Sunday, December 24, 2017

John H. Ross & Family, First Enrollee - Cherokee Freedmen

Much can be learned by researching the people who were at "the front of the line" especially in a collection such as the Dawes records. The Freedmen, who were disenfranchised for many years in the land of their birth were a part of the process however, and rich genealogical data can be gleaned from studying them. In this case the family on Cherokee Freedman card, #1 is examined. Were the people interviewed first people of influence? Were they interviewed first because they were once enslaved by persons of prminence? Or were they simply just "first in line?"  That will not be known, but in this case we see a man called John H. Ross.

John Ross applied for the enrollment of himself and a young son, also called John. Elnora a daughter was added later to the same card.

Cherokee Freedman Card #1
The National Archives at Ft. Worth, Ft. Worth Texas 1868-1914
NAI Number: 251747, Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Record Group 75

It is revealed that his father was a man called Stephen Ross and the father Stephen had once been enslaved by Cherokee chief John Ross. His mother's name was Emily Humphrey and her slave holders Cherokee John Riley. The father Stephen was deceased at the time, but the mother Emily was still living, and she also went through the Dawes enrollment process, and had her own card.

(Source: Same as above)

Mother Emily Humphries

Emily Humphries's name placed on Cherokee Freedman card #235. The front of her card indicates out that she had was 75 years of age. Interestingly, when her name was recorded the name of her slave holder was omitted. A note on the front side of the card points out that on an earlier roll her name was recorded as Emily Vann.

(Source: Same as above)

Her parent were Samuel Russell, and Annie Hall. Both had at one time been enslaved by a different person, called Ned Hall. From son John's card it was noted that her slave holder was John Riley, so clearly, she and her parents were held in bondage by different people.

Source: Same as above

The Enrollment Application
The application jacket for both John and Emily were examined, and Emily's is included in both files. So focusing on the file of John H. Ross, a fairly detailed interview appeared. In the first interview with John H. Ross he points out that his father was enslaved by Chief John Ross. It is also clear that his parents were married as Emily his mother was known at one time as Emily Ross. He also confirmed that his mother Emily had been enslaved by the Cherokee Riley family.
National Archives Publication M1301

Applications for Enrollment

(Also accessed from, Native American Collection, Choctaw Freedmen)

Questions were asked about his wife. He confirmed that her name was Peggy, but that she was by that time, deceased. Also for clarification he was asked if he ever used the name Jack Ross. His reply was that he had not used that name and that Jack was actually related to him, for they were cousins. Interestingly the desire to continue the tradition of naming the child John continued, because he named his young child John Ross, also.

(Source: Same as above)

A summary and analysis of the case is included in the file, with references to the child Elnora. It becomes evident that Elnora was a daughter of John Ross and Dora Rogers. Because they were not married with Elnora was born, it was first ruled that the request to enroll Elnora be denied.

(Source: Same as above)

In 1901 the interview with Emily Humphries was recorded. There were learn that was the first time that an effort was made to enroll Elnora the young girl and daughter of Stephen. Elnora' mother was Dora Rogers who was deceased. Questions were directed to Emily herself about her own background and she points out that she came from "the old country" meaning that he arrived with Cherokees on the Trail of Tears. She mentions the name of a slave holder called Jordan. (It is not clear if she was later sold to a Riley, of if she was passed on later to someone called Riley.)

(Source: Same as above)

A second interview with John H. Ross appears in the file, and some of the same questions were asked. It appeared that there were not major concerns and the decision appeared to be as simple one to enroll John H, and his son John as Cherokee Freedmen.

(Source: Same as above)

It was later decided in 1902 that after John had provided satisfactory evidence about Elnora that she would finally be added to the same card as John H . Ross, and son John. It was stated that she would have her name place on Card number 1.

(Source: Same as above)

Another interview from 1902 reflects the efforts that John made to enroll both of his children. Most of the remaining documents reflect the effort to insure that both John and Elnora would be enrolled.

(Source: Same as above)

One can see the decision made a month later pertaining to the case.
(Source: Same as above)

Finally in 1904 an official decision with multiple signature appears closing the file and the case for enrollment of both children of John H. Ross as Cherokee Freedmen. 

(Source: Same as above)

(Source: Same as above)

(Source: Same as above)

These children were the children of a man who was the first in his line to be born free. They were grandchildren of a man once enslaved the principal chief Chief John Ross. And they were great grandchildren of a woman brought westward during the years of the removal. And the names of the parents left behind in the east are revealed and reflected.

The thoroughness in the process was fascinating and impressive. Was it because  this was the first case of Cherokee Freedmen to be processed? Or was it possibly because of the connections to Chief Ross which influenced the case? The answer will not be known, but the names of additional ancestors of the children are found through their father's words as well as the words of their grandmother Emily and that adds such value to the records.

The case also illustrates how long the process often took for Dawes applicants and how many families waited for years for a final decision. Of course as time has shown, the status of Cherokee Freedmen would be met with challenges over the years, for over 100 years in fact, even until times as recent as the present. But it is hoped that the records clearly reflect the legacy of those who were part of the nation whether through family, or legal status legislated by the peculiar institution of slavery. The Ross family has a rich history, and a legacy that goes back prior to the years of removal and continues to this day.

This is the 46th article in a 52-article series devoted to sharing histories of families once held as enslaved people in Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma. The focus is on the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes, and these posts are part of an ongoing project to document 52 families in 52 weeks.

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