The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story

The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story

The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story

The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story


At the turn of the nineteenth century, James Vann, a Cherokee chief and entrepreneur, established Diamond Hill in Georgia, the most famous plantation in the southeastern Cherokee Nation. In this first full-length study to reconstruct the history of the plantation, Tiya Miles tells the story of Diamond Hill's founding, its flourishing, its takeover by white land-lottery winners on the eve of the Cherokee Removal, its decay, and ultimately its renovation in the 1950s.

This moving multiracial history sheds light on the various cultural communities that interacted within the plantation boundaries--from elite Cherokee slaveholders to Cherokee subsistence farmers, from black slaves of various ethnic backgrounds to free blacks from the North and South, from German-speaking Moravian missionaries to white southern skilled laborers. Moreover, the book includes rich portraits of the women of these various communities. Vividly written and extensively researched, this history illuminates gender, class, and cross-racial relationships on the southern frontier.


“Something about this house inspires lunacy in people.”
—Julia Autry, interpretive ranger, Chief Vann House State Historic Site,
December 2006

I had trod this Georgia road many times before, but never at night, never in winter. The air was frigid, the sky gloweringly black. But out of the darkness, off in the distance, the grand house glowed. Candles shone in every window. Beribboned wreaths of evergreen hung from the double doors. The promised warmth of interior spaces, hidden from view, beckoned through the gloom. It was lovely, this old plantation house, perched, as it was, atop a hillside. Striking in its grandeur. Alluring in its light. I could almost believe, staring up at the glowing, Palladian window panes, that the year was 1806, that Cherokees still possessed the lands of northern Georgia, that the wealthy Cherokee family who once dwelled in this home would appear at a doorway in waistcoats and bustles.

But this was not 1806. It was 2006. The family who had built this house had long passed into memory, and the home was owned and cared for by Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources. I had come here to attend the Chief Vann House State Historic Site’s Christmas by Candlelight celebration. And I found that, as William Chase Parker, an eighteen-year-old employee of the Vann House had put it, the “Christmas Spirit of the community” was very much in evidence. A team of local volunteers from the nonprofit group Friends of the Vann House had readied the home for show. In the place of modern lighting, candles had been lit throughout the house and luminaries positioned along exterior pathways. Natural embellishments of dried okra pods, oiled magnolia leaves, and fanned cedar boughs festooned the interior rooms. The hand-carved mantels were topped by crimson-bowed wreaths, and inside every working hearth, a warming fire had been lit. The ornate dining table was set for a sumptuous holiday meal fit for a king or an Indian chief.

In addition to staging this event, the Friends group volunteers also hosted it, standing in the stead of the long-gone Vann family. The women Friends who . . .

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