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The Memoirs of Lieut. Henry Timberlake (1765)



The Memoirs of Lieut. Henry Timberlake. By Henry Timberlake; 1765; London.

These memoirs of the Anglo-American colonial officer Lieutenant Henry Timberlake focus on the last seven years of his life, and specifically his work as emissary to the Cherokee Indians, including a remarkable journey made in 1762 with three Cherokee leaders to London to meet King George III.

In 1760, relations between the British and the Cherokee people became hostile when several Cherokee chiefs were imprisoned and killed in South Carolina. A year later, Cherokee Chief Kanagatucko asked for peace and for an officer to accompany him home as a sign that the hostilities had ended. The man who volunteered for the job was Henry Timberlake. Having first traveled with Chief Kanagatucko to the town of Tomotley where he met Chief Ostenaco, he later arranged for Ostenaco and two other Cherokee leaders to travel to London in 1762 after Ostenaco expressed a wish to meet King George III. Timberlake describes a near cultural faux-pas between the two leaders:

They were struck with the youth, person and grandeur of his majesty, and conceived as great an opinion of his affability as of his power, the greatness of which may be seen on my telling them in what manner to behave; for finding Ostenaco preparing his pipe to smoke with his majesty, according to the Indian custom of declaring friendship, I told him he must neither offer to shake hands or smoke with the King, as it was an honour for the greatest of our nation to kiss his hand. You are in the right, says he, for he commands over all next to the Man above, and nobody is his equal.

He also tells of the Cherokee’s encounter with British alcohol:

Once, in particular, one of the young Indians got extremely intoxicated, and committed several irregularities, that ought rather to be attributed to those that enticed them, than to the simple Indians, who drank only to please them. I cannot indeed cite sobriety as their characteristic; but this I can say, these excesses never happened at home.

The trip went well, and in 1764 the Cherokees again traveled to London with the hopes of appealing to the king to restrict colonists to east of the Appalachians as the settlers were encroaching on Cherokee land. However, this second trip was unsuccessful. The Cherokee were refused an audience and sent back in March 1765, with Timberlake remaining in London as he was arrested for failing to pay the bill for the lodging of himself and the Cherokees. Indeed, it was probably while he was incarcerated that Timberlake wrote these memoirs, which later became a valuable source of information regarding the Cherokee people and their beliefs and customs. Timberlake died the same year of publication, a brief newspaper obituary being glued opposite the title page in the copy featured above.

Housed at: Internet Archive | From: University of Pittsburgh Library System
Underlying Work: PD Worldwide | Digital Copy: Pending Clarification
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Engraving, by unknown artist, of the three Cherokees to visit London in 1762 (Chief Ostenaco in the centre). The shadowy figure on the left is their interpreter William Shorey who died on route, so the caption claims, by poisoning, though Timberlake states he died from consumption – Source.