Cherokee Females at the Heart of Early Nineteenth Century Cherokee Society

“Amazons in Appalachia…the story of the Amazons [is] not so great a fable as we imagined, many of the Cherokee women being as famous in war, as powerful in the council.” -Henry Timberlake, Memoirs, 1765
“Amazons in Appalachia…the story of the Amazons [is] not so great a fable as we imagined, many of the Cherokee women being as famous in war, as powerful in the council.” -Henry Timberlake, Memoirs, 1765
Center for American Indian Studies Programs
American Indian Studies Seminar Series
Wednesday, November 7, 2012

5:30 pm to 6:30 pm

TFL

Rowena McClinton, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville

My research project will contribute to the expansive work Theda Perdue has accomplished in her seminal text, Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835 (London and Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998). I plan to write a monograph exposing how Cherokee males revered Cherokee females and elevated them to realms of utmost respect and honor. From the publication of the two volume edition, Rowena McClinton’s The Moravian Springplace Mission to the Cherokees (London and Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007) to the forthcoming publication of the John Howard Payne Papers, valuable new materials have surfaced to under gird Perdue’s research. New evidence reveals how Cherokee females made Herculean efforts to maintain their traditions in the first three decades of the 1830s, when the Nation encountered constant intrusions on their lands and resources. Throughout this time period, Moravian missionaries (they served the Cherokee Nation from 1801-1833) at Springplace Mission, a site in present-day Northwest Georgia, noticed that ” … the family tree rests on them; the father counts for little or nothing and is able to exercise no more authority on the children than what the mother … at least tacitly … concedes.”[1] Reinforcing the power of her role in the family was an illustration by Second Principal of the Nation Charles Hicks (1817-1827), who told how elderly women used traditional methods to heal his grandson. He as the grandfather could not overrule his wife and wife’s side of the family.[2]

Females were also the crucibles of Cherokee traditional economy; they were the agriculturalists and circulators of food products. Withstanding constant attacks from missionaries and government policy makers alike, her stance within the Nation was impenetrable even when Albert Gallatin viewed the Cherokee female as a bulwark against “civilization”: He proclaimed, “The real problem with Native societies was that women instead of men did the farming.”[3] Women continued to do women things, while men continued to do men things.

It was the Cherokee males that told the same missionaries how Cherokee origin stories placed the female Selu as the caretaker of the Nation. Men looked upon the female as the disciplinarian and first parent Selu. The Mother of the Nation warned fellow Cherokees to dispel “evil” introductions into their culture. Earlier Chief Koychezetel or Warrior’s Nephew brought the following news from the Cherokee Council: “Also your Mother [of the Nation] is not pleased that you punish each other severely. Yes, you whip until blood flows.”[4]

The place of the Cherokee female’s importance to the Nation emerges over and over again in letters Chief John Ross writes to President Andrew Jackson in the early 1830s begging his government to protect the women and children from intruders, especially Georgians. These correspondences are a part of the present project, the publication of volumes 7 through 14 of the Newberry’s John Howard Payne Papers (to be published by the Nebraska Press).

[1] MAS, trans. Elizabeth Marx, letter from John Gambold to Van Vleck, July 1, 1820, Springplace letter folder 3.

[2] McClinton, The Moravian Springplace Mission to the Cherokees, 2 vols. (London and Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), 2: 67.

[3] Consult Chapter One, “Constructing Gender,” in Theda Perdue’s Cherokee Women: Gender and Culture Change, 1700-1835, 189.

[4] See Gregory Evans. Dowd in “Gift Giving and the Cherokee-British Alliance,” eds., Andrew R.L. Cayton and Fredrika J. Teute, Contact Points: American Frontiers from the Mohawk Valley to the Mississippi, 1750-1830 (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 127-131. For British attitudes toward corporal punishment, see Lawrence Stone, The Crisis of the Aristocracy, 1558-1641 (New York, 1966).

Cost and registration information: 

AIS seminar papers are pre-circulated electronically two weeks prior to the seminar date. Email mcnickle@newberry.org to request a copy of the paper. Please do not request a paper unless you plan to attend.