The land is still gently rolling in north Central Tennessee. The sun still rises like country made bread over the treetops and the birds still sing constantly.
Not much has changed in hundreds of years here in the region which is roughly an hour north of Nashville. There are more houses – a lot more. There’s a Wal-Mart that serves the eighty thousand that work on Ft Campbell just across the state line and there is still the field where almost one hundred years ago hundreds of Indians camped out for the last time before leaving Tennessee.
Port Royal has changed though. Sitting on the border of Montgomery and Robertson counties, at the confluence of the Red River and Sulphur Fork Creek, Port Royal was one of the earliest and most populous villages in the state. Only Nashville was bigger.
Incorporated in October 1797, Port Royal became the center of commerce for the northern Central Tennessee and southern central Kentucky region. It was this town that was to go down in history as the site of the last encampment in Tennessee for the Cherokee nation as they were forcibly removed.
The Indian Removal Act of 1830 forced Indians to leave their ancestral homelands. Streaming from corners in North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama and eastern Tennessee, the Indians were staged in Chattanooga before continuing their walk.
In Port Royal they crossed the Red River and camped. Eleven detachments were moved and it is known from historical records that eight of them came through Port Royal.
In the fall of 1838 the Cherokee removal to Oklahoma, enforced by the Indian Removal Act of 1830, crossed the Red River at Port Royal. A letter from Elijah Hicks to Principal Chief John Ross, tells of the stay at Port Royal. This is the only written record of this stopping place, but of the eleven detachments that were moved, it is known that eight of them followed the designated North Route that went through Port Royal. This event came to be known as the Trail of Tears.
Port Royal thrived until after the Civil War. A major economic depression settled over the south in general and Port Royal felt it strong. Besides many businesses in town closing, the L&N Railroad came through Adams and Clarksville, Tennessee and Guthrie, Kentucky. Surrounding Port Royal with ready rail access on all sides, river travel on smaller branches like the Red River became outdated. The commerce and culture that Port Royal residents had enjoyed moved away to other towns.
With the closing of the post office in 1941, Port Royal became merely a small farming community until the last home was abandoned.
The site of the encampment is still there and is now a State Historic Site. Every year in October a small band of Indians gather to keep the memories alive, share stories and educate the public about the injustice and travesty that was perpetuated on this land – all in the name of progress.
The 15th Annual Native Cultural Circle Intertribal Pow Wow will be held October 13 and 14 in Clarksville, TN. For more information, contact Red Kirby @ 931-368-1246.
- Native Cultural Circle in Tennessee (journeyamerica.wordpress.com)
- Enjoy the NCC Powwow, right in your backyard (journeyamerica.wordpress.com)
- Port Royal State Historic Park to Hold Anniversary Event September 29th (clarksvilleonline.com)
- The 1% has been around a long time; capitalist vultures did it to the Cherokee (journeyamerica.wordpress.com)