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House of Kings House of Queens House of Warriors: Amatoya Moytoy Dynasty: ‘First Beloved Man of the Cherokee’



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For the Cherokee, seven in the actual number of tribal clans, the formal number of upper worlds, or heavens and the ceremonial number of paragraphs or repetitions in the principle formulas. Seven is the number of stars in the Pleiades,  known as the Seven Sisters.

Aniyunwiya “The Principle People” The Great Tellico (Talikwa) Chota Over The Hills 

The illustrious history of the Moytoy,  OverHill Cherokees, and the  monumental impact of their founding first-family, Amatoya Moytoy1, King of Chota and The Great Tellico,  has been literally drowned in the depths of the Tennessee River.  Some say it was intentional to hide the genesis of the Cherokee,  or  the area’s unexplained American antiquities and numerous OverHill Cherokee mounds,  monuments and artifacts not fitting into the mainstream academic explanation of American history as we know it which spans thousands,  possibly tens of thousands of years or more.

The history we all have been taught in school, led us to believe that ancient America was a barren landmass occupied by a few hunter-gather tribes who wandered across the Bering Strait after the ice age, dubbed the Clovis.

However, overwhelming new evidence discovered over the last several years,  has found evidence of an earlier indigenous population inhabiting the Americas before the so-called Clovis people.

Through genealogy, scientific genetic findings,  gene sequencing, and coding, (tracking maternal and paternal bloodlines).  This evidence along with ancient remains discovered in archeological mounds and sites prove beyond  a shadow of doubt,  that America Indian Antiquity – is  in fact – ancient.

Most mainstream Cherokee history taught in schools starts in the late 18th century with John Roth’s “The Greatest Cherokee” (John Roth born October 3, 1790) and the creation of the Dawes Rolls in 1893  and after.

The Dawes Roll commission was created to accept applications for tribal enrollment between 1899 and 1907 from American Indians of the Five Tribes. However,  by utilizing a color-code and blood qualifier, it actually became a formal legal mechanism for excluding some full-blooded American Indians with a darker hue/complexion. It systematically assisted in reclassifying many American Indian ethnicities as Colored, Negro, Black, Freedmen or African.

Because a large number of our ancestors refused to surrender to the colonizing of the United States (the thirteen colonies) or be moved, by way of the “Trail of Tears, thousands,  maybe millions of American Indians resisted and fought back for hundreds of years … decade after decade, until finally the resistance was forced to flee over the Appalachian mountains, Cumberland Gap,  and/or down the rivers.

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Chief Standing Turkey Moytoy

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Chota Map

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Cherokee Territory

The original  Cherokee and Moytoy lineage, legacy and incredible history has been snuffed-out, robbed of culture, dismissed, and stripped of heritage and identity.

Disenfranchised, ignored, and re-classified as Negro, colored, Mulatto, Black, Freedmen, slave,  and or African American, our ancient history, buried, burned and in the case  of the “Over The Hills” Cherokee Country,  it’s all literally under the Tennessee River.

Eugenics and Paper Genocide 

One of the masterminds of Indian deception was Walter Plecker, a so called-doctor, eugenicist, and avowed white supremacist.  As  a member of the Anglo-Saxon Club of America  he was also director of the Virginia Bureau of Vital Statistics from 1912 to 1946.  He is solely responsible for the development and state-wide execution of “paper-genocide,” the art of killing off the indigenous American population, with  the  stroke  of  a  pen  through volunteer United States Census takers and new Federal Laws created at the time.  This was a cleaver, unique form of oppression.

Over The Hills,  Cherokee Country,  North America

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The Great Tellico

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OverHill Cherokees lived in the historic settlement that is now the state of Tennessee, which is in Southeastern United States and is on the west side of the Appalachian Mountains.

Positioned along the lower Hiwassee river, the OverHills rose to prominence in a remote location at the far end of the Trading Path road. The location was so remote that only selected traders and explorers willing to make the dangerous journey into the unknown interior and over the Cumberland Gap, would attempt it.

Until now,  not much is know of the “Original Over The Hill Cherokee Nation.” Beginning in the 1600s with Amatoya Moytoy l and  Elizabeth “Pride” Shawnee, married in 1630 in Shawnee Nation, Virginia.

