Research Laboratories of Archaeology

Valleytowns Baptist Mission Archaeological Project (Brett Riggs)

   Later Fall 2001, the UNC Research Laboratories of Archaeology will commence investigations at the site of the Valleytowns Baptist Mission in Cherokee County, North Carolina. Founded in 1820 to "civilize" and Christianize the Cherokees, the Valleytowns Baptist Mission at Peachtree, North Carolina, was a center for Cherokee scholarship and political activism. The mission, seated at the old Cherokee town of Aquonatuste, conducted a boarding school for Cherokee students and operated a model farm, gristmill, and blacksmith shop for vocational instruction. Cherokee parents sent their children to Valleytowns to learn English and arithmetic so "they wouldn’t be cheated by the white man." After initial failures with English-only instruction, mission teachers adopted the Cherokee language and syllabary for classroom use, and through its innovative use of native language instruction, Valleytowns became the most popular and successful Protestant mission in the Cherokee Nation. Valleytowns housed as many as 50 students at once, and hundreds of Cherokee scholars attended the mission school during its 16-year tenure. The mission trained future Cherokee leaders such as Peter Oganaya, John Wickliff, and James Wafford, men who led the political resistance to the New Echota Treaty, then led their people over the Trail of Tears. The site is currently under consideration for certification by the National Park Service as part of the NPS Trail of Tears Historic Trail.

   In 1999, archaeologists and local residents relocated the mission site and found evidence of one of the main mission buildings constructed in 1821. Excavations at the site uncovered a brick-lined cellar filled with refuse that provides clues about daily life and school activities at the mission. The Research Laboratories of Archaeology's investigations will document the entire mission complex and explore the archaeological record of this outpost of Western culture that was embraced, then eventually co-opted by the Cherokee people.

   As the first formal educational facility in southwestern North Carolina and the fount of the predominant Baptist faith among modern Cherokees, the mission is an important heritage site for the local Anglo-American community and for Cherokee communities in North Carolina and Oklahoma. Earlier investigations at the site have generated intense local interest and enjoyed widespread support. Further investigations of the site by the UNC Research Laboratories of Archaeology are actively solicited in the local community and should enjoy the sanction and interest of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma.