The settling of America happened long before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620.
Before the time of Jesus or the civilization of ancient Rome, “there were Indians here in Cumming, Ga.,” Jeff Bishop said.
The president of the Georgia chapter of the Trail of Tears Association presented a history of the Cherokee and their removal from north Georgia during the Historical Society of Forsyth County’s monthly meeting Tuesday night.
The state chapter of the association is in the long process of getting historical sites certified and putting up signs to remember the Trail of Tears, which followed many different paths and not one single trail.
This spring, signs were put up in the northwest Georgia cities of Cedartown and Cave Springs for what the group hopes will be a historical driving tour.
“We’re trying to use the power of place to make the Trail of Tears come alive for people,” Bishop said. “It’s not just a passing reference in history class, but when you’re driving down the road, you actually know these events occurred right here in places where we live.”
At the time of removal in the 1830s, he said most Cherokee were living in modern Georgia, having lost much of their original land to settlers.
At the time, Forsyth County had within its current borders at least one fort, which the local historical society is in the process of documenting and certifying for inclusion on the planned historical tour.
Fort Campbell, located by overlaying old maps with a computer program, existed in the Hightower community, near the intersection of Old Federal Road and Hwy. 369.
The historical society invited Bishop to speak to help the group on its path to including the county’s past on the official Trail of Tears memorial tour, Myra Reidy said.
Reidy, a member of the local historical group and the Georgia TOTA chapter, could not attend Tuesday's talk.
She said, however, that four sites have been certified in the state of Georgia since the state chapter began in the 1980s.
“It’s an enormous task, but it’s such a worthy project,” Reidy said.
She added that the work of the Georgia chapter goes along with the goals of the local historical society to preserve sites, document history and educate the public.
During Bishop’s visit Tuesday, the journalist and Cherokee history buff gave a presentation about the Native Americans who once lived in this area and what ultimately lead to their removal.
He began his presentation with an eyewitness painting of a Cherokee village at the time that white men arrived in America.
Bishop said the account helps dispel common myths about how Native Americans lived.
“It’s not just a bunch of people hanging out in the woods, they have established towns,” he said. “Some of these towns are actually more like cities that were actually more populous than the cities in Europe at the time.”
It was a combination of debt and disease that reduced the land the Cherokee controlled and drastically decreased their population.
Once they had been reduced primarily to a region that's now northwest Georgia, the Cherokee decided they would not give away any more land, Bishop said.
They then received a promise from the federal government that no more would be taken.
The Cherokee often looked to the federal government as a protector, he said, but the state of Georgia pushed hard for their removal.
It was the Compact of 1802 that “directly lead to the removal of the Indians,” Bishop said. The document from the federal government agreed to extinguish all Indian land in Georgia.
Several struggles between the state and federal government ensued over the next three decades, but the compact ultimately lead to the removal of Native Americans in Georgia down the Trail of Tears.
Jimmy McConnell, co-president of the Historical Society of Forsyth County, said that the Compact of 1802 was not something with which he was familiar. Bishop noted that many people aren't.
Of Bishop’s presentation, McConnell said simply: “It was tremendous.”