Kooweskoowe.
What is known about the future chief's family lineage? While genealogical research involving Native American ancestry often can be daunting, Ross's lineage is clearly documented. Ghigooie, his great-grandmother, was a full-blooded Indian who married a Scottish trader, William Shorey, and Ross's maternal grandmother, Annie, was one of their many children. That half-white and half-Indian grandmother would eventually marry Scotsman John McDonald, a successful trader and prominent player in the frontier conflict between the Cherokee and independence-seeking frontiersmen and their families.
McDonald moved west beyond the colonial settlements and established himself as one of the well-known traders in the Southeast. He quickly learned the Cherokee language, making himself a valued ally for the Cherokee during negotiations with representatives of the British government. Interestingly, when the increasing divisions between the British government and the "unrepresented" colonists reached a breaking point and the first shots were fired at Lexington and Concord in April 1775, McDonald chose to remain loyal to the British, as did the Cherokee. McDonald, according to Cherokee tradition, feared that the "land-hungry white men" were a greater threat than the distant British government, a remarkable position for a Scotsman. But, his actions supported that decision; he would organize the Cherokee to fight against the revolutionary frontiersmen. However, his reasoned decision did not end well for his adoptive people; instead, when the British officially recognized the new United States of America in the 1783 peace treaty and ceded all lands west of the Appalachian Mountains to the Mississippi River, they also discarded their Native allies.
Cherokee records indicate that McDonald was unhappy with the new political status. While he and his family continued to live with his wife's people, he walked a careful line. While clearly an American citizen, he refused to sever ties with the British government and, upon occasion, worked for the Spanish government which maintained control of Florida and portions of the land beyond the Mississippi, including the port at New Orleans. By 1792, McDonald was earning $500 a year as an employee of the Spanish crown, a significant income for a trader living on the frontier.
So, how did the Ross name and lineage intersect with the McDonald heritage? McDonald, in his frequent travels, learned that a Cherokee band led by Bloody Fellow had captured two white traders who had been traveling down the Tennessee River. They had allowed a Cherokee native onto their boat, not knowing that the Indian had been banished by the tribe. McDonald quickly traveled to the site where the captured men were being held and interceded on their behalf so eloquently that Bloody Fellow not only agreed to release them but arranged for them to trade with the Cherokee. One of the two released men was Daniel Ross, a Scotsman who had come to the colonies prior to the Revolutionary War. Ross settled near the McDonalds and would eventually marry Mollie McDonald. Once more, a Scottish trader had married into the Cherokee nation.
Daniel and Mollie McDonald Ross would have nine children.
And, the story will continue ...
Linda Moss Mines, the Chattanooga-Hamilton County historian, is a member of the Tennessee Historical Commission and the regent of the Chief John Ross Chapter, NSDAR.