The Dunns'
Cherokee Connections
Michael C. Dunn



I've been researching the Dunn ancestry for more than 30 years, and still can't be sure who the father of John Dunn (born about 1797), my great-great-great-grandfather, was.  I have some clues now, though, and they're contained in a separate little essay sent with this one and called "Some Notes on the Earliest Clues Found So Far on the Origin of Our Dunns".

Over the last six or seven of those 30 plus years, I've learned a great deal more about the world John Dunn lived in, where he lived, what he was doing, and the like. And one of the surprises has been the close connections between him, his in-laws and the Cherokee Nation, including the fact that his brother-in-law Alex Kell married a Cherokee woman and had Cherokee descendants who are cousins of ours. The first 40 years or so of Dunn's life were spent in areas close to the Cherokee frontier, and sometimes what we know about Dunn is precisely because of that fact. For some 20 years before the Cherokee Removal (the "Trail of Tears"), John Dunn lived in close contact with the Cherokees, including his own in-laws; the Kell family, also our ancestors, had connections going back a decade or more longer.

The Dunns, so far as I know, have no Cherokee ancestry, no Indian "blood", to use the old term. But we do have Cherokee cousins. Our ancestor James Dunn, who was just a small farmer in Gilmer and Pickens Counties, Georgia, had two first cousins who were judges in the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma, and one of them headed the Cherokee Senate. The other was killed in a major Cherokee political feud. The two men just mentioned were my first cousins, four times removed, and related to the rest of the Dunns depending on how they are related to me. I do not know if James Dunn ever met them, because they went West on the Trail of Tears in 1838, when these men were still young and James only 14, but his father, John Dunn, surely did. There are still Kells in Oklahoma and Arkansas (and, I think, California) who stem from the Cherokee branch of the family. I thought Dunn kin might find a little essay about our Cherokee connections of interest. This isn't just because Indians are "politically correct" these days, but because it's becoming clear that the early history of the Dunns was linked to the Cherokee Nation in several ways.

This is intended as one of several short reports to the relatives on Dunn family history while I continue working on the earliest Dunns and trying to find the time to write a full-scale, footnoted family history like that I am now producing on my Collins ancestors. This and my "Some Notes on the Earliest Clues Found So Far on the Origin of Our Dunns" cover some of the same ground and may repeat themselves on occasion. Please be patient.

Also, as I think many of you may already know, tracing a family who lived on the edge of the frontier, many of whom either could not read and write or barely could, and who came from a frontier world distrustful of government, means that information is usually sparse and sometimes contradictory. The earliest John Dunn is sometimes shown in the census as born in North Carolina, sometimes South Carolina. Perhaps he wasn't sure; perhaps one time his wife or son answered the census;  perhaps the censustaker got it wrong; perhaps he didn't like telling the government too much about himself. Dates of birth usually fluctuate from census to census. Since the state only recorded marriages (in Georgia and North Carolina: South Carolina didn't even do that), often a marriage is the only certain date we have. Even tombstones often just give a year, and sometimes may even be wrong.

What I'm building up to saying here, is that everything I say in this little essay has evidence to prove it, but sometimes it needs a footnote half a page long to do so, and this essay doesn't include those footnotes. My family history will, but it is still a work in progress. Some of the statements made in this essay and the other one are boiled down from several years of digging; I haven't given the evidence here. You may either trust me, or contact me for more details, or wait for the fuller version. If you see something you disagree with, or think is wrong, by all means let me know. I'm still learning too. Meanwhile, I hope to tell a story without too much digression on the evidence.

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The World of the First John Dunn: The Cherokee Aspects

1. Hall County, Georgia

Because "John" has been a very common name in our family, I will refer to my great-great-great-grandfather as "the first" John Dunn, though no doubt he had ancestors named John as well. He's the first John Dunn I can trace. He was born some time between 1796 and 1801 in either North or South Carolina. Based on arguments that would take a couple of pages, I believe he was born in 1796 or 1797 and that South Carolina is the likeliest of the two states. He married on June 17, 1819 in Hall County Georgia, to Elizabeth Kell, daughter of "Captain" James Kell and Letitia Kneal (probably correctly Neill) Kell. From that date in 1819, John Dunn always lived near his in-laws, the Kells (and Smiths, about whom more in a moment); one reason we can't be sure of his ancestry is he doesn't seem to have stayed close to his own family.

In my other essay sent with this one, I argue that he came from a family of Dunns who may have originated in Northern Ireland and moved (perhaps via Pennsylvania) to north central North Carolina, from which they moved in stages to the mountains of far western North Carolina, where several brothers served in the American Revolution. One branch of them then moved to northwestern South Carolina, then to Franklin County, Georgia. Their next-door-neighbor there was later a close neighbor of our ancestor John Dunn in both Hall County and Rabun County, Georgia, suggesting John was one of these Dunns. Also, the name James Dunn appears in Franklin County, then close to John Dunn and the aforementioned neighbor in Rabun County, and then John Dunn named his first son James. I suspect John may have been the son of a James Dunn (for whom he named his own son) and that this James was a son of either Joseph or William Dunn of Franklin County. I can't prove this yet; I'm not sure if I ever will. And I could be wrong.

But the subject here is not who his parents were. It's his own life and the Cherokee connection, and we know a lot more about that.

I already mentioned that John Dunn married Elizabeth Kell in 1819 in Hall County, Georgia, the county around Gainesville, Georgia.  I don't know how he came to be there, but if he was from Franklin County, so were lots of other early Hall Countians. Nor do I know how he met Elizabeth Kell, for her father seems to have been elsewhere. But her sister and brother-in-law were in Hall County, and had been in one particular area even before it became part of Georgia.

Cynthia Kell, sister of the Elizabeth Kell who married John Dunn, had married Robert Smith sometime earlier, perhaps in South Carolina. Smith was at this time called Robert Smith Junior, and lived in a group of Smiths along with Robert Senior and several others in the 1820 census, adjoining John Dunn in that year. (It's not certain that Robert Junior was son of Robert Senior; in the usage of the time, he could have been a nephew, he was just "young Robert" in other words). In 1817, the Indian Agent for the Governor of Georgia, had written to the governor to list the white people living illegally in the Cherokee Nation, and among them were Robert Smith Junior on Big Creek and Robert Smith Senior on Flowery Branch of the Chattahoochee, both places near what is now Flowery Branch, Georgia. Later that same year, this territory was added to Georgia, and the Chattahoochee became the boundary between the Cherokees and Georgia. In 1820, the next census year, John Dunn and his new wife, whom he married in 1819, are living in a cluster of Smiths, who are also surrounded by people also named in Montgomery's 1817 letter. So we can be pretty sure that the area where John and Elizabeth Dunn were living in 1820 is the Flowery Branch area. And this had been Cherokee territory only two years before John Dunn's marriage, and the Smiths, his new in-laws, had been living there while it was still Cherokee.

I can't resist adding another interesting little historical note: the area where the Dunns and Smiths were living in 1820 was just a mile or two south of where the Federal Road the main US government road from the coast at Charleston to the Cherokee Nation crossed the Chattahoochee. The Dunns and Smiths lived on the east side of the river within a few miles of the crossing; at the Federal Road crossing on the west side of the river stood James Vann's Tavern, in the Cherokee Nation and owned by the prominent head of the Vann family. The tavern had been built about 1806 and remained in its site until the building of Lake Lanier; in 1957 it was moved to the old Cherokee Capital at New Echota, near Calhoun in Gordon County in northwest Georgia, and stands there at the New Echota State Historical Site today. So though it's been moved, you can still visit a building that our ancestors might well have known personally.

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2. (Future) Rabun County, Georgia

Sometime in the 1820s, John Dunn and Elizabeth Kell Dunn, and Robert Smith and Cynthia Kell Smith, moved, probably together (since they again settled near each other), to Rabun County in extreme northeast Georgia. Almost certainly the reason was the fact that their wives' father and brother (one certainly, another one perhaps later) were already there. Rabun County is spectacular mountain country best known for the filming of Deliverance and as the home of the Foxfire books on mountain culture and in the extreme northeast of Georgia. But one Kell had been there long before it was Georgia.

James Kell (1760-1848) is one of the better documented, and more interesting, of our ancestors. He was born in Pennsylvania, near Carlisle, but before he was three years old the family had moved to the Orange County, North Carolina area. Actually, they lived in areas belonging today to counties north of Orange, in Caswell and neighboring counties. James Kell's father is uncertain, though I can identify a couple of his uncles. He and a first cousin, Robert Kell, who was a few years older than he, both served in the Revolution and also moved together or one followed the other for much of their very long lives. James lived to be 88; Robert was stated to be 89 in the 1840 census, the last in which he appears.

