The name New Echota was derived from Chota, an important historic Cherokee city located in present-day Tennessee. Chota describes the center and heart of the Ani'-Yun' wiya.
The Cherokee capital included the print shop of the Cherokee Phoenix and Indian Advocate, a bilingual newspaper written and edited by Elias Boudinot (Buck Oowaite) using the Cherokee alphabet invented by Sequoyah in 1821. The printing house was constructed late in 1827. The Vann Tavern, home of missionary Samuel Worcester, one of the major supporters of the Cherokee in Georgia, was also located in the capital. Cherokee surveyors planned the town with a central square and wide main streets. More than 50 people made their homes in the new capital, and many more came to shop, to do business at the government offices, and to attend meetings at the Council House.
The Council House in New Echota, along with the Supreme Court building, was the heart of the new government. New Echota was the capital of the eight districts of the Cherokee Nation, which included Hickory Log, Chickmaugee, Chattoogee, Amoah, Etowah, Tahquohee, Awuohee, and Coosewatee. Each district sent four delegates to the National Council, the lower house; in turn, these members elected 12 individuals to the National Committee, an upper house. The National Committee was responsible for electing the main chief, the assistant chief, and the Cherokee Nation's treasurer. This governmental design changed the traditional Cherokee clan organization and instead used the model of the United States government: an upper and lower legislature, a high court, and an executive branch. The Council House and the Supreme Court building in New Echota were visible symbols of the new Cherokee Nation.
Political treaties changing the course of the nation were debated and signed at the new capital. The Treaty of New Echota (1835) was instrumental in the downfall and eventual assassination of three important Cherokee leaders. Elias Boudinot, John Ridge, and Major Ridge signed a treaty to sell eastern lands, including the area of New Echota, in exchange for land in present-day Oklahoma. The choice to sign and depart for land in Indian Territory or to stay and fight what seemed to be an unstoppable government from taking Cherokee lands in Georgia was a controversial and detailed decision. Not all Cherokee thought that leaving was the only option. Many of the tribe had left for new lands before the treaty in 1835. The Cherokee Nation presented a challenge, asking the U.S. high court to block the removal of the Cherokee from their lands in Georgia as required by the Cherokee Removal Act (1830). The Supreme Court of the United States sided with the Cherokee Nation, but U.S. President Andrew Jackson would not recognize the court decision and ordered removal. The group was forcibly taken from the capital in 1838. This forced removal was known as the Trail of Tears.
After the Cherokee were removed or moved away from the capital, the buildings fell into disrepair. The newspaper offices had been burned to the ground in a raid by the Georgia Guard in 1834. The once-proud capital was a ghost town by 1838. Town structures were torn down for wood or simply lifted from their foundations and relocated to other areas. Today, visitors to New Echota can see re-creations of buildings that made up the Cherokee Nation in 1830. In the mid-1950s, Lewis Larsen, Joe Caldwell, and a group of archaeologists began research and restoration work. The Supreme Court and print shop have been reconstructed, and the Vann Tavern has been restored. New Echota is listed on the United States National Register of Historic Places and began operation as a state park in 1962. The buildings are open to the public and host educational events to celebrate Cherokee history and heritage throughout the year.
Pamela Lee Gray
Conley, Robert J. The Cherokee Nation: A History. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2005; Bays, Brad A. Townsite Settlement and Dispossession in the Cherokee Nation, 1866–1907. New York and London: Garland, 1998; Finger, John R. The Eastern Band of Cherokees: 1819–1900. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1984.