Trail Of Tears Essay, Research Paper
Trail of Tears
At the conclusion of the colonials’ War of Independence with Britain, during which the Cherokee had fought alongside the British, a treaty was signed in 1786, establishing the boundaries of Cherokee territory. As always, encroachments by European-American settlers continued in violation of this written agreement. A second treaty and another cession of territory was forced on the Cherokee people, sanctioning both existing encroachments as well as anticipated land hunger. In the War of 1812, however, the Cherokee natives refused to join with Tecumseh and the Creek-dominated southern confederacy of tribes, choosing instead to come to the aid of the European-Americans. The Cherokee natives were, in fact, instrumental in assisting Andrew Jackson’s forces against the Creek at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, in Georgia. Their loyalty to the Union brought no benefit or protection once the conflict ended (Odur, 8 May 00). Consequently, in 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act, providing for the transplanting of all Indian tribes then east of the Mississippi River, to what is present day Oklahoma.
During this semesters history class many topics were discussed regarding the transformation of America between 1770 and 1870. There were numerous interesting topics discussed; however, I found the topic of the uprooting the Native Americans the most interesting. This commentary will examine the circumstances that instigated the injustice better known as the Trail of Tears. Further, it this commentary will detail how the “five civilized” tribes assisted in the numerous battles the Americans faced, and how they assisted in the settling of present day America. In return, the Native Americans were “sentenced” to the American wasteland, better known as Oklahoma.
First and foremost, we must understand what the “five civilized” tribes are and how they got coined with such a title. The tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole were coined “civilized” because they adapted quickly to European ways. The European ways included Christianizing, English language literacy, abandoning their semi-nomadic way of life, adopted a system of settled agriculture, and developed a notion of private property. (Bailey, p. 280).
How did the Native American land and way of life come into jeopardy? It is simple, greed and “Manifest Destiny,” the theory that America must expand to all reaches. Next, we will examine how and why the American society became compelled to herd the Native America’s up like cattle and ship them to foreign lands.
In 1609, the first permanent settlement was formed at Jamestown, Virginia. In the years to follow other settlements were also formed. When white’s first arrived in America the natives helped them adapt to an uncivilized way of life by teaching them
how to farm crops. In addition to this the natives were our trading partners. We commonly traded pots, blankets, metal arrowheads, and alcohol for furs and the Native Americans land. (Brinkley, p. 43) Europeans depended on the natives in order to make the settlements in the New World profitable. Eventually these settlements were not only trading posts but also actual settlements with women and children, and soon became small towns and even cities. This is when everything started to change. As more and more whites moved to the New World, more and more land was needed to support the colonization. In Virginia, Sir William Berkeley set up a treaty with the natives that installed boundaries in the territory. When these boundaries were broken by whites the natives attacked. Nathaniel Bacon worked up a militia and attacked the natives against Berkeley’s orders. (Brinkley, p. 35) This little skirmish is known as Bacon’s Rebellion and it set the tone for relations between the whites and the natives. Whites wanted to keep moving westward into the Native American’s land and they would break agreements and set treaties to do so. In addition, when the new settlers came to America, they carried many germs that the natives did not have immunities to. These germs caused many epidemics that nearly wiped out whole tribes and severely depleted others. In New England, the survivors of these lands often sold their land to the English and even assimilated into their culture by converting to Christianity and adopting the Puritan laws of New England. (Brinkley, p. 43) However, as the English and others settled America conflicts continued to arise. In 1637, the English wiped out almost the entire Pequot tribe over trading rights with the Dutch in New Netherland. This episode is known as the Pequot War. (Brinkely, p. 44) Gradually, the whites continued to move west and the natives kept giving up their land, most times for nothing, sometimes for beads, alcohol or the person’s word that they would live in peace. In 1675, King Philip and his tribe waged a war against the English because of English encroachment onto their land. This bloody war lasted three long years. Armed Native Americans killed as many as 1000 English. Consequently, the English turned to the Mohawk tribe for help. The Mohawks killed King Philip and the English eventually won the war. (Brinkley, p. 44)
During the French and Indian War, the tension between the English and Native Americans began to further develop. Nearly all of the North American tribes sided and fought with the French against the English. The only tribe to aid the English was the Iroquois. The Iroquois were hesitant to fight the French for a known fear of them. The English saw this as cowardly and thought of the natives as enemies. Even the Iroquois were not English allies because of their unwillingness to fight. (Brinkley, p. 100) In the years that followed, the American Revolution started. The natives this time allied themselves with the British. They favored the British because in the past, it was the British that set the boundaries but it was the settlers that broke the boundaries and caused conflicts and disregarded the set boundaries. Therefore, the natives fought against the American patriots. The Cherokee’s led continuos uprisings and attacks in Virginia and South Carolina during the Revolutionary War. After the American patriots won the war, they (Americans) slaughtered 96 Delaware Indians for the attack on a white family. This tribe however was composed of Christian pacifists. It is believed that
they were slain for spite. (Brinkley, p. 141) It didn’t take long for Americans and the British to go to war again. In the War of 1812, the Native Americans took sides with the British again. The Native Americans sided with the British for fear of the Americans ever-fast colonization, broke promises and numerous slayings. Indians took Ft. Dearborn from the Americans and Tecumseh, an Indian, was promoted to Brigadier General in the British army. During the war the Creeks attacked in the south but Andrew Jackson led an army seeking revenge against the tribe and slaughtered the Creek warriors, and even women and children. This act of revenge made Jackson a Major General in the United States Army. It also helped build him a reputation as an Indian hater. (Brinkley, p. 210, 212) In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected to the Presidency of the Untied States. He adopted a policy of Indian removal, Indian Removal Act, for the five “civilized” tribes of the south. Jackson’s plan of removal for the tribes consisted of trading their present land for land “set aside” in present day Oklahoma. The Cherokee tribe refused to leave their land, which caused Jackson to sent 7,000 troops to Georgia. Jackson’s army escorted the tribe at bayonet point to their new land. Unfortunately, the 15,000 Cherokee members who made the 116-day voyage in the freezing cold, with inadequate food supplies suffered about 4,000 casualties most died of small pox and starvation. (Brinkley, p. 249-250) Hence, this voyage was named “The Trail of Tears” and was one of the grossest displays of
exploitation that our country has ever seen.
Throughout the history of our nation, Native Americans gave up their land to whites and their “Manifest Destiny.” Consequently, it crossed the “line” when the whites actually forced them there against their will, at gun/bayonet point. The coexistence of whites and Indians started peacefully but soon they grew into a relationship in which whites would not share and live together peacefully. And, if there were ever an uprising by the Native Americans, the whites would suppress the uprising and take the Native Americans land as a result, just as the whites did in 1774 after Lord Dungaree’s War. The Shawnee revolted and lost and therefore forced off their land. (Brinkley, p. 140)
In summation, no book and/or paper could attempt to justify or compensate the grave injustice our county has done to the Native American’s. I felt after taking this History class I learned an abundance of information about American history, between 1770 to 1877; however, something was missing. Where were the true Americans-Native Americans during all this colonization and settling of the Americas. After preparing this commentary I now know, they were being moved from their land by gunpoint and cast into the wasteland of present day Oklahoma.
Odur. “Civilizations Under Siege”(16 Apr 00) online @ http://odur.let.rug.nl/ ~usa/E/conquest/siege25.htm)
Brinkley. “History of the United States,” 2nd Ed. (Washington D.C: R.R. Donnelley & Sons Company, 1994) 35-280
Bailey, Kennedy and Cohen.“The American Pageant,” 11th Ed. (Boston, MA, Houghton Mifflin Company, 1998) 280