The remarkable story of a North Carolina Cherokee community who avoided forced removal on the Trail of Tears
During the 1838 forced Cherokee removal by the US government, a number of close-knit Cherokee communities in the Southern Appalachian Mountains refused to relinquish their homelands, towns, and way of life. Using a variety of tactics, hundreds of Cherokees avoided the encroaching US Army and remained in the region.
In his book Their Determination to Remain: A Cherokee Community’s Resistance to the Trail of Tears in North Carolina, Lance Greene explores the lives of wealthy plantation owners Betty and John Welch who lived on the southwestern edge of the Cherokee Nation. John was Cherokee and Betty was White. Although few Cherokees in the region participated in slavery, the Welches held nine African Americans in bondage.
During removal, the Welches assisted roughly 100 Cherokees hiding in the steep mountains. Afterward, they provided land for these Cherokees to rebuild a new community, Welch’s Town. Betty became a wealthy and powerful plantation mistress because her husband could no longer own land. Members of Welch’s Town experienced a transitional period in which they had no formal tribal government or clear citizenship yet felt secure enough to reestablish a townhouse, stickball fields, and dance grounds.
Greene’s innovative study uses an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating historical narrative and archaeological data, to examine how and why the Welches and members of Welch’s Town avoided expulsion and reestablished their ways of life in the midst of a growing White population who resented a continued Cherokee presence. The Welch strategy included Betty’s leadership in demonstrating outwardly their participation in modern Western lifestyles, including enslavement, as John maintained a hidden space—within the boundaries of their land—for the continuation of traditional Cherokee cultural practices. Their Determination to Remain explores the complexities of race and gender in this region of the antebellum South and the real impacts of racism on the community.
List of Illustrations
Welch Plantation, December 1850
1. Cherokees during the Early Republic
2. “Leave Home and Take to the Mountains”: Resisting Removal, 1836–38
3. “A Settlement of Indians on Valley River”: A New Community on the Welch Farm
4. “Councils, Dances, Ballplays”: New and Old Ways on Valley River
5. “Their Determination to Remain”: Evading Agents, Lawyers, and Other Swindlers
Lance Greene is associate professor of anthropology at Wright State University and coeditor of American Indians and the Market Economy, 1775–1850.
“In Their Determination to Remain, Lance Greene tells the fascinating, but heretofore little-known story of the Cherokee Welch family, slaveholding planters who resisted removal in the 1830s and helped to establish a new Cherokee community in the mountains of southwestern North Carolina after the Trail of Tears. Combining archaeology with meticulous archival research, Greene explores the methods used by Cherokee people to rebuild their lives in the wake of removal, while tracing relationships among the Welches, their enslaved African American workers, and the culturally traditional Cherokee community that shared the family's land. Microhistory at its best, the book represents a significant contribution to the literature on Cherokee and southern Appalachian history, as well as studies of slavery in Indian country.”
—Andrew Denson, author of Monuments to Absence: Cherokee Removal and the Contest over Southern Memory
“Greene's study of the Welch family and Welch’s Town is unique, Their Determination to Remain will contribute to the larger body of scholarship on Cherokees, Indian Removal, community studies, and family history. The latter, in particular, has been growing in popularity and offers opportunities for cross-over interest by general readers as well as academic/student readers.”
—Rose Stremlau, author of Sustaining the Cherokee Family: Kinship and the Allotment of an Indigenous Nation
“Lance Green unearths a compelling and complex story in Their Determination to Remain, one that forces readers to reconsider seemingly concrete notions about identity, community, and cultural change.”
—Journal of the Early Republic
“Overall, this book is an important addition to our understanding of both Cherokee survival in North Carolina after 1838 and how the adoption of chattel slavery was used by some Native Americans to secure the survival of their communities in the antebellum South”
—Journal of Southern History
“Their Determination to Remain is a wonderful book. Lance Greene unearths stories from soil and archives alike to craft a vivid and humane Cherokee history. The writing is clear and concrete, bringing characters to life in a cacophony that reverberates across the hills and valleys of the Great Smoky mountains. We have much to learn not just from Greene’s narrative but also from the methods by which he creates it.”
—Elizabeth Fenn, author of Encounters at the Heart of the World: A History of the Mandan People
“Greene’s book is most successful at offering a rich portrait of the Welch family’s experiences and decisions during and after the removal, including their development of a household with many of the outward trappings of a typical Southern plantation that was nonetheless a ‘hybrid space’ incorporating long-standing Cherokee values and material culture.”
“Lance Greene adeptly weaves together historical and archaeological evidence in this insightful study of survivance in Cherokee town areas of southwestern North Carolina during and after the tumultuous and tragic episodes of the Removal era. Aspects of Cherokee landscape and lifeways and the social fabric of towns enabled communities of Native Americans, African Americans, and Anglo Americans to endure. Connections between people, place, and the past persisted, and this history shapes the Cherokee towns present in the area today. Recommended reading for anybody interested in Indigenous studies, archaeology in the southern Appalachians, and the history and culture of the American South.”
—Christopher B. Rodning, author of Center Places and Cherokee Towns: Archaeological Perspectives on Native American Architecture and Landscape in the Southern Appalachians
“Greene reveals a remarkably complex and thoroughly unexpected story of successful Cherokee resistance to the US Indian Removal policy, followed by the resurgence of Cherokee community in the aftermath of the Trail of Tears. At the center of these efforts was the enigmatic Welch family of southwestern North Carolina, a well-informed and well-connected Anglo-Cherokee household that applied nuanced legal strategies and extralegal maneuvers to shield themselves and their community from deportation. Their story weaves complicated intersections of race, gender, class, and ethnicity as they bridged the divides between the indigenous and white worlds. Greene’s archaeological examinations of the Welch family plantation bring material immediacy to that intersectionality and the family’s struggles to create and maintain their distinctive identity in the antebellum mountain South.”
—Brett Riggs, author of May We All Remember Well: A Journal of the History Cultures of Western North Carolina