Closer Look

What’s in a name? Nikwasi – Part II

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Lamar Marshall

Editor’s note: Lamar Marshall dives into the history and meaning behind some of the distinct names in Macon County to provide a better understanding of and connection to this area. This is the second part of a focus that includes information about Nikwasi, also spelled Noquisiyi, as well as early life in what is now Macon County.

When Charles Town (now Charleston), S.C., was established in the year 1674, people were few and animals like bear, wolves, deer, elk, and buffalo were numerous. The valleys and mountains of Western North Carolina (WNC) and the surrounding grasslands and Piedmont hills were prime habitat and rich hunting grounds of the Cherokee. This abundance of wildlife was the basis for Anglo-Cherokee trade agreements which brought about a chain of events that changed the course of history.

It was an era when the skies annually blackened with flocks of millions of passenger pigeons as they settled like a blanket of gray into the virgin forest for a night’s rest. The Cherokees and regional tribes harvested so many of these birds that English explorer and naturalist John Lawson recorded in 1709 that towns with as few as 17 houses “…have more than 100 gallons of Pigeons Oil, or Fat; they using it with Pulse, or Bread, as we do Butter. …” 


In 1693, 20 Cherokees visited Charleston to initiate trade with the British. A profitable trade began privately, but by 1707 all the trade in the Carolina colony was regulated by the British Board of Trade. In 1716, Fort Moore was built on the Carolina side of the Savannah River near modern Augusta, Ga. Next, Fort Congarees was built on the Congaree River near modern Columbia, S.C., the site of abandoned Saluda Old Town. Both forts were located at the heads of navigation, also known as fall lines on these two major rivers. An ancient fall line path connected these two forts. These forts became “factories,” also known as trading posts, for a lucrative deerskin trade in WNC. Traders were called “factors.” White settlements grew out from these wilderness outposts. 

Pack horse trains with licensed traders, pack men, and their crews made months-long round trips into the Cherokee Nation along the Charles Town Trading Path. The train of horses sometimes stretched out for a mile or more, loaded with British goods delivered to the Cherokee and returned laden with furs and deerskins. 

As early as 1716, “Charikees Burdeners [were] employed [and] paid in Goods and Necessaries. …” according to letters recorded in the South Carolina Indian Journals. In 1732, a pistol traded for five buckskins or 10 doeskins and a knife for two buckskins or four doeskins. An entire system of exchange developed for various European goods and their equivalent value in furs, skins, and hides. White traders took up permanent residence among the Cherokees. 

British Indian Supervisor John Stuart wrote that trade was the common thread for white-Indian relations considering the vastly differing cultures. In his 1764 report to the Board of Trade, he stated that it was natural for people to make the tasks of life easier with convenient tools and utensils. British traders provided a “greater variety, better quality, cheaper prices and easy credit terms” for Indian consumers. 

At night, camps were made at designated stopping places. Clean springs for drinking water, downstream watering places for the horses, and nutritious canebrakes for forage were essential. Some of these camps were rendezvous places. Large, flat, sunny rocks in convenient locations were used as drying places for wet packs and gear. Numerous “Flat Rock” place names are still found on modern maps along the early trading routes. Thinned layers of deerskin became the fabric for “jeans” and fashionable clothing in Europe. Indigo, rice, tall pines for ship masts, pine tar, and wood shingles were also shipped from Charleston. 

Around 1715, traders operated factories at Cowee, Noquisiyi (Franklin), Coweeta (Otto), and Quanasee (Hayesville). Today’s Highway 64 from Franklin to Hayesville was called the “Nikwasi Path.” Fierce competition between the French and the English grew over which country would monopolize the trade of resources from North America. 

By the 1750s, a dozen traders lived along the Little Tennessee River in modern Macon County. Andrew White lived on the Little Tennessee River. James May, dubbed “the white man of Cowee,” by the Cherokees, lived at Cowee near West’s Mill. Trader and interpreter Eleazer Wiggan lived at Ayoree Town (Macon Airport). 

These resident traders constructed store houses, living quarters, blacksmith sheds, and established horse pastures or ranges near the towns. Colonial records contain correspondence between these traders and the governor of South Carolina describing in detail tumultuous events connected to the French and Indian War. For example, in 1752, six Seneca Indians from Ohio kidnapped Chickasaw women from their trading camp in South Carolina. Their escape route took them through Noquisiyi (Franklin), along the main trail, now Highway 28, towards Cowee and the Smoky Mountains. A few days later, six Chickasaw warriors, hot on their trail, charged through Noquisiyi and recruited Cherokee scouts from Watauga (Riverbend Road), to expedite their pursuit across the Great Smoky Mountains. 

The first part of this article, by local historian Lamar Marshall, ran in the Jan. 18 edition of Macon Sense. Find it by visiting here.

Lamar Marshall is a local historian.