Return Jonathan Meigs

A key Cherokee agent in southeast Tennessee, Return Jonathan Meigs arrived in Tennessee in May 1801 to fill the combined position of agent to the Cherokee Nation and military agent for the United States War Department. Colonel Meigs, who was from Connecticut and later Ohio, had already completed a long and successful military career. The U.S. Congress awarded him a presentation sword for heroic behavior during the Revolutionary War.

Colonel Meigs located his first Tennessee base of operations at Fort Southwest Point near present-day Kingston. His office and the Cherokee Agency remained at that location from 1801 until 1807. He supervised relocation of the agency and the U.S. “factory” for trade with the Cherokees at Tellico Blockhouse to a new post named Hiwassee Garrison near the mouth of the Hiwassee River. Meigs functioned in his dual roles as Cherokee and military agent at Hiwassee Garrison until 1813, when the Federal soldiers stationed there were withdrawn. He remained as Cherokee agent, but in 1815 he moved the agency a few miles up the Hiwassee River. He relocated a third time in 1817 and continued as agent at the new location until his death on January 28, 1823. Within the context of U.S. government policy for the southern Indians, Meigs devoted his twenty-two-year career as Cherokee agent to promoting the well-being of the Cherokees, defending their rights during treaty negotiations, and encouraging their efforts to establish their own republican form of government.

In 1823 the remains of Colonel Return Jonathan Meigs were brought to the “Garrison Cemetery” near the Rhea County site of the former Hiwassee Garrison and placed next to those of his wife Grace and son Timothy. The adjoining county of Meigs was named in his honor.

Suggested Reading

Henry T. Malone, “Return Jonathan Meigs–Indian Agent Extraordinary,” East Tennessee Historical Society Publications, 28 (1956): 3-22

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Return Jonathan Meigs
  • 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