Research Journal (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 2)

[NOTE:  I kept a rather primitive “research journal” during my grad school days, but I did not make much use of  it once my traveling was over, so that aspect of my research had almost no effect on the final shape of the dissertation (and on the book that eventually came from the dissertation).  When I began research on the current project in the mid-1990s, however, I got into the habit of summarizing each day’s findings that night, while    things were still fresh in my mind.  Later, I  transferred those hand-written entries, or at least relevant excerpts, onto floppy disks;  printed them out, in what was laughingly called “near letter quality.”    I  hoped that, by employing the research journal in this way, I would have a record of my preliminary conclusions to check against those arrived at after further research.  What follows is a sample entry from that research journal, describing a trip my wife Faith and I took along the so-called “Chieftains Trail” in North Georgia.]

* * * * *

Sat., 14 Oct.00 (North Georgia)

. . . This is our three-day Fall Holiday weekend.  I dug out the New Georgia Guide and an AJC article I had clipped on the “Chieftains Trail” and plotted our itinerary.

We drove for an hour or so up I-75 north to Ga. Rte. 225.  About three miles or so east on Rte. 225 is the site of New Echota, the one-time capital of the Cherokee Nation.  Maintained as a state historical site, New Echota is a shadow of its former self, yet quite suggestive nonetheless. The only original building still on the site is the home of missionary Samuel A. Worcester, of Worcester v. Ga. fame.  Other period buildings have been moved to New Echota, however, and these show how middle-class and common Cherokee families lived on their farmsteads:  a cabin, barn, corn crib, and smokehouse on the “middle-class” farm and a cabin, stable, corncrib, and smokehouse on the “common” one.  Another period structure, Vann’s tavern, has been relocated to New Echota, and reconstructed versions of the tribe’s Council building, Print Shop, and Supreme Court building complete the display.  As a bonus, the state Natural Resources Dept. has created a mile-long nature trail that winds around the rear of the Worcester home.  The Visitors Center has a small museum featuring lots of artifacts dug up on the grounds, as well as a tiny library and movie theater.

A couple of notes on progress, sort of:  1) A one-time Cherokee farm on the other side of Rte. 225 has been transformed into a golf course.  2) The Worcester House was occupied by a series of white farmers following the missionary’s forced eviction.  The last such farmer moved away in the 1950s, at which time a group of local citizens bought the property with an eye towards its renovation as a memorial to the Cherokees.

About seventeen miles farther east on Rte. 225 is the Vann House, the noblest edifice by far in the modern-day hamlet of Spring Place.  It sits on a knoll overlooking the spring that gives the town its name (though we could not see it), at the intersection of routes 225 and 52A.  The state Dept. of Natural Resources, which manages the house, is currently building a new visitors center, so there was a temporary parking area and a rather crowded entry hall in the house itself for books, other souvenirs, and of course a cash register.

I already knew quite a bit about Spring Place from my newspaper research.  It must have been one of the earliest white settlements in Murray County, and it was certainly the headquarters of Colonel William N. Bishop, commander of the Georgia Guard and one of Governor Wilson Lumpkin’s most notorious agents in the Cherokee Territory.  I had also taken copious notes on the shootout at the Vann House in 1835 between Bishop and Spencer Riley, a supporter of the anti-Lumpkin State Rights Party.  But I had never actually been there before today. . . .

I was surprised, but guess I shouldn’t have been, when our feisty, 60-something tour guide regaled us with the story of the Bishop-Riley encounter first thing.  She told us that, as we reached the landing halfway up to the second floor, we would be able to see the very spot where Bishop and his minions had tossed a burning log in a successful effort to “smoke Riley out”—and we did.  Evidently, Bishop had arrived to claim the Vann House for the state (I believe his brother Abraham ended up running a tavern and store there eventually), only to have Riley, who was boarding there, enter his own claim on the property and refuse to leave.  Thus the gunplay, in which Riley was wounded and hauled off to the jail in Cassville “through the snow,” where, in his version of events, he narrowly escaped assassination at the hands of a Bishop loyalist.

As was the case at New Echota, there are very few original items at the Vann House, but period pieces have been brought in, and they suggest something of the affluence of the last Cherokee owner, “Rich Joe” Vann, who inherited the house after his father’s murder in a tavern sixty miles away.  The basement, which puts the “d” in “dank,” was divided into a wine cellar and a dungeon for unruly slaves (the “civilized” Cherokee Joseph Vann owned a couple of hundred slaves).  There are guest bedrooms on the second floor and two children’s rooms on the “vertically challenged” third floor, with its low doorways, steep stairs, and six-foot ceilings.

Once again, progress has not been kind to the Vann House.  There it sits, like a diamond in a dunghill, looking down on a four-way stop intersection and a mini-mart.  Nevertheless, it was certainly worth the trip!


For those interested in reading more about Georgia History, here are links to my books on the subject:

REABP CoverRancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities:  Parties and Factions in Georgia, 1807-1845 (University Press of America, 2015)

Pursuit Cover

In Pursuit of Dead Georgians:  One Historian’s Excursions into the History of His Adopted State (iUniverse, 2015)

Politics on the Periphery:  Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1783-1806 (University of Delaware Press, 1986)

About georgelamplugh

I retired in 2010 after nearly four decades of teaching History at the "prep school" level with a PhD. My new "job" was to finish the book manuscript I'd been working on, in summers only, since 1996. As things turned out, not only did I complete that book, but I also put together a collection of my essays--published and unpublished--on Georgia history. Both volumes were published in the summer of 2015. I continue to work on other writing projects, including a collection of essays on the Blues and, of course, my blog.
This entry was posted in Cherokee Indians, Georgia History, History, Research, Retirement, Southern History. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Research Journal (In Pursuit of Dead Georgians, 2)

  1. Jennifer Jo Leva says:

    Hello, I am a descendant of Vann family, I would like to read more about the history of my great ancestors.
    In your travels Did you discover any written journals by James Or Joseph Vann?

    Could you please recommend which one of your wonderful books to read on this subject.
    Thank You!

    Jennifer Jo Leva

    • Hi, Jennifer Jo,

      Thanks for visiting “Retired But Not Shy”! Since you are a descendant of the Vann family, have I got a book to recommend for you! It’s a great book, focusing on the history of the Vann House, where the Vann family lived. I didn’t write this particular book, but it’s a great entry point for someone like yourself who is interested in the history of the Vann family and their home:

      Tiya Miles, “The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story” (2010, University of North Carolina Press)

      You asked about my writing on the subject, so here goes. I cover the relations between Georgia and the Cherokee Nation in “Rancorous Enmities and Blind Partialities: Factions and Parties in Georgia, 1807-1845” (2015, University Press of America, Inc.)

      Ms. Miles’ book on the Vann House should be your first stop on your journey into the history the Cherokee Nation.

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