James had fought in the Revolution in several capacities, some of them as a quasi-guerrilla fighting Tories in North Carolina; he had fought at Camden, a major battle, and at the defense of Charlotte; he also fought at the little known but important battle of Lindley's Mill. In one or two of his several tours he was elected Captain of his company, and until he died at age 88 was known by his neighbors as "Captain" Kell.

After the war he moved several times around western North Carolina, picking up his wife Letitia Kneal (probably a misspelling for one of the Neills of Rowan County, where he married her; they had lots of Letitias) along the way. He also left one or two counties in debt or other financial trouble, and at one point in South Carolina his house burned down. He kept moving. His cousin Robert, though older, soon began to follow him some years after James had put down roots in a new area.

James spent quite a few years in Pendleton District, South Carolina, what is today the three northwestern counties of SC. He was there by the early 1790s.

James's son Alexander Kell either James' first or second son had been born in 1785. Alexander Alex, he seems to have been called, though I've seen "Aleck" once was remembered as a quieter and less flamboyant man than his father. Sometime around the first few years of the 1800s, years before his sister Elizabeth married John Dunn, Alex had married Emily Duncan. Her father was a Scots trader named Charles Gordon Duncan, Her mother, Dorcas Lightfoot was a Cherokee woman of the Deer Clan.

Many earlier works on Cherokee genealogy either say that Dorcas'  maiden name was unknown or call her Dorcas Foster, but it was her sister, Ga-Ho-Ga Foster, who married into that name. Don L. Shadburn's Cherokee Planters in Georgia says she was Dorcas Lightfoot and a daughter of Captain John Lightfoot, apparently a white man. If so she was "half-blood" by white standards and her daughter Emily Duncan "quarter blood", but Emily's children seem to have considered Emily a fullblood, counting themeselves as "half blood". This sort of thing was more important, as far as I can tell, to the white lawyers than to the Cherokee, who basically considered anyone raised a Cherokee as an Indian regardless of ancestral line. In addition, most of these marriages were between white men and Cherokee women, and in Cherokee society a man belonged to his mother's clan, not his father's (one could not marry within one's own clan). Thus children of a Cherokee woman and a white man were always considered Cherokee, at least if they chose to live as such. John Ross, the Principal Chief of the Nation during the Trail of Tears and on through the Civil War era, was only one-eighth Cherokee in ancestry. Anyway, Emily Duncan seems to have usually been counted as if she was a fullblood by her descendants. Her mother, by the way, was still living at the time of the Cherokee Removal, living in Lumpkin County, Georgia.
Anyway, Alex Kell and Emily Duncan seem to have been having children by about 1805, when Alex was 20. Very early on, they lived in Tuckaleechee Old Town, a Cherokee town located where Tuckaleechee Creek (today Tuckaluge Creek) flows into Warwoman Creek in what is today Rabun County, Georgia, a few miles east of Clayton, GA near the present Antioch Church. (One or two people have disagreed about where Tuckaleechee town was, but I'm agreeing here with all the evidence known to me plus all the Cherokee experts. And it's a lovely place: mountains on all sides, a sort of vale where cultivation is possible along the creeks: just the sort of place the Cherokees liked to put their towns.) Of course in those early years this was not Rabun County, but the Cherokee Nation.

I am saving a discussion of their children our Cherokee cousins until later, after discussing other Cherokee connections with the Dunns and Kells up to the time of the Trail of Tears.

During the period that Alex and Emily were living at Tuckaleechee, James Kell was still in Pendleton District, South Carolina. His cousin Robert joined him there. But Alex was living inside the Cherokee Nation. How the Kells got hooked up with Hall County isn't clear though old Captain James listed every one of his moves, seemingly, for his Revolutionary War pension petition in 1833, he never mentioned Hall County but Hall was often the nearest courthouse for folks living in the Nation. Anyway, the Kells seem to have been connected all over northeast Georgia, even while still based in extreme northwestern South Carolina.

In 1817, the Federal government signed a treaty with the Cherokees under which the Cherokee nation gave up the northeastern corner of Georgia. This included what became Rabun County, as well as that part along the Chattahoochee where Robert Smith had been living in 1817 and where John Dunn was living (once it was part of Hall County) by 1819.

