Born in February 1765, James Vann was part Cherokee and part
Scot, his father being a Scottish trader possibly named John or
James, and his mother being a full-blooded Cherokee called
James Vann was one of the richest men in the southeast and the
most influential of the young chiefs of the upper towns of east TA
NI SI (Tennessee) and North Georgia who formed a triumvirate, the
other two being Charles Hicks and The Ridge.
These younger chiefs were not happy with the older chiefs and
what they considered the old ways and old ideas. One of the old
chiefs was named Doublehead and he and Vann had been antagonists
since an incident around 1788 known as The Brown Affair. Doublehead
had captured two boats containing the family of Joseph Brown and
Doublehead called for the mass slaughter of all the whites. Bob
Benge, a feared warrior, negotiated the whites' surrender on
condition no one in the Brown Party was harmed. When the whites
surrendered, Doublehead people started killing them despite Benge
and Vann's protests. Benge managed to save one boy putting him on
the James Vann's saddle but before Vann could ride off with the
boy, Doublehead pulled the lad from the saddle and killed him with
a tomahawk. Enraged Vann grabbed Doublehead and called him
baby-killer. This was the beginning of the feud which influenced
Cherokee politics.The chief Doublehead was killed for selling land
to the white settlers which was against Cherokee law and carried
with it the death penalty which was exacted in 1807 - some say
instigated by James Vann.
As mentioned earlier, James Vann was rich by any standard and in
1804 he built Vann House at Spring Place, Georgia. It was on the
federal road and saw much traffic and it was here that Vann built a
store, a tavern and a ferry across The Conasauga River. He also
owned a ferry near Atlanta that crossed the Chattahoochee River and
in time opened a trading post near present-day Huntsville, Alabama.
He also owned land at the mouth of the Ooltewah Creek in modern day
Hamilton County, Tennessee. The county seat is now called Harrison
but was originally called Vann's Town where Vann owned yet another
ferry.At Vann house it's reported that he owned 800 acres, 100
slaves, 42 slave cabins, 6 barns, 5 smokehouses and a trading post.
If this were not enough there was a peach orchard with almost a
thousand trees, 147 apple trees, and a whisky still.
For all his wealth, Vann's character was less than golden. Sober
he was a pleasant man, even-tempered, generous with one and all.
His down side was "drink" which changed his character from daylight
to dark. When drinking he was mean and vengeful. His "wives" loved
him but he gave them and his slaves much reason to fear him since
he was quick to use the whip when drinking. It was reported that he
killed his brother-in-law in a duel and even fired his pistol at
dinner guests. There is a story that when a man seduced his sister,
Vann caught him, tied him to a post, and gave him seventy lashes. A
white person who stole from him was strung up by the thumbs until
he confessed.He was both hero and rogue. He helped establish the
Lighthorse Patrol - "mounted regulators" who patrolled the roads of
the Cherokee, keeping things in order. He helped bring in the
Moravian missionaries to build schools and churches for the
Cherokee and he was extremely generous with his money to those in
In 1809 after riding with the Lighthorse Patrol for a week he
was shot dead at Buffington Tavern. No one saw who killed him and
some say it might have been one of his wives' brothers, a relative
of someone he had killed, a Cherokee, a white slave or even a free
man. To this day no one knows.
The heir to his fortune was his son Joseph also known as "Rich
Joe." In 1834 Joseph and his family lost all their holdings at
Spring Place, Georgia because a state law forbade any Indian to
employ a white man and Jopseph had in fact taken one on to oversee
his plantation and holdings.
James Vann is buried in Forsyth County, Georgia and Vann House is
administered by the State Parks and Historic sites division of The
Georgia Department of Natural Resources.