I mentioned in a previous post that gold was discovered in 1828 in the North Georgia Mountains. Miners swarmed into the mountains and encroached on the lands of the Cherokee.In my books, The Gemstone Chronicles series, I referenced the gold rush, the displacement of the Cherokee, and one of the legends regarding the origin of staurolite Fairy Crosses – the Trail of Tears. In this post, I will discuss how the 1832 Georgia Gold Lottery impacted the Cherokee in particular, North Georgia in general, and led to the infamous Trail of Tears.
The capital of the Cherokee Nation was at New Echota, near present day Calhoun, Georgia. Lana and I took a Saturday and visited New Echota to learn more about the Cherokee, the gold rush, and the ultimate displacement of the Cherokee. We learned a lot during our short time at New Echota, including the Cherokee form of government, the way the Cherokee lived in the early 1800’s, and some of the famous Cherokee people.
As I mentioned above, the 1832 Gold Lottery was part of a larger land lottery in Georgia. The lottery encompassed the lands of the Cherokee as show in the map below.
The lands on the right hand side of the map are the lands that held most of the gold. According to the display at New Echota, about 85,000 people competed for about 18,000 land lots and 133,000 people competed for the 35,000 gold lots in the lottery. The land lots were 160 acre tracts and the gold lots were 40 acre plots.
A big question in my mind was how did the lottery come about? it turns out that Georgia had a history of doing land lotteries. According to Wikipedia, the Georgia lotteries began in 1805 and a succession of lotteries followed in 1807, 1820, 1821, and 1827. By 1832, the Cherokee were living on an area in the northeast part of the state and the Creek had ceded all of their lands in the state.
When gold was discovered in 1828 in Lumpkin County (Dahlonega), white settlers headed to the mountains to stake their claims. It didn’t matter that the land belonged to the Cherokee. In fact, the State of Georgia passed laws that forbade the Cherokee from mining gold on their own land!
The Cherokee didn’t just give up the lands, though. Since they considered themselves a sovereign nation within the United States, the Cherokee viewed the land lottery as illegal. The Cherokee sued and the case reached the US Supreme Court. More on that coming up.
A second case involving the Cherokee reached the Supreme Court, too. This case involved a law Georgia passed that required non-Native Americans have a license, issued by the state, to be present on Native American lands. When Samuel Worcester refused to get a license, Georgia arrested him and put him in prison. Mr. Worcester had arrived in New Echota in 1825 to convert the Cherokee to Christianity and teach them English. He also served as the postmaster and, with Elias Boudinot, established the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper among the Native Americans.
Now, back to the court cases. In the first case, Worcester v. Georgia, the Supreme Court found in favor of Worcester. According to Wikipedia, Chief Justice John Marshall ruled that the federal government had an exclusive relationship with the Cherokee Nation and recognized the Cherokee Nation’s sovereignty. above state laws. Worcester was pardoned, but moved to Indian Territory in 1836.
The other case, Cherokee Nation v Georgia, the Supreme Court ruled that the Cherokee was not a foreign nation (later reversed in Worcester v. Georgia) but had a relationship similar to a “ward to its guardian.” Regardless of the ruling, the state and President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce the rulings and moved forward with the land lottery. Below is a land deed from the lottery signed by William Lumpkin, Governor of Georgia.
The land lottery was the beginning of the end of the Cherokee in Georgia. More settlers streamed into Georgia and, with the Georgia Guard enforcing the laws, there wasn’t many avenues of recourse for the Cherokee. Finally, in 1833, the Cherokee began negotiations with the federal government for a removal treaty. The Cherokee were split into two factions. The Treaty Party, led by Elias Boudinot (who worked with Samuel Worcester on the Cherokee Phoenix), Major Ridge, John Ridge, and Charles Vann advocated for the removal treaty. The National Party, led by John Ross, the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation opposed the treaty the federal government offered.
In December 1835, the negotiations were held in New Echota and a treaty was signed. The treaty allowed for the payment of $5,000,000 for all Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi River, equal land in the Indian Territory, $500,000 for education, and full compensation for the lands left behind. One other clause was that any Cherokee that wished to do so could remain in the states in which they resided and become citizens. With that last clause included, the committee reported back to the council, and the council unanimously approved the treaty. The 20 members of the committee signed the treaty and it made its way back to Washington. President Andrew Jackson struck the last clause from the treaty.
When the National Party learned of the treaty, they protested that they had not ratified the treaty and it was, therefore, illegal. John Ross presented to the US Senate a petition signed by 16,000 Cherokee asking that the treaty not be ratified. However, in 1836, by one vote, the treaty was ratified and President Martin Van Buren directed General Winfield Scott to enforce the removal of the Cherokee. 1838 saw more than 16,000 Cherokee moved from their land. Multiple routes moved the Cherokee over land and river. Below is a map of the infamous Trail of Tears.
During the forced removal, more than 4,000 Cherokee perished. The Cherokee finally arrived in their new lands, but old tensions still festered. In 1839, members of the National Party assassinated Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge, and John Ridge. They also attacked Stand Watie, but the attempt to kill him failed.
The aftermath of the assassinations was a civil war within the Cherokee Nation. In 1846, the federal government negotiated a when a tenuous peace treaty. The bitterness remained and may have contributed to the split within the Cherokee during the American Civil War. The Treaty Party faction (and most of the Cherokee Nation) sided with the Confederacy. John Ross and his supporters sided with the Union. With the Union victory in the Civil War, John Ross became the recognized Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
This post cannot capture the events and politics that led to the removal of the Cherokee from Georgia. The land lottery system set up in Georgia beginning in 1805 might be the starting point. So many other factors and circumstances added nuances and I think it overly simplifies a complex issue.
What are your thoughts about the plight of the Cherokee and the impact of the 1832 Georgia Gold Lottery? Let me a comment and let me know. As always, feedback and shares are welcome!
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