As Cherokee delegations traveled to Williamsburg in the 18th century, shelter was needed to accommodate them. Encampments were created around town in order to house the travelers, which could be upwards of 200 people.
When I spoke with Buck Woodard about the Return of the Cherokee event on our Past and Present podcast, he mentioned anywhere from 30 to 200 Cherokees would be in town at a certain moment in order to negotiate trades or build alliances. This included family members and was more than any tavern in town could accommodate, so temporary camps were necessary. These camps could have been anywhere in town.
“It may have been at Mr. Purdie’s field, it may have been at the Magazine, other references suggest the Capitol,” he said.
This year, Colonial Williamsburg has chosen to set up this temporary encampment at the corner of Nicholson and Botetourt streets, directly across from the Military Encampment. For weeks, the team worked hard to create lean-to arbors and sheds to make the camp look just as it would have nearly 250 years ago. In the 18th century, the delegations were loaned tents from the Magazine and the rest was pulled together from materials on site. Buck told me this camp is meant to be more about the common people and less about the chief men. After all, their families would be traveling with them and needed the shelter.
Visitors to the Indian Encampment can expect to see a variety of programming and the typical goings-on including basketmaking, weaving, and wood carving. They will also be able to speak with the interpreters and other special guests visiting for Return of the Cherokee, like the Eastern Band of Cherokee and members of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma, to name just two. They will talk about what Cherokee life may have been like in the 18th century. Fires will be lit, food will be prepared, and a special evening program called “Friends and Brethren: Cherokee Storytelling and Dance” will take place there on June 4 where the Eastern Band of Cherokee will share stories and dances by the fire. That program is ticketed, so make sure you pick yours up as soon as you can.
The Indian Encampment is just one of the many exciting opportunities during Return of the Cherokee and provides a more intimate experience of Cherokee life in Williamsburg. For more information about additional programming and help planning your trip, click here.