The year 1828 was a major turning point for the Cherokee people and the preservation of Cherokee culture. It was the year that Andrew Jackson was elected president of the United States. President George Washington had initiated an almost forty year era of peace between the United States and the Cherokee Nation. In that short time, the Cherokee people had generally adopted the acculturation programs of Washington and had moved rapidly toward adopting the Euro-American way of life.
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.”
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.
Over the centuries, since the Cherokee people’s first contact with Europeans, there have been many attempts to preserve the pre-Columbian culture. It seems that the more passionate attempts met with the most tragic demise while the more casual and indirect acquaintances have survived. I point to the encounters and reports by European adventurers, traders, priests or ethnographers whose works, notes, and books have successfully preserved hints of the culture, albeit from a foreign perspective. James Adair is a prime example.