Success of the “civilizing” project among the Cherokee


Transcription of Primary Source

Washington City March 10th [27th Feb.] 1826

Hon. Albert Gallatin


In attempting to comply with your request____that of giving you a short account of the Cherokee Nation, its present state of Civilization, and the manner of its introduction, I take the liberty to observe, that in the absence of Chronology and official papers of my Nation, and at a distance from it, where I least expected to undertake an object of this kind, my observations will be confined to the facts that have transpired within my own knowledge except so far as to the first period when our civilization as a people began to shew it has been effected.

The Cherokee Nation is bounded on the North by East Tennessee & North Carolina, east by Georgia, south by the Creek Nation and State of Alabama___and west by Tennessee. Its extreme length may be upwards of two hundred miles & extreme breadth about one hundred and thirty—rough conjecture suppose it to contain about ten million Acres of Land. This territory is divided by Law [by a special act of the National Council] into eight Districts or Counties, the boundaries of which are regularly [distinctly] designated and defined. A correct Census of the Nation was taken last year (1825) by order of the National Council to ascertain the amount of property & taxable individuals within the Nation. [the correctness of this may be relied on and] the result proved to be 13,583 native Citizens___147 white men married with Indians & 73 white women d[itt]o and African Slaves 1, 277 to which if we add 400 Cherokees who took Reservations in North Carolina & [who are] not included in the Census, and who have since merged again among us___the Cherokee Nation will contain 15, 280 [15,480] inhabitants. There are a few instances of African Mixture with Cherokee blood & wherever it is seen is considered in the light of misfortune & disgrace but that of the white may be as 1 to 4___occasioned by intermarriage which has been increasingly in proportion to the march of civilization. This population is dispersed over the face of the Country on separate farms; & villages or a community possessing one fence, and local laws to govern the labour of the Citizens who acted in concert in cultivating their patches have disappeared long since and to my knowledge there is but one of this Character at Coosawattie the inhabitants of which are gradually diminishing by migration to the woods where they prefer to clear the forests and govern their own [individual] plantations. In view of their location it readily appears that they are farmers and herdsmen, which is their real character. Personal distinctions and gradation in property has been and will be a primary feature in the character of Nations, from the rudest tribes that roam the forest, to those who have ascended to the pinnacle of highest grandeur and intellect. So it is with us, but it happily operates as a stimulous for emulation which gives force and accelerates the wheels of our improvements.

[Their principal dependence for subsistence is on the production of their own farms.] Our Country is well adapted for the growth of Indian Corn, wheat, Rye, Oats, Irish and Sweet Potatoes, which are cultivated by our people. [Indian Corn is a staple production and is the most essential article of food in use. Wheat—rye & oats grow very well & some families have commenced to introduce them on their farms.] Cotton is universally [generally] raised for domestic consumption, & few have grown it for market, and have realized very good profits. I take pleasure to state [, tho’ cautiously,] that there is not to my knowledge a solitary Cherokee to be found who depends upon the Chase for subsistence. Every head of a family has his own farm and House. The hardest portion of manual labor is performed by the men & women occasionally lend hand in the field more by choice & necessity than anything else. Justice is due to the females of the poorer class of whom I now speak. Duties assigned them by nature as Mothers or Wives are well attended to [as far as they are able & improved] and cheerfully do they prepare our meals, & for the family they sew, they spin and weave and are in fact a valuable portion of our citizens. The African Slaves are [generally] mostly held by half breeds & full blooded Indians of [distinguished] talents. The valuable portion of property is retained in this class [and their farms are conducted in the same style with southern white farmers of equal ability in point of property]. They have a few framed and brick Houses, but their Houses are usually constructed of hewed logs with brick chimnies & shingled Roofs. Their furniture is better than the exterior of their buildings would induce a stranger to believe. Servants attend at their meals, & the same rules and etiquette is observed at table as in the first families of the whites [they have their regular meals as the whites… and the tables are usually covered with a clean cloth—& furnished with the usual plates—knives & forks &c.] Every family [more or less] in the Nation possesses Hogs, Cattle & Horses, and a respectable number have begun to pay attention to the introduction of Sheep, which are increasing very fast. The Horse is in general use for purposes of riding, drawing the plough or wagon.

