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Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

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Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby Waterloo50 » August 13th, 2016, 9:19 am

Hi everyone,

Bit of an odd one this, I recently posted this question on the 'Most Internationalised regiment thread' but had zero luck'.

Here is my question.

I was contacted by a friend of mine who is Cherokee , here is part of the message she sent me.

How did a unit of Cherokees come to be fighting for Napoleon? Found out my great-great-aunts told an ethnologist their father's brothers died fighting with Napoleon's armies in a war in France . I'm telling you, the Cherokees are worse than the Sioux - they get everywhere!

She also mentioned '
1809/1815. Great-great-grandpa was Huron and Cherokee and had come out to California with a unit from Quebec to protect the Hudson Bay Company. He was the youngest of about 14 kids.

Can anyone help me, I have spent countless hours looking for some evidence of the Cherokee fighting along side Napoleon's forces. Has anyone ever heard of this? I would greatly appreciate hearing your thoughts on this.
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby jf42 » August 13th, 2016, 8:51 pm

One important thing to remember is that California as an entity didn't exist in the period 1809-15, it was a still part of New Spain, a collection of far flung missions and presidios established in the late C18th. Britain had no jurisdiction there and never would. Any involvement in conflict on the west coast on the part of His Majesty's subjects from Canada would have been much farther north. There were clashes with Russians, for instance, over the fur trade. However, any Canadians involved would not have been Crown forces but employees of one of the fur trading companys. Any Crown military presence would have been on the part of the Royal Navy.

I have to say, I am not sure how someone of native American stock would have achieved mixed Cherokee and Huron parentage that early but obviously it wasn't impossible, given the way of these things. Hurons and Cherokess spoke related languages in the Iroquoian family but occupied territories separated by wide distances. There were Scots traders intermarrying everywhere, of course, and there were important Cherokee headmen with Scottish surnames. The Cherokee and a surviving group of Huron (or Wyandot) both ended up in the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi- (later to become Oklahoma State in 1908), as treaty dependents of the US Government but that was not not until the 1840s.

As for a unit of Cherokees fighting for Napoleon, I take it you don't mean in Europe. The last period of conflict between Cherokees and European settlers took place in the War of Independence period. After the loss of the 13 colonies in 1783 there was no British presence south of the great Lakes. The only possibility of fighting against the British (whether for Napoleon or otherwise) would have been during the Anglo-American war of 1812-1814. The Hurons had been allies of the British following the conquest of New France in 1763, so it doesn't seem likely but not impossible. A unit of Cherokees from the southern Appalachians? It seems far-fetched.

It sounds like family legend to me. There could be a grain of two of historical fact there, but where do you start?
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby FBC-Elvas, Portugal » August 14th, 2016, 2:41 pm

Fascinating information, even if the Cherokee friend doesn't get the information he needs to confirm a family legend. Thanks Jack.

Sarah
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby jf42 » August 14th, 2016, 3:41 pm

Glad it was of interest, Sarah.

Sometimes, when one delves into family legends, the underlying facts can be just as interesting.
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby Waterloo50 » August 14th, 2016, 6:46 pm

jf42 wrote:One important thing to remember is that California as an entity didn't exist in the period 1809-15, it was a still part of New Spain, a collection of far flung missions and presidios established in the late C18th. Britain had no jurisdiction there and never would. Any involvement in conflict on the west coast on the part of His Majesty's subjects from Canada would have been much farther north. There were clashes with Russians, for instance, over the fur trade. However, any Canadians involved would not have been Crown forces but employees of one of the fur trading companys. Any Crown military presence would have been on the part of the Royal Navy.

I have to say, I am not sure how someone of native American stock would have achieved mixed Cherokee and Huron parentage that early but obviously it wasn't impossible, given the way of these things. Hurons and Cherokess spoke related languages in the Iroquoian family but occupied territories separated by wide distances. There were Scots traders intermarrying everywhere, of course, and there were important Cherokee headmen with Scottish surnames. The Cherokee and a surviving group of Huron (or Wyandot) both ended up in the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi- (later to become Oklahoma State in 1908), as treaty dependents of the US Government but that was not not until the 1840s.

