James Vann (February 1768 – February 19, 1809), half Cherokee, half Scottish, was the son of a fur trader surnamed Vann (James, Clement, or John Joseph; various sources name a different brother) and the Cherokee Wah-Li. He was born on Spring Place in February 1768. He was a former warrior and grandson of Moytoy II, Vann was one of the most influential Cherokee leaders of his time and a member of the Cherokee triumvirate in the Upper Towns of East Tennessee and North Georgia in particular, the other two being his protégés Charles R. Hicks and The Ridge.
During the Chickamauga Wars, Vann was thought to have been involved in the Brown family incident of 1788, and was one of the leaders of John Watts' offensive against the Holston River settlements which was originally aimed at White's Fort, then capital of the Southwest Territory, as Tennessee was then known. On the way to their goal, he argued that only the men there should be killed when another leader, Doublehead, argued for the mass slaughter of all involved. Not long after this, the war party of over one thousand Cherokee and Muskogee came upon a small settlement called Cavett's Station. Bob Benge, at the time one of the most feared warriors of the Chickamauga Cherokee, negotiated, honestly, the surrender of the captives on the condition none would be harmed. When they came out, Doublehead's contingent began killing them indiscriminately over the protests of Benge, Vann, and even Watts, who managed to save one boy, giving him to Vann, who place him on his saddle behind him. Doublehead seized the boy and split his head with a tomahawk, for which Vann dubbed him "Babykiller", a moniker he used for the remainder of Doublehead's life. This was the beginning of a feud between the two which influenced much of the politics of the Cherokee of the time.
James was the richest man in the Cherokee Nation. He built the Vann House in 1804 along the Federal Road at Spring Place, Georgia near Chatsworth, which was itself built largely due to him. To take advantage of his location, he built a tavern and store nearby, and a ferry across the Conasauga River. He also owned Vann's ferry, a ferry that crossed the Chattahoochee River near Atlanta. Later he opened up a trading post near the present Huntsville, Alabama. He owned more than 100 slaves and hundreds of acres of farmland. A good example of the extent of his wealth: when the federal agent to the Cherokee living at Calhoun, Tennessee, Return J. Meigs, Jr., found out the government had misrouted its annuity payment to the Cherokee for lands surrendered in treaty to New Orleans instead, Meigs turned to his friend, Vann, for help; Vann made the payment in full out of his own pocket and was comfortable enough to wait for Meigs to pay him back once they'd retrieved their original allotment. James Vann's property included the land about the mouth of Ooltewah (Wolftever) Creek in the modern Hamilton County, Tennessee which became the seat of county government later known as Harrison but originally called Vann's Town, which also had another of Vann's Ferries.
Vann had a number of consorts living in the Cherokee Nation; after his death there were several persons who claimed to be his children, and after thorough investigation by the Cherokee government, twelve were validated. Through his influence, a school and Christian mission operated by the Moravian Brethren was built at Spring Place, with students from throughout the Cherokee Nation.
In national politics, he led the so-called "young chiefs", some of whom could hardly be called young, who rebelled against the oligarchy of those, primarily from the Lower Towns, referred to as the "old chiefs" although not all of them were old, who were led by his archnemesis Doublehead. His feud with Doublehead ended in 1807, when his antagonist was shot to death on charges (true) that he'd sold Cherokee land secretly for his own profit; the assassins were The Ridge and Alexander Saunders; Vann himself was supposed to have done the deed but was too drunk to manage it. He also established the Lighthorse Patrol of mounted "regulators" to patrol the roads through the Nation, and it was after he had himself been riding one of these for a week that he was shot to death at Buffington’s Tavern in February 19, 1809. His body is buried in or near Blackburn cemetery, Forsyth County, Georgia.
Before his murder, he was known as both a hero and a rogue. He was responsible for bringing the Moravian missionaries into the Cherokee Nation to build churches and schools, yet he killed his brother-in-law in a duel, fired a pistol at dinner guests through the bannister from an upstairs bedroom, and once even shot at his own mother. He was extremely generous with his money to those in need, but ruthlessly cruel and brutal to any who he felt crossed him. Vann could often be especially brutal to his slaves. One of his slaves, Isaac, James caught stealing and burned alive within hearing of the Moravian missionaries, who had attempted to dissuade him.
His primary heir, and the one who received the Spring Place plantation (Vann House), was his son Joseph "Rich Joe" Vann.
An extremely fictionalized version of his life—under another name in which he kills Chief Doublehead and later is killed at the battle of Horseshoe Bend—called Creek Mary's Blood was written by author Dee Brown (writer)-.