Monday, April 16, 2012

Abolitionist Newspapers Discuss Slavery in the Cherokee Nation

The Liberator was one of several Abolitionist Newspapers
Image accessed through Accessible Archives.

Those who study pre-Civil War America know that there were many people working towards the eradication of the horrific and cruel practice of chattel slavery in the United States as well as in the Territories. However, for many scholars the concerns of the abolition of Black chattel slavery practiced by Indian Tribes is somehow overlooked. The publishers of the antebellum newspapers however, were fully aware of slavery, or runaway slaves and of the efforts of resistance in the Territory among those held as slaves.

As early as 1842 there were efforts among the slaves held by Cherokee Indians, to resist. The most daring effort was the Cherokee Slave Revolt of 1842. Dozens of slaves held by wealthy Cherokee Joseph "Rich Joe" Vann, who lived near Webber's Falls had a major revolt, when slaves locked the Vann family in their homes, seized all horses, mules and weapons and made an effort to make it Mexico. After several days and a fierce battle, the fugitive slaves were overtaken and returned to bondage. However--runaways were still reported and ads for the capture of slaves continued.  In 1856, William Lloyd Garrison, editor of The Liberator published two front page articles about slavery in Indian Territory, and specifically among Cherokees.  In the first article he described the difficulty for Cherokee slave holders in retaining their slaves due to the presence of both abolitionists, and of course continued resistance of the enslaved in their quest to be free.

The Liberator September 26, 1856 p. 1

A letter from the Catholic Mission in the Osage Nation, dated the 26th ult., gives us the following information:
'Our Osages, in returning from the summer hunt, found in the vicinity of the Arkansas river some few deed bodies, say three colored and one half red. A patty of Cherokees were here in pursuit of runaway negroes, well provided with arms, and we suppose they overtook them in the plains, and had battle.'

So it goes. Not only the Territories of the United States, but the Indian Territories , are invaded by Abolitionists, and mischief and murder follow. The Cherokee Nation of Indians , at in well known, are owners of large numbers of slaves, and are the cultivators of large plantations. A year ago, certain Abolition preachers of the church, located in that Nation, commenced tampering with the slaves, and the Indian owners became indignant at it, and remonstrated against their conduct. They were invited to quit the Nation, if they could not desist from these mischievous practices; and we recollect that their conduct was brought before some of the church assemblies North, but of the result we are not so well satisfied—whether they left the Cherokee Nation or not. But the legitimate teachings of the Abolitionists are seen in the brief record, which we have made above.

After the foregoing was written, we received the following in the Van Buren (Arkansas) Intelligencer :  We have been handed the following extract from a letter from a gentleman in the Cherokee Nation, to one of our citizens, for publication:—

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Another article describes a very dramatic confrontation between Cherokee slave holders and their slaves who were resisting and who were armed:

The Liberator September 26, 1856 p. 1

We had quite a fracas on Verdigris river a short time since, Four negroes ran away, two of them belonging to Lewis Ross, and two to Mrs. Wright. They were and rifled and mounted; had two pack horses, flour, meat, coffee, and all the necessaries for a camp life, Seven Cherokees followed, and overtook their, one hundred and fifty miles from where they started, high up on the Verdigris. The Cherokees got upon them before they were discovered; the negroes were dismounted, and at a spring drinking water. The Cherokees ordered them to lay down their arms, and give up. The negroes replied, they would be d—d if they would do it; and at the some time, one negro fired both barrels of his at Lynch's son, riddling his shot-pouch, and a handkerchief that he were around his neck. Strange to say, it did not wound him. Another negro first, and shot Pins England in the thigh. At that the Cherokees fired, and killed two of the negroes dead, and wounded the other two. One of the wounded negroes died the next morning, and it is supposed the other is tally wounded. So ends the first chapter.

A few days ago, a negro named Ike (you will probably know as the Hamilton negro) was met in the road by four Cherokees, who tried to arrest him. He drew a revolver, and shot a horse from under the Cherokee who was nearest to him, grazing the Indian' s knee, and shot afterwards at the Indian, and then galloped off. The country is full of runaway Negroes.

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These two articles both appeared in William Lloyd Garrison's newspaper The Liberator, in 1856, several years before the Civil War. It would be a full ten years however, before the slaves would be completely free in Indian Territory, when the Treaty of 1866 finally abolished the practice of chattel slavery in the Territory.

Stories such as these are not often mentioned in American history, but several thousand people descend from those held in bondage in Indian Territory. They too longed like all men, like all women to live as free people. And when opportunity came, they too resisted and fought for their freedom. Some won, and others lost the battle, but their stories deserves to be told.