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

Esseneca, being in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, was considered a Lower Cherokee town.

The Lower towns were concentrated along the headwaters of the Savannah River in both northwestern SC and northeastern GA. Middle or Valley towns were found in the mountains of western NC on the headwaters of the Tennessee River, and Overhill towns were in eastern Tennessee and northwestern GA.

Mooney wrote that Esseneca was near where Conneross Creek empties into the Seneca River,9 but most maps place the town closer to Seneca Creek, where the northernmost dike now sits.

There is a high chance that Esseneca had two locations during the course of the 18th century.10 William Bartram, a naturalist who traveled the region in 1775, noted that Esseneca was a "new town rebuilt since the late Indian war,"11 the Anglo-Cherokee War of 1760-1761 (a local front of the French and Indian War). Keowee, just 16 miles upriver from Esseneca and the largest town in the area, was destroyed in 1760 (though later rebuilt).12 If Esseneca's site did move in the 1700s, it would have been in the 1760s.


1730 Hunter Map1775 Cook-Mouzon Map

(click on the images to view high-resolution versions of the corresponding maps)


The Esseneca that Bartram visited was situated around the deep bends the Seneca River makes on Clemson University's property. Some of that part of the river can still be seen near the baseball stadium and football practice facility. According to The History of South Carolina in the Revolution,13 this was where the river was most easily forded.

Bartram described in his journal the layout of the town, which was split across the east and west banks of the Seneca River (which he calls the Keowee*):

THE Cherokee town of Sinica is a very respectable settlement, situated on the East bank of the Keowe river, though the greatest number of Indian habitations are on the opposite shore, where likewise stands the council-house in a level plain betwixt the river and a range of beautiful lofty hills, which rise magnificently, and seem to bend over the green plains and the river; but the chief's house, with those of the traders, and some Indian dwellings are seated on the ascent of the heights on the opposite shore; this situation in point of prospect far excels the other, as it overlooks the whole settlement, the extensive fruitful plains on the river above and below, and the plantations of the inhabitants, commanding a most comprehensive diversified view of the opposite elevations.14

The picture he describes places the west side of town upon a flat area between the river and western hills. The council house and most of the structures or dwellings were located on this side. The eastern half, however, was on a strategic hill that overlooked the rest of the town as well as the surrounding area. This is where the chief's house, traders' homes, and some other dwellings resided.

Looking at a map of Clemson prior to Hartwell, the western half of Esseneca might have been on the plain between the river and the middle dike. That would put the eastern half on the same hill that is now the Woodland Cemetery and R3 parking lot.

In fact, when the Clemson Protective Works project was underway, numerous artifacts were found in the hill that was dug out to be the diversion channel, as reported by The Tiger.

Below is the map that visualized the land changes dictated by the Treaty of Dewitt's Corner in 1777. Esseneca, among other Lower Cherokee towns, was included in the area ceded to the state of SC. The 1777 map has been warped to match modern maps, so move the spyglass around to get an idea of how the upstate looked in the late 18th century!

To view the spyglass map in a separate window, click here.

*The name of the Seneca River varies in old documents. It has been referred to as the Savannah as well.

During the American Revolution, the Cherokees were considered loyalists. Esseneca became a battle site and was burned to the ground by patriot troops.


Two men are attributed with maintaining Anglo-Cherokee relations during the colonial period: John Stuart (1718-1779) and Alexander Cameron (?-1781). Stuart was superintendent for the southern district (VA, NC, SC, GA, & FL) of the British Indian Department from 1761-1779. He appointed Cameron as his Cherokee agent.


Sometime in 1775 or early 1776, Captain William Freeman met with Cherokee chiefs at Esseneca to reassure them of friendly relations between South Carolinians and Cherokees. He believed the chiefs were genuine in their promises of peace, but felt that Cameron and Stuart, well-known loyalists, had the influence to make the Cherokee their enemy. Freeman convinced the SC Council of Safety of this opinion. They decided that it was crucial to get Cameron (who had left his plantations in present-day Abbeville County in 1775 for the Overhill towns) out of Cherokee country.

Initial skirmish

Major Andrew Williamson sent Captain James McCall to carry out this mission. McCall was originally told to negotiate the return of property stolen by Cherokees or the loyalists residing with them. He did not learn of his true mission - capturing Cameron - until after he and his men had passed the Cherokee Ford on June 20th.

On June 26th, McCall and co. were camped near Esseneca. That evening, McCall and his interpreter John Ballinger were in a meeting with the chiefs when both they and their camp were attacked.