As for a unit of Cherokees fighting for Napoleon, I take it you don't mean in Europe. The last period of conflict between Cherokees and European settlers took place in the War of Independence period. After the loss of the 13 colonies in 1783 there was no British presence south of the great Lakes. The only possibility of fighting against the British (whether for Napoleon or otherwise) would have been during the Anglo-American war of 1812-1814. The Hurons had been allies of the British following the conquest of New France in 1763, so it doesn't seem likely but not impossible. A unit of Cherokees from the southern Appalachians? It seems far-fetched.

It sounds like family legend to me. There could be a grain of two of historical fact there, but where do you start?


Thank you very much for a very informative and helpful response.

I agree that this is more than likely a family legend. My Cherokee friend (tribal elder) and I have been corresponding for quite some time now and as I am sure you are aware most of the Cherokee nation's history is passed down verbally and as a result facts can be unintentionally altered. I promised my friend that I would reach out to the members of the forum and see if anyone could help, your response is greatly appreciated. I will update my original post should any other information become available.
Once again, thank you.
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby jf42 » August 14th, 2016, 7:50 pm

Just as a footnote: during the American War of Independence and in the ten years following, there was a Cherokee war leader, very active against the American expansion across the Appalachians, whose English name was Dragging Canoe, He was dubbed by certain historians of earlier generations as 'The Savage Napoleon'.

Perhaps the epithet started a Chinese whisper in your friend's family with the result that an ancestor was thought to have fought for Napoleon.

By the way, I was incorrect in saying that the Cherokee and Huron only began to associate in the 1840s following the removal to Indian territory. There were alliances and fairly close geographical association during the post-revolutionary period as the 'Western' tribes retreated and re-grouped in the face of European migration west of the Appalachians. A significant number of militant Cherokees, including Dragging Canoe's people, moved north from their territory in Tennessee and Georgia. Meanwhile, bands of Huron-Wyandot had gravitated southward to the Ohio valley.
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby Josh&Historyland » August 14th, 2016, 8:11 pm

He could then plausibly claim to have fought for Napoleon.
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby jf42 » August 15th, 2016, 6:12 am

Well, indeed. Perhaps!
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby Waterloo50 » August 16th, 2016, 4:54 pm

Josh&Historyland wrote:He could then plausibly claim to have fought for Napoleon.


Since my last post my Cherokee friend has sent me some more info, here is part of our exchange.

I can explain how Cherokees and Hurons got mixed together in Quebec - there was a LOT of pushing and shoving in the Old Southwest after the Revolution. One of the big reasons for making King George the boogey man was to get across the Alleghenies into Tennessee...which happened to be occupied by Cherokees in the east. Later my family hooked up with Choctaws from Mississippi - being Catawbas from South Carolina this was peculiar since the Choctaws were removed to Oklahoma. But...they never could catch everybody and some crafty folk went east instead of west!

With regards to the men that fought alongside Napoleon:

they would probably have been employees of a fur company and I do know my great-great-grandfather - their brother - was exactly that. He came out to the Scott Valley country with a company from Nova Scotia to protect the Hudson Bay trappers exploring down the Klamath. Gggrandpa's grandpa was a fur trapper from the Loire Valley in France - which we just found out through another relative who had church records from the village he was from. Looks like he ditched some poor gal named Charlotte and headed out for New France! I think there's a little bitty drop of French wandering around the bloodline holding hands with that little bitty drop of Welsh.

The more research my friend does the more complex the story becomes, but it does seem feasible that some Cherokee could have ended up in France.
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Re: Cherokee and Napoleon, Help.

Postby jf42 » August 16th, 2016, 6:28 pm

H'm. Well, I have to ask how a fur trade employee forming part of the HBC penetration of northern California circa 1825-29 could have been much help to Napoleon at that date

A fugitive from unplanned parenthood in Old France would need to have arrived in New France before 1760 when Canada was effectively conquered by the British. I don't know how much French immigration from the old country there was after that (The lower Mississippi and 'Louisiana' would have been a different matter. Even though that region had passed to Spanish control in 1763, French cultural influence remained strong).

It was some time before Canadian settlers of French stock were permitted to return to the area of the Maritimes that had been renamed Nova Scotia and resettled by Scotians. However, while I can see how a grandson of the Old French adventurer might have been exploring the Far West in the 1820s, it seems a stretch for that explorer to be the great-great grandfather of someone alive today. The time line of descent may have got a little stretched along the way. I could be wrong. It depends on the age of your correspondent, of course, and how you calculate generations.

I am afraid I didn''t quite understand the references to Cherokees, Choctaws and Catawbas.
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