Early Chattanooga

    In 1780, Lookout Mountain, then without a name was included in a claim by Spain, whose ruler declared that all the Indians living within the region were free and under Spanish protection. Whatever title Spain owned to this vast wilderness on being transferred, it was simply referred to as "a part of the territory of the great Southwest." Two years afterwards Lookout Mountain was included in a tract of 3,500,000 acres granted by the State of Georgia to the Tennessee Company. The vast wilderness was soon divided, and as a means of inducing settlers to come in and establish homes a half thousand acres were offered free to each family, and half that amount was also offered to each unmarried pioneer who was willing to settle in this region.
This part of the country was considered so remote from civilization that the President of the United States issued a proclamation of warning to all settlers that since the territory was not within reach of government protection the people who chose to settle in it did so at a risk of life and property.
    As usual, possible dangers held out a challenge to the daring settlers, for the spirit of adventure is a part of the history of the human race, and pioneers began to accept the large tracts of lands that were offered them. However, in 1791, when a report was broadcast of a band of Creek Indians holding a powwow on top of Lookout Mountain the news had a chilling effect, at least for a short while, on the popularity of the tempting offer of free lands.
For a quarter of a century thereafter the Cherokee Indians strove to imitate their white neighbors.

The Brainerd Mission

The Station at Brainerd Mission
(From a sketch by Thos. E. Paine, 1821)

    In 1817 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions whose headquarters were in Boston, Massachusetts, secured the assistance of the United States Government and established a mission and a school at Brainerd for the education and the Christianization of the Cherokee. The site of this old mission almost touches the eastern boundary of the city of Chattanooga. It was chosen by Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, representing the American Board, and an Indian chief representing the Cherokees. At first the mission was named "Chickamauga," but a year later was changed to "Brainerd," in honor of David Brainerd, an early missionary who labored unselfishly among the Indians of New York and New Jersey. However, David Brainerd died many years before the mission was founded that bore his name.
    There was a Cherokee Indian, a silversmith, who lived near old Fort Loudon, Tennessee. His name was Sequoya, but he was known among the whites as George Guess. On a hunting trip one day he met with a serious accident that made him a cripple for life. Sequoya was extremely anxious to see his tribe prosper, and when he observed the white man using books and newspapers, which the Indians referred to as a "talking leaf" on which the whites could put down a "talk" and it would stay there, he immediately saw that the Cherokee's inability to read and write was a most serious handicap. It became Sequoya's ambition to invent an alphabet by which the Indians might learn to read and write. After laboring for twelve years Sequoya succeeded, and in the year 1821 he perfected a Cherokee alphabet by which an Indian could learn in a very few days how to read and write. Sequoya sometimes visited the mission at Brainerd, but during his life was never able to read, write or to speak the English language. In honoring him for his remarkable invention, the Big Trees of California were named the Sequoia. The Cherokee Nation also granted him a pension for life for his wonderful achievement, thus distinguishing him as the only literary person in the United States ever to receive a pension.
In January, 1819, there appeared at the Brainerd Mission an Indian so ragged and dirty looking that at first he was refused admittance. He carried his only possession, a gun. He had heard of the school and had walked from the mountains near Knoxville, 150 miles away. He was finally accepted at the school, and he willingly traded his gun, an Indian's most highly treasured article, for clean clothes. This Indian was Atsi, or John Arch, who became such a diligent student that he was soon able to serve the mission as its chief interpreter. During his stay at the mission he traveled many miles with the missionaries, interpreting hundreds of sermons and private conversations. It was he who, in the year 1824, made the first use of Sequoya's alphabet at Brainerd by translating a portion of the New Testament in the Cherokee language. In 1825 John Arch died at the age of 28 years and was buried in the old cemetery at Brainerd.
    During the twenty-one years of its existence the mission at Brainerd drew many prominent people as visitors, including some from Europe. Among them was James Monroe, President of the United States, who spent the night of May 27, 1819, at the mission. The President was deeply interested in the mission's success. On May 25, 1821, the mission enjoyed also the visit of another distinguished gentleman, the Rev. Samuel Worcester, Secretary of the American Board that founded the Brainerd institution. When Dr. Worcester left Boston by boat, coming by way of New Orleans, he was in poor health, and after traveling much of the distance from that point in a buggy he was very languid and was so weak that he had to be carried in the arms of the missionaries. He grew steadily worse and died on June 7. On June 9 he was buried in the Brainerd Cemetery, and his funeral was attended by Cherokees who had traveled many miles to the cemetery. Dr. Worcester's monument still stands in the cemetery at Brainerd. The mission closed its doors in 1838, at the time of the removal of the Cherokees west of the Mississippi. It gave the name to Missionary Ridge.

