A prominent eighteenth-century Overhill Cherokee civil and military leader, Oconastota resided at Chota on the Little Tennessee River in present-day Monroe County. He was born around 1710. By the 1740s he had acquired the title Great Warrior of Chota. His reputation grew as he led successful war parties against the French and their Indian allies. During the 1750s, the British explicitly recognized Oconastota as the military and political leader of the Cherokees. He became the Headman, or Uko, at Chota and the effective chief of the Cherokee nation in 1768.

In 1759 the British took Oconastota and thirty of his followers hostage at Fort Prince George following misunderstandings concerning service against the French. Oconastota was released, but when he murdered a British officer outside the fort, the British killed the twenty-eight Cherokees still held captive. To avenge the deaths, the Cherokees, led by Oconastota, captured Fort Loudoun in 1760 and massacred most of its garrison as they were being marched toward Charleston. Despite British retaliation, including the destruction of the Lower Cherokee Towns, Oconastota’s reputation rose among the Cherokees.

In subsequent years, Oconastota commanded campaigns against the Creeks, Choctaws, and Iroquois. He also conducted frequent negotiations with the British, as white settlers encroached on Cherokee land and forced the tribe to cede more and more territory. When Revolutionary War forces attacked the Overhill towns in 1776, Oconastota helped to negotiate their withdrawal and the peace treaty of 1777. Oconastota resigned his position as chief about 1780. He died in 1783, and Joseph Martin described his burial at Chota; archaeologists excavated his grave in 1969. Oconastota was returned to the Cherokee people and reinterred at Chota in 1987.

Suggested Reading

James C. Kelly, “Oconastota,” Journal of Cherokee Studies 3 (1978): 221-38

Citation Information

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  • Article Title Oconastota
  • Author
  • Website Name Tennessee Encyclopedia
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  • Access Date May 25, 2024
  • Publisher Tennessee Historical Society
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update March 1, 2018