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Tomotley is a prehistoric and historic Native American site in Monroe County, Tennesseemarker, in the southeastern United States. Occupied as early as the Archaic period, the Tomotley site saw substantial periods of habitation during the Mississippian period and later as a Cherokee refugee village.

The Tomotley site is now submerged by Tellico Lakemarker, an impoundment of the Little Tennessee Rivermarker managed by the Tennessee Valley Authority. The site is visible from Toqua Beach and the Toqua Boat Ramp, both of which are managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Geographical setting

The Little Tennessee River traverses northern Monroe County for roughly between its Calderwood Lakemarker impoundment near the Tennessee-North Carolina border and its mouth along the Tennessee River near Lenoir Citymarker. The impoundment of the river in 1979 by Tellico Dam created Tellico Lake, which covers the river's lower as well as the lower of its tributary, the Tellico Rivermarker. The Tomotley site was situated along the south bank of the Little Tennessee just north of the river's confluence with Toqua Creek, nearly above the river's mouth along the Tennessee. The Overhill Cherokee village of Toquamarker and its associated prehistoric site was located on the south side of Toqua Creek, opposite Tomotley.

Toqua Beach and the Toqua Boat Ramp, which overlook the Tomotley site, are located along Tennessee State Route 360 (Citico Road), roughly south of the road's junction with U.S. Route 411 in Vonoremarker.

Historical information

Detail of Tomotley as shown on Henry Timberlake's 1765 "Draught of the Cherokee Country"

The root of the name "Tomotley" is unknown, although it is generally believed the name did not originate with the Overhill Cherokee. Ethnologist James Mooney suggests a possible Creek origin, pointing out the phonetic similarity to the Creek town of Tama'li, which was located on the Chattahoochee River in Georgia. Others have theorized that Tomotley was formed by Lower and Valley town refugees fleeing warfare with the Creeks in the mid-1700s, noting that the town name also appears among Lower and Valley Cherokee towns in South Carolina and North Carolina.

Tomotley first appears in the historical record in 1756 under the governorship of Attakullakulla. That same year, a small English force under Captain Raymond Demere arrived to garrison the recently-constructed Fort Loudounmarker. The garrison was greeted at Tomotley by Kanagatucko (Old Hop), who told Demere, "I am now old and lie upon a bad bearskin. My life is not more than an inch long." Around this time, a sharp political rift occurred within the Cherokee Nation between pro-French and pro-English factions. When pro-French sentiments began to prevail in the key Overhill town of Great Tellicomarker, its pro-English chief, Ostenaco, was forced to flee to the Little Tennessee Valley. By the time Henry Timberlake visited the Little Tennessee Valley in 1761, Ostenaco was governor of Tomotley (Attakullakulla was listed as governor of nearby Tuskegee and Mialoquomarker).

During the American Revolution and Chickamauga Wars, most of the Overhill towns were destroyed by American forces. Tomotley's location at a strategic ford along the Little Tennessee led to it being the first of the Overhill towns captured by William Christian's expedition in 1776. When John Sevier invaded the valley three years later, he reported that Tomotley was still in ruins.

Archaeological work at the Tomotley site

The first major archaeological investigation at the Tomotley site was conducted by J.W. Emmert of the Smithsonian Institutionmarker in the 1880s. Emmert located two mounds at the site, one of which was high and had a diameter of . Both contained human burials.

In anticipation of the inundation of the lower Little Tennessee Valley by the creation of Tellico Lake, the University of Tennessee Department of Anthropology (under contract with the National Park Service) surveyed the area in 1967. Test excavations were conducted at the Tomotley site that same year in an attempt to locate the historical village. As the Tellico Dam project stalled, the University of Tennessee was able to conduct more extensive excavations at Tomotley in 1973, 1974, and 1976. The excavations located 19 Cherokee and pre-Cherokee structures, including Tomotley's councilhouse, 18 human burials, and several thousand ceramic, stone, and bone artifacts. While the site yielded evidence of Archaic and Woodland period occupation, Tomotley's most substantial periods of habitation occurred during the Mississippian period (1000-1500 A.D.) and during the Overhill Cherokee period (1700s). Excavations also uncovered a number of Euro-American artifacts, some of which may have originated with the Fort Loudoun garrison.

Tomotley's Cherokee inhabitants

Prior to excavations, historians had suspected that Tomotley was founded by refugees from the Cherokee Middle, Lower, or Valley towns fleeing warfare with the Creeks and later the English that led to these towns' destruction in the mid-1700s. The goals of the 1976 excavations sought to shed light on this theory by determining the location and structure of Tomotley's councilhouse, analyzing Tomotley's Cherokee dwellings, and establishing the general layout of the village.

The dwellings uncovered at Tomotley provided some of the strongest evidence of non-Overhill occupation. Of the 19 structures uncovered at Tomotley, one was octagonal (the councilhouse), and the rest were either square or rectangular in shape. The lack of circular structures was inconsistent with historical accounts of Overhill dwellings, which typically consisted of a circular ("winter") house and a rectangular ("summer") house. Archaeological investigations at Overhill sites such as Toqua, Chotamarker, and Citicomarker uncovered substantial evidence of circular structures. Circular structures were not common among Lower and Valley towns, however. Other evidence supporting a refugee occupation includes the ceramic material uncovered during the 1973-1974 excavations, which bore more similarities to Middle and Lower Cherokee ceramics than to Overhill ceramics.


  1. Richard Polhemus, The Toqua Site — 40MR6 Vol. 1 (Knoxville, Tenn.: The Tennessee Valley Authority, 1987), 1.
  2. William Baden, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village (Knoxville, Tenn.: Tennessee Valley Authority, 1983), 1-9.
  3. James Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee (Nashville, Tenn.: C and R Elder, 1972), 534.
  4. Baden, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village, 10-29.
  5. Alberta and Carson Brewer, Valley So Wild (Knoxville, Tenn.: East Tennessee Historical Society, 1975), 32.
  6. Baden, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village, 10-29.
  7. Henry Timberlake, Samuel Cole Williams, Memoirs, 1756-1765 (Marietta, Georgia: Continental Book Company, 1948), 57-58.
  8. J.G.M. Ramsey, The Annals of Tennessee (Johnson City, Tenn.: Overmountain Press, 1999), 168.
  9. Baden, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village, 10-29.
  10. Baden, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village, 30-31.
  11. Baden, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village, iv-vi.
  12. Linda Carnes, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village (Appendix II), 204-205.
  13. Baden, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village, 30-48.
  14. Baden, Tomotley: An Eighteenth Century Cherokee Village, 144-180.

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