I am sorry that I have not with me the estimate of the respective number of live property & their value, as well as the number of ploughs, looms, waggons, Saw and grist mills &c. in the Nation.

The females were the first who were induced to undertake domestic manufactures, and they are still confined to them. These consist of white and striped homespun, coarse woollen Blankets, and in many instances of very valuable and comfortable twilled and figured coverlets. Woollen and Cotten Stockings are manufactured in every family [mostly] for domestic use. A great portion of Cherokee clothing is furnished from our own people; and [I can only say that these domestic cloths are preferred by us to those brought from the New England domestic plaids and our people are generally clothed with them, but] fancy goods such as silks, calicoes, cambrics handkerchiefs & Shawls etc.___are introduced by native Merchants from the adjoining States [who generally trade to Augusta in Georgia]. The principal portion of our trade consists in Hogs and horned Cattle. Skins formerly were sold in respectable quantities, but that kind of trade is fast declining and becomes less reputable. Cherokees on the Tennessee River already commenced to trade in Cotton and grow it on large plantations for which they have experienced flattering profit. Preparation is making by all those in good circumstances, to cultivate the Cotton for market which will soon be a Staple commodity of traffic for the Nation.

In giving you a view of the nature of our Government you will be better able to ascertain the State of our improvement. Having been honored with a seat in its National Councils I have better acquaintance with this branch of your inquiry than any other. All Indian Nations are divided into tribes, distinguished by different names. These are again subdivided into Towns. In each of these Tribes and Towns are some men prominent for humanity, wisdom, and valor. The Assembly of such men forms their “Council fire.” They are a standing body of Chieftans, who are first in the social Circle, and foremost in the deadly fight [They are a standing body, & indefinitely so in number, of warriors]. They possess within themselves Legislative judicial and executive powers. The first law of Nature and of Indians is against the victim belongs [without trial], and the friends and relatives of the aggressor are compelled by law to remain neuter. This was a principle of Government in the worst of Shapes of our people. Our Chiefs were numerous and their accountability was small [and their responsibility was trifling]. Lands could then be obtained [of them] at a price most convenient to the United States as their Commissioners with the assistance of the Agent could always procure a majority for a Cession, and when this was done the patriotic Chiefs yielded to secure their shares for the trifling equivalent, Savage ignorance saw its own folly by the effect which presented itself in a shape not to be misunderstood. The tide of white population was advancing on all sides & the Indians poor in goods, but well supplied with the vices of their neighbors were retreating to a given point where they would eventually be crushed in the folds of the encroaching Serpent! The Remedy was within themselves and this could only be supplied successfully in the amendment of their Government. Useless members were stricken off. A [Treasurer was appointed & a] National seat of their [future] Government was selected, and a State House was built and the Chiefs organized themselves into a standing body of legislators who annually meet in October [at New Town—their seat of Government]. They are composed of two departments, the National Committee and Representative Council. The former consists of 13 Members, including their President, and have a Clerk to record their proceedings___they control and regulate their funds—they have power to inspect the books of their Treasurer, & acknowledge claims and Legislate & negative or concur with the proceedings in the other branch of the Legislature. The Representatives have [also their Secretary—consist of 33 members including their Speaker. They have] legislative powers to fill [their own vacancies—& the] vacancies in the National Committee, concur with or reject their acts, and in conjunction with the committee elect their [two] Head Chiefs or executive, or expel them for misconduct. Laws of course are passed in the usual way of the adjoining States, [are passed with the concurrence of these two departments & approved of by the head Chiefs] which are at present written in the English Language, and commence in the style to wit___“Be it resolved by the National Committee and Council of the Cherokee Nation” [and are signed by the speaker of the Representatives, the President of the Committee and when approved by the first head Chief & attested by the Clerks] — The members of our Legislative Council are chosen to represent the eight Districts satisfactorily as possible [in as satisfactory proportion] as circumstances will allow. Our Judiciary having less obstacles to encounter in rendering it so is more perfect than our Legislature. It is independent. Possesses power to bring any Chief of any grade before its tribunal, by all causes, pass sentence, and enforce it. Every District has a Court of Justice, over which the district Judge and circuit Judge presides the latter having Jurisdiction over two districts. A Jury is attached to each Court, but are liable to substitution, in case a reasonable objection is made either by the plaintiff or defendant. The Officers of the District, such as Sherifs, Marshalls, and Constables are compelled to attend these Courts. All appeals are finally decided by the Supreme Court of the Nation, which meets at every Session of the National Council at the same place, and has power to exact costs—which is not allowed to the Districts Courts. [The Sheriffs—Marshals and constables are allowed 8 per cent for collecting Taxes and debts &c.]

As we are yet destitute of Prisons, justice is quickly inflicted. A thief as soon as convicted and sentence passed, is tied to the next tree, and on the naked skin is impressed his receipt for release. We have not as yet many written laws, it being the policy of our Government to regulate itself to the capacity and state of improvement of our Citizens. Most of the adjudications are founded in the Spirit of Natural Law or Common Sense. A sketch of a few of the Laws are as follows:

1st. Law to regulate our Citizens agreeable to the intercourse laws of the United States for the purpose of securing peace on the Frontier.

2d. Prohibiting the introduction of ardent Spirits by the whites. Penalty—confiscation.

3d. Regulating intermarriages with the whites, which makes it necessary for a white man to obtain a license and be married by a Gospel minister, or some authorised person.

4th. Against Murder.___5th. Against stealing.

6th. Against renting land and introducing white people without a special written permission of the Legislative Council—Penalty expulsion of the whites so introduced as intruders, and a fine of $500 on the aggressor and one hundred stripes on the naked back.

7th. Giving indefeasible title to Lands improved, the houses, etc. to the Citizens with power to sell or transfer them among each other, but not to Citizens of the adjoining States.

8th. Regulating taxes & defining the duties of the Collectors.

9th. Prohibiting the sales of any more Lands to the United States except it be done by and with the concurrence of the National Committee & Council, or a Delegation authorised by them___Penalty___disgrace & death.

10th. A law to protect the Orphan and Widow to the father’s or husband’s property after death.

11th. Regulating the Salary of the two head Chiefs, Treasurer[,] Judges, and pay of the members of the National Council, & their Clerks during actual Service, and officers of the Nation generally.

12th. Regulating the Judicial Courts of the Nation, & defining their powers.

13th. Defining the powers of the Chiefs, and that only to be exercised in a body in their legislative capacity at the times appointed by law___and in the recess to be on a level with private Citizens.

The above laws are written and are well understood, respected and enforced. It is needless to say that all people are well satisfied with their government & Laws—and it is a universal care with us, to secure these blessings as an inheritance to Posterity. The laws of our Nation from time immemorial recognizes a separate property in the wife and husband, and this principle is universally cherished among the less informed Class and in fact in every grade of intelligence___If they are so disposed, the law secures to the Ladies, the control of their own property [Property belonging to the wife is not exclusively at the control & disposal of the husband, and in many respects she has exclusive & distinct control over her own, particularly among the less civilized & in fact in every class & grade of intelligence, the law is in favor of the females in this respect.] Rules and regulations in the transfer of property, in the absence of written laws on this subject, are adopted from the adjoining States, and are respected in our Courts. Property descends from Parents equally to the children___if none, to the next blood relatives, on either side, but if a Will is made, it is respected to the fullest extent, and every person possessed of property is entitled to dispose of it in this way.