Both Beloved ancestors of the Cherokee are buried in the Nikwasi  Great Mound, in Franklin,  North Carolina.

Cherokee Secrets 

The historically unknown Moytoy’s of Tellico for years have been classified as a hoax and myth by the  Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma  and the  Eastern Band Cherokee.  Recently however,  the Eastern Band Cherokee was granted rights over the Great Nikwasi Mound located in what is now the city of Franklin, North Carolina. However no one has officially announced who is buried there. It’s called “The place of the Cherokee Eternal Flame.”

Confirmed by United States marriage and census records,  along with birth and death certificates and monument burial site with  name and location, why has this history of Amatoya Moytoy l and  Elizabeth “Pride” Shawnee been kept so obscure and hidden?

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The Great Nikwasi Mound

The American Dynasty this Moytoy union created  would become legendary, producing the first “King of Chota” who  would marry the First Beloved Woman of the Cherokee from Great Tellico and together would design  a  mighty “House of Kings, ” “House of Queens” and “House of Warriors  that would reign, protect and successfully lead the great OverHill Cherokee Nation for at least 150 years.

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The mighty Moytoy bloodline,  military intelligence,  might, and political savvy,  combined with endurance and pure courage would perpetuate a mythical legend so magnificent and awesome that it would be relegated to a myth, hoax, lie, and/or fable by mainstream academia and the government sanctioned Cherokees starting in the 1800s.

Not until oral history, genealogy, scientific advancements, and genetic discoveries of the Americas has the Moytoy Dynasty been re-discovered and identified, along with the added research provided by Family Tree, American Indian Project. It was done by tracking bloodlines, through a maternal, and paternal gene coding  family lineage.

The mighty Cherokee warriors continued to fight in the mountains of Cherokee Country throughout the Cumberland Gap,  costing many of them everything including land  and in some cases, they were captured as prisoners of war and enslaved.

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Over The Hills,  Cherokee Country,  North America 

(Graphic Caption: ” On the West Side of the Twenty four Mountains,  commonly called Over the Hills”)

Names of the Principle or Headmen of each town,  and  number of fighting men they sent to war.” – Henry Timberlake  March 1762

Erased American History 

Historical Chota, The Great Tellico, Over The Hills, Indian Country (North America) – has all  been destroyed/eliminated. Erased off the map and stricken from history like a Roman conquest of power – a distant memory, fading like the sun setting in the west … drowning in mystery, lying beneath the man made Tennessee Dam and River. Those magnificent cultural centers of activity and trade, include Mialaquro ( Great Island ) Governed by Chief Attakullakaulla, Toskegee, Tommotley,  Toqua, Tennifsee, Chillboney,  Settacoo, and Tallafsee, among others lessor none communities and tribal sites.

The OverHill town of Chota, is now Monroe County, Tennessee. It was the capital of the entire Cherokee Nation from the 1600s  through most of the 18th century. The town of Tanasi became the namesake for Tennessee state.

Many prominent Cherokee,  including my ancestors the First Beloved Man and Woman of, Chota and The Great Tellico,  were in my opinion, pure-American heros  and some of the greatest warriors that every lived.

It’s time for the OverHill Cherokee,  King Amatoya Moytoy  of ” The Great Tellico” and  the Moytoy Dynasty to be placed back into mainstream history’s House of Kings.

First Beloved Man of the Cherokee Moytoy of Tellico 

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Over Hill Cherokee Monument in Tennessee

Amatoya Moytoy1 ,   Corn Planter  (  b. 1607  d. 1675 in Running Water Village, Tennessee, founder ). Married  Pride Shawnee,

Chief Amatoya Montoy, King of Chota  ( b. 1640  d. 1710 )

Chief Kanagagota,  Old Hop,  Fire King of Chota, ( b. 1681  d. 1761 )

Moytoy of Tellico  ( b. 1687  d. 1760 )

Princess AniGaWib  ( b. 1686  d. 1730 )

Chief Urk Moytoy  ( b. 1690 )

2Amadohiyi, Rainmaker, Emperor of the Cherokee in the year of 1630 married Nancy Gosaduisqa Shawnee, at Shawnee, Fredrick Virginia North America

Married Pride ( Cornstalk ) Shawnee in 1636

Amatoya Moytoy of Tellico, Head Warrior of Tellico, first Moytoy Chief ( b 1687 d. 1749   Buried in Nikwasi Franklin North Carolina

Nancy Gosaduisqa Shawnee  ( b. 1664 in Tellico  d. 1732 )

Canacaught Great Conjurer

Queen Mary Kittamaquud1  ( b. 1610  d. 1640 )

Mary Kittamaquud2  ( b. 1633   d.

Moytoy2 Amadohlyi , The Pigeon of Tellico, Emperor of the Cherokee 1730 – 1760

Chief Kanagagota2   ( Kanagatuckco ) Cunene Shote, Kunagadoga Standing Turkey ( b. 1704  d. 1783

Amouskositte Moytoy  Bad Water  ( b. 1728 )

Attakullakulla  Little Carpenter, The Great Warrior of Chota ( b. 1710 – 1777 )

born in Chota.

Oconastota  Stalking Turkey, The Raven,  ( b. 1710 – d. 1783 ) born and died Chota

Nanye’hi, Nancy Ward ( b. 1738 1824 ) born in Chota

Amo-Adaw-ehi   Moytoy of Citico  ( b. 1759 – d. 1761 ) begin of Anglo-Cherokee War

( nephew of the Montoy of Tellico

Hanging Man. ( b. 1780  d. 1792 )

Black Fox  ( b. 1801  d. 1811 )

PainKiller   (  b. 1811  d. 1827 )

Amatoya Pigeon of Tellico  ( b. 1867 )

( partial listing,  dates fluid. )

 December 13,  1825  Cherokee Nation Description Letter from David Brown to Hon. James Barbour, Secretary of War, Office of Indian Affairs:

” The Cherokee Nation you know, is in about 35 degrees north latitude;  bounded on the north and west by the state of Tennessee;  on the south by Alabama, and on the east by Georgia and North Carolina.  The. Country is well watered;  abundant springs of pure water are found in every part.  A range of majestic and lofty mountains stretch themselves across the nation.  The northern part of the nation is hilly and mountainous.  In the southern  and  western parts,  there are extensive and fertile plains,  covered  partly with tall trees,  through which beautiful streams of water glide.

These plains furnish immense pasturage,  and numberless herds of cattle are dispersed over them.  –

Horses are plenty, and are used for servile purposes. Numberous flocks of sheep, goats, and swine,  cover the valleys and hills.  On  Tennessee,  Ustanala,  and  Canadagi rivers,  Cherokee Commerce floats.  The climate is delicious and healthy;  the winters are mild.  The spring clothes  the ground with its richest scenery.  Cherokee flowers,  of exquisite beauty and varie-gated hues,  meet and fascinate the eye in every direction.   In  the plains and valleys, the soil is generally rich:  producing Indian corn, cotton, tobacco,  wheat,  oats,  indigo,  sweet and Irish potatoes.  The natives carry on considerable trade with the adjoining states;   and some of them export cotton in boats down the Tennessee and the Mississippi,  and down the river to New Orleans.

Apple and peach orchards  are quite common,  and gardens are cultivated,  and much attention paid to them.   Butter and cheese are seen on Cherokee tables. There are many public roads in the nation,  and houses of entertainment kept by natives. Numerous and flourishing villages are seen in every section of the country.  Cotton and woollen clothes are manufactured by Cherokee hands,  are very common. Almost every family in the nation grows cotton for its own consumption.  Industry and commercial enterprise are extending themselves in every part. Nearly all the merchants in the nation are Native Cherokee. Agricultural pursuits ( the most solid foundation of our national prosperity )  engage the chief attention of the people. Different branches in mechanics are pursued.”

” The population is rapidly increasing. In the year 1819.”  —  David Brown, Cherokee,  Sept  2.  1825

Credit: Department of War, Office Of Indian Affairs – Library Of Congress Washington D.C. 

Treaty of 1819

It appears in the above letter address to the Secretary of War 1825 that the majority of indigenous people of Cherokee Nation, had not agreed to the shady treaty of 1819 when the Cherokee leadership are said to have ceded land from the Little Tennessee River south to the Hiwassee River. As we see from the David Brown letter, there was no official transferring of the OverHill metropolis to the United States.

However, in 1838 many of the Cherokee were removed and forced to relocate to Oklahoma, orders of the United States government, the infamous Trail of Tears.

Tennessee River and Dam 

In 1967, the Tennessee Valley Authority began construction on the Tellico Dam, just above the mouth of the Little Tennessee River. Before the historic pending doom of ancient American antiquity, Tennessee University conducted archaeological excavations of one of the many Chota townhouses and discovered the remains of mighty warrior and Cherokee Chief Oconastota.

A monument with eight pillars – one for each of the seven clans – was placed on the site along with the grave of Oconastota. A small monument nearby marks the site of town/settlement of Tanasi.

Upstream Chilhowee Dam, was named after the now – submerged town of Chilhowee.

Tennessee Reservoir Development Agency boat ramps have been named after the drowned former cities of Toqua and Tallassee.

Secretary Of War, 1826

“From the first discovery of America to the present time,  one master passion,  common to all mankind,  that of acquiring land,  has driven, in cease-less succession, the white man on the Indian. It were now an unprofitable task to inquire,  on what principle the nations of Europe were justified in dispossessing the original proprietors of his birthright. They brought with them their own maximums,  which recognized power as the only standard of right, and fraud  and force  as  perfectly legitimate in the acquisition  of  territory.  It has been done,  and time has confirmed the act.” — Hon. James Barbour,  Secretary of War

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Monument Mound Franklin North Carolina

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Mama Lillie, Great-Great Grandmother FB OverHill Cherokee ( maternal )

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Mama Elnora, Great Grandmother, seventh sister. American Indigenous name meaning, the light

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Mama Roberta, My Mother

The article you’ve just read, “House of Kings House of Queens House of Warriors,” is the second documentary film currently in production from the producers of “Ancient History Hunters: Straight Out Of America” available at

Diane Blackmon Bailey

Diane Blackmon Bailey

Diane Blackmon Bailey is a Southern California based historian and filmmaker whose focus is indigenous American ancestry and culture. Contact her via: [email protected]


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The Incredible Life of Daniel Smith, Living Son of a Slave



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Daniel Smith

Daniel Smith

*As one of the few living children of a slave, 88-year-old Daniel Smith has a unique perspective on race relations in America.

Smith’s father, Abram “A.B.” Smith, was born into slavery in 1863 and was 70 years old when he had Daniel, his sixth child, in 1932. Smith, who grew up hearing stories from his father about America’s most shameful period, would go on to build a remarkable life and witness momentous events in the ongoing struggle for racial equality.

Smith draws a direct comparison between the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the racial justice protests of today.

Daniel Smith, 87, poses for a portrait at his home in Washington, D.C. on September 29, 2020. (Randy Marso/Zenger)

“When the [Ku Klux Klan] bombed the church [in Birmingham, Alabama], that finally got the ministers and the clergy to join Martin Luther King,” he said. “They finally came. Today, Black Lives Matter — after George Floyd was killed, it galvanized everyone. Everyone watched someone die on TV.”

Smith was born and raised in Winsted, Connecticut, a small town with a population of 10,000 that included only about 20 African Americans at the time of his birth. Smith grew up with four older sisters and one older brother, and his family of eight made up nearly half of the town’s Black population.

Daniel Smith’s high school yearbook entry. (Courtesy: Daniel Smith)

Though Daniel Smith was just 6 years old when A.B. Smith died, he still has vivid memories of his father. “My father was a real gentleman. He was always a good provider on his salary of $16 a week. When he went to work, I was still in bed. When he came home, I was in bed,” Smith said. “We would have these big Sunday dinners —a step down from Thanksgiving dinner.”

Smith recalls hearing firsthand accounts of slavery during his youth, primarily from his father.

Daniel Smith, 87, poses for a portrait with photos of his parents at his home in Washington, D.C. on September 29, 2020. (Randy Marso/Zenger)

“I used to get out of bed, sneak into my parents’ room, and put my head at the bottom of the bed, listening to their conversations. My father used to tell stories about the whipping posts, the hanging tree,” he said. “On Sundays, we would go to church, and you would hear people talking about similar things, but they had worse stories.”

