Red Clay State Historic
Red Clay State Historic Park is located in the extreme southwest corner of Bradley County in Tennessee, just above the Tennessee-Georgia state line.
The park encompasses 263-acres of narrow valleys formerly used as cotton and pasture land. There are also forested ridges that average 200 feet or more above the valley floor. The site contains a natural landmark, the Blue Hole Spring, which arises from beneath a limestone ledge to form a deep pool that flows into Mill Creek, a tributary of the Conasauga and Coosa River system. The spring was used by the Cherokee for their water supply during council meetings.
The events that made Red Clay famous happened between 1832 and 1838. Red Clay served as the seat of Cherokee government from 1832 until the forced removal of the Cherokee in 1838. It was the site of 11 general councils, national affairs attended by up to 5,000 people. Those years were filled with frustrating efforts to insure the future of the Cherokee. One of the leaders of the Cherokee, Principal Chief John Ross, led their fight to keep Cherokee's eastern lands, refusing the government's efforts to move his people to Oklahoma. Controversial treaties, however, resulted in the surrendering of land and their forced removal. Here, at Red Clay, the Trail of Tears really began, for it was at the Red Clay Council Grounds that the Cherokee learned that they had lost their mountains, streams, and valleys forever.
By 1832, the State of Georgia had stripped the Cherokee of their political sovereignty and had prevented Cherokees from meeting together. They were prohibited from holding council meetings in Georgia for any reason other than to treaty away their land. As a result, the Cherokee capital was moved from New Echota, Georgia to Red Clay, Tennessee.
Many of the Cherokee people who met at Red Clay had made remarkable advancements and lived much like the dominant culture. Many of the Cherokee had adopted the Christian religion, and their political and judicial systems were similar to that of the United States. Sequoya (George Guess) had developed a syllabary that made it possible to write the Cherokee language. The Cherokee published the Phoenix, a bilingual paper from 1828 to 1834. In spite of the social and political advancement made by the Cherokee, Red Clay proved to be the Cherokee's last refuge-their capital in exile-before being moved westward from their homeland in the southeastern United States.
Today, Red Clay State Historical Park is a certified interpretive site on the Trail of Tears.
Directions: From Chattanooga on I-75 take exit 3A (e. Brainerd Rd.) & travel 8 mi. East on Brainerd Rd., turn right on London Ln., for 2.8 mi., turn left on Mt. Vernon Rd., for 4 mi. Turn left on Old Apison Rd., for 0.7 mi. turn left on Red Clay Park Rd., travel 1.5 mi. to park entrance.