Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Cornelius & Florence Nave, Cherokee Freedmen

This is a family whose story caught my attention in the 1990s. The Naves are an old family deeply rooted in the Cherokee Nation. I met a direct descendant of Cornelius Nave when a young woman working as a technician at the National Archives, mentioned to me that she had ties to the Cherokee Nation. After some discussion, it was noticed that she was directly tied to Cornelius and Florence Nave from Fort Gibson, in the Illinois district of the Cherokee Nation.

In 1901 Cornelius Nave appeared in front of the Dawes Commission. He was applying for enrollment on behalf of himself, wife Florence and their children Thomas, Dora, Charles, William, and Margaret. Cornelius' parents were Charles and Mary Nave. Charles Nave was enslaved by Cherokee Henry Nave, and wife Mary had been enslaved by Joe Vann.  Florence was the daughter of  Bob and Malinda Smith who had lived also in the Illinois district of the nation. Florence's father was enslaved by Bob Smith, and her mother had also been enslaved by Joe Vann. The "Joe Vann" referred to was Joseph "Rich Joe" Vann, who was a wealthy Cherokee living in Webber's Falls. This is also the same Joe Vann from whom several dozen slaves revolted in 1842, and tried to seize their own freedom and make a break for Mexico. (Unfortunately they did were not successful and were returned to bondage.)

The Nave family card is found among Cherokee Freedmen cards as number 138. It is indicated that their history was also recorded on the Wallace Roll. In addition, Florence was also listed on the 1880 Roll, under her maiden name of Florence Smith.

The National Archives at Ft Worth; Ft Worth, Texas, USA; 
Enrollment Cards for the Five Civilized Tribes, 1898-1914; N
AI Number: 251747; Record Group Title: Records of the Bureau of Indian Affairs; Record Group Number: 75
Cherokee Freedman Card #138

(Source: Same as for above image.)

Their interview with the Dawes Commission was not complicated in any way. As he was born after the Civil War, it was confirmed in his interview that his parents had indeed been slaves of Cherokees. He named all of the children, when asked, and their case passed easily through the commissioners without challenge.

National  Archives Publication M1301
Cherokee Freedman File #138

Source: Same as image above

Included also in the file were two birth affidavits for the two younger children, William and Margaret. An image of the one for Margaret appears here.

Source: same as above

More information about Father's life while enslaved
More information about Cornelius Nave however, can be found in the fascinating interview conducted in the 1930s. He was interviewed by Ethel Wolfe Garrison as part of the slave narrative project. However, Cornelius himself was born long after the war, and was, in fact never enslaved at all. But his father Charles Nave was enslaved by Cherokees, and from this interview additional information about the family was shared.

It can be noted that Mary's father was Talaka Vann, one of Joseph "Rich Joe" Vann's slaves. (There is a possibility that Talaka Vann was one of the slave who were part of the 1842 Cherokee Slave revolt.)

"I was born after the War, about 1868, and what I know 'bout slave times is what my pappa told me, and maybe that not be very much. Two year old when my mamma die so I remember nothing of her, and most of my sisters and brothers dead too. Pappa named Charley Nave; mamma's name was Mary Vann before she marry and her papa was Talaka Vann, one of Joe Vann's slave down around Webber's Falls.

"My father was born in Tahlequah just about where the colored church stands on Depot Hill. His master Daniel Nave, was Cherokee. In the master's yard was the slave cabin, one room long, dirt floor, no windows. I think I hear 'em say mamma was born on Bull Creek; that somewhere up near Kansas, maybe near Coffeyville.

"Vinita was the closest town to where I was born; when I get older seem like they call it "the junction" on account the rails cross there, but I never did ride on the trains just stay at home.

"I remember that home after the war brought my pappa back home. He went to the war for three years wid the Union soldiers. But about the home--it was a double-room log house with a cooling-off space between the rooms, all covered with a roof, but no porch, and the beds was made of planks, the table of pine boards, and there was never enough boxes for the chairs so the littlest children eat out of a tin pan off the floor.

"That house was on the place my papa said he bought from Billy Jones in 1895. The land was timbered and the oldest children clear the land, or start to do the work while Pappa go back to Tahlequah to get my sick mamma and the rest of the family. Because mamma was sick then he brought her sister Sucky Pea and her husband, Charley Pea, to help around wid him.

"We lived there a long time, and I was old enough to remember setting in the yard watching the river (Grand River) go by, and the Indians go by. All Indians lived around there, the real colored settlement was four mile from us, and I wasn't scared of them Indians for papa always told me his master Henry Nave, was his own father; that make me part Indian and the reason my hair is long, straight and black like a horse mane.

"Some of the Indian families was Joe Dirt Eater, Six Killer (some of the Six Killers live a few miles SE of Afton at this time, 1938), Chewey Noi, and Gus Buffington. One of the Six Killer women was mighty good to us and we called her "mammy", that a long time after my mammy die though.

"Papa got the soldier fever from being in the War; no, I don't mean like the chills and fever, but just a fever to be in the army, I guess for he joined the regular U.S. Army after a while, serving five years in the 10th Cavalry at Fort Sill during the same time John Adair of Tahlequah and John Gallagher of Muskogee was in the army.

"Coming out of the army for the last time, Papa took all the family and moved to Fort Scott, Kansas, but I guess he feel more at home wid the Indians for pretty soon we all move back, this time to a farm near Fort Gibson.

"I never would hear much about the war that my father was in, but I know he fought for the North. He didn't tell us children much about the War, except he said one time that he was in the Battle of Honey Springs in 1863 down near Elk Creek south of Fort Gibson. That sure was a tough time for the soldiers, for father said they fought and fought before the "Seesesh" soldiers finally took off to the south and the northern troops went back to Fort Gibson. Seem like it take a powerful lot of fighting to rid the country of them Rebs.

"Another time his officer give him a message; he was on his way to deliver it when the enemy spy him and cry out to stop, but father said he kept on going until he was shot in the leg. Then he hide in the bushes along the creek and got away. He got that message to the captain just the same.

"When father was young he would go hunting the fox with his master, and fishing in the streams for the big fish. Sometimes they fish in the Illinois river, sometimes in the Grand, but they always fish the same way. They make pens out in the shallow water with poles every little ways from the river banks. They'd cut brush saplings, walk out into the stream ahead of the pen and chase the fish down to the riffle where they'd pick em up. Once they catch a catfish most as big as a man; that fish had eggs big as hen eggs, and he made a feast for twenty-five Indians on the fishing party.

"Florence Smith was my first wife and Ida Vann the second. All my children was from the first marriage: Thomas, Dora, Charley, Marie, Opal, William, Arthur, Margaret, Thadral and Hubbard. The last one was named for Hubbard Ross; he was related to Chief John Ross and was some kin to Daniel Nave, my father's master."

Source:  Baker, T. Lindsay, and Julie P. Baker. 1996. The WPA Oklahoma slave narratives.

This interview with Cornelius Neely Nave is indeed full of detail about life for enslaved people living within Cherokee nation and within the culture of those who enslaved them. And there was clearly a reference to the fact that the family was also related to those who had enslaved them, so the relationship was one that had deep roots.

The Allotted Land

The land allotment applications have also been digitized, thanks to a partnership between Ancestry, the Oklahoma Historical Society, and the Federal Records Center in Ft. Worth Texas. Because of that partnership, the land allotment records can extend the family narrative significantly. Many people overlook that the Dawes enrollment process was to determine eligibility for land allotments for each person enrolled.

The files are rich and often as in the case of Cornelius Nave, one can see one of the few documents that reflect the actual signature of the head of household. These records reflect the actual application for each and everyone in the household eligible to receive land. This also included children. With the Naves, the father Cornelius submitted papers for each person in his household.