The Cherokee (and most likely some loyalist settlers) took McCall and Ballinger as prisoners. They lost two men, but McCall's company lost four - John Holland, John Patterson, John Huffman, and Ensign Patrick Calhoun.15 Calhoun was in fact a cousin of John C. Calhoun, who would not be born until six years later.16

McCall was taken to an Overhill town but escaped after a few weeks, thanks to the help of a Cherokee woman.17

General attack on the frontier

On June 30th, there were a number of Cherokee advances against frontier settlements stretching from GA to VA. The general attack may have been in conjunction with the (unsuccessful) British one against Fort Sullivan in Charleston two days prior.18

At this point, the Council of Safety should have realized the Cherokee weren't simply supporting one side or another of the Revolutionary War. Both men and women, loyalists and patriots, were killed in the onslaught - even the loyalists who had erected "Passover Poles" before their homes to indicate their position.19 The Cherokee were taking advantage of the circumstances: "the war between the king and his American subjects had given them an excuse as well as the means to drive the white squatters from their land."20

The Battle of Esseneca

The Cherokee attack sparked a campaign of retaliation. Williamson headed the SC campaign and marched with a band of militia to the Lower towns.

On July 22nd, Williamson heard that Cameron had arrived from the Overhill towns and was encamped at Oconoree Creek with both loyalist settlers and Cherokee from Esseneca.21 Wanting to surprise Cameron, Williamson led his men to ford the river at Esseneca, which his scouters had told him was deserted.

When they reached the first few houses in the town in the early hours of August 1st, they found themselves ambushed by Cherokees and loyalists who had hid behind the fence along the road. Williamson's forces were close to being driven out of the town when Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Hammond led a charge that turned the tide in their favor.


(To see this webpage in a separate window, click here.)

After dawn, Williamson had the eastern half of the town burned, including its provisions of dried peas and 6,000 bushels of corn. Hammond later burned the western side.22 With its structures ash, provisions gone, and people retreating to the Middle and Overhill towns, Esseneca was no more.

Fort Rutledge

Williamson and his men returned to their camp on Twenty Three Mile Creek before resuming the campaign. Between August 8th and 12th, they went on to destroy the towns of Estatoe, Tugaloo, Tomassee, Keowee, and Eustaste.23

Upon returning to the base camp, Williamson found his men weary. He granted them some time off, but told them to return to Esseneca on the 28th. On the 16th Williamson left with about 600 men for Esseneca, where they erected Fort Rutledge, named after the president of South Carolina at the time, John Rutledge.

The specific location of the fort is unclear. In 1908 the Daughters of the Revolution had a marker about the fort put up on a hill on Hunnicutt Creek that a 1920 map of Clemson labels as "Fort Hill." However, in 1961, when the diversion dam and earthen dikes to keep Lake Hartwell from flooding the eastern side of Clemson University were underway, The Tiger reported that the site of Fort Rutledge had been uncovered and a number of artifacts found.24

When, in 1784, the State of South Carolina granted the land in this area to Robert Tate, it was called the "Fort Hill Tract" because of Fort Rutledge. In 1802 the land was deeded to Rev. James and Elizabeth McIlhenny, who had a small house called Old Clergy Hall built.

When John C. Calhoun became owner of the estate in 1826, he renamed the plantation home Fort Hill. This is the name it still goes by today.

  1. Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, 506.
  2. See "A Map of North & South Carolina" and Samuel Lewis's "The State of South Carolina."; Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, 531.
  3. Names in South Carolina, Vol.XXII, 22-23; Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, 522.
  4. As quoted in LaVere, The Cherokee Lower Towns, 31.
  5. Bartram, Travels, 330.
  6. As quoted in LaVere, The Cherokee Lower Towns, 31.
  7. Bartram, Travels, 330.
  8. LaVere, The Cherokee Lower Towns, 7.
  9. Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, 522.
  10. LaVere, The Cherokee Lower Towns, 22.
  11. Bartram, Travels, 330.
  12. LaVere, The Cherokee Lower Towns, 24.
  13. McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 196.
  14. Bartram, Travels, 329-330.
  15. McCall, The History of Georgia, 312.
  16. Salley, The Calhoun Family of South Carolina.
  17. Lynch, Captain McCall & Alexander Cameron)
  18. McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 192.
  19. Nichols, Alexander Cameron, 109.
  20. Nichols, Alexander Cameron, 107.
  21. McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 196.
  22. McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 197.
  23. McCrady, The History of South Carolina in the Revolution, 197.; LaVere, The Cherokee Lower Towns.
  24. Miles, "Excavations At Clemson Uncover Fort Rutledge."
  • Banner: "1776 Williamson Map." Drayton.
  • "Isunigu Entry." Mooney, Myths of the Cherokee, 522.
  • "1730 Hunter Map." Hunter.
  • "1760 Kitchin Map." Kitchin.
  • "1775 Cook-Mouzon Map." "A Map of North & South Carolina."
  • "1776 Williamson Map." Drayton.
  • "1777 Map." "A Map of the Lands Ceded."
  • "1795 Lewis Map." Lewis.
  • "Work Starts." U.S. Corps Army Engineers.
  • "Excavations." Miles.
  • "The Battle-Fields of South Carolina 1775-1780." McCrady.
  • "1776 Wiliamson Map." Drayton, Memoirs, Vol. 2.
  • "Excavations." Miles.
  • "Excavations." Miles.
Timeline (images & quotations)
  • "Francis Varnod's Census of Cherokee Towns, 1721." Sheriff, Cherokee Villages, 148.
  • "1730 Hunter Map." Hunter.
  • "1760 Kitchin Map." Kitchin.
  • "1766 British Military Map." Paterson.
  • "Carotutoy to Cameron." Haldimand Papers, H-1430, image 110.
  • "1775 Cook-Mouzon Map." "A Map of North & South Carolina."
  • "Treaty of Dewitt's Corner."
  • "1777 Map." "A Map of the Lands Ceded."
  • Drayton, Memoirs, Vol. 1, 426-427.

