Saturday, July 9, 2011

Based upon historical records & DNA evidence of matching families, I believe my earliest known ancestor to be John Watts (ca.1720-1770), a veteran of the French & Indian War.  Unlike his early life, Watts’ career is well documented in historical records of the colonial era and gives us a very clear understanding of who he was.  Operating out of Charleston, South Carolina, Watts was a British commercial agent and translator, working directly with the Cherokee.  He was a minor figure in Anglo-Cherokee trade in the 1740s, but by the 1750s, he had become a leading British agent in charge of Native American relations.  He was present at almost every treaty signed between the Cherokee Nation and the British Government (including Augusta), and used his skills as an interpreter to foster peace between the two sides. 

In the early 1750s, Watts traveled to the so called “Ninety-Six”—a Cherokee settlement linking Charleston with the larger Appalachian trading zone.  He lived much of his life at Ninety-Six, where he took at least one Cherokee wife.  (Some sources indicate that he took 2 wives, which was not uncommon in Cherokee society at the time.  Cherokee chiefs would offer their princess daughters in marriage to influential white traders, as a means of further strengthening their prestige and influence.)  By all accounts, John Watts Sr. was very intelligent, spoke the Cherokee language fluently, and was well trusted by the Cherokee Nation, even leading the Cherokee 'Emperor' Old Hop on an official peace mission, and saving him from vicious attack at the hands of two roguish frontier traders. 

With the outbreak of the French & Indian War in 1754, Watts’ role became more important than ever, as the British Government desperately needed the Cherokee as allies against the French.  Working out of their base of operations in Quebec, the French had settled much of the Ohio River valley, and were pushing farther and farther south into the 13 British Colonies.  They were allied with strong Native American confederacies who knew and understood the land better than their European allies, so the British decided to employ the same tactic: fight Indians with Indians. 

To garner support for the war effort, Watts worked directly with Colonel John Stuart, a Scottish agent based in Charleston who directed the entire Indian trade in the south.  Together, they oversaw the construction of Fort Loudoun (today in Tennessee), where Watts served as official interpreter.  Fort Loudoun was designed as a refuge for Cherokee families while the husbands were on campaign against the French.  By this time, several whites had taken Cherokee wives, so there were many families of Anglo-Cherokee heritage in the fort.  Not content to sit out the war, Watts joined a Cherokee war party against the French, and his service to King & Country was even referenced in a letter by George Washington.  His importance to the Crown in the Southern Colonies cannot be overstated.

Watts died suddenly in 1770 of unknown causes, and was replaced by James Vann as official British interpreter.  The timing of his death allowed him to avoid the coming horror of the American Revolution, America’s first true civil war.  South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia saw the very worst of the fighting, as frontiersmen fought with guerrilla tactics and often savage cruelty.  Based upon historical records and modern estimates, 15-20% of Americans actively fought for the King during the Revolution, 35-40% actively fought for Congress, and the remaining 35-40% decided to sit the entire conflict out, hoping to avoid any entanglements.  Our family fit the first and last categories. 

One of Watts’ sons was Chief John Watts Jr. (1753-?), known as “Kunokeski” in Cherokee.  As ½ British, ½ Cherokee, Chief Watts Jr. feared (with good reason) the American frontiersmen who tried daily to take Cherokee lands, in direct violation of the King’s Proclamation of 1763.  (Having recently defeated the French in a costly war, the British hoped to maintain peace with the Cherokee and Iroquois Confederacy by preventing American settlers from crossing the Appalachian Mountains.  Many historians have cited this as one of the major causes of the Revolution and subsequent Indian wars.)

Like most mixed Anglo-Cherokee families, Chief Watts Jr. was referred to as “a known Loyalist”, and worked tirelessly to protect his people from frontier aggression.  Among his Cherokee relatives, he was described as the best ballplayer in the Cherokee nation, a lover of good food, good drink, and funny conversation.  Among European missionaries and American Government officials who met him, he was depicted as tall, good-looking, highly intelligent, humane, and a natural leader with a magnetic personality.  Indeed, Chief Watts Jr. was well-respected by both his allies and enemies during the American Revolution, and he fought bravely on the frontier of Tennessee near modern Knoxville.  He lived at Willstown, Alabama (Fort Payne), sometimes referred to as “Wattstown” in historic records.*It must be noted that the details of Chief John Watts' death have never been verified, and his final resting place is also mysterious.  One Watts researcher even put forward the hypothesis that Chief John is actually our John Watts Jr. (ca.1758-1842).  To be honest, I think this theory is certainly possible, given the proximity of their shared location in NE Alabama, close estimated dates of birth, and ethnic descriptions as mixed-race.  Moreover, Chief John says himself in letters to American officials that he was in hiding by the 1790s from some of his own people, due to his desire for peace "between the white & red man."  The Watts family became associated with the "Treaty Party"--those that favored peace with the US Government after the Chickamauga Wars.

Chief Watts Jr.’s sister (daughter of Watts Sr.) was named “Wur-teh” Watts.  She married a white merchant by the name of George Gist, and together they had one of the most famous Cherokee in history, Sequoyah.  (Watts Sr. was therefore the grandfather of Sequoyah.)  Sequoyah invented the Cherokee alphabet, fought against the Creeks, and settled in Oklahoma and Mexico.  His invention of the Cherokee alphabet was the first time in recorded history that an illiterate person independently created a method of writing for his people.      

As Watts Sr. was considered an honored member of Cherokee society, many sons bearing his name would have been born into the tribe.  John Watts Jr. (ca.1758-1842) is our direct link to him.  Like his brother (or half-brother) Chief John Watts Jr., our John Watts Jr. was ½ British and about ½ Cherokee *As stated above, our John Watts & Chief John Watts may in fact be the same person. See footnote in paragraph 8.  Like his father Watts Sr., the early parts of his life are mysterious, but we start to learn facts about him later on.  In Cherokee applications from several sources, John is referred to as "Sul-le-tesky"*Very similar phonetically to "Kunokeski" (Chief John Watts) in Cherokee, and "Old John" Watts in English, and even his son John Joseph Watts (1774-1847) was known as “Ches-too-lee” in Cherokee and spoke English and Cherokee fluently.  

Watts Jr. traveled from the Carolinas to northeast Alabama in 1828, bringing his son and grandson with him.  He was already 70 years old when he made the trip, so he must have had a strong constitution.  He and the rest of the Watts family settled near Wills Creek, AL, very near the heart of former Chickamauga Cherokee land.  Some of the other members of the family were not so lucky, as they were pushed off their land by the U.S. Government during the Trail of Tears and forcibly resettled in Arkansas and Oklahoma in the new Cherokee Nation. (James Watts, a direct descendant of Chief John Watts Jr., was born on the Trail of Tears near Calico Rock, Arkansas.  Some Watts families even decided to change their last name to Watson, probably in order to hide their Cherokee Loyalist background, or perhaps even to hide from anti-peace treaty Cherokee).*See footnote in Paragraph 8.  

Eli Watts (1795-1875) accompanied his father to Alabama in 1828.  He was a farmer and Indian trader by profession, and about ¼ Cherokee.  Tragically, he lost his wife and two sons in a fire.  Little more is currently known about his life.  He is buried in Whitesville, AL.

 Eli Watts’ son, Daniel Dodson Watts (1820-1901), accompanied his father and grandfather to Alabama when he was eight years old.  He was a farmer and a preacher by profession.  When the Civil War began, he joined the 48th Alabama Infantry Regiment and fought in several battles, including Chickamauga.  During his regiment’s advance under John Bell Hood, he was severely wounded and allowed to return home, disabled for life.  His son, James Britton Watts (1844-1907) provided the common Watts middle name, “Brittin”, and served during the entire Civil War, being paroled with Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House.  He later settled in Oklahoma and founded the small town of Watts Community, where he set up a schoolhouse. 

(Daniel and James Britton made the understandable mistake of thinking the Watts were German or Dutch, based upon the term “Black Dutch” being passed down verbally in the family.  In Colonial America, families of partial Cherokee ancestry described themselves as “Black Dutch” as a way to protect themselves from government persecution.  The original “Black Dutch” were Germans and Austrians from the Alps who had dark black hair and different features from their north German counterparts.  It then became a convenient term for Anglo-Cherokee families, but the original meaning was lost.  James Britton seems to have been sincere in his belief, since he named his own son German Watts (1875-1958).)

Daniel Oscar Watts (1867-1951) was the first Watts to live in Haleyville, AL.  He grew up near Sand Mountain, AL after the Civil War.  His brother, James Britton Watts must have been very important to him, as he decided to name his son Huey after him.  Huey Brittin Watts Sr. (1910-1994) was the first Watts born in Haleyville, AL and is buried in Union City, TN. 

His son, Huey Brittin Watts Jr. (Living), was born in Haleyville, AL.  He is a Marine Corps Veteran, having served as a typist during the conflict, a lifetime employee of CSX train shipping company, and an avid vegetable gardener.  He lived in Alabama, Georgia, and Kentucky, before finally settling in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area in 1986.   

Perry Brittin Watts (Living) was born in 1958 in Anniston, AL, and grew up in Decatur, GA, and Lexington, KY.  He is an alumnus of Eastern Kentucky University, and a lifetime employee of Delta Airlines.  Early in his career, he lived in Miami, FL, and traveled throughout Europe on trips.  He finally settled in the Atlanta Metropolitan Area.  He is an avid Disney enthusiast and a college football fan.

Matthew Brittin Watts was born in 1986, and his brother, Zachary Henderson Watts, was born in 1993, both in Atlanta, Georgia.  Matthew is a French Teacher & Soccer Coach, a University of Alabama alumnus, and the compiler of the Watts Family Genealogy.  Zachary Watts is a student at Kennesaw State University majoring in Sports Medicine, an avid drummer, and a pipe enthusiast.  He also frequently plays drums at local churches.     

Family Pedigree
John Watts Sr. (ca.1720-1770)
John Watts Jr. (ca.1758-1842)
Eli Watts (1795-1875)
Daniel Dodson Watts (1820-1901)
Daniel Oscar Watts (1867-1951)
Huey Brittin Watts Sr. (1910-1994)
Huey Brittin Watts Jr. (Living)
Perry Brittin Watts (Living)
Matthew Brittin Watts (Living)/ Zachary Henderson Watts (Living)

DNA: R-L48 + This DNA marker is most common in the Netherlands, England, Germany, and Denmark.  Among people of English descent, is it usually associated with the Anglo-Saxon (Germanic) migrations of the 5th century A.D.

In the United Kingdom (including Ireland), the Watts surname is most common in the city of Bristol, England.  Historically, many Watts families came from County Somerset, right on the border of Bristol.  This region of England is known as “The West Country”, located at the heart of the medieval Kingdom of Wessex, where King Alfred the Great resisted the Danish Vikings.  During the Colonial Period, Bristol became a major port for English tobacco merchants traveling between England and Virginia, and the city’s harbour was heavily involved in shipbuilding.  An oral tradition of the family of John Joseph “Ches-too-lee” Watts (1774-1847) states that the Watts came from English shipbuilders, which seems to be supported by both historical and population data.