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Chief James Vann

The Vann family, consisting of five to six brothers and being of Scottish descent, came to Georgia in the early 1700's with the intent to trade animal furs with the Cherokees. These brothers settled in the northern part of Georgia and took Cherokee women for their wives. One of these women was simply named Wah-Li and she bore James Vann in February, 1765. It is not known who James's father was; though two men are named, James and Clement Vann. Clement took on the responsibility for James's upbringing.

James was a very intelligent young man who gained quick recognition among his people for his ability to read English, something few Cherokees were able to do. James also gained a name for himself with regards to combat. Young Vann was a part of the raid on Cavett's Station near present day Chickamauga. He instructed the man going in to the altercation that only the men should be shot but Vann's plan was thwarted by Chief Doublehead. The conflict involved both Cherokee and Muskogee Indians. Bob Benge, a revered Cherokee warrior, had negotiated a peace treaty that would allow the captives to surrender unharmed. As the prisoners began to be released Doublehead reneged on the deal and began shooting. James stepped in an tried to save a young boys life but Doublehead prevailed and the young boy perished. From then on, James referred to Doublehead as "baby-killer" and this began a feud that would last until Doublehead's death.

Through this conflict, James Vann became friends with Major Ridge and a third man, Charles Renatus Hicks soon joined this consortium. This alliance was dubbed the Cherokee Triumvirate and these young leaders were instrumental in helping the Cherokee Nation begin to adapt to the ways of the white man. Also during this time, James was establishing himself as an affluent landowner, business man and mediator regarding Cherokee affairs.

Another important way to achieve success in the Cherokee nation was to educate ones self in the white man's way. This acclamation process was one way of competing on equal terms. In 1800, while traveling in Washington D.C., James became acquainted with some Moravian missionaries. This religious group had originated in Germany and had settled in North Carolina. Mr. Vann convinced them to come to Spring Place to establish a mission just south of the Vann estate; this was done partially so that Mr. Vann's son Joseph could attend the school.

During this time, Vann's friendship with Hicks and Ridge began manifesting itself into quite a profitable association. In matters regarding Chief Doublehead, the three stood united against him. Vann also helped negotiate the establishment of the Federal Highway and this proved to be a profitable business venture for Vann who launched multiple businesses including a tavern, store and ferry along the highway's route. Hick and Ridge built many businesses along this road as well.

However, Doublehead seemed to trump them at every angle. James found that Doublehead was obtaining a large portion of his wealth through bribes. Further investigation by Vann revealed that Doublehead had sold Cherokee land to white men, a crime that was punishable by death. Vann, his friend Major Ridge, and Alexander Sauders were chosen to bring about the demise of Doublehead. There were several failed attempts before success was achieved by Ridge.

Considered one of the wealthiest men in the Cherokee nation, Vann built a enormous home along the Federal Road in 1804, which he named "Diamond Hill". Reports indicated that James owned over 100 slaves and operated several businesses along the Federal Road. Vann also owned property in Tennessee in present day Hamilton County, this area was originally called Vann's Town. To illustrate just how much money Vann had, the story was told that Return J. Meigs, Jr., a federal agent, came to Vann because the government had not sent an annuity payment that was due to the Cherokee people. Meigs asked for Vann's assistance in the matter and James paid the bill out of his own pocket and then waited for Meig to pay him back when the original payment came through.

James Vann was a fervent follower of many Cherokee customs; one of these was participating in polygamous marriages. Vann was known to have as many as five wives; Elizabeth, Polly and Peggy Scott, who were all sisters; Nancy Ann Brown, a half-sister of the Scotts; and Jennie Foster. Peggy was the mother of Joseph Vann, who was considered to be James's favorite child.

Another thing that James was noted for was his consumption of alcohol. Many times this habit would cause Vann to raise his hand in anger to those he cared about the most. It has been said that once while under the influence of "fire water" that he fired his pistol at his own mother. Another account said that after one night of heavy drinking, he burned down the slave quarters on his property. In later years, some say that Vann began to experience bouts of mental illness. He exhibited signs of paranoia and claimed that he heard spirits talking to him in his head. However, most of the time his acts of violence went unpunished because he held a leadership position in the Lighthorse Patrol, a group of Cherokee men that were brought together to police the area.

James's violent life seemed doomed to result in a brutal end at the hands of his enemies. On February 21, 1809, Vann and his son Joseph were having a good time at a tavern owned by Tom Buffington in present day Forsyth County. It has been said that an unknown assailant fired a shot through the partially opened entrance and fatally wounded James. James died on the spot and a slave took young Joseph back to the estate. James was only forty-three years old and was buried near the tavern. The murderer has neither been identified nor convicted of the crime although many possible suspects were presented. Since James had become quite acclimated to the white man's ways, he went against Cherokee tradition of leaving his estate to his wives and instead willed it to his young son Joe.

The following epitaph was written about the notorious Vann:

Chief James Vann
he killed many a white man
at last by a rifle ball he fell
and devils dragged him off to hell.

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