Donelson Flotilla

Other names:

03/dd/1780 Donelson Flotilla small-pox victims captured and/or killed by Chicamaugan Cherokee after passing Chickamaugan towns (JAR)

Where: 35.08087, -85.35142 Donelson Flotilla

Maps: [map notes]


  • Moccasin Bend GNIS record: 35.0381301, -85.3377363.

  • The Suck GNIS record: 35.1222956, -85.3932944

  • Acme Map: A = Suck, B= Moccasin Bend, C= Arbitrary location between A & B (35.08087 -85.35142).

  • Tennessee History for Kids. ArchiveThe Donelson Party
    -28 persons lost on "smallpox boat".
    -between Mocassin Bend and the Suck.
    No ref.s provided.

  • Lauderdale County AL. History of the Shoals. Donaldson Expedition.
    "At Lookout Mountain, Donelson lost one boat of 28 souls to the Chickamauga Cherokees."
    No ref.s provided.

  • John Donelson - Diary - 1779
    [March] Wednesday 8th . Castoff at 10 O.'clock. & proceed down to an Indian village, which was inhabited, on the south side of the river, they invited on us to "come ashore”, called us brothers, & showed other signs of Friendship, insomuch, that Mr. John Caffery & my son then on board took a canoe which I had in tow & were crossing over to them; the rest of the fleet having landed on the opposite shore. After they had gone some distance, a half-Breed who called himself Archy Coody with several other Indians jumped into a canoe, met them, and advised them to return to the boat, which they did together with Coody and several canoes which left the shore & followed directly after him. They appeared to be friendly. After distributing some presents among them, with which they seemed much pleased, we observed a number of Indians on the other side embarking in their canoes, armed and painted red & black. Coody immediately made signs to his companions, ordering them to quit the boat, which they did, himself and another Indian remaining with us & telling us to move off instantly. We had not gone far before we discovered a number of Indians armed and painted proceeding down the river, as it were, to intercept us. Coody the half breed & his companion sailed with us for some time, & telling us that we had passed all the Towns & were out of danger, left us. But we had not gone far until we had come in sight of another Town situated likewise on the south side of the river, nearly opposite a small island. Here they again invited us to come on shore, called us brothers, & observing the boats standing off for the opposite channel told us that "their side of the river was better for boats to pass." And here we must regret the unfortunate death of young Mr. Payne on board Capt. Blackemores boat, who was mortally wounded by reason of the boat running too near the northern shore opposite the town where some of the enemy lay concealed, & the more tragical misfortune of poor Stuart, his family and friends to the number of twenty eight persons. This man had embarked with us for the western country, but his family being diseased with the small-pox, it was agreed upon between him & the Company, that he should keep at some distance in the rear, for fear of the infection spreading: and he was warned each night when the encampment should take place by the sound of a horn. After we had passed the Town, the Indians, having now collected to a considerable number, observing his helpless situation, singled off from the rest of the fleet, intercepted him & killed & took prisoners the whole crew, to the great grief of the whole Company uncertain how soon they might share the same fate; their cries were distinctly heard by those boats in the rear.

  • Edward Albright, Early History of Middle Tennessee, 1908. Ch.14, Donelson's Voyage, The River Fleets Begin Their Long Journey:
    The flotilla now proceeded in a body. During Wednesday, March 8, they came to the first inhabited Indian town on the Tennessee river near Chattanooga. Its in habitants were of the treacherous Chickamauga tribes, who, on sighting the boats, came flocking to the river and insisted that the voyagers should come ashore. They gave signs of friendship, calling the whites brothers and addressing them in other familiar terms insomuch that John DONELSON, Jr., and John CAFFREY took a canoe and rowed toward them, the fleet having anchored on the opposite shore. When DONELSON and CAFFREY were about mid-stream they were met by Archie COODY, a half-breed, and several other Indians who warned them to return to the fleet. They did so, followed by COODY and his companions. The latter seemed friendly, and Colonel DONELSON distributed among them presents, with which they were much pleased. Looking across toward the village just at this time they saw a large party of Indians armed and painted in red and black, embarking in canoes on the other side. COODY at once made signs to his companions ordering them to quite the fleet, which order they readily obeyed, while he remained with the whites and urged them to move off at once. The boats were scarcely under way again when they discovered the village Indians, still armed and bedecked in war-paint, coming down the river, seemingly to intercept them. However, the whites were not overtaken. COODY rowed along in his canoe with the fleet for some time, but finally assuring Colonel DONELSON that he had passed all the Chickamauga towns and was, therefore, free from danger, turned about and rowed back toward the first village. The whites had not proceeded far, however, before they came in sight of another mud-cabin town situated likewise on the south side of the river, and nearly opposite a small island. Here the savages again invited them to come ashore, calling them brothers as on the previous occasion. However, the settlers were too wise to be led into such a trap, and headed their boats for the opposite channel around the island. Seeing this, the Indians called to them through one of their number who could speak English, telling them that the channel chosen was unsafe, and that their side of the river was much better for such passage. Captain BLACKMORE'S boat ran too near the northern shore, and was fired upon by a band of Indians who lay concealed near the bank. Young Mr. PAYNE, who was aboard the craft, was killed as a result of such an unexpected volley. There was with the flotilla a boat carrying twenty-eight passengers, among whom an epidemic of smallpox had broken out. To guard against a spread of this disease to other members of the fleet agreement had been made that it should keep well to the rear, its owner, Mr. STUART, being notified each night by the sound of a hunting horn when those ahead went into camp. Therefore, this unfortunate party was far behind while the events above mentioned were taking place. When they came down opposite the towns the Indians were on the shore in large numbers and seeing them thus cut off from the rest of the fleet swarmed out in canoes and with cold-blooded, murderous intent killed and captured the entire crew. Cries of the latter were distinctly heard by those in the boats ahead, but they were unable to stem the swift current and thus return to aid their perishing comrades. But the Indians suffered a swift and righteous retribution for this wanton act of cruelty. They became infected with the disease of their victims, and for many months thereafter smallpox raged, not only among the Chickamaugas, but in the tribes of their neighbors, the Creeks and Cherokees. When stricken with the malady and while the fever was yet upon them, the savages would take a heavy sweat in their huts. When driven to madness by the fever and heat, they would rush out and leap into the river, from the effects of which folly they died by scores. Old persons of to-day well remember the traditional accounts of a great and terrible mortality which prevailed among the savages after the capture of STUART'S boat.

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