PRESENT CONDITION OF THE CHEROKEES.
Letter from the Rev. Samuel A. Worcester, to the Rev. E. S. Ely, editor of
New Echota. C. N. March 10, 1830.
To the Editor of the Philadelphian.
Re. Sir,- In your paper of the 12th ult., after giving some statements in regard to the present condition of the Cherokees, you say, "Religious people and missions are, however, not to be blamed, because they have not rescued all from vagrancy and want." Very true. But if missionaries have given false representations in regard to the state of any people among whom they reside, they are much to be blamed. And if the statement in your paper are correct, we are certainly found false witnesses in regard to the state of the Cherokees. Until however, there is greater evidence against us than yet appears, we cannot plead guilty to the charge. I am aware that it is difficult, by any general descriptions to give an accurate idea of the state of a people to persons at a distance, and also that the same state of things will produce different impressions on the minds of different eye witnesses. Nor will I deny that some statements which have been made of the improvements of the Cherokees have appeared to my own mind somewhat too highly coloured [sic]. But of this I am certain, that nothing could well be farther from the truth, than the statements which your informants have led you to make. Your desire is to have the truth known, I have no doubt; and I rely with confidence on your readiness to publish any different statement, if it proceed from a source which you judge worthy of credit.
You have the information second hand from a "leading man of the nation of Cherokees" (a white man, however, it appears,) "who has reared a numerous family by a Cherokee wife, that the Indians frequently came fifty or sixty miles over the mountains to his grist mill to beg a peck of Indian meal." That instances may have occurred, in which Indians have begged a peck of corn meal at a grist mill fifty or sixty miles from home, is not improbable. I know of a grist mill owned by a white man "who has reared a numerous family by a Cherokee wife," where, from its local situation in respect to a particular part of the nation, such things may easily have happened. And are there not families in a state of abject beggary in the city of Philadelphia? But that Indians "come frequently" fifty or sixty miles to that or any other mill to beg a peck of meal, I cannot yet believe. Is it not possible that the word "frequently" has, through some inadvertence, crept into a place where it does not belong?
But your informant adds, "that the larger number of the Cherokees were never more wretchedly destitute than at the present." Widely different is my view of the subject. From what I have learned of the state of the Cherokees by a residence of more than four years among them, I hesitate not to say, that the great mass of the Cherokee people were never before in as good circumstances, in regard to the comforts of life, as at the present time, and that their circumstances are gradually improving every year. You say, Mr. Editor, that "at this moment" "The mass of the people even among the Cherokees," "are half starved." Sir, the mass of the Cherokee people are at this moment decently covered with such clothing as white people were, except, in the majority of instances, the want of a bonnet, and the substitution of a handkerchief for a hat. Among the elderly men, a considerable portion adhere partially, but only partially to the ancient costume, but the women and the younger men have almost all abandoned it, and the number of elderly men who assume the constume of whites increases as constantly as the earth revolves. and as to their being half starved, I presume the proportion of those, who suffer in any measure from the want of food, is not greater than in your own city,
You speak of "those Indians, generally half Indians, who have built them houses and cultivated lands by their slaves." Sir, the mass of the Cherokee people have built them houses and cultivated lands with their own hands.
Again you say, "The seclusion of these cultivated spots are, however detrimental to those natives who still choose to depend on game and the chase." Those natives, Sir, are gone beyond the Mississippi. There may be a few families among the mountains, who depend mostly on the chase for support, but I know not of one. I have inquired of numbers of respectable persons, who have grown from infancy to manhood in the nation-among them the present principal chief-and they know not of one.
Again, "In some instances those who would have cultivated a farm have been deterred by knowing that every hungry Indian brother considers the whole Cherokee reservation as a common, and will carry off the fruits of the labours [sic] of his neighbour [sic], whenever he can find, and thinks that he needs them." This representation, I suppose, must have been founded on the misapprehension of Indian rules of hospitality. That it has been customary for every Indian to feel bound to make the provisions of his house free to every one who intered [sic] it, is true. That much of this still remains is true. That the indolent have sometimes taken advantage of this custom so as to live at the tables of industrious to an oppressive degree, is also true. But that "every hungry brother will carry off the fruits of the labour [sic] of his neighbour[sic], whenever he can find, and thinks that he needs them," is no more true of the Cherokees than of the whites. The Cherokee feels as secure in the possession of produce of his own field, as the farmer of Pennsylvania.
By all these remarks I do not intend to convey the impression, that the Cherokees have already reached, or, nearly reached a level with the white people of the United States in point of civilization.
But they have made great advances, and are steadily advancing still. It is only requisite that they be not hindered, & that the means which God has so abundantly blessed in this respect continue to operate, & there is every reason to believe their progress will continue. Any theory in regard to their removal from this place, which is built upon the supposition of the impossibility of their rising where they are, is opposed to fact. They can rise for they are rising.
If I do not trespass too much upon your patience and candour [sic], allow me to quote only two sentences more.
"One principal cause of the decrease of Indian population in North America has been war between the different aboriginal tribes."
"If our government 'let them alone,' as many philanthropists desire they should, and say they ask no more, they will unquestionably pass away from the earth like the Indians who once peopled the North."
My only remark on these sentences is, that if the Cherokees are removed beyond
the Mississippi, they will be exposed to the evil in question; but, if they
are "let alone" in this respect, there is no probability of their
ever again being engaged in hostilities with any other tribe of Indians on the
Yours very respectfully,
SAMUEL A. WORCESTER.