Cherokee Phoenix


Published September, 9, 1829

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The following is the first number of a series of essays now in a course of publication in the Massachusetts Journal. We gladly insert it in our columns, as it ably discloses the origin and nature of the controversy in which the Cherokees are so much interested.

Observations on topics connected with the Aborigines of North America.

'A crew of pirates are driven by a storm they know not whither: at length a boy discovers land from the topmast; they go on shore to rob and plunder; they see a harmless people, are entertained with kindness: they give the country a new name; they take formal possession of it for their king; they set up a rotten plank or a stone for a memorial; they murder two or three dozen of the natives, bring away a couple more by force, for a sample; return home and get their pardon.- Here commences a new dominion, with a title acquired by divine right. Ships are sent with the first opportunity; the natives driven out or destroyed; a free license given to all acts of inhumanity and lust; the earth reeking with the blood of its inhabitants; and this execrable crew of butchers, employed in so pious an expedition, is a modern colony, sent to convert and civilize an idolatrous and barbarous people!

But this description, I confess, does by no means affect the people of the United States of America, who may be an example to the whole world for their wisdom, care, and justice in planting new States; their liberal endowments for the advancement of religion and learning; their choice of devout and able pastors to propagate Christianity; their caution in stocking their territories with people of sober lives and conversations from the mother States; their strict regard to the distribution of justice to the Indians in supplying the civil administration through all their territories with officers of the greatest abilities, utter strangers to corruption, and, to crown all, by appointing the most vigilant and virtuous governors, who have no other views than the happiness of all the people over whom they preside; and the honor of the people their masters.' Swift, excepting the words italicised (sic).

There is no subject that has been more studied and less understood, on which so much has been written and to so little purpose as that of which we propose to treat. The Indian character is almost incomprehensible. We have no sympathy with the Indian, no key to his mind, no compassion for his sufferings, no pity for his fallen fortunes. The intercourse we have with the aborigines, limited though it be, is only calculated to engender distrust and aversion on both sides. Of the travellers who have given their remarks to the world, few have thrown any light on this dark spot in the history of the world. Some, like Carver, have described countries they never saw; and mixed so much falsehood with what few truths they collected, that it is impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff. Others have galloped through the Indian country at the rate of an hundred miles per diem, like Long and Schoolcraft, without understanding a syllable of the languages of the roving hordes they occasionally met, and without deviating a foot from their line of march, and, in short, without any competent means of information. Others, through ignorance, like Heary, have only given a bare detail of their personal escapes and adventures: unmixed with any grounds for reflection. Not a small number of writers have made statements obtained by hearsay, from ignorant and interested persons. Such is the writer in the North American Review, and of such materials are his essays composed.- His high talents and sound judgment are thus, often on the wrong scent.- Franklin's narrative is the only book of the kind that we can recommend.

We have been induced to enter this terra incognita, by the forlorn prospect of the southern Indians; and if we can parry one blow aimed at that hapless people, our labor will be amply rewarded. Their wrongs cry to heaven for redress, and as the call is unheeded, we feel it an imperative duty to speak. From what has been seen, we have no great hope that our voice will be listened to, but it must not be said the Indians had no advocate in New England. We have passed seven years with Indians, eating and drinking, lying down and rising up with them, travelling in their company, by land and water, on foot and on horseback. Our information is bought with experience; and we shall advance nothing that we have not personally observed, or heard from good authority.

The Chickasaw Indians, according to Capt.Young's Journal, amounted to 3625 souls in the year A.D. 1820, in the proportion of three males to one female. They have always been friendly to the United States. In this age of treaties, cessions and removals it would be imprudent to say what their boundaries are at present; they change too often to be traced, but in 1822 their territory was within the chartered limits of Tennessee, Kentucky and Mississippi. It was bounded west by the Mississippi, east by the River Tennessee and Alabama, and south by the Choctaw country. The line begins on the Mississippi a little below the thirty-fourth degree of north latitude, running up the river to the mouth of the Ohio, up the Ohio to the mouth of the Tennessee, up the Tennessee to Cany Creek, up Cany Creek to its source; thence directly to the Tombigbee; down the Tombigbee to the mouth of the Okketibba where it meets the Choctaw line, thence northwesterly to its commencement on the Mississippi.

