Home for Christmas
There are few sights in the old Cherokee Nation that are as heartwarming as Diamond Hill in full Christmas trim. The home built by the legendary James Vann at Spring Place was without doubt a showplace, and one can imagine that an invitation to a Christmas party here would have been one of the most desirable on the Cherokee social calendar.
The house sits on a small knoll and has a commanding view of the surrounding landscape. It is visible for some distance on the road and coveys a feeling of solidity and permanence as one approaches. It feels like home even if one has never lived there.
James Vann was (and is) a somewhat controversial figure, but that is to be expected of a man of his caliber. He was a warrior of some renown in his younger years. And by the time of the building of Diamond Hill, he was by some accounts the richest man on the eastern seaboard, Indian or otherwise. A man of outsized ambitions and appetites, one might say he was a hard drinking, hard loving, hard fighting sort of man. Most accounts agree though that he was very generous to the poor and to his friends.
If we travel down the memory road in our minds, we can go back there once more. Gentlemen on horseback and high-class ladies with their daughters in carriages drawn by the finest horses the nation could produce, arriving to the greetings of James and his Lady dressed in the latest fashions from London and Paris. Mr. Vann spared no expense in ensuring that the hospitality of his home was second to none.
A cellar under the house was stocked with the best wines France could supply, James operated his own still to guarantee a steady supply of the harder stuff. Peach and apple trees provided the raw materiel for hard ciders and brandies. The table was set with the finest China, crystal, and silver plate Mr. Vann’s vast trading network could import.
From the fields and smokehouses and kitchens of Spring Place, the guests would have enjoyed a repast that would have driven King George to envy. Afterward the guests would have been entertained with carols and reels, and other music of the day. The gentlemen would have been engaged in discussion of the political issues of the day.
The guest list would have included a who’s who of Cherokee society. The Rosses, the Ridges, the Rogers’, the Watts’, Pathkiller, the Principle Chief at the time would have stopped by at some point, out of political courtesy if nothing else.
There is little doubt that an event at James Vann’s house would have been enjoyable and stimulating. Given James’s larger than life personality, an event at his house would have been anything but boring. Regardless of anything else James Vann might have been, he was every inch a Cherokee, and considering that hospitality is a cardinal virtue of Cherokee culture. Mr. Vann would have made every effort to ensure that his guests were made welcome and fed like family.
When we visit Spring Place today, whether for an event or a candlelight tour, if we let our minds drift, we can almost hear the voices from the past echoing across the decades. We are encouraged to learn the lessons of history, and perhaps to apply those lessons to our time. To consider how we should conduct ourselves in the present based on the lessons of our ancestors from the past.
Spring Place today stands as a monument to the abilities of the Cherokee to adapt to changing times. And not just to adapt, but to overcome, to succeed and to prosper. For myself, when I’m returning from a long trip, I come over the hill, I see Spring Place, and then I know I’m home for Christmas.
Fulton Arrington is the president of the Friends of the New Echota State Historic Site. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.