In the early 1970’s, Dr. Jacob Bronowski defined the “Ascent of Man” and the levels of human development. He recognized that the “Amerindian” had reached the level of civilization that the Europeans were so proud of over one thousand years before Columbus set sail for the “New World”. He wrote, “At the birth of Christ, the huntsmen were settling to agriculture in the Canyon de Chelly, and starting along the same steps in the ascent of man that had first been taken in the Fertile Crescent of the Middle East.”
The Cherokee had advanced beyond hunter-gathering, and the nomadic way of life and settled into an agrarian society long before the Europeans arrived. They had a sophisticated form of government in which the executive branch was shared by a peace chief and a war chief; a type of congress composed of clan elders; and a judicial branch made up of the Beloved Women. They built sophisticated daub and waddle houses in villages protected by fort-like walls and an advanced military. They were farmers and hunters with an effective healthcare system and an advanced religion.
In my estimate, the Europeans only brought advanced arrogance and greed with them to America, not an advanced culture. Driven by greed and blinded by arrogance, the settlers and colonists looked upon the advanced cultures of Native Americans and saw only savages ripe for plunder. It would appear that only under the administrations of Washington and Adams after the formation of the United States, were the Native Americans shown any respect. Benjamin Franklin stated, “Savages we call them, because their manners differ from ours, which we think the perfection of civility; they think the same of theirs.”
But even Washington and Adams expected the Native Americans to put away their cultures and adopt the Euro-American culture. Washington and Adams and many of the founding fathers saw Native Americans as human beings who only needed time to “catch up” culturally.
But there were many more that looked at Native Americans and saw only savages standing in the way of progress. Perhaps the author Dickens said it most clearly when he wrote, “To come to the point at once, I beg to say that I have not the least belief in the Noble Savage. I consider him a prodigious nuisance and an enormous superstition. … I don’t care what he calls me. I call him a savage, and I call a savage a something highly desirable to be civilized off the face of the earth….”
Grace Steele Woodward, in her book “The Cherokees”, wrote, “It is small wonder that [Andrew] Jackson, heartily disliking President Washington, suggested his impeachment. Land speculators of Jackson’s caliber constituted one of President Washington’s gravest problems. Notified by Knox at the beginning of his term that in some instances speculators were paying less than one cent an acre for ill-gained Cherokee land, Washington threatened to send the regular army to the Indian country to uphold the Indians’ rights. To avert this, the Treaty of Holston was negotiated.”
Summary of the treaty’s agreements (Wikipedia):
- Establishment of perpetual peace and friendship between the two peoples.
- Cherokees acknowledge protection of United States.
- Prisoners of war to be restored.
- Boundaries established between the Cherokee lands and the United States.
- Stipulation of a road by the United States.
- United States to regulate trade.
- Guarantees by the United States that the lands of the Cherokee people have not been ceded to the United States.
- No U.S. citizens may settle within the Cherokee lands; those who do may be punished by the Cherokee.
- No U.S. citizens may hunt within the Cherokee lands.
- The Cherokee must deliver up criminals to the United States.
- U.S. citizens committing crimes within the Cherokee areas are to be punished.
- Retaliation restrained by both nations.
- Cherokees to give notice of pending attacks by other tribes against the United States.
- United States to make presents to the Cherokees for the promotion of having the Cherokees take up an agrarian culture.
- Both peoples to cease any animosities held against each other.
- increased the annuities paid by the United States to the Cherokee leaders
At this point, the Cherokee had been pushed far enough west to temporarily isolate them from colonial advancement and with their rights protected by the fair-minded President Washington, the Cherokee enjoyed peace for nearly a generation. In this short period of peace, the Cherokee made enormous advances toward acculturation, giving up centuries of tradition to adopt the farming and life-style of the European-American culture. U. S. schools were teaching Cherokee children the language and customs of the white man and the Cherokee were prospering.
Grace Steele Woodward wrote, “But, ironically, the Cherokees’ phenomenal advancement–unparalleled between 1819-27 by any of the other American aborigines–hastened, instead of deterred, enforcement of the Compact [The Compact of 1802 was made by U.S. president Thomas Jefferson to the state of Georgia paying the state 1.25 million U.S. dollars for its central and western lands and promising to extinguish American Indian land titles in Georgia.] For upon perceiving the Cherokees’ advancement, which, in some respects, outpaced her own, Georgia flew into a mighty rage. Denouncing the Cherokees as savages, Georgia abandoned both dignity and ethics and through her government, press, and courts began, in 1820, a vicious attack upon the Cherokees that was to continue for eighteen years. … But Georgia’s tactics did not deter the Cherokees from carrying forward their program of educating, Christianizing, and governing the Nation by the white man’s methods and standards.”
Born into this world, the son of a prominent Cherokee family, Elias Boudinot, born Gallegina Uwati, and known as Buck Watie, studied hard and was recognized for his accomplishments. In 1817 the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions opened the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut for educating promising students from American Indian cultures. In 1818 Cornelius selected, Elias Boudinot (Gallegina Watie) and a few others to go to the Foreign Mission School. The school was well-received by the prominent families of Cornwall and Elias and his cousin John Ridge were, at first, made to feel welcome and accepted. But, they were soon to learn the true feelings of these families when John ridge married a local young white woman, Susan B. Northrup, and Boudinot started courting one of the schools most prominent supporters, Harriet R. Gold.
When Boudinot and Gold first announced their engagement, it was vehemently opposed by her family and the Congregational Church. Local citizens protested. Gold’s persistence finally gained her parents’ permission and they were married on March 28, 1826 at her home. Again from Woodward, “Both of these mixed-blood Cherokee had attended the mission school at Cornwall, Connecticut, and both married Cornwall girls. … thereby incurring the wrath of Cornwall’s bluestocking citizenry to the extent of the closing the mission school and burning John Ridge and his bride in effigy.”
It was a brutal reminder of the hostility inherent in the Georgia citizenry. In 1828, Boudinot was selected by the General Council of the Cherokee to be the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first Native American newspaper. It published in Cherokee and English, to showcase Cherokee achievements as well as to build unity within the Nation and the United States. But the concept of relocating Native Americans west of the Mississippi was gaining momentum and one year later, relocation advocate, Andrew Jackson, was elected president of the United States sealing the fate of Cherokee.