 Ross' Landing

Chief John Ross
(Sketched from a painting in 1830)

    The first settlement of traders was made in 1828 on the land that is now known as St. Elmo. The following year John Ross became chief of the Cherokee Nation. He was an educated Indian of sterling character, the son of a Scotch trader and a woman part Cherokee, who before her marriage was Molly McDonald. Chief John Ross was only one-eighth Indian blood. His old home still stands at Rossville, Georgia. With his brother Lewis, Chief Ross established a small trading post on the Tennessee River, little more than a cluster of huts dotting the south bank from the bluff at the end of Lookout Street to the place now paved as a municipal wharf. Trading between the Indians and the white men became so active that a man named Billy Gentry established and operated a ferry at the point.
Despite the fact that the ancient name for the site of Chattanooga is Atla 'nuwa, after the ferry was installed the settlement became known as Ross' Landing. The friendliness of the Cherokee Indians encouraged the white traders to move in with their families, and by the year 1836 so many white people had taken up their residence in the Cherokee country the Government became more active in its effort to remove the Indians west of the Mississippi, which was effected in 1838.

Home of John Ross, Chief of The Cherokee Nation

Meaning of "Chattanooga"

    Many people have tried to explain the origin of the word "Chattanooga," but still it’s meaning is a matter of debate. One reasonable explanation given is that "nooga" was the Cherokee word for "town" or "place." In the early days this tribe of Indians lived in the country north of the river, and the Choctaw Indians on the south bank. The two words "Choctaw-town" or "Choctaw-nooga" were applied and gradually came to be spelled simply "Chattanooga."
    The likeness of the sounds to other Indian words has caused other explanations to be offered, giving such meanings as "Eagle's Nest" and "Crow's Nest." And some people claim that "Chattanooga" means "difficulty," a word that expressed the Indian's description of the task the river encounters in flowing around Moccasin Bend.
    Still there were other people who claimed that Chattanooga is a Choctaw word meaning "end of the Choctaw possessions." And "Draw-fish-out-of-the-water" found favor with some students of history. However, Joshua Ross, a nephew of the chief, declared that the word was taken from the Creek Indian word "Chat-to-to-noog-gee" which means "rock rising to a point," a fitting description of Lookout Mountain.

Choosing A New Name

    The village that was later to be called Chattanooga prospered. In 1837 a post office was established. The mail was relayed at Rossville, Georgia, and carried on horseback, the postman completing the trip from Washington, D. C., in ten days. When the post office was opened many people expressed dissatisfaction with the old name Ross' Landing for the progressive city they hoped to build. The public spirited citizens were called to meet in a community house made of logs where public meetings and church services were held. Among the new names proposed were "Lookout" and “Albionview." Some of the friends of Chief John Ross were in favor of retaining the old name. Capt. John P. Long, the first postmaster, is given credit for proposing the name "Chattanooga," after the stream of water originally called by the Cherokees Tsatanugi, which we now know as Chattanooga Creek. The action was officially recognized by an act of Congress dated November 14, 1839. A. S. Lenoir made the original survey and plans of Chattanooga, which include 240 acres of land.
The previous year a printing press was brought down the river on a boat from Knoxville and anchored to a tree at the foot of Market Street. There the first newspaper in the community was published by A. Parham on board the boat before the publisher decided to locate permanently in the new town. The name of this newspaper was the Hamilton Gazette.
    On the twentieth of December, 1839, the legislature granted a charter to the city of Chattanooga, and James Berry became its first mayor. In 1843, when the legislature
convened to select a permanent state capital, Chattanooga came within a very few votes of winning that distinction.

  Chattanooga, It’s History and Growth, Chattanooga Community Association