Sunday, June 17, 2012

John Vann, Indian Countryman

The earliest known mention (in the Colonial Records of South Carolina Relating to Indian Affairs, a.k.a. "The Indian Books") of John Vann, was in 1741 when Governor Lyttleton of South Carolina directed John Vann, an employee of Cherokee trader James Maxwell, to transport supplies into the Choctaw Nation. Unless John was a very precocius 10 year old lad, he could not possibly have been "John Joseph" Vann, b. ca.1737. Thus he represents a totally different individual, whose ancestry has yet to be fully discerned. The name of John Vann appears several times in the South Carolina papers as an "Indian Countryman," the term used at that time to describe merchants (mostly fur and hide traders), who resided amoung the Cherokees and accepted tribal customs, including the taking of a Cherokee female partner, consort, concubine, or wife.
This woman not only performed the usual wifely duties, but served as the European (most were Scots) merchant's intermediary, teacher of Indian ways, and translator. If the "Indian Countryman" was shrewd, he selected a wife who was the sister, daughter or niece of important tribal leaders. Most Cherokee genealogists gringe at the notion of "Cherokee Princesses", but the Indian spouses of the European traders were, if not royalty or nobility, at least the equivilent of Indian "heiresses" or perhaps "debutants." Because of the Cherokee matralineal clan system, many of the mixed-blood offspring of the Cherokee wives and their European husbands rapidly rose to prominece in tribal social, economic, and political affairs because of their mothers, not because of their fathers. James Vann became a chief of the Upper Cherokees, largely because of the high social standing of his mother and grandmother (probably a niece of Oconostota, the Great Warrior [i.e. General] of Chota [a famous Cherokee town].
In the 1760's John Vann and Edward Vann (probably his brother) purchased tracts of land near Ft. Charlotte in the Ninety-Six District (later called the Abbeville or Pendleton District, and later Greenville & Edgefield Counties, SC) and along the Broad, Saluda, and Savannah River in Georgia (later called Wilkes County,GA). Nearby was land owned by Robert Gowdey, a well-known Indian Countryman (3 of his Cherokee children were listed in his will in the Pendleton Dist.), whose name appears frequently in the SC "Indian Books." Gowdey apparently had issues with John Vann, because he sued him in 1758 to collect a debt of 850 pounds and went to court in 1775 to accuse John Vann of instigating the Cherokees to attack the American frontier. The name of Robert Gowdey in the land records compiled by William H. Vann of Ft. Worth prove that this was the same John Vann who lived among the Cherokees. Most of the persons surnamed Vann listed by Dianne Schell, Dick Fox, or Suzi Herman in the Vann Family Forum who resided and left records in the 96 District, Abbeville District, Pendleton District, Greenville County, and Edgefield County, SC and the nearby (accross the Savannah River) Wilkes County, GA were somehow connected to the Cherokees. Those Vanns residing in Chowan, Hertford, Bertie, Gage, and Sampson Counties, NC were not likely to have Cherokee relations, while those living in Madison County, AL might have Cherokee ties.
John Vann was associated with several other "Indian Countrymen," John Downing, James Adair, Bernard Hughes, et al.who each became the progenitor of Cherokee mixed-blood families with those surnames. John Vann's part-Cherokee children included 1/2 bloods named John Vann, Joseph Vann (maybe), Betty Vann (a sister of Waw-li mentioned by the Moravians), and Waw-li Vann. There is a court record in which Mary Christiana Vann, i.e. Waw-li mentions her late brother John Vann. I believe that the Indian Countryman John Vann's brother Edward Vann was the father of Joseph (a.k.a. "John" Joseph Vann) and Clement Vann, who were both husbands of their first cousin Waw-li Vann (she was 1/2 Cherokee) and the grandfather of Avery Vann, Jr. (husband of Peggy McSwain, granddaughter of Indian Countryman John Downing).
In 1779 Robert Due (yet another Indian Countryman) wrote to Alexander Cameron ( British agent to the Cherokees who had 3 part-Cherokee children) concerning a number of whitemen who were living among the Cherokees who joined up with war parties organized by Oconostota during the American Revolution. Two of these Tories or Loyalists joing Chickamauga war parties were named John Vann and Joseph Vann, and each joined separate war groups and went in different directions. The text of this letter can be found posted on the "Jim Hicks Cherokee Page" website, which also has a lot of information about the Cherokee Vanns. I believe that John Vann was the elderly Indian Countryman and Joseph Vann was his nephew (and son-in-law), but more evidence is needed to prove or disprove this theory.
Thus there were probably at least two (2) different Vann connections to the Cherokees: one through John Vann, the Indian Countryman, and the other through a later generation represented by Joseph, Clement, and Avery Vann, Jr. In addition, there may have been a third Cherokee Vann line, if there was another brother of John Vann and Edward Vann named Joseph Vann with an Indian wife [or wives; Cherokees practiced polygamy] who may have been the progenitor of other Cherokee Vann families not obviously related to that of Chief James Vann. Confusion about the Vanns is not only because of the multiplicitiy of persons with the same names, but also because a Cherokee female Vann married white males named Vann, similar same-name alliances occured among several other Cherokee mixed-blood families (i.e. the Adair, Ross, Benge, and some others). Another cause of confusion are some documents discovered by Mr. William H. Vann in his VANN GENERATIONS which suggest a man named "John Vann, otherwise Joseph Vann." This led to the creation of additional "double-decker" (my term) names such as "James Clement Vann I & II" (actually Chief James Vann apparently had an uncle named James and another uncle named Clement). By the way, Nancy Vann (sister of James Vann) mentioned in a court document that her father was named Joseph Vann [NOT John Joseph]. Let us try to eliminate or reduce the amount of such distracting confusions.

1 comment:

  1. Hello. My name's Dewayne Allday. I'm currently participating in 3 different DNA genealogy sites and traced many branches of my tree. It appears that I am descended on my mitochondrial side (mother's mother's mother's etc) from Charity Roe (possibly married a Vann), mother of Susanna Vann (married a John Crutchfield), mother of Bertha Crutchfield (married a Brice Paul), mother of Ann Porter (married Loverd Lee Pierce), mother of Susan Francis Pierce (married Josiah Smith), mother of Annie Elizabeth "Lizzie" Smith (married James Campbell Flowers), mother of my mother, Katie Flowers. I'm very interested in how can find out more about this line, as this appears to be my direct mothers line. My email is dewayne.allday at or alldayonline at I would greatly appreciate hearing from anyone who may know more about these families... Thanks so much....