Superstition is the portion of all uncivilized Nations and Idolatry is only engendered in the brain of rudness. The Cherokees in their most savage state never worshipped the work of their own hands, neither the elements of water or fire, nor any one a portion of the splendid lights that adorn Heaven’s canopy above. They had a rational belief of a great first Cause or Spirit—as the author of all good—and in a bad Spirit as the Author of all evil. These they conceived were at variance and waged perpetual war [with each other]—and supposed the good Spirit as superior to the bad one. These immortal Beings had on both sides numerous intelligent being of analogous dispositions to their Chieftans. They had a Heaven which consisted of a visible World to those only who had passed from death to immortality. It was adorned with all the beauties which a savage imagination could conceive. An open Forest, yet various, giving light and shade, & fruit of every kind. Sweet smelling flowers, of various hues exquisite to the eye. Game of all kinds in great abundance, enough of feasts and plenty of dances; to crown the whole the most cheerful enchanting beautiful women, prepared and adorned by the great Spirit for every individual Indian—who by wisdom, hospitality and bravery, was introduced to this happy and immortal region. The bad place or Hell was the reverse of this, & was situated in the vicinity of the good place, where the wretched, compelled to live in hunger, hostility and darkness, could hear the rejoicings of those in the blissful state, without the possibility of reaching its shores. Witches and Wizzards were in existence and pretended to possess supernatural powers and to have intercourse with the infernal Spirits, and were supposed capable of transforming themselves into the shape of beasts of the forest and fowls of the air, and take their nocturnal excursions in pursuit of human victims, particularly those suffering from disease, which compelled the unfortunate friends of the invalids to employ witch shooters to protect them [from such visitors]. They were the dread of the Land, and many a time have I trembled at the croaking of a Frog, the hooting of an Owl, or guttural hoarseness of the Raven in the night, in my younger days. After the people became more courageous the poor witches experienced a sad reverse of fortune—they were often butchered or tomahawked on suspicion by the enraged [parents, relatives or] friends of the deceased, particularly in unexpected cases of death, occasioned by indisposition of short duration. The severity of Revenge fell most principally on the grey hairs of aged persons of both sexes, and on children who were supposed to & sing it. Joined by his audience and pray to his heavenly father with inherit such powers of noted parents who had retired from the Stage of life long ago. To stop this evil it was necessary to pass a law considering all slaughter of this kind in the light of Murder, which has effected the desired remedy. There are yet among us who pretend to possess powers of milder character, such as making rain, allaying storms or whirlwinds, playing with thunder, and foretelling future events, with many other insignificant pretences [trifling conjurations] not worth mentioning. They are [generally living] monuments of folly and ridicule in the eye of intelligent Indians, and are only listened to in few dark spots of gross ignorance in the Nation.

The Standard of Religion is advancing with a steady march in different parts of the Nation___and the Gospel is preached in [about] eight organized churches at the Missionary Stations, by Presbyterians, Baptists, Moravians, & Methodists, each of whom have a respectable number of Indian Christians of exemplary characters attached to them [and each of these churches have a goodly number of pious & exemplary members and others, not professors attend to preaching with respectable deportment. I am not able to say the precise number of actual christians, but they are respectable in point of number & character]. The Sabbath is known by all the Cherokees, and many observe it with respect and attend meetings of religious worship. Religion has a powerful effect on the Indians whenever it is professed by them. There is no vice of any kind which it does not expel. Drunkenness and habits of Idleness fall before it, & I know of individuals who were a public nuisance who have become useful and good Citizens. [Portions of Scripture & sacred hymns are translated and I have, frequently heard with astonishment a Cherokee, unacquainted with the English take his text & preach—read his hymn & sing it. Joined by his audience and pray to his heavenly father with great propriety & devotion. The influence of Religion on the life of the Indians is powerful & lasting. I have an uncle, who was given to all vices of savages in drunkeness, fornication and roguery & he is now tho’ poorer in this world’s goods but rich in goodness & makes his living by hard labor & is in every respect an honest praying christian.] We have no law regulating marriage—and Polygamy is still allowed to native Cherokees. This last vestage of our ignorance is not respected by our people, & increase of intelligence and morality [& a respect for their characters & matrimonial happiness] is fast consuming it. An attempt was made to discountenance Polyamy by law, but failed not from its popularity, but by a feeling of delicacy to a number of our old Chief’s who had married under older customs. [We attempted to pass a law regulating marriage, but as nearly all the members of our Legislature, tho’ convinced of the propriety—had been married under the old existing ceremony, were afraid it would reflect dishonor on them, it failed.] Time will effect the desired change, and it is worthy of mention, even now in the advance of law, & unrequired, the better class of our female, prefer to be united in Marriage attended by the solemn ties of the Christian mode.

In regard to the love of revenge the Indians have been represented in the grosest colours. I never could have the audacity to ascribe inconsistency to any portion of God’s creation. The various Nations of the Earth were created for noble purposes, endowned with sensibility to feel their own wrongs and sympathize for another’s woe. Education alone makes distinction in the refinement of the heart. Savages of the human race are not like the beasts of the Forests, which even trained to live contented in the yard, retain in full vigor an Instinct of indiscriminate cruelty. [Indians tho’ naturally highminded, are not addicted to as much revenge as they have been represented and I can say this, much it is paid for them to endure an intended Insult but they are ready to forgive if they discover marks of repentance in the countenance of an enemy.]

Intemperance like Love, is found in the Halls of the great and in the wig wam of the Indian—with this difference—“Indians consider it no harm to drink, but the whites do, and drink notwithstanding” — Nations cannot be civilized unless they renounce every inducement that tends to their deterioration. As a whole, I cannot call the Cherokees a civilized people and perhaps in this respect it would baffle our expectations if we were to look for it, in any Nation on the face of the Earth. [in regard to Intemperance, we are still as a nation grossly degraded. We are however on the improve.]

But then I am far from acknowledging that we are a Nation on Drunkards. Our young men are too fond of their popularity among the other sex to yield to it. Among our old Chiefs are many that dance in frolic and sing over the Whiskey bottle—But these are on the decline in number and in fame. Confidence will always be placed in Chief’s whose faculties are under no such control—four years ago our highest Cheifs were seen drunk near the Council fire—but now not one would be so lost to shame as thus to appear & be expelled from his seat [Five years ago—our last chiefs during their official labors would get drunk & continue so for two or three days. It is now not the case & any member who should thus depart from duty would not be expelled from the Council. Among the younger class, a large a number are of fine habits—temperate & genteel in their deportment.] In our Country, females aspire to gain sober men for husbands and mankind must yield to the tender sex. Woman civilized man or makes him barbarous at her pleasure. If Ladies gave us universally the smiles of approbation in our extravagancies we would be extravagant—in murder, we would delight to kill—if in cruelty we would be cruel—

There are about thirteen Schools [established by missionaries] in the Nation—and many contain about two hundred and fifty Students—many are entirely supported by humane Societies in different parts of the United States.

The Nation itself has not yet actively engaged in aiding education, but have & is making preparation to lend a hand in this laudable work. Twelve miles square of Land is reserved in a treaty with J.C. Calhoun in 1819, who was then Secretary of War, in which the President is authorized to sell the land & invest the proceeds, to draw Interest and apply it for the education of Cherokee youth as he shall think best. This tract has not been sold owing as I have understood to the unfavorable condition of the market at this time. A law has been passed for establishing a National Academy of a high order at our Seat of Government, where it is intended the youth who have deservedly gone through their Studies in the common Schools, to finish their education.

It is in contemplation to obtain an able gentleman from the North to preside over it as President, but the Assistants & Trustees of the School will be native Cherokees. The edifice will be of brick, forty feet square, well furnished with Seats and Desks for the Students. Besides this many of our youth [Besides this some of our most respectable people have their children] educated in the adjoining States at the expense of their friends. Two young Ladies have recently finished their Studies [at the expense of their father] in the Salem Academy in North Carolina. Their cultivation and appearance is such, that they will bear the test of comparison with those of any Class in the United States. Their Father has purchased a costly Piano for their use. I am acquainted with others who are preparing for an admission into that excellent Institution. I suppose that there are one third of our people who are able to read & write in the English Language. In the Cherokee Language, there is a large majority who read and write in George Guess’ syllabic character. Mr. Guess is an Indian unacquainted with the English Language—but an untutored Philosopher, who has succeeded in a few months as it were to educate a Nation. In making his System he was ridiculed and discountenanced by his friends who were considered competent to judge. He persevered however, and gained the attention of the ignorant, to whom he explained his invention & proceeded to teach them. Among those unacquainted with the English it is very much esteemed—Portions of the bible are translated & read and Hymns are sung in that character. With the Cherokees of Arkansas they correspond regularly by letter in Guess’ character. [George Guess a Cherokee who is unacquainted with the English has invented a 86 characters, in which the cherokees read & write in their own language and regularly correspond with their Arkansaw friends. This mode of writing is most extensively adopted by our people particularly by those who are ignorant of the English Language] It is in contemplation to establish a printing press composed of the English and Cherokee types at our Seat of Government, and a weekly paper will be edited in both languages at the same place. For this object $15. [$1500] were appropriated by our Council last Fall, [to purchase the press] and other regulations adopted to carry the object into effect. We have also a Society organized called the Moral and Literary Society of the Cherokee Nation. Col. Walter S. Adair a Cherokee of fine education is President of it. A library is attached to it.

