The Overhill Cherokee village of Chota was located in the Little Tennessee River valley of eastern Tennessee in present-day Monroe County. Chota, or Itsa’sa, is also spelled Echota and Chote. The original meaning has been lost. Chota probably developed from its close neighbor Tanasi, which it had superseded in size and population by the 1740s. Contemporary descriptions of the village in the 1750s and 1760s, generally confirmed by archaeological studies, indicate that it consisted of a central village plaza with an octagonal townhouse, or council house, where public ceremonies and social events took place. An open rectangular building, or pavilion, where public affairs were conducted in warm weather, stood adjacent to the townhouse. Approximately sixty individual domestic households surrounded the plaza and public buildings and extended along the river for nearly a mile. Each household included a circular winter house, an adjacent summer house, and their associated corncribs and outdoor work areas. Probably three hundred to five hundred individuals populated the village.
By the mid-eighteenth century, both Europeans and Native Americans recognized Chota for its military power, political authority, and economic influence, and regarded it as the capital of the Cherokee nation. Among the Cherokee leaders residing at Chota were Connecorte (Old Hop), Attakullakulla (Little Carpenter), Oconastota, Kanagatuckoo (Standing Turkey), Old Tassel, and Hanging Maw. British colonial traders resided at the town, and a steady flow of emissaries representing the British colonies visited it throughout its history. Henry Timberlake’s 1762 journal conveys particularly vivid images of Cherokee life at Chota. In 1780 American Revolutionary War forces destroyed Chota, but it had been rebuilt by 1784. In 1788 the Cherokee capital was moved from Chota to Ustanalli in northern Georgia. By 1807 only thirty people resided at Chota, and by 1813, the population had diminished to a single household. The land occupied by Chota was finally ceded to the United States in 1819.
In 1939, and again from 1969 through 1974, the University of Tennessee conducted extensive archaeological investigations at Chota, recording the townhouses, thirty-seven domestic structures, and hundreds of refuse-filled pits and human burials. This work has contributed substantially to the description of eighteenth-century Overhill Cherokee culture and the changes it experienced as a result of European contact. Prior to the completion of the Tellico Reservoir in 1979, the central portion of the site in the vicinity of the townhouses was covered with fill by the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA). By agreement with the TVA, this area is now managed by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. Two monuments, one dedicated to Tanasi and the other commemorating the Chota townhouse, were placed at the site in the 1980s.
Gerald F. Schroedl, University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Suggested Reading(s): Gerald F. Schroedl, ed., Overhill Cherokee Archaeology at Chota-Tenasee (Report of Investigations 38, Department of Anthropology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville).