Moytoy of Tellico, Emperor of the Cherokee: Who was he and was he your ancestor?

Forward by blogger Jeanie Roberts
For whatever reason, many many people want to claim membership in, or affiliation with, a Native American tribe. Overwhelmingly, it seems, the tribe of choice is the Cherokee. A common remark on genealogy help sites usually goes something like this; 'I know I am related to (insert name of famous Native American) because my grandma told me so, I just don't know how'. Or, 'my grandpa looks like an Indian'. One of the most common statements is 'my ancestors were Cherokee, but just pretended to be white to avoid the Trail of Tears'.
The one thing that almost all of these folks have in common is a failure to actually do genealogy research. They are looking for a prefab ancestry tree that they can hitch their wagon to. A cursory search of the internet reveals plenty of websites, books, charts, etc. that will do just that. You want to be an Indian, we will make it happen. There are countless fake Indian tribes that will be happy to enroll you as a member. But buyer beware. The internet, as I said, is chock-a-block with junky genealogy.

The focus of this article is the Cherokee chief Moytoy. There are numerous websites and books that claim he descended from an English immigrant to Jamestown, Thomas Pasmere Carpenter, through a mishmash of Powhatan/Cherokee/Shawnee ancestors. Countless people claim to be descended from him through Chief Moytoy. This article, written by Cherokee genealogy researcher Kathie Forbes, sorts fact from fiction and lays out what is truly known about Moytoy, who he was and who were his descendants. Buckle up, it's going to be a bumpy ride.
Will the real Amatoya Moytoy please stand up?
by Katherine Forbes

Who was the man (or men) known as “Moytoy”?  To answer this question, we first need to know something about Cherokee customs, to determine when records of individual Cherokee people begin, and to know what is included in those records. Not only do many people believe they have a Cherokee great-grandmother or a Cherokee princess in their family, they also believe they can trace their Cherokee ancestors back to the 16th century. Tree after on-line tree starts with the mythical Thomas Pasmere Carpenter [debunked [link to post here], which most people with any understanding of the genealogical proof standard can easily recognize as junk genealogy. Many more start with “The Descendants of A ma do ya Moytoy,” an online tree which to many people appears to be authoritative, accurate, and documented. Sadly, it is none of these.
Let’s start with a little history.
Families and communities.
The Cherokee, along with most indigenous people, were matrilineal. During the 1600s and 1700s they lived in about 60 small agricultural communities spread over some 200 miles, each largely independent from its neighbors. Each community had its own headman (or chief) and other leaders, who were chosen by the community, not by descent. There was no central government. Clan relationships determined a person’s behaviors. Families were made up of women and other members of their clans. Women could not marry a person of their own clan, so in the Cherokee culture the biological father was not a blood relative. The men responsible for bringing up a boy were his mother’s brothers, and if she didn’t have brothers, other men of her clan who lived in her village.  While some couples had long-lasting marriages, marriage as we know it was not a Cherokee concept.  A couple stayed together only as long as both were happy with the arrangement, and both men and women had children with multiple partners.
Cherokee names.
Cherokee people did not have ‘surnames’, family names, or even given names as we know them. With the exception of clothing and some household goods, everything was owned in common so there was no concept of inheritance or decendance. A Cherokee person’s name could – and did – change over a lifetime and a Cherokee person might be known by multiple names at the same time. A person’s true name was known only to close family/clan members. A childhood name would be replaced by an adult name, usually associated with a significant event in the person’s life.  A later event or a bout of illness often resulted in a new name.  Men (and some women) might be known by a title based on their position in the village – i.e. ‘Raven’, ‘Mankiller’, or ‘Beloved Woman’.  People had names used only at home, nicknames given by others, and English translations of their Cherokee names and titles.  Starting in the middle of the 18th century, some mixed-blood Cherokee added the name of their biological white father to the mix and others adopted (or were given) the name of an admired white person. Missionaries gave people new names when they were baptized. The names we associate with early Cherokee people were recorded by whites who sometimes attempted to write them phonetically, sometimes wrote what they believed was an English translation of the name, and sometimes wrote down a title as a name.  There was no standardized spelling at this time, even for English names and words, and Cherokee men often appear in a single record with different spellings of a name.
Recordkeeping prior to the 1800s.
The Cherokee did not have a written language until 1821.  Before then, everything written about the Cherokee was filtered through the eyes and ears of white people, very few of whom spoke or even understood the Cherokee language. Records of the Cherokee prior to 1800 consist solely of the journals, correspondence, and memoirs of white men, and the treaties and recorded actions of colonial and early American legislative bodies. There are no birth, marriage, death, church, or family Bible records. The only censuses taken in the 18th century were simple headcounts done by village.  There are occasional rare statements by a Cherokee person included in historical records which mention a family relationship, but there are not many historical records relating to the Cherokee before 1750.  The first whites to take an interest in Cherokees as families were the missionaries who arrived late in the 1790’s.

Chief Moytoy
So, back to “Chief Moytoy.”  The ‘Am-a-do-ya Moytoy’ tree starts with a man named Amadoya Moytoy, born in 1647.  He is listed with a wife and five children. Looks good, except here’s the catch:  Plain and simple, there is no mention in any record of a Cherokee person named or called, “Moytoy” or anything similar, until 1729. As noted above, there aren’t many early records which mention any Cherokee by name, and ‘Moytoy’ doesn’t exist in the ones that do. Not in the account of Needham and Arthur (1674), the first Englishmen to travel to the Cherokee Nation and return to tell about it. Not in the 1684 Treaty with Virginia.  Not in the Colonial Records of South Carolina, 1710-1718.  Not in the journals of trade commissioner George Chicken’s travels among the Cherokee (1715-16 and 1725).  Not in the records associated with the Cherokee treaty and trade agreement with South Carolina of 1721 (which resulted in the naming of a chief named Wrosetasataw as ‘Emperor’ of the Cherokee).  Not in the journal of John Herbert (1727-28), South Carolina Commissioner for Indian Affairs.  Not in the early correspondence of Ludovic Grant, who settled among the Cherokee about 1727.
The first contemporaneous mention of Moytoy is in the “Journal of Sir Alexander Cuming” who travelled in the Cherokee Nation in 1729-30. Cuming wrote on March 29, 1729, “… arrived at Great Telliquo, in the upper Settlements, 200 miles up from Keeakwee.  Moytoy the head Warrior here, told him, that the Year before, the Nation design’d to have made him Head over all;” [Historical note, Wrosetesataw died about 1728.] Cuming wrote later, “Moytoy of Telliquo presides at present as Emperor over the whole; he was chose at Nequassie, April 3, 1730, and had an absolute unlimited Power given him…” Cuming hoped to take Moytoy and some other Cherokee back to England with him to demonstrate their loyalty to the English King: “He ask’d Moytoy, if the Indians could travel there [to Charleston]in so short a Time on Foot, who told him that it might be done, and that he [Moytoy] would have waited on him himself, but that his Wife was dangerously ill, and therefore desired Sir Alexander to chuse whom he pleased to attend him.”  Attakullakulla, one of the seven Cherokee who went to England with Cuming later recounted the events to the South Carolina Governor (through a translator). “At night Mr Wiggan the Interpreter came to the house where I was, and told me the Warrior {Moytoy] had a particular favour for me, and that if I would Consent to go he would be indifferent whither any other Went; and Mr. Wiggan pressed me very much to accept of his invitation.”
Cuming’s account of the selection of the travelers says, “Sir Alexander chose as Evidence of the Truth of what had happened, the head Warrior of Tassetchee, a Man of great Power and Interest, who has a Right to be King, and is called Oukah Ulah (that is the King that is to be) Skallelockee, the second Warrior, otherwise Kettagustah, (or Prince) Tathtowie, the third Warrior, and Collannah, a fourth Warrior; and from Tannassie, the remotest Town of the Country, he took Clogoittah and Oukanaekah [later known as Attakullakulla] Warriors.”  The seventh man met them en route to Charleston and joined the group. There is nothing to suggest in any of these accounts that the men selected were related in any way.
James Adair wrote that he first visited the Cherokee in 1736.  He did not mention Moytoy by name, but as “their old Archi-magus,” made emperor by Christian Priber. Trader Ludovic Grant wrote in regard to the English attempt to arrest Christian Priber, “I therefore endeavored to prevail with Moytoy who was then the head of the Nation to Give Orders to some of his people to seize him [Priber] and I promised him a very great present for it.  He thanked me and said he would accept of the present…”
Several modern histories suggest [without sources] that Moytoy’s name was actually “Ama-edohi” [Conley, A Cherokee Encyclopedia[ or “Amo-adaw-ehi” [Brown, Old Frontiers], meaning variously “Water-goer,” “Water-walker,” “Water-conjouror,” or “Rainmaker”.
As to Moytoy’s family, we know from his own words that he had a wife, and from other records, at least one son. We are told that Moytoy died in battle in 1741, and “At Moytoy’s death, his son Amo-Scossite (Bad Water) claimed his father’s title.”  [Brown, Old Frontiers, p.46] Although the Cherokee refused to accept Amoscossite as ‘Emperor’, he became chief at Tellico and headed delegations including a meeting with Virginia trade representatives in 1756. He is believed to have died shortly thereafter, leaving no known descendants.
What about those children in the second generation of the ‘A-ma-do-ya’ tree?  One of them is the ‘real’ Moytoy, who died in 1741.  Two of them, Tistoe and Oukah-Oula were among the seven men who went to England with Cuming.  As noted above, there is nothing to suggest that they were related in any way.  They came from different towns and in none of the contemporary records are they listed as brothers, cousins, or relatives of any kind.  The fourth person listed is supposedly the mother of Nan-ye-hi, Nancy Ward.  Nancy’s parents are completely unknown.  All that we know about her parents is that her mother was from the Wolf Clan, and, according to a great-grandson, her father may have been an adopted Delaware Indian.  The last person, ‘Old Hop’ (who lived at Chota) was a prominent Cherokee chief, a contemporary of the ‘real’ Moytoy. Records show that he became de facto head of the Cherokee Nation after the death of Moytoy and a political struggle with the chiefs of Tellico.  Nothing is known of his parents or his wife, but he apparently had sisters since he stated that he had two nephews, Attakullakulla and Willenawa. He also remarked that he had sons, whose names are unknown.
Transcripts of primary sources:
Adair, James. The History of the American Indians.  London, 1775; reprint with introduction by Robert F. Berkhofer, Jr.  Johnson, New York: Reprint Corp, 1968.
Alvord, Clarence Waltworth, and Lee Bidgood.  The First Explorations of the Trans-Allegheny Region by the Virginians, 1650-1674.  Cleveland, Arthur H. Clark, 1912.  Includes transcripts of early accounts.
Bartram, William.  Travels in North America. New Haven, Yale University Press
Bonnefoy, Antoine.  Journal. Transcript in Williams; Bonnefoy was a captive of the Cherokee in 1741-42.
Chicken, George.  Journals 1715-1716 and 1725
Conversation between his Excellency the Governor of South Carolina and Chuconnunta a head man of the Cherokees Whose name formerly was Ouconecaw.  Recorded by Richard Smith in 1756, transcript in the “Journal of Cherokee Studies” Vol. XXVI, pp. 15-23
Cuming, Alexander.  Journal of Sir Alexander Cuming. Transcript in Williams.
Grant, Ludovic.  Historical Relation of the Facts. 1755.  Transcript in the “Journal of Cherokee Studies” Vol. XXVI, pp. 2-23.
Herbert, John. Journal of Colonel John Herbert, commissioner Indian affairs for the province of South Carolina, October 17, 1727, to March 1927/8
Timberlake, Henry  The Memoirs of Lt. Henry Timberlake. Duane King, ed. Museum of the Cherokee Indian Press, Cherokee, N.C., 2007
Williams, Samuel Cole.  Early Travels in the Tennessee Country, 1580-1800 Johnson City, Tennessee, Watauga Press, 1928
Calendar of Virginia State Papers
Colonial Records of North Carolina – multiple volumes published by the North Carolina Archives.
Native Americans in Early North Carolina – ed. Dennis Isenbarger, published by the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Department of Archives and History, 2013. Includes transcripts of primary documents from the 17th and 18th centuries.
Villainy Often Goes Unpunished – Indian Records from the North Carolina General Assembly Sessions 1685-1789. William L. Byrd, III, Heritage Books 2012.  Transcripts of General Assembly records.
Colonial Records of South Carolina – multiple volumes published by the South Carolina Archives.  Series 2 are the Indian Papers.
Other references:
Brown, John P.  Old Frontiers.  Southern Publishers, Inc. Kingsport, TN 1938
Conley, Robert. A Cherokee Encyclopedia and The Cherokee Nation: a History. University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque, 2007
[Note:  Conley’s books are easier to read than the more scholarly texts listed, but also are not as well-researched and contain more factual errors.]
Hoig, Stanley. The Cherokees and their Chiefs. University of Arkansas Press, Fayetteville 1998
Mooney, James. History, Myths, and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokee. American Bureau of Ethnology 1891 & 1900, reprint Historical Images, Inc.  Asheville, N.C. 1992
Journal of Cherokee Studies.  Museum of the Cherokee Indian Press, Cherokee, N.C.
Kathie Forbes 10/19/17

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