Smith was the only African American at his high school, but he had a good experience there.

“I was very popular primarily because I was the only Black, and I was a novelty,” Smith said. “I had no problems with the girls, but they couldn’t publicly acknowledge any type of relationship with me.”

Daniel Smith, 87, poses for a portrait at his home in Washington, D.C. on September 29, 2020. (Randy Marso/Zenger)

After graduating from high school, Smith served in the U.S. military as an operating room technician and a scrub nurse in the Korean War. He was also sent for certification as a Red Cross water safety instructor and worked as a lifeguard at one of the three concrete swimming pools in Korea during the summers.

Daniel Smith poses in uniform at Camp Pickett in Nottoway County, Virginia, on an unknown date in 1952. (Courtesy: Daniel Smith)

When his military service ended, Smith came home to Winsted, which suffered a hurricane-induced flood in 1955. Smith remembers seeing water rushing down the main street, taking cars and houses with it, and humbly recalls saving a drowning man during the flood. Pulitzer Prize winner John Hersey documented the event for the New Yorker.

“They identified me as Danny Smith, the Negro hero of the town,” Smith said.

When Smith ran for student council president at Springfield College in Massachusetts, his winning campaign slogan was “Vote for Dan, the man with a tan.” He continued his pursuit of higher education at the Tuskegee Institute School of Veterinary Medicine. But after the Klan killed four young Black girls in the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, Smith felt compelled to leave school and join the civil rights movement.

Soon Smith and a white friend, Barry Fritz, found themselves in a crowd at the March on Washington, where they saw Martin Luther King Jr. and John Lewis speak at close range.

“I was reluctant to go at first because I didn’t want to get beat up. I thought there was going to be a big rise. I’m not a coward, but I’m not a fool,” Smith said.

But, he added, the risk was worth it: “The march was just unbelievable, especially when Martin Luther King gave his ‘I Have a Dream’ speech. You couldn’t find a dry eye. I was crying.”

Later that summer, Smith moved to Hayneville, Alabama, where he experienced many of the kinds of injustices that he said made Alabama “a hotbed for the civil rights movement.”

In 1965, he accepted a position as executive director of the Lowndes Christian Movement for Human Rights organization and began directing a program to teach migrant seasonal farmworkers how to read and write. He could not get electricity or a telephone line set up in the church building he worked out of without a white sponsor. After a judge by the name of Judge Hammon helped him, 24 of Hammon’s Black Angus cows were poisoned. Smith said there is “no doubt in my mind” that this was a message from the Klan.

Daniel Smith, 87, examines plants in his garden at his home in Washington, D.C. on September 29, 2020. (Randy Marso/Zenger)

Smith’s anti-poverty program was not popular with the whites in Alabama or with then-Gov. George Wallace, a conservative who infamously supported “Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” Smith recalls being confronted by an intimidating lieutenant of Wallace’s who told Smith that Wallace considered him “an outside agitator from Connecticut.”

Shortly after, Smith’s church building was burned down.

Smith was undaunted, however, and continued to run the program from a trailer on the charred property.


“Oddly enough, I had anticipated that there would be some destruction to my building,” he said. “I had carefully made a copy of all my records and kept them at home.”

One night after work, Smith was driving the 40-mile commute from Hayneville to Tuskegee on an unlit highway when a car of white men rear ended his car.

“They came around the side of my car and said, ‘Pull over, black coon!’ And I thought, ‘Not me, not me,’” Smith said. “I sped as fast as I could and made it to the gas station. That’s why I’m here today.”

Smith moved to Washington, D.C. in 1968, where he developed neighborhood health centers. He got hired to direct a $60 million program at the National Institutes of Health in 1972 but faced “all kinds of discrimination and battles with the government.”

After retiring in 1994, he began to volunteer at the Korean War Veterans Memorial and serve as head usher of the Washington National Cathedral. As head usher, Smith escorted sitting presidents for three decades, from Ronald Reagan to George W. Bush.

In his age of retirement, Smith has high hopes for the newest generation of activists.

“They have done a tremendous job of putting the problems that America has in your face,” he said. “I support them with money and with voice.”