"A Map of North & South Carolina: Accurately Copied From the Old Maps of James Cook Published in 1771, and of Henry Mouzon in 1775." New York: Harper & Bros., 1837. North Carolina Maps. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <>.

"A Map of the Lands Ceded by the Cherokee Indians to the State of South Carolina." N.p., 1777. Library of Congress. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <>.

Bartram, William. Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, the Cherokee Country. Philadelphia: James & Johnson, 1791. Documenting the American South. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <>.

Drayton, John. "A Map Shewing the Marches of the Army Under Col. Andrew Williamson in 1776 Against the Cherokee Nation of Indians." Memoirs of the American Revolution. Vol. 2. Charleston: A.E. Miller, 1821. North Carolina Maps. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <>.

Drayton, John. Memoirs of the American Revolution. Vol. 1. Charleston: A.E. Miller, 1821. Internet Archive. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <>.

Haldimand Papers. Héritage Canadiana. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <>.

Hunter, George. "George Hunter's Map of the Cherokee Country and the Path Thereto in 1730." George Hunter's Map of the Cherokee Country and the Path Thereto in 1730 With Comments by A.S. Sally, Jr. Columbia: The State Company, 1917. South Carolina State Library Digital Collections. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <>.

Kitchin, Thomas. "A New Map of the Cherokee Nation." North Carolina Maps. Web. 5 Dec. 2015. <>.

LaVere, David. The Cherokee Lower Towns of Oconee County, SC. N.p., n.d. Print.

Lewis, Samuel. "The State of South Carolina: From the Best Authorities." Carey's American Atlas: Containing Twenty Maps and One Chart. Philadelphia, Mathew Carey: 1795. David Rumsey Map Collection. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <>.

Lynch, Wayne. "Captain McCall & Alexander Cameron in the Cherokee War." Journal of the American Revolution 22 Apr. 2013. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

"Map of Clemson College Lands." 1920. Clemson Special Collections. Print.

McCall, Hugh. The History of Georgia: Containing Brief Sketches of the Most Remarkable Events Up to the Present Day. Atlanta: A.B. Caldwell, 1909. Internet Archive. Web. 8 Dec. 2015. <>.

McCrady, Edward. The History of South Carolina in the Revolution 1775-1780. New York: The Macmillian Company, 1901. Internet Archive. Web. 6 Dec. 2015. <>.

Miles, James F. "Excavations At Clemson Uncover Fort Rutledge." The Tiger 10 Mar. 1961. 6. Tigerprints. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <>.

Mooney, James. Myths of the Cherokee. Washington: Government Printing Office, 1902. Internet Archive. Web. 2 Dec. 2015. <>.

Names in South Carolina, v.19-24. Vol. XXII. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1972. Print.

Nichols, John. "Alexander Cameron, British Agent among the Cherokee, 1764-1781." The South Carolina Historical Magazine 97.2 (1996): 94-114. JSTOR. Web. 6 Dec. 2015. <>.

Paterson, Daniel. "Cantonment of His Majesty's Forces in N. America." Library of Congress. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <>.

Salley, Alexander Samuel. The Calhoun Family of South Carolina. N.p, c.1906. Internet Archive. Web. 8 Dec. 2015. <>.

Sheriff, Anne (ed.). Cherokee Villages in South Carolina. Greenville, South Carolina: A Press, 1990. Print.

"Treaty of Dewitt’s Corner, 1777." Constitutional and Organic Papers. Treaties with the Cherokees. S131005. South Carolina Department of Archives and History, Columbia, S.C. Teaching American History in South Carolina. Web. 23 Apr. 2016. <>.

"The American Revolution in South Carolina: Seneca Town." Carolana. Web. 24 Apr. 2016. <>.

U.S. Army Corps Engineers. "Work Starts on $2,212,158 Job To Change Seneca River's Course At Clemson College." The Anderson Independent 17 Aug. 1960. 14. Microfilm.

Update history
  • First posted: Dec 2015
  • First update: April 2016