| The Heath Anthology of
American Literature, Fifth Edition
Elias Boudinot (Cherokee)
Buck Watie, who was later to adopt the name Elias Boudinot, was
born about 1802 in the Cherokee Nation in Georgia, the oldest son of
Oo-watie and his wife Susanna Reese. Buck, or Gallegina, grew up during a time
of rapid and sometimes violent change in the Cherokee Nation. Instead of the
traditional Cherokee upbringing, Gallegina was sent to a Moravian mission
school at Spring Place, Georgia, in 1811, where he received an education in the
practices and values of the white society. There, the young Cherokee was taught
reading, writing, arithmetic, religion, geography, and history in addition to
vocational skills such as farming in the manner of white settlers.
In 1817, Buck was one
of a group of Indian students chosen to attend the American Board of
Commissioners for Foreign Missions school at Cornwall, Connecticut. On the way
to the school, the party stopped at the home of Elias Boudinot, president of
the American Bible Society and a supporter of the Cornwall School. Buck Watie
enrolled as Elias Boudinot, after the Cherokee custom of adopting the name of a
benefactor. Boudinot remained at the school until 1826. In that year, he
married Harriet Ruggles Gold, a white woman, of Cornwall.
In spring, 1826,
Boudinot was sent on a tour of the eastern United States by the General Council
of the Cherokee Nation to solicit donations for a national academy and for
printing equipment. It was during this tour that he delivered his famous Address
to the Whites. The trip was successful, and after a brief stint as teacher
at the Hightower mission in the Cherokee Nation, Boudinot was asked to become
the editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, the first