German utopian wanted a community in Cherokee
Note: This is the second of a two-part series about Christian Priber, an utopian socialist whose beliefs — including free love — caused him in the mid-1730s to “flee” from Germany and eventually into the Southern Appalachians, where he intended with the aid of the Cherokee, to establish a Kingdom of Paradise in which those beliefs could be implemented.
Many of his contemporaries and present-day historians have suspected that Priber was a Jesuit spy of some sort, but it’s 99.9 percent certain he was an early 18th century German idealist on the run.
In 1742, at Great Tellico — a Cherokee town located in present-day east Tennessee — Antoine Bellofoy, a French prisoner recently captured by the Cherokees, told Priber that:
“… for 20 years he had been working to put into execution the plan about which he had talked to us; that seven or eight years before he had been obliged to flee his country, where they wished to arrest him for having desired to put his project into execution; that he had gone over to England, and from there to Carolina, and had also been obliged to depart thence for the same reason, 18 months after having arrived there; that having found among the ‘Cherakis’ sure refuge he had been working there for four years upon the establishment which he had been planning for twenty.”
James Adair, an influential trader and historian who knew Priber, noted that he arrived in Tellico “adorned with every qualification that constitutes a gentleman but soon after he arrived at the upper towns … he exchanged his clothes and every thing he brought with him, and by that means, made friends with the head warriors of great Telliko, etc. [and] established Moytoy [head man at Tellico who befriended him as] Emperor and himself as Secretary of State or Prime Minister.”
Priber wanted the town of Coosawattee in northwest Georgia to be the capital of his kingdom, because it was situated in “better land.” And he also insisted the land historically had been Cherokee rather than Creek as it was in the 1730s.
What did the Cherokees hope to gain out of all this maneuvering? Among other things, Priber taught them weights and measures, which infuriated the British who had been short-changing the Indians in every trade for decades. And he also set about establishing political alliances with the French that would be unfavorable to the British “Paradise” was to be mainly comprised of Cherokees but anybody, even Creek and Catawba Indians as well as escaped black slaves capable of instigating riots, were to be welcomed.
As early as 1739 the British in Charleston offered 402 pounds to Colonel Joseph Fox to find Priber among the Cherokee and return him to the city. The reward was to be paid by the English Board of Trade. Priber was eventually captured by the Creek Indians and turned over to Captain Richard Kent of the Georgia Rangers. When he was transferred to Governor Oglethorpe at Fort Frederica on the Georgia coast. Priber reputedly had a Cherokee dictionary written “in his own hand.” It is not known what happened to the work, which was reported missing at the time of Priber’s death in the mid-1740s.
James Adair observed that “after bearing his misfortunes a considerable time with great constance, happily for us, he died in confinement, — though he deserved a much better fate.”