Henry Timberlake

Colonial journalist and cartographer Henry Timberlake was born in Virginia in 1730 and died in England on September 30, 1765. He joined Virginia military forces in 1756 and served in several campaigns during the French and Indian War. In 1761 he was assigned to troops commanded by Colonel William Byrd III and subsequently placed under the command of Colonel Adam Stephen. Stephen’s mission was to retaliate against the Cherokees for their siege of Fort Loudoun and for their massacre of its garrison, but in November 1761 the Cherokees concluded a truce before Stephen could launch his attack. At the peace negotiations one of the Cherokee chiefs requested that an officer journey to the Cherokee villages on the Little Tennessee River to explain the treaty and provide assurances that the colonists intended to honor it. Lieutenant Henry Timberlake volunteered to go.

After a twenty-three-day journey down the Holston River, Timberlake arrived at the Overhill villages in early December. He was a guest of Chief Ostenaco at Tomotly, and he presented the provisions of the peace treaty to Cherokee leaders gathered in the Chota council house. He also visited Citico and Chilhowee, where he was welcomed with considerable celebration and respect. Timberlake left the Overhill country in early March 1762, reaching Williamsburg in April. In May he escorted three distinguished Cherokee leaders, including Ostenaco, to London, where they stayed until August. Timberlake remained in England until returning to Virginia in March 1763. In the summer of 1764, five Cherokees visited him, seeking an audience with the governor of Virginia and requesting passage to London. The governor denied their request, but Timberlake agreed to help them, and he and three of the Indians reached London in the fall of 1764. After the Indians departed in March 1765, Timberlake remained and died in September.

Timberlake’s primary legacy is the journal he kept while living with the Cherokees. Published in 1765, the volume was probably published posthumously. His vivid descriptions and observations contained a thorough and detailed account of eighteenth-century Cherokee life and became a basis for all subsequent anthropological and historical studies of eighteenth-century Cherokees. Timberlake’s map, entitled “A Draught of the Cherokee Country,” accompanied the journal. On it he located all the Cherokee villages on the lower Little Tennessee River and provided important demographic information about village sizes, populations, and leaders. Modern studies have generally confirmed that Timberlake’s map was remarkably accurate. The journal, simply entitled Memoirs, and his map of the Overhill Cherokee country have been reprinted several times.

Suggested Reading

Samuel C. Williams, ed., Lieutenant Henry Timberlakes Memoirs 1756-1765 (1927)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Henry Timberlake
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date June 16, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018