Book Review: 'A Demand of Blood' by Nadia Dean

By Jim Becker | Dec 25, 2013

Remember the story of the tree that falls in the forest when nobody was present to hear, did it make a sound?

When history happens we like to imagine that we will hear all the facts.  However, there are realities to a battle that may not be revealed until many years later. In fact it can be so long in being discovered that its importance is not revealed until several hundred years have passed. This is where the facts emerge and make it possible for the importance of the story to be appreciated.

Napoleon's historical view was that the victors write the history. But there is much history that has not been written; and therefore secret because it is silent, it has been locked in diaries, letters and notes. Nadia Dean’s book on the Cherokee war unlocks the silence and brings the facts to light.

The actual battles that took place in North Carolina in 1776 are not easy to study. Gen. Rutherford’s campaign is very much like the tree that falls when nobody was present to hear it. Some of the sound was drowned out by other pivotal events that took our attention in the fall of 1776.

This series of battles occurred on the frontier, way beyond the newspapers, and they did not have a way of recording the events that could be easily obtained by the civilized world. The troops were militia and few were trained in traditional warfare. The troops were, however, experienced in how to push the Indians back by burning their villages and destroying their crops.  The troops that took part in this campaign are only identified by the officers who commanded them.  All these little factors contributed to the silence that hid their accomplishments.

Based upon Nadia Dean’s historical account of the Rutherford Campaign in her new book "A Demand of Blood," it is obvious that the British success in the French and Indian War allowed them to formulate a plan to use the American Indian to help fight the rebels and put down the revolt. The British plan was so poorly conducted it never became acknowledged as a significant threat.

Dean has very carefully extracted information pertaining to the campaign the settlers constructed against the Indians. The British Indian Agents went into the Watauga area in the spring of 1776 and announced that all the Tories should assemble and be ready to help the British regulars and the Cherokee in pushing everyone who had settled beyond the Proclamation of 1763 boundary out.

They announced that thousands of British troops were on their way to meet up with them. These British troops would never disembark from the ships that brought them to the coast of North Carolina. They failed to meet up with the Tory militia of the Carolinas. These Tory units that were supposed to join up with them were defeated at Moore’s Creek Bridge on Feb. 27, 1776.  The British troops remained on ships for two years.

The Watauga area settlers were informed that they had moved beyond the Proclamation of 1763 line and that for their efforts in supporting the crown, they would be provided with land in East Florida if they helped everyone leave the Indian lands. The British Indian Agents delivered a message that resulted in the settlers from Virginia, South Carolina, and Georgia raising a militia force that ultimately numbered 6,000 men even though they lacked a reasonable amount of gunpowder and ball ammunition.

Dean explained in detail how the burning of the village and the destruction of the crops would harm the Indians as starvation and exposure would make life difficult. The militia is given credit for destroying some 43 Indian villages and burning their crops.

The author explains how the split within the Cherokee tribe would result in Dragging Canoe becoming upset with the past dealing of the settlers who purchased Indian land from them west of the Proclamation of 1763 line.  Dragging Canoe aligned with the younger chiefs within the Cherokee Nation and led them on the war path.

The Rutherford campaign damaged the whole nation.  The Rutherford Campaign ended with a peace treaty between the Cherokee and the settlers.  The Cherokee abided by this treaty.  This provided the settlers with the cooperation they needed.

The Cherokee had to contend with a very difficult set of circumstances offered by the British, who made an effort to get the Indians to fight their battle. The British did represent the government at the time and had previously escorted some of Chiefs on a trip to visit Britain.

The British were renouncing the land transactions that some of the Cherokee chiefs had conducted.  The British were telling them they had a right to take any of this land away from the settlers.  Sometime during the spring of 1776, the Watauga area was considered to be the thirteenth state.  The discussion of this statehood did not result in Watauga being chosen.  Delaware would be formed from dividing off the three lower counties of Pennsylvania on June 15, 1776.

The Cherokee descendents, whose ancestor, abided in accordance with the Peace Treaty which contributed to the success of the American Revolution can and should be recognized for their patriotic contribution and eligibility for recognition as a member of the Daughters of the American Revolution, or Sons of the American Revolution.

Their villages should be recognized as historic sites and placed under the protection of the National Park Service.  It is important that historic preservation efforts be made to maintain the historical reference of the Cherokee contribution and sacrifice that helped us to found this Nation.

The lack of military intelligence and the total surprise of the defeat at Moore’s Creek Bridge resulted in a fear that would not allow them to go forward, or backward in planning the invasion of North Carolina.  This appears to have been real cause that the knowledge was kept from the troops.

News of the defeat of the Cherokee Indians and a peace treaty probably reached them based upon the contact of the British Indian agents with the Cherokee.  Did the British ever understand that this campaign was basically organ back woods by the enraged citizens?

Did the British understand how united the resistance in the frontier had become?  The formal military objectives of deploying the British troops to the coast of North Carolina represent knowledge that the British would never appreciate being has preserved a very substantial portion of our history and provided it with detail analysis that should be noted by all.

There is a possibility that we can organize a campaign to collect the names of all of the militia soldiers.  As we better understand the history of North Carolina during the American Revolution we can then share it and educate others as to the sacrifices that were made to build our country. The history does not remain silent when diligent effort allows the detail to be collected and assembled.

The personal diaries, the notes, the archived documents can all be collected to better tell the great stories of the past.  The dignity which the Cherokee conducted their affairs during this period is reflected in this story.  The Cherokee was severely conflicted and a victim of the British government and the business dealing they had arranged with the settlers.

The Peace-Treaty the Cherokee signed halted all British efforts to use them.  The settlers will always remain in the debt of the Cherokee for enabling this conflict to be justly settled.  The silence must be replaced by acclamation and appreciation as the sacrifice and struggle and kindness by the Cherokee must not be forgotten.