Any history of The Episcopal Church in Western North Carolina must begin with an acknowledgement that prior to the arrival of Christian settlers, the Catawba and Cherokee Nations called the southern Appalachian region home for centuries. The Catawba lived in the Piedmont and Foothills region of North Carolina and the Cherokee were just west throughout the Blue Ridge and Smokey Mountains. With the arrival of European newcomers in the late 16th – 17th centuries, conciliatory trading relationships and military alliances were forged.
The expansion of Europeans into what would eventually become our diocese progressed slowly through the 18th Century. English settlers, mostly German, Scottish and Irish immigrants moved westward through the Piedmont, overtaking the native populations. The Cherokee and Catawba continued to control their territories through most of the first half of the 18th Century, much of which would become the Diocese of Western North Carolina. Undesirable farming land in the Western Piedmont and the ever increasing European population resulted in encroachment on Cherokee and Catawba territory.
The conflicts increased with the French and Indian War, with England respecting the Cherokee claim to the Great Smoky Mountains. The treaty was largely ignored by the European settlers who built homesteads in Cherokee land. In 1776, North Carolina militia joined with militia armies from South Carolina and Virginia and together they invaded the Cherokee Nation in the campaign known as Rutherford’s Trace. The militias destroyed over 40 native towns including food storage and sacred places, and some natives were taken as slaves.
The Cherokee never recovered their control of their tribal lands, and the European migration increased. In 1830, with the federal Indian Removal Act, most of the remaining Cherokee in Western North Carolina were forcibly moved west to Oklahoma during the Trail of Tears. A small remnant of the Cherokee, who were able to avoid being removed, came to be known as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee and, over time, were able to purchase the land now known as the Qualla Boundary, in and around Cherokee, NC.
The Catawba, largely decimated by small-pox and tribal warfare by the beginning of the 19th century, ceded their homeland to the state of South Carolina in 1840.