Having given a view of the present State of civilization of the Cherokee Nation it may not be amiss to relate the time and amount of its introduction. About the year 1795 missionaries were sent by the United Brethren to the Cherokees and established a Station called Spring place in the Centre of the Nation. At or about that same time Col. Silas Dinsmore was appointed to the Agency of the Nation by Gen. Washington who from the Indian Testimony itself laboured indefatigably to induce the Indians to lead a domestic life by distributing hoes and ploughs among the men, and cotton cards, spinning wheels and looms to the women. It appears when this change of Hunter life for a civilized one was proposed by the Agent in Council, that the Chiefs unanimously laughed at him, for attempting to introduce white people’s customs among Indians created to pursue the chase. Not discouraged here, he turned to individuals, and succeeded to gain some to pay attention to his plan by way of experiments which succeeded. An anecdote is related of a Chief who was [heartily] opposed to the views of the Agent. It was customary for the Indians to hunt at certain Seasons, and before this Chief started, came to the Agent and said, that he was going on a Hunt, should be gone six Moons, and hoped during his absence he would not mention to his family his new plan; that it would do for the white people, but not for Indians. While this Chief was absent, the Agent prevailed on his wife and daughters to spin and weave cloth, and it was done to that extent, as to be more valuable than the Chief’s Hunt at his return. Pleasantly disappointed he immediately came to the Agent and accused him for making his woman better Hunters and requested a plough, which was given to him, and from that time he became a farmer. In the mean time the Moravians opened a School for the Indians___cleared a farm___cultivated a garden___& planted an Orchard. The venerable Mr. [John] Gambold and his aimiable wife were a visible monument of industry, goodness & friendship to the Indians, and as far as it was in their power they converted “the Wilderness to bud and blossom as the rose.” The boys were taught the rudiments of education and were occasionally required to labor in the Garden & in the Field. Here they were first taught to sing and pray to their Creator, and here Gospel Worship was first established in our nation. Never can I forget father & Mother Gambold who dispersed the clouds of ignorance that encircled me round and opened my eyes to behold the light of civilization. My Intellect expanded and took a wider range—my Superstition vanished, and I began to reason correctly.

“Curious to view the Kings of ancient days

The mighty dead, that live in endless praise.”

I might indulge in sad review of the past, and point to Nations once powerful, that as Lords of the creation roamed America’s Forests. The sun of our glory is set, and we are left the Shadow of what once was a reality! Powerful in war & sage in peace, our Chiefs now sleep with their heroic deeds in the bosom of the Earth! It was not their destiny to become great. Had they concentrated their Council fires, their empire might have stood like a Pyramid, for ages yet unborn to admire. It was for Strangers to effect this, and necessity now compels the last remant to look for it for protection. It is true, we enjoy self Government, but we live in fear, and uncertainty foretells our Fall. Strangers urge our removal [to make room for their settlements], they point to the West and there they say we can live happy. Our National existence is suspended on the faith and honor of the United States alone. We are in the paw of a Lion—convenience may induce him [to] crush with a faint Struggle we may cease to be! But all Nations have experienced change. Mutability is stamped on every thing that walks the Earth. Even now we are forced by natural causes to a Channel that will mingle the blood of our race with the white.

In the lapse of half a Century if Cherokee blood is not destroyed it will run its courses in the veins of fair complexions who will read that their Ancestors under the Stars of adversity, and curses of their enemies became a civilized Nation.

I am Sir

Respectfully your friend

John Ridge