As the fever of independence was growing amongst the colonists of North America, so was the fever of expansion. In the late eighteenth century, the Cherokee found themselves in a perpetual struggle to hang on to their ancestral lands while trying to deal with and appease their long-time trading partners, the British. When the colonists declared their independence and went to war against Britain, the Cherokee were faced with a no-win decision. Should they side with the colonists who were blatantly stealing their land or side with the British who they had a trade agreement with? They chose to honor their agreement and side with the British.
After the colonists won their independence, they held bitter grievances against the Cherokee and many retaliated with fierce, vengeful violence. Of course, there is reason to believe, based on past relations, that siding with the colonists would not have saved them from the greedy encroachment of the settlers coveting their fertile lands. But their alliance with Britain fueled the colonists’ avarice.
The first treaty with the new nation was concluded at Hopewell in South Carolina, November 28, 1785. According to James Mooney, “Nearly one thousand Cherokee attended … The instrument was signed by thirty-seven chiefs and principal men, representing nearly as many different towns. … Hostilities where to cease and the Cherokee were taken under the protection of the United States.”
But hostilities failed to cease as thousands of intruders continued to try to settle the Cherokee lands. Battles raged on through the end of the century. Again Mooney reports, “With the hostile European influence thus eliminated, at least for the time, the warlike tribes on the north and the south crushed and dispirited and the Chicamauga towns wiped out of existence, the Cherokee realized that they must accept the situation and, after nearly twenty years of continuous warfare, laid aside the tomahawk to cultivate the arts of peace and civilization.”
Fortunately, not everyone in the new United States viewed the Native Americans as sub-human savages. George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, and others saw the indigenous people as noble savages ripe for acculturation. The remaining lands of the Cherokee were remote enough to allow the Cherokee to remain independent over the next several decades. During this time, George Washington appointed Benjamin Hawkins to be the Indian Agent in charge of civilizing the Southeastern Indians through programs designed for acculturation.
George Washington formulated a six-point plan to encourage the “civilizing” process, which included,
- impartial justice toward Native Americans
- regulated buying of Native American lands
- promotion of commerce
- promotion of experiments to civilize or improve Native American society
- presidential authority to give presents
- punishing those who violated Native American rights.
The Cherokee seemed to be ready, for the sake of peace, to abandon their traditional ways of life. In her book, The Cherokee, Grace Steele Woodward wrote, “‘To live so that we might have gray hairs on our heads’ had long been the Little Turkey’s ambitious desire for his people. And now that President Washington–by the Treaty of Holston–had shown a high regard for Cherokee rights, the Little Turkey’s wish was to come true. … When in Philadelphia in 1791–92, Bloody Fellow had unabashedly reminded Secretary of War Knox:
“‘The treaty mentions ploughs, hoes, cattle, and other things for a farm; this is what we want; game is going fast away among us. We must plant corn and raise cattle, and we desire you to assist us. … We came to Philadelphia with our eyes full of tears. But since we have seen General Washington, and heard him speak through you, our tears are wiped away, and we rejoice in the prospect of our future welfare, under the protection of Congress.'”
Woodward continues, “Hawkins found Cherokee women in the Pine Log settlements also eager to learn how to spin and weave cotton into cloth. They told Hawkins that they had made some cotton, and would make more ‘and follow the instruction of the agent and the advice of the President.’ Eager to impress Hawkins with what they could do, Pine Log women showed him the baskets of cane which they had made, patterned after those of their forebears. ‘The dies of the splits were good and workmanship not surpassed in the United States by white people,’ Hawkins commented.”
Under the acculturation policies of Presidents Washington and Adams, the Cherokee continued to turn away from their traditional lifestyles and make great strides toward becoming “civilized”, European-style.