Daniel Smith and Loretta Fay Neumann pose at their wedding in an unknown location on an unknown date. (Courtesy: Daniel Smith)

Smith resides in D.C. with his wife, Loretta Neumann, and has two children from a previous marriage. He wed Neumann at the National Cathedral in 2006, under the same arches where he walked alongside presidents.

Smith is currently writing his life memoirs.

(Edited by Emily Crockett and Natalie Gross)

The post The Incredible Life of Daniel Smith, Living Son of a Slave appeared first on Zenger News.

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Duke University Librarian’s Simple Song & Stick-Figure Video About Curbside Pickup is a Bop (Watch)




Library Take Out

*All he was trying to do was come up with a creative way to promote Duke University library’s curbside pickup procedure throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

Duke librarian Jamie Keesecker crafted a simple-but-catchy synth-pop beat, wrote some light, punchy lyrics detailing the library’s checkout system and presented it with  crude, stick-figured, colored-penciled video. Nearly 700,000 views later, “Library Takeout” is now everybody’s jam. It’s also available on Spotify and Apple Music.

Keesecker, who earned a doctorate in music composition before taking a job at Duke’s Music Library, wrote the song and animated the video with help from his three-year-old daughter while working remotely. The whole vibe feels like Billie Eilish meets Prince’s “Annie Christian,” meets Aha’s “Take On Me” video – with some synth runs at the end reminiscent of Steve Miller Band’s “Fly Like an Eagle.”

“I decided I might as well try and see if I could put together a song,” Keesecker told Duke Today. “If it’s a total disaster, we don’t have to release it. But it could be just the thing we need to reach the people we’re trying to reach.”

Now, because of Keesecker, hundreds of thousands of people now know how to work Duke University’s contactless library checkout.

Watch below:

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The Sultana: Little-known, Little-told Civil War Tragedy




The Sultana

[Editor’s note: Here’s a little-known, little-told footnote about the Civil War that got little attention at the time of President Lincoln’s assassination, and the all-out pursuit of the assassin. Can you imagine being a prisoner of war in a hellish confederate prison in the south; freed and on your way home to loved ones only to meet another hellish fate? Author and Michigan historian, Larry B. Massie, tells this harrowing story in one of his volumes, “Voyages Into Michigan’s Past.”]

The Floating Inferno
The story of the ill-fated Sultana overloaded with troops
by Larry Massie

Faded blue uniforms hung loosely on their gaunt bodies. Weakened by months of starvation, disease and brutality in the infamous Confederate prison at Andersonville, Georgia and Cahaba, Alabama, many of the recently released soldiers that crowded the wharf at Vicksburg, Mississippi could hardly walk. Despite their condition, the men joked and bantered with each other. They were going home – back to loved ones in Indiana, Ohio and Michigan.

It was April 24th 1865. Lee had surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House on April 9th, and for all practical purposes, the war that had pitted brother against brother for four bloody years was over. Now the ex-prisoners waited anxiously at Vicksburg for transport up the Mississippi by river boat. The Sultana, a 1,719-ton side-wheeler built in 1863 for the lower Mississippi cotton trade, arrived from New Orleans that evening.

As the ship’s engineer supervised some apparently routine repairs to the boilers, the troops streamed up the gangplank. The Sultana had taken on at New Orleans 75 cabin passengers and a cargo of 100 hogsheads of sugar, 60 horses and mules, and one crated 10-ft “man eating” alligator. She carried a crew of 85 and legally could only transport 376 passengers in all. Nevertheless, when she slowly pulled away from the wharf at Vicksburg, between 1,800 and 2,000 ex-prisoners of war and two companies of soldiers under arms had clambered aboard. The troops, for which the ship owners received a set fee of $5 per head, covered every square foot of space from the hurricane deck to the pilot house. Of the approximately 2,300 people on board, more than 250 were from Michigan.

