Considered to be the first white settler in Hamilton County, John McDonald emigrated from Scotland to Charleston, South Carolina, in 1766. Almost immediately, he secured a position as a trader among the Cherokees and moved to posts in Tennessee, and in 1770 McDonald was appointed assistant superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British. He moved south with his wife, Anna Shorey, a mixed-blood Cherokee, and established a home and store near the point where the Chickamauga Creek flows into the Tennessee River. As whites pushed further into their lands, the Cherokees moved south and developed towns around McDonald’s store, which became the British commissary and outpost. In 1779 a joint Virginia and North Carolina militia expedition pushed south, destroyed the Chickamauga towns, and confiscated all the goods from McDonald’s commissary. McDonald moved his family to the “Five Lower Towns” located further south along the Tennessee River.
After the American Revolution the United States government was eager to establish peace among the southern Indians. Government officials worked through McDonald to win favor with the Cherokees. The Treaty of Hopewell, signed November 25, 1785, drew a boundary to restrict white settlement within the Cherokee lands and gave the government the exclusive right to trade among the Cherokees.
From his home near present-day Rossville, Georgia, McDonald maintained influence with the Cherokees until his death around 1824. His family’s influence in Cherokee matters continued through his grandson, John Ross, who became the Cherokee principal chief in 1828.