Ancestry.com. Oklahoma and Indian Territory, Land Allotment Jackets for Five Civilized Tribes, 1
884-1934 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2014.

Source: Same as for image above

In the enrollment part of the process, the Nave family, the enrollment case was handled smoothly, but the land allotment case was not without a few challenges. Cornelius applied for the land allotments for himself and the family, but his case was contested by Thomas A. Simpson, a man who had applied for and been rejected as a citizen by intermarriage. However several papers refer to the contested lands made by Simpson.

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Additional papers in the file suggest that there was also an effort to contest Florence's land, but that was also later settled.

Clearly the land allotment records enhance the family story of Cherokee Freedmen as well as the Freedmen of the other tribes. This is a clear example of how multiple resources beyond the Dawes roll can tell the greater story of the family.

Chat With A Descendant of Corneilus Neely Nave

The basic research for the Nave family was conducted over 20 years ago, and I had a chance recently to ask a few questions about the family's reception on this history. Dawn Nave is a direct descendant who worked over 20 years ago at the National Archives, which was when we first met.

After some discussion I suggested that we look up her family among the Dawes Records, where her ancestors were found. Over the years we have kept in touch and after deciding to share some documents from the Dawes records about the Nave family, and recently, I reached out to her, and decided to follow up and ask her some questions. She has graciously decided to share her responses with me.

1)   Q. Were you always aware that Cornelius Nave was one of your ancestors from family oral history?
       A. No

2)   Q. Did your family speak much about having ties to the Cherokee Nation?
       A. No. Just sporadic mentioning of "Indian Blood" in the family, in general 

3)    Q. Were any of the names from this history familiar to you before seeing the file of Cornelius
        A. I had begun conducting research into my father's paternal side of the family before actually
             finding the Cornelius Nave interview and hadn't, up to this point been aware of Charles Nave Cornelius's

4)    Q. Have you had a chance to visit Oklahoma since you learned about your ancestral ties to Cherokee Freedmen?
        A.  Yes.

5)    Q. Has knowledge of this history altered anything with your own view of history?
        A. I would say that this knowledge of my family history further informed rather than altered my own view
            of this history.

6)    Q. How has your family reacted to their Cherokee Freedmen history upon your sharing this
             history with them?

       A. For my father it was especially enlightening and special since he had been cut off from this
            side of his family from a very young age, therefore his knowledge of them was very limited
            until I shared the information with him that I'd found about them.

7)    Q. Have you or  your family members become citizens of the Cherokee Nation? If not, is this
              something you plan to pursue?

          A. No, I am not sure, yet.

8)    Q. Is there anything else to share about this Nave family?
       A. I'm still searching and learning more about my family, and until I further complete and/or answer more
           pertinent questions about them, I will decline.

(Thank you Dawn Nave, of Arizona for sharing your thoughts about your fascinating history, and I wish you well as you continue this journey into your amazing family history!)

This is the 16th article of a 52 article series article devoted to sharing histories and stories of families once held as enslaved people in Indian Territory, no known as Oklahoma. The focus is on the Freedmen of the Five Civilized Tribes and these posts are part of an on-going project to document 52 families in 52 weeks.

1 comment:

Anna Marie said...

Good Morning, my name is Anna Marie, grandaughter of Anna Marie Nave (Bethel). I grew up with my great uncle Willie and great aunts Dora, Opal and Mary Nave. My father was my grandmothers first born Hewitt Bethel and she also had another Thadeous Bethel. Also I never meet my great great grandfather Neely, I was raised on stories of him. One of my favs is how he would ride his horse right into the house.
I miss my family something dearly.
Could you consider connecting me and the lady you mentioned in the article? I have been looking for family every since my father past in 1994. It seemed I lost contact with everyone and since I was so young my mother moved me away after the passing of my Aunt Opal. I've been lost and searching since.