This tribe was appointed the mother nation in the south. They were a warlike race, as the French colonists found to their cost in 1736 and 1752-3. According to tradition they came from the West, and first settled on the Ohio, but soon after removed to their present country. They have suffered by treaties with the United States. Of their original habits and manners it is necessary to speak. 'They were like the other Indians. In 1826 at the desire of the national government they consented to be moved beyond the Mississippi on the following considerations. That after visiting and being satisfied with the country they should receive acre for acre the lands abandoned; that improvements similar and equal to those they might leave behind should be made for them, at the expense of the United States. That a territorial government should be erected over them and a sufficient force kept up for their protection by the said states. By these conditions, insisted on by the Chickasaws, it will be seen that they were considerably advanced in civilization. The agreement, however, has never been carried into effect.

The Choctaws differed in many respects from other tribes. They might have been more properly called armers than hunters. Neither were they so much addicted to war as their neighbors, though by no means deficient in courage when attacked. In 1771, they fought a battle with the Creeks, and the loss on either side was about three hundred; but the Choctaws boasted that they had taken no scalps but those of men. They appeared suddenly in the country, none being able to tell from whence they came. Their own account of the matter was, that they sprang from a hole in the earth near Pearl River.

Another remarkable trait in their character was, that they never practised (sic) much cruelty on their prisoners. They brought them home and shot them, but without any previous tortures.

They were staunch friends to the French while they were in this part of the continent, until the eastern part of the tribe was drawn off by the English traders. This occasioned a civil war which ended in 1763. At the Congress of 1771, there were two thousand three hundred of this nation enrolled on the superintendant's (sic) books, almost all men. In 1814, according to Schemmerhorn, they were fifteen thousand in number, of which, four thousand were fighting men. This statement does not include the emigrants beyond the Mississippi said to be two or three thousand. In 1822, they were twenty five thousand persons. They have made several cessions of territory; but as this remark applies to all the bribes within the existing state charters, it will not be again repeated, unless to illustrate some position.

The French attempted to convert these savages without success. They derided the Jesuits; called them old women, and made sport of their religious observances.

Before the arts of civilized life were introduced generally among them, they were in comparison with other Indians, industrious. They would work in the field; they might be hired as labourers (sic), or even as servants, a thing which cannot be said of any other tribe.

The Creeks, or as they call themselves Muscogees, are the remains of the Cawittas, Tallapoosas, Coosas, Apalachias, Conshaks, Okemulgees, Oconees, Okeheoys, Alabamas, Natches, Weetumkas, Taycusas, Chacseehoomas, Abekas, 'c. In 1770 they numbered three thousand five hundred fighting men; in 1814, five thousand; in 1822, twenty thousand persons.

The Cherokees once resided on the Atlantic coast near Charlestown, S. Carolina. They drove out the tribe that occupied the country they now inhabit. Their language bears no affinity to that of their neighbours (sic), and is said to resemble the Iroquois. In 1812, their number was twelve thousand and upwards. In 1822, according to Morse,it was eleven thousand.

The Choctaw and Chickasaw languages are radically the same. The different septs or tribes of Muscogees speak different dialects.

The first white inhabitants of Georgia landed on the river Savannah, in 1733, and Mr. James Oglethorpe undertook the superintendance (sic) of the settlement. He brought with him the king's charter, afterwards the charter of the State of Georgia; authorizing him to occupy the uninhabited lands. But he found none such.- The country was occupied by a dense savage population.

The language of Oglethorpe to the Lower Creeks, was widely different from the words of Troup and Jackson in after times. He said nothing to them of want of room, or of the necessity for their removal. He told the Creeks that great advantages would accrue to them from a friendship and connexion (sic) with the English. They are now enjoying those advantages. He said not a word about the right of sovereignty, but informed them that they had plenty of land, and hoped they would give a share to the people who had come so far to benefit and instruct them. He gave them a few trinkets, and obtained thereby a grant of the spot on which Savannah now stands. The words of the fourth article of this treaty may be condensed in the following words:- 'We, the head men of the Lower Creeks, being persuaded that God has moved the trustees to send their beloved men among us for our good, and to instruct us in what is right, declare, that though this land belongs to us, yet we consent that they shall possess those lands that our nations has no occasion to use.'

At a council of the chiefs and warriors of the Lower Creeks, held in 1739 at Coweta, the Treaty of 1733 was declared valid, and the boundaries of the country belonging to the said Creeks were defined. Thus was their declaration of rights worded.- 'This country does by ancient right belong to the Creek Nation, who have maintained possession of the said right against all opposers by war, and can shew (sic) the heaps of the bones of their enemies slain by them in defence of the said lands.' This right so forcibly expressed, was not then questioned by the Georgians, nor construed to mean a right of occupancy.

