Fort Hembree historical marker

Fort Hembree (Q-15)

One of the forts where General Winfield Scott's United States forces gathered the Cherokee before moving them west, stood 3/4 mi. N.W.

Location: US 64 Business (Main Street) in Hayesville
County: Clay
Original Date Cast: 1939

In 1830 Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, setting the stage for the removal of Cherokees from western North Carolina and the chapter of history known as the Trail of Tears. In 1835 a small group of Cherokees signed a treaty with the United States government in New Echota, Georgia, ceding all remaining land in the southeastern United States. The treaty led the federal government under President Andrew Jackson to order the forced removal of the native people and their resettlement on Cherokee territory in Oklahoma. The forced removal was dangerous and often deadly for the Cherokee, who protested throughout that the treaty was nullified by the signers’ lack of authority.

President Martin Van Buren upheld President Jackson’s orders, and in April 1838 ordered General Winfield Scott to orchestrate the move. Scott, a veteran commander, was ordered to conduct around 15,000 Cherokee people to land west of the Mississippi River. Supported by over 5,000 militia and other troops, General Scott forcibly evacuated the Cherokee people to temporary camps.

Camps constructed in western North Carolina were built poorly and quickly. The forts served as temporary internment camps, where most Cherokees remained for only a few days, although some people stayed for up to two weeks. The disease was widespread and epidemics of dysentery, bilious fever, measles, and whooping cough were common. The Cherokee practiced traditional medicine unsuccessfully against the diseases. Over 1,500 Cherokee people died in the camps, before beginning their trip to Oklahoma.

Scott set up his headquarters in New Echota in Georgia, and the 7,000 troops under his command for the removal operation-built forts throughout the region. In North Carolina, the forts included Fort Lindsay on the south side of the Little Tennessee River, Fort Montgomery at present-day Robbinsville, Fort Hembree at present-day Hayesville, and Fort Butler at present-day Murphy.

Fort Hembree, alternately spelled Fort Hembrie, was located near the site of present-day Hayesville in Clay County. Hayesville developed on the former site of Fort Hembree, serving as the county seat of Clay County since its incorporation in 1891. Fort Hembree served as a gathering point for Cherokee in the northern and central parts of present-day Clay County. From Fort Hembree the Cherokee were moved west to Tennessee and beyond.

William G. McLoughlin, After the Trail of Tears (1993)
William S. Powell, North Carolina Gazetteer (1968)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina (2006)
John Preston Arthur, Western North Carolina History from 1730-1913 (1915)
Cherokee Heritage Trails website:

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