Joseph Vann, Principal Chief

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Joseph Vann, Principal Chief

Also Known As: "Rich Joe Vann"
Birthplace: Spring Place, GA
Death: Died in New Albany, IN
Immediate Family:

Son of Chief James Vann and Nancy Brown
Father of Delia Brewer
Brother of Mary Ga-ho-ga Vann
Half brother of Robert B. Vann; Delilah Amelia McNair; Jane Ann Vann; James Emeri Vann; Abner Harrison Vann and 11 others

Managed by: Pam Wilson
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Joseph Vann, Principal Chief

Joseph H. Vann, (11 February 1798 – 23 October 1844). He was a Cherokee leader who owned Diamond Hill (now known as the Chief Vann House), many slaves, taverns, and steamboats that he operated on the Arkansas, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers. He born at Spring Place, Georgia on February 11, 1798. Joseph and his sister Mary were children of James Vann and Nannie Brown, both mixed-blood Cherokees. James Vann had several other wives and children. The grandparents were Joseph Vann, a Scottish trader who came from the Province of South Carolina, and Cherokee Mary Christiana (Wah-Li or Wa-wli Vann). Young Joseph was his father's favorite child and primary recipient of his father's estate and wealth. Joseph, 11 years old, was in the room when his father, James, was murdered, in Buffington’s Tavern in 1809 near the site of the family-owned ferry. Before he was killed, James Vann was a powerful chief in the Cherokee Nation and wanted Joseph to inherit the wealth that he had built instead of his wives, but Cherokee law stipulated that the home go to his wife, Peggy, while his possessions and property were to be divided among his children.

Eventually the Cherokee council granted Joseph the inheritance in line with his father's wish; this included 2,000 acres (8.1 km2) of land, trading posts, river ferries, and the Vann House in Spring Place, Georgia. Joseph also inherited his father's gold and deposited over $200,000 in gold in a bank in Tennessee. After being evicted from his father's mansion home "Diamond Hill" in 1834, Joseph moved his large family (he had two wives) and business operations to Tennessee, where he established a large plantation on the Tennessee River near the mouth of Ooltewah Creek that became the center of a settlement called Vann's Town (later the site of Harrison, Tennessee). In 1837 ptior to the main Cherokee Removal, he transported a few hundred Cherokee men, women, children, slaves and horses aboard a flotilla of flat boats to Webber's Falls on the Arkansas River in Indian Territory. There Vann constructed a replica of his lost Georgia mansion. Unfortunately, this building was later destroyed during the American Civil War.

After the Removal, Joseph Vann was chosen the first Assistant Chief of the united Cherokee Nation under the new 1839 Constitution that was created in Indian Territory (Oklahoma), serving with Principal Chief John Ross. Actually, the Assistant Principal Chief was Joseph "Tenulte" Vann, son of Avery Vann and probably a cousin of "Rich Joe" Vann. In 1842, 35 slaves of Joseph Vann, Lewis Ross, and other wealthy Cherokees at Webbers Falls, fled in a futile attempt to escape to Mexico, but were quickly recaptured by a Cherokee possee. The participants in this near slave revolt received physical punishments, but none were killed. Some of these slaves served as crew members of Vann's steamboat, a namesake of his favorite race horse "Lucy Walker".

On October 23, 1844, the steamboat Lucy Walker departed Louisville, Kentucky, bound for New Orleans. Below New Albany, the vessel blew up when one or more boilers blew up, killing the majority of the passengers and among them the owner and captain.

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Joseph Vann, Principal Chief's Timeline

February 11, 1798
Spring Place, GA
October 23, 1844
Age 46
New Albany, IN