As part of the treaty, the Federal government promised that those Cherokee in the affected area who were willing to apply for US citizenship were to be given 640 acres (that is, one square mile) which could be passed to their children but which would revert to the government if they left the land. In 1819 the treaty was revised and more Cherokees added, receiving compensation for improvements (buildings etc.) they had made on their land.

On July 18, 1819, Alexander Kell "in right of his wife" received allotment number 190 "in right of wife" this land was "Lying in Tuckaleechee Old Town". This is the old Cherokee town already referred to, near where Tuckaluge Creek and Warwoman Creek come together in today's Rabun County, Georgia.

This treaty was with the Federal government; it was unpopular with Georgia, which wanted the Cherokees off the land altogether, and resented the reservation of 640 acres to those who accepted citizenship. So Georgia soon began buying up the land. On June 25, 1823, it paid Alexander Kell $1,475 for his 640 acres, which it had apparently already taken. (His Cherokee mother-in-law, Dorcas Duncan, had received $1,500 for her land "with improvements" on June 21 of the same year.)

Alexander Kell did not move far. Not all the land transactions survive. He may have later lived where the later Kells of Rabun County did, a few miles to the northeast of his old home. Meanwhile the territory had become Rabun County, Georgia, and in 1822 Alexander Kell served as the county's tax receiver.

Sometime in the early 1820s, if not earlier, Alexander's Cherokee wife Emily died (presumably) or at least drops from the record. Sometime before 1825, he had married again to a woman named Mira or Elmira, whose maiden name seems to have been Foster. (There were Fosters related to the Duncans as well, but Elmira was clearly considered white, not Indian. There may have been other connections, though.) By 1824 or so Alexander had started a new family, who were considered white rather than Indian. This became the family who would flourish in Gilmer County, Georgia, while their Kell half-brothers and half-sisters mostly went west to Oklahoma. Meanwhile "Captain" James Kell and his son John, one of Alexander's brothers had moved over from northwestern South Carolina.

Sometime between the 1820 and 1830 census, John Dunn and Robert Smith moved to the new Rabun County. They did not settle close to their father-in-law James and brother-in-law Alexander, but settled near each other in the western part of the county, around what is today Timson Cove on Lake Burton. James Kell may have owned land in this area too, but it does not seem to have been his main residence.

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3. "Moving About" in the Nation, 1830-1833

The Kells had never been very stationary. Old "Captain" James Kell born 1760 participated in the 1827 Georgia land lottery, and seems to have been eager to find new places to settle. When he filed his application for a Revolutionary War pension in Rabun County in late 1833, he said that he had spent the last three years (since 1830, in other words) "moving about in the purchase of Georgia", meaning the parts of northwest Georgia which were about to be acquired from the Cherokee. His statement does not specify where he was "moving about", but there is other evidence to show that by 1830 James Kell and two of his sons were living in the Cherokee Nation. This is why they do not show up in the 1830 census for Rabun County, though James' sons-in-law John Dunn and Robert Smith both do.

Instead, we find the Kells inside the Cherokee Nation in 1830. On 7 October 1830, Indian Agent Hugh Montgomery (now the Federal Indian Agent, but the same man who in 1817 had been working for the governor of Georgia and was quoted earlier) provided a list of "those white familys who are in the Nation and within the limits of Gerogia under permits from the authorities of the Nation". He listed James Kell, John Kell, and Alexander Kell. (John Kell, born about 1787, was another son of Captain James, a little younger than Alexander.) Another list in an old letterbook of persons with "License for residence in the Cherokee Nation upon their having filed proper affidavits, has been issued to the following persons", and lists the same three men in the same order. The date also appears to be about 1830.

So one reason these Kells aren't in the 1830 US census is that they were living in  Cherokee territory under license from the Cherokee nation. The two lists show no wives or children, though they do for other families. But we can be sure (from children's birthdates) that both Alexander and John Kell had wives at the time, and children presumably living with them. (We don't know for sure when Capt. James Kell's wife, Letitia, died.) Alexander Kell, of course, had been living among the Cherokee for perhaps 25 years or more. And his children by his first, Cherokee, marriage were living in the Nation. This may have helped win the three Kells the Cherokees' own permission to live among them at a time when many Georgians, inspired by the discovery of gold in the Dahlonega region, were simply squatting on Cherokee land. The Kells weren't: they are explicitly said to have had the Nation's own license to live there.

