The remarkable story of a North Carolina Cherokee community who avoided forced removal on the Trail of Tears
During the 1838 forced Cherokee removal by the US government, a number of close-knit Cherokee communities in the Southern Appalachian Mountains refused to relinquish their homelands, towns, and way of life. Using a variety of tactics, hundreds of Cherokees avoided the encroaching US Army and remained in the region.
In his book Their Determination to Remain: A Cherokee Community’s Resistance to the Trail of Tears in North Carolina, Lance Greene explores the lives of wealthy plantation owners Betty and John Welch who lived on the southwestern edge of the Cherokee Nation. John was Cherokee and Betty was White. Although few Cherokees in the region participated in slavery, the Welches held nine African Americans in bondage.
During removal, the Welches assisted roughly 100 Cherokees hiding in the steep mountains. Afterward, they provided land for these Cherokees to rebuild a new community, Welch’s Town. Betty became a wealthy and powerful plantation mistress because her husband could no longer own land. Members of Welch’s Town experienced a transitional period in which they had no formal tribal government or clear citizenship yet felt secure enough to reestablish a townhouse, stickball fields, and dance grounds.
Greene’s innovative study uses an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating historical narrative and archaeological data, to examine how and why the Welches and members of Welch’s Town avoided expulsion and reestablished their ways of life in the midst of a growing White population who resented a continued Cherokee presence. The Welch strategy included Betty’s leadership in demonstrating outwardly their participation in modern Western lifestyles, including enslavement, as John maintained a hidden space—within the boundaries of their land—for the continuation of traditional Cherokee cultural practices. Their Determination to Remain explores the complexities of race and gender in this region of the antebellum South and the real impacts of racism on the community.