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John Ross and the Cherokee Indians
Chapter III - The Coming of the Missionaries


With the exception of the work done by Priber and the Federal Government, no outside aid had been given the Cherokees and no effort was made to civilize or Christianize them before the end of the eighteenth century. A writer of the times declares that, "to the shame of the Christian name no pains have ever been taken to convert them to Christianity."' On the other hand their morals were perverted by contact with some of the worst vices of the white man. Chief of these was intoxicating liquors, which wrought sad havoc with the tribe corrupting morals and government until strict laws were passed by the Council prohibiting its importation under a penalty of forfeiture to natives, and forfeiture and a fine of $100 for outsiders. Indeed it has proven a curse and a blight to these Indians even down to the present generation.

The first mission station in the Cherokee Nation was established in 1801 by the Moravians and grew out of a desire on the part of the Cherokees to educate their children rather than an eagerness to embrace a new religion. This peaceful sect of German Christians had established a settlement on the Upper Yadkin about 1752. During the Indian wars Cherokee chiefs, who had been hospitably received by them, expressed a desire that teachers be sent to their people and the evangelizing of that tribe had never been lost sight of by the brethren. In 1799 two missionaries from this place visited the Cherokees to investigate the question. As a result the next year a council was held at Tellico Agency and after much discussion, in which considerable opposition was expressed, permission was granted the missionaries to start a school. The Rev. Abraham Steiner and Gottlieb Byham began to hold religious services in the home of David Vann, a mixed-blood Cherokee of progressive ideas, but on account of various difficulties the school was not started promptly. At the Great Council held at Oostinaleh a few miles distant, it was declared that the Cherokee Nation wanted educators, not theologians and unless the missionaries could open a school within six months they should leave the nation. With the encouragement of Agent Meigs and the assistance of Vann and Charles Hicks the school was finally built, Vann donating a part of his farm as a location, lodging the missionaries while the mission was building, and lending substantial aid in the construction of the house. The school was opened in due time and the children of some prominent chiefs soon enrolled as students. In 1805 Reverend and Mrs. John Gambold took charge at Spring Place where they remained until Mrs. Gambold's death fifteen years later.

In 1804, the Presbyterians followed the Moravians and established a school at Maryville, Tennessee, with the Reverend Gideon Blackburn at its head, while the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions established, in 1817, the famous Baptist School at Brainard Mission from which Missionary Ridge took its name. A great religious revival swept over the country beginning about 1818, but up to that time there were remarkably few conversions to the Chrlstiah religion, those of Catherine Brown, the first Cherokee convert, Margaret Vann, wife of David Vann, and Charles Hicks, later to become, for a short time, principal chief of the nation, being the most notable.

The missionaries worked side by side with their pupils, their instruction being thus practical as well as theoretical, and industrial as' well as religious. They in this way gained a very strong hold upon the natives, and their influence among them for good is not easily estimated. To them is due in large part the splendid school system which the Cherokees were able to build up and maintain in after years In the wilderness beyond the Mississippi.

Intermarriage of the Cherokees with Europeans dates back to early colonial times. Until the end of the eighteenth century It was confined chiefly to white men, but after that time several white women married into the tribe. The Intermarried white men were usually traders or officers and soldiers of the frontier forts with a few men from the back settlements, and were of good English, Scotch or Irish or Huguenot stock. The Dougherties, Vanns, Rogers, Gunters, Wards and McDonalds are among their descendants. By the begin-sing of the nineteenth century the mixed population with civilized ideas was one of the dominant political forces among the Cherokees which made itself felt in the reorganization of the government from 1808 to 1827.

The opening of highways In the Indian country was another tremendous influence for civilization, though like most other innovations of the white man, they were bitterly resented by the conservative Indians. By 1816, however, treaties had been arranged permitting the opening of all roads necessary for intercourse between Tennessee, Georgia and the territory lying directly west of them, for the convenience of travellers. For the same purpose general stores and public houses of entertainment were built at intervals along these roads which proved a source of considerable income to the owners, who were natives of the nation. The opening of highways through this country brought the whole nation more closely in touch with the outside world and, by stimulating trade and encouraging the accumulation of property, prepared the way for further development.

Negro slavery also had its part in the history of the development of the Cherokees. The first of the slaves were run-away negroes from the Virginia and Carolina settlements, whom the Indians appropriated to their own use in cultivating their fields. They proved so profitable that others were bought from the settlers from time to time and slavery gradually became a settled institution of the tribe. In their relations with their slaves it is to the credit of the Cherokees that their treatment of them was so humane that slaves preferred living in the nation to residence in the United States, and that there was rarely ever an intermixture of Cherokee and African blood. In 1825 there were one thousand two hundred and seventy-seven negro slaves in the Cherokee Nation." By their help farming, especially the raising of cotton, developed more rapidly than it would have done under native labor, and more leisure and opportunity for culture were given to both men and women.

The beginning of the westward emigration among the Cherokees is shrouded in legend and tradition. The story of the Lost Cherokees indicates that a part of the tribe migrated beyond the Father of Waters at a very early time. It is probable that bands of hunters visited the western prairies at intervals before the discovery of America by Europeans. Wars with the settlers, discontent over land cessions and intrusion of whites upon their domains led small bands to migrate into Spanish territory, where a settlement was made on the St. Francis River in Arkansas; later they removed to a tract of land between the Arkansas and the White Rivers, and in 1803 came under the control of the Federal Government.

Jefferson, in order to validate the Louisiana Purchase and justify himself in the eyes of his strict construction constituents, thinking he saw light in the direction of Indian removal, drew up a rough draft of a constitutional amendment which had for its central idea the removal of all the Indian tribes to the newly acquired territory. On his recommendation an appropriation of $15,000 was made by Congress as the preliminary step towards bringing about this result. When, in 1808, a delegation of Cherokees was about to visit Washington to ask for an adjustment of their differences and a more equitable distribution of annuities, the Secretary of War wrote Agent Meigs to embrace every occasion for sounding the chiefs on the subject of the removal of the whole tribe. A considerable difference existed at this time between the Upper and Lower Cherokees; the former were chiefly farmers while the latter, still hunters, were beginning to feel themselves hedged in by the narrowing boundaries of their hunting grounds. Differences of opinion growing out of these differences in occupations led to discontent. In May, 1808, a delegation of Upper Cherokees arrived in Washington, requesting that a line be drawn between their lands and those of the Lower Cherokees, that their lands be allotted them in severalty, and that they be admitted as citizens of the United States, while their brethren in the south might hunt as long as the game lasted. In his talk with them Jefferson encouraged removal, but informed them that citizenship could not be conferred upon them except by Congress. The next year or two the idea of removal seems to have gained favor with both Upper and Lower Cherokees. An appropriation having been made for the purpose, a delegation was sent out to investigate the Arkansas country and returned with such favorable reports that a large number was prepared to move at once. Jefferson went out of office, however, before anything could be accomplished, and Mr. Madison was not in favor of removal on a large scale. Although by 1817 between 2000 and 3000 had emigrated the emigration was not officially countenanced, either by the United States or their own nation.' Other delegations went to Arkansas in 1818 and 1819 and still later, even to within a short time before the New Echota Treaty of 1835. These Cherokees constituted what were later called Old Settlers. In this way there came to be a Cherokee Nation East and a Cherokee Nation West.

This survey of Cherokee history will furnish a partial idea of the conditions in the Cherokee Nation when John Ross was growing to manhood, and beginning to enter upon the duties of a citizen of the Cherokee Nation.


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