 Captain James, who in 1830 was a mere 70 years old (he'd live to be 88), was "moving about" somewhere in the Cherokee Nation for the three years, 1830-1833. By December 11, 1833, he was able to say in his affidavit for his Revolutionary pension, "he has now as he thinks located himself in Gilmer County Ga".

At least some of the Kell descendants seem to believe that he probably spent some of the 1830-1833 "moving about" time in what was to become Gilmer County. Otherwise how could he decide to settle there? It certainly makes sense, and Gilmer was close to the heart of the Cherokee Nation; in the years before the removal, of the new counties of Georgia, the old Gilmer (present Gilmer, Fannin and Pickens Counties combined) contained more Cherokees than any of the other new counties. Ellijay, which in 1834 became the county seat, was an old Cherokee town at the joining of the Ellijay and Cartecay Rivers to become the Coosawattee; it was also at the intersection of old Cherokee trails. When, exactly, the Kells chose to settle in Gilmer is not certain; when they did is discussed below.

One of Alexander Kell's second, white family told his descendants that his father and grandfather (Captain James) "had much pow-wow with the Cherokees, including old Chief Ellijay and Joe Van of Spring Place in Murray County". "Chief Ellijay" may refer to Chief Whitepath, the most prominent Cherokee chief from what became Gilmer County and a well-known figure who died on the Trail of Tears; "Joe Van" is Joseph Vann, whose elegant mansion house still stands at Spring Place in Murray County, a reminder of how well the rich, slaveowning elite of the Cherokee lived. These contacts may have occurred while the Kells were "moving about" or after their settlement in Gilmer.

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4. Gilmer County, Georgia

The state of Georgia had been seeking to oust the Cherokees for years, and with Andrew Jackson in the White House they had an ally who was willing to look the other way when Georgia ignored decrees by the Supreme Court of the US. The discovery of gold in the Cherokee territory advanced matters considerably, and flocks of squatters moved in though as we've seen, the Kells were living there with the permission of the Cherokee Nation, not as white squatters.

By 1831 Georgia was determined to carve up the northwestern part of Georgia out of the Cherokee Nation and turn it into counties; in 1832 these were laid out. The original Gilmer consisted of what today are Fannin, Gilmer and Pickens Counties, and was one of the 11 original counties carved out of the Cherokee "purchase", as Georgians called it. As we've already seen, James, Alexander and John Kell had probably at least visited, if not settled, in the future Gilmer before it ceased to be Cherokee territory.

During the period the Kells were living within the Cherokee Nation, John Dunn and Robert Smith, whose wives were both Kells, were still living in western Rabun County.

There is plenty of reason to believe that the Kells, Dunns and Smiths all officially moved to the new Gilmer County in 1833, though they still had some legal ties to Rabun into 1834. The whole details will not be given here, but some of the stories help illustrate the Cherokee connection.

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The Cherokee Kells

Since they are not directly in my own ancestry, I haven't tried to trace all the Cherokee Kells, but where I have come across them I've tried to note them and their lines of descent in my database.

Though the Dunns are not Cherokee, the children of Alexander Kell and Emily Duncan all of whom were always considered Cherokee, and most of whom were forced west on the Trail of Tears regardless of how much white "blood" they had were nieces and nephews of Elizabeth Kell Dunn, and first cousins of my great-great-grandfather James Dunn. (They were also, of course, half-brothers and sisters of Alexander's second, white family in Gilmer County, Georgia.) Their children would have been second cousins of Rev. John Henry Dunn; their grandchildren third cousins of J. Louis Dunn, William A. Dunn, James G. Dunn and Sam N. Dunn; their great-grandchildren fourth cousins of my father's generation and their great-great-grandchildren my own fifth cousins. In addition to Oklahoma, there are or have been in this century Kells of Cherokee descent in California, Arkansas, and even Georgia. They are just as closely related to us Dunns as the non-Indian Kells of Gilmer County, many of whom have moved to the Atlanta area.

Alexander Kell and Emily Duncan had the following children, at least, though there may have been others. The birth order is not certain, but James Kell, probably named for his grandfather, was almost certainly first, or at least the eldest male.


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