Google+ Georgia On My Mind: The Chief Vann House: Stamping Out Stereotypes

Saturday, April 21, 2007

The Chief Vann House: Stamping Out Stereotypes

The other day I popped the picture you see to the left up on the television screen in my classroom and asked my fourth graders, “Look really closely at this home. It was built in 1804 in northern Georgia. Who do you think lived there?”

There were many great guesses, however, one thing everyone agreed on was that the house was owned by someone who was a rich landowner.

“Hmmm…..,” I asked, “who could have had a house like this?” Of course, students ruled out simple farmers and slaves. They finally decided that only a rich white man could have owned a house like the one pictured in Georgia during the early 1800s.

It would seem so, however, the home was built and owned by James Vann, a Town Chief for the Cherokee Nation.

Students were amazed. I asked them to volunteer reasons why they were surprised. One female student said it as simply as possible, “Well, they’re Indians.”

Another student said, “Yeah, weren’t they no better than slaves?”

A third student, said, “They didn’t live in houses like that. They lived in lodges.”

Earlier in the year we studied Native American regions and we included the Cherokee in our examination of the Eastern Woodland Tribes. Georgia curriculum standards require fourth graders to be very familiar with the environment Eastern Woodland Indians would have lived in, and they must be able to relate how basic needs such as food, shelter, and clothing were met based on the natural resources found in the area.

Since we hadn’t talked at great length about the Cherokee Nation since August I launched into a quick overview of their status in the early 1800s. By the late 1700s the Cherokee were considered to be one of the Five Civilized Tribes because as they interacted more and more with white settlers the Cherokee began to assimilate with white culture. They formed a government similar to the United States, they wore European clothing, and hunted, farmed, and built homes similar to white men.

It was at this point I showed students a wonderful video my school has regarding the Chief Vann House. Not only does the video show the interior of the home it also provides some worthy historical background and explains how the Vann family lost the home in 1834.

James Vann was the son of a Scottish trader, Clement Vann, and a Cherokee woman.
Though outwardly he seemed to be living a white life he had three wives and five children. He had several business ventures including a ferry and the plantation that operated on 800 acres surrounding the brick home, and he was very active in tribal affairs.

The home was built in 1804 and contains beautiful carvings and painted woodwork. A cantilevered or floating staircase intrigues many visitors and once the home was restored the rooms took on the original blue, red, green, and yellow color schemes. The picture seen here is the dining room.

The Old Federal Road ran directly in front of the home. The road stretched between Vann’s Ferry on the Chattahoochee to Ross’s Landing, Cherokee Nation (now Chattanooga, Tennessee).

The property included the lovely brick home, 42 cabins, 200 slaves, 6 barns, 5 smokehouses, a grist mill, blacksmith, 8 corn cribs, a trading post, peach kiln, a still, and 733 peach trees.

James Vann sponsored Spring Place Mission School where his own son was one of over 100 Cherokee children to be educated. Moravian missionaries had little success in converting Cherokees to Christianity until they had the assistance and support of Chief Vann whose money paid for the school. However, Chief Vann was more interested in teaching the children how to read and write English than he was in saving their souls.

Chief Vann was education minded, but could be violent as well. Some sources state he fired a gun at dinner guest through an upstairs bedroom floor down into the dining room, and he once fired a gun at his mother. After killing his brother-in-law during a duel in 1808 his family resorted to Cherokee tribal law and killed Chief Vann for his actions at Buffington’s Tavern in 1809.

Vann’s son, nicknamed Rich Joe, inherited his father’s property, increased the family business holdings, and often traveled to Washington D.C. to work on the behalf of the Cherokee Nation. It also wasn’t every Cherokee or white Georgian that could boast an overnight visit from President James Monroe, but Rich Joe could. The picture seen here is the bedroom where Monroe reportedly slept.

In 1834, Rich Joe violated Georgia law when he hired a white man as overseer to run to plantation. The state took over the property and it became part of the land lottery. The house fell into the hands of white owners. The gold found in Dahlonega was also an incentive for whites to move Cherokees off their lands. Cherokees all over Georgia were being rounded up and held in order to march them at the point of a gun to Oklahoma Territory along the Trail of Tears. Rich Joe and his family first went to Tennessee and then settled in Webber’s Falls, Oklahoma.

Though much of his property was stripped from him Rich Joe became involved in the running of steam boats up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. Soon he was making money again. Unfortunately, he was killed when his steamboat The Lucy Walker blew up on the Ohio River near Louisville, Kentucky in 1844.

Students entered my room with some misconceptions about Native Americans in Georgia that I was able to clear up. It would be very easy to teach students about the Trail of Tears by simply reading the two or three pages in our text and moving on, but the ugly process of stripping families of their property deserves a longer look.

This was not the only lesson I gave on the Trail of Tears. I will be posting more about it soon.


Eddie said...

I also heard of Chief Vann's cruelties. It is said he owned a tavern for travelers on the Federal Highway of the time and one of his sports were to get to know a traveler, get him drunk and then sick his vicious dogs on the poor guy, and watch the fun as the man was chased and eaten alive.

EHT said...

Hi, ET!

Yes, I'd say that James Vann was a very complicated man....perhaps he could even be described as tormented. There is a tavern building at New Echota called Vann's Tavern and it may be the one you mentioned. As stated in my post he killed his brother-in-law......amazing. I also find it amazing that his own family tracked him down and murdered him in retaliation according to tribal law. Some researchers say this happened at a tavern called Buffington's Tavern. Apparently the Old Federal Road had several taverns along the way.

I had not read anything about the dogs. I agree...that is pretty cruel.

Anonymous said...

Hi I am a GGGGgrandson of Chief James Vann through his youngest son James. First Clement was his step father John Vann was his father. Clement maried Wahli after Johns death (it was custom for a brother to take care of a dead brothers family in many native tribes)Wahli was James mother (wild potatoe or blind savanna clan) & she was the great grand daughter of Chief Moyoy the first principal chief of the Cherokee in 1730. Also known as the "Emperor" of the Cherokee by the "Crown" of England. Second no body knows who shot James or why. It is thought that a clan brother of his brother-in-law John Fawling may have done it as blood revenge. Or some one else for his excesses & cruelties when drunk. The duel was on horseback with long rifles. Family tradition holds that it was over a card game.

Anonymous said...

Glen Arval Spivey, the victim of the Killeen shooting is related to Chief James Vann! Spivey is the repairman.

Anonymous said...

It seems possible that Glen Arval Spivey is a Melungeon.

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