To compound the situation, the Mississippi was in flood stage with an exceptionally strong current. The troops sprawled out on the sagging decks and cooked their own meals using hot water from the boilers as the Sultana slowly splashed upstream. Two days later, the vessel docked at Memphis. Some of the troops went ashore to stretch their legs and got so involved in sight seeing that they missed the boat. They little realized how lucky they were.
After additional repair work on one of the leaky boilers, the ship crossed the river to take on coal. A little after midnight on the 27th it left for Cairo, Illinois, where most of the soldiers were to disembark for rail travel home. About 2 a.m., as the overloaded vessel laboring against the strong current neared a cluster of islands known as the “Hen and Chickens,” it happened.


Artist’s depiction of the Sultana explosion

A tremendous explosion heard all the way back to Memphis, disintegrated half of the Sultana. The boilers, that had proved troublesome during the entire voyage, had blown up, hurling huge fragments of the superstructure skyward. Chunks of boiler plate whistled through the air like shrapnel. Jets of steam cooked man alive. Red-hot coals sizzled into the water or fell on the deck to start numerous fires. Hundreds of men were killed outright by the explosion or blown through the air into the swirling current. Seething masses of panic-stricken men grasped at anything to stay afloat and pulled each other under. The river was three miles wide at that point and in the pitch-black darkness it was almost impossible to see the shore. The turbulent stream, full of eddies and whirlpools, carried even the strongest swimmers under. The only hope for those in the water was too cling to a piece of the debris that littered the river.

Those not blasted into the stream by the explosion faced a worse fate. Many were trapped below deck and burned to death. Their screams filled the night air. Some jumped immediately into the river. Still others clung to the vessel until the fire reached them and they too dropped into the icy waters. The few lifeboats launched were soon swamped by the drowning hordes. Those still on the ship combed the wreckage for anything that would keep them afloat. The captain ripped off the cabin shutters and threw them to swimmers below. One soldier bayoneted the captive alligator and pushed himself overboard in the stout wooden cage. A passing boat rescued him miles downstream.

Meanwhile, the floating infernal that had once been the Sultana drifted out of control. When it lodged against a small island, some soldiers jumped ashore and secured the vessel with ropes. Another group of survivors fashioned a raft out of broken timbers and drifted loose just before the ship sunk with a great hiss and a cloud of steam.

Pvt. Chester Berry of the 20th Michigan infantry had been awakened at the time of the explosion by a flying piece of wood that fractured his skull. The man next to him was scalded to death. Berry grabbed a few pieces of door casing and jumped into the river. An excellent swimmer, he stroked toward what he thought was a small island. When he made no headway, he realized that he was trying to swim against the strong current. Exhausted, he floated with the help of his tiny raft of wood until he was able to grasp a tree top rising above the flooded river bank. Berry was eventually rescued by the gunboat Pocahontas that searched for survivors.

In 1892 Berry compiled a book containing the stories of as many fellow survivors as he could locate. Page after page of poignant testimony by Michigan, Indiana and Ohio men document miraculous escapes from the Sultana horror. A Pontiac man, J.E. Norton of the 5th Michigan Calvary, awoke after the explosion to find himself pinned down by a heavy object. After struggling free, he assisted in raising timbers off other trapped soldiers and then floated down the river supported by a wooden box. Another panic-stricken soldier wrestled the box away and nearly drowned him, but Norton made it to safety clinging to a bale of hay.

George F. Robinson of Charlotte was stunned by the explosion. The first thing he remembered was someone below him screaming “for God’s sake, cut the deck, I am burning to death.” His partner was laying across his legs, dead. Robinson survived by clinging to a dead mule. Others caught the tail of live mules, and a dozen men gripped one floundering horse. Ogilvie E. Hamlin, a veteran from Jackson County, had had an arm amputated by Confederate surgeons. Nevertheless, he managed to float to shore where he clung to a tree top with one arm until rescued. Many others who managed to make it to the shore died of exposure or of the effects of their burns.

There was no official verification of the exact number of Sultana victims, but the best estimate places the death list at 1,700. Michigan’s adjutant general, John Robertson, termed the Sultana explosion the greatest calamity of the Civil War. Strangely enough, newspapers of the time, preoccupied with the pursuit of Lincoln’s assassins and the end of the war, devoted little space to the tragedy. Yet the sinking of the Sultana remains one of history’s worst Naval disasters.

Author Larry B. Massie resides in Allegan, Michigan. Email: [email protected]


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