The first claims of the whites to Indian lands were founded on papal grants. After the reformation the right of discovery was pleaded. The letters patent granted by Queen Elizabeth to Gilbert, in 1578, and to Sir Walter Raleigh in 1584, alledge (sic) no right at all. They simply empower them to take possession of 'such remote heathen and barbarous lands, not actually possessed of any Christian prince, as to them shall seem good,' and to fortify any places they choose to occupy. After the year 1760, the English settlers in North America acknowledged the tile of the aborigines to their lands, by asking their permission to establish themselves thereon, and purchasing the soil in some instances. Upon the whole, it seems that the European sovereigns never wasted a thought upon the question of right to plant colonies. It appears to have been taken for granted, until the reign of James the First. After this period we find the British authorities sometimes treating with the savages as independant (sic) nations, and respecting their rights of others disregarding them and taking forcible possession of the soil. But in all cases where the English were not in actual possession, the claim of their government to sovereignty, only operated in excluding the claims of other nations to the territories within its assumed jurisdiction.- The English never pretended to extend legislation to the internal concerns of the tribes. On the contrary, they treated with them as separate and independent nations. The right of passage through the Indian country was, in some instances, stipulated in treaties. Treaties of peace and alliance were made between the Indians and the crown, or the colonial governments, in the same manner as with civilized nations. That the Indians had some right to their lands was admitted; else, why was an equivalent ever offered for them? What this was, and how far it extended, we leave our readers to infer from these premises, the proofs of which are on record.

In the war of the revolution the Creeks took part against the United States. After the independence of this country was acknowledged, and the constitution established, it became a question, whether the claims and rights of the British government over Indian lands, devolved on the general or the state governments. On this point, controversies of a serious character arose, and the consequent difficulties were obviated by cessions of the lands in debate, to the National government, by the State governments. These cessions were made at different times, and on different conditions, by the several states, but by acceding to these conditions, Congress did not admit them to be necessary to confirm the rights of the confederacy.

Georgia alone, ceded no part of her territory till the year 1802. In the year 1780, the first treaty between the general government and the Creeks took place, at N. York. The language of the fifth article of this treaty runs thus: 'The United States solemnly guarantee to the Creek Nation, all their lands within the limits of the United States, to the westward and southward of the boundary line described by the preceding article.'- This guarantee was a condition and equivalent for the lands then ceded by the Creeks. Another condition was that the United States should encourage civilization among them, by furnishing them with the means of husbandry. They, on their part, acknowledged themselves under the protection of the United States; and agreed to hold no treaty with any State government nor with private individuals. This treaty annulled the former ones with the State of Georgia. How far the protection tacitly implied in this manner, has been afforded them, is a matter of after consideration.

This arrangement did not meet the approbation of Georgia. It was considered by her a violation of State rights. A part of her citizens entered the Creek country in a hostile manner, and, the United States not interfering, the Creeks, dissatisfied by the breach of faith, and excited by emissaries of the Spanish government, renounced the Treaty of New York and entered into hostilities with Georgia.

After the treaty with Spain in 1695, the Creeks were pacified. In July 1796* a treaty was held with them at Coleraine, confirming the Treaty of New York, providing that the boundary line should be run, and that the Creeks should be provided with blacksmiths in order to their encouragement in civilization. Congress passed a law the same year defining the boundary line, and prohibiting any encroachment on the Indians. Here the matter might have rested if Georgia had not again raised difficulties. What (end of page one- col. 5b)

*See State papers

(page 2 col. 1a)

followed is related in Blount's Historical Sketch, and exhibits in Georgia a picture of villany (sic), inhumanity, corruption, and bad faith, that has no parallel in history. We shall give it in his own words.

'In the year 1795, the legislature of that State, (i.e. Georgia) corrupted by certain land speculators, conveyed to four companies the greater part of the territory in dispute between Georgia and the United States.'

