Esseneca was a Lower Cherokee town on the banks of the Seneca River. Even after the town was razed in 1776, the area continued to be known as Seneca and the city of that name was chartered in 1874.
See below for a timeline centered around Esseneca in the 1700s. Items in red are specifically about the town, while those in gold refer to general Cherokee-related events. Gray is for significant American events, green is about settlers and travelers, and blue concerns landholder changes. Certain events show up only when you zoom in, so be sure to spend a moment looking around! To see the timeline in a separate window, click here.
In older documents, Esseneca is referred to as Isunigu. James Mooney (1861-1921), an ethnographer who lived among the Cherokee for a number of years, listed Esseneca under this name in his 1902 glossary of Cherokee words. Assuming that the pronunciation of Isunigu in the 1700s was the same that he heard in the late 19th century, Mooney’s accompanying guide reveals that "Isunigu" is not an entirely different name at all, but simply another spelling of Esseneca.
According to Mooney,1 Isunigu should be read as follows:
- i as in "pique"
- ' as a slight outward breath
- s as in "sin"
- û as in "cut"
- n as in "not"
- g as a sound somewhere between g and k
When Isunigu is broken down into its phonetic parts, it should sound like (the letter) E, su(n), (slight pause), knee, cu(t). Europeans, hearing either the Cherokee themselves or other Europeans speak the name, attempted to transcribe those sounds into a Latin alphabet (Sequoyah would not develop the Cherokee syllabary until the first decades of the 19th century). The resulting variety (but not frequency) of spellings is illustrated by the word cloud to the right.
In some maps, the Seneca River is labeled Isundiga (alternatively, Isondiga, Isundega, or Isundigaw), which Mooney explained as a corruption of Isunigu.2 While Isunidga and Isunigu are said to mean "blue water" and "muddy water," respectively, most sources, Mooney included, claim Isunigu to be untranslatable.3
Village or Town?
According to a 1760 article in the SC Gazette, the Cherokee definition of village and town differed only in whether it had a "house for their [the Cherokees'] own consultations."4 Esseneca had such a council house (house, not teepee - those were found in the Great Plains),5 which would have been built atop a mound.
While Esseneca itself was not a village, there would have been some villages scattered in its hinterlands. As explained in the SC Gazette, the Cherokee had "one small village near each or most of their large towns, which are properly plantations, where the inhabitants of the town raise their provisions; these seldom contain above five or six to ten huts."6 Because the 20 miles between Esseneca and Sugar Town (north of Keowee Town) were cultivated,7 there were probably a few small settlements scattered throughout the valley so that cultivators would not have to commute from the main towns. However, in times of war, those living in the villages would have returned to the more easily guarded towns.8
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