To the Georgia Mississippi Company, it conveyed most of the territory west of Tombigbee River, comprehended in the secret article of the provisional Treaty of '82, ' ceded to the U. States as part of West Florida. This tract was two hundred miles long, and about eighty two miles broad, being about one fourth of the present state of Mississippi. To the Georgia Company it conveyed another portion of the ceded part of Florida, and a large tract above the limits of that province, being a parallelogram three hundred miles long and about one hundred miles wide, besides a triangle fifty miles in length at the base and one hundred miles from the base to the opposite angle. To the Tennessee and to the Upper Mississippi Companies were ceded two tracts, one about one hundred and fifty miles long, and about fifty miles wide; the other about one hundred and twenty five in width, being about two-thirds of all the country claimed by Georgia under the charter of 1732, beyond her present limits.

'Altogether the cessions to the Yazoo purchasers, as they were called, comprehended 32,000,000 acres of land, about four-fifths of all the western territory to which the state had any claim. It should be recollected that to all this territory the United States laid claim; and to one tract about one hundred miles wide and three hundred and sixty miles in length, their claim was incontrovertible, ' yet this territory the legislature undertook to convey to individuals.'

'It is true, that no doubt could exist of the corruptness of that legislature, but still it had, in the exercise of its constitutional power, conveyed away the title of the state. This legislature was chosen too, by the people of Georgia, when it was generally known that an application would be made to that body, to dispose of the western lands, and the inducements for the sale were spread before the voters at the time of the election.'

'Directly after the passage of this act, the prime movers in the business, in order to prevent its repeal, and to engage an extensive interest in its support, began to sell shares in the Companies, to bonafide (sic) purchasers in different parts of the union, before the manner in which the contract had been obtained became generally known. In Georgia, however, excitement prevailed. The members who had opposed the passage of the law, upon their return to their constituents, informed them of the corruption that prevailed in the Legislature, and universal indignation was manifested at their treachery. Some of the delinquents were put to death, and others fled from the state to avoid popular rage. The next legislature declared the contract void, and in 1798, a new state constitution was framed, in which a declaration of the boundaries was inserted claiming in behalf of the state, all the territory west of South Carolina, and south of the south boundary of the tract ceded to the United States by that state. All this tract was declared to be the property of the free citizens of Georgia and inalienable but by their consent. Provision was however made for sale to the United States by the Legislature of all west of Apalachicola, and for the return of the money paid by the state to the Yazoo purchasers.

The propriety and dignity of these proceedings on the part of the state government do not now come in question. How far it could be properly alleged that the representatives of Georgia had been corrupted; that the sovereign power for the time being had proved faithless to itself, are questions of deep moment and highly proper for the historian of that state.

These questions, however, which could only be mooted between the state and those who were actually concerned in corrupting its Legislature, and their decision, could not affect the bonafide purchasers from the original grantees. They denied, and with good reason, the power of a succeeding Legislature to deprive them of their vested rights, and threatened to bring the matter before the judicial tribunals for adjudication.'

'This was afterwards done in the case of Fletcher vs. Peck. This was a case slated for the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, reported 6th Cranch, 87.'

'Many material facts invalidating the title of Georgia were there omitted; but the question as to the rights of the Legislature to annul the contract, so as to deprive innocent purchasers of their vested rights, was distinctly presented to the court, and decided in favor of the purchasers.- So far therefore, as Georgia had a title to the lands, thus vested in the bona fide holders of Yazoo shares, it had conveyed it away by the act of its Legislature.'

'In this state of affairs, Congress found it necessary to take measures to secure the rights of the United States, and on 7th of April, 1798 an act was passed erecting the tract alluded to as comprehended within the secret article, into a territory ' establishing a government for the same.

To obviate the disorders and embarrassments attendant on the complicated title, the celebrated treaty of 1802 was held between the United States and the State of Georgia.

By this treaty Georgia ceded her claim to the land beyond her western line, and the United States agreed that certain sums to be raised by the sale of the lands so ceded, should be appropriated to pay the expenses incurred by Georgia in relation to that territory; and to satisfy the claims of the Yazoo purchasers.

The United States further agreed to extinguish at their own expense, in behalf, and for the use of Georgia, the Indian title to all the lands within that state, as early as the same could be obtained on peaceable and reasonable terms.'

By this agreement the United States were not pledged to coerce the Indians to abandon the said lands, and this was the first time they had ever consented to extinguish an Indian title for the benefit of a particular state. The consent to extinguish the Indian title was subject to the reservations that it was to be done peaceably and on reasonable terms, and it might appear, that until the Indians could be so induced to remove, Georgia could have no pretence to meddle with them.

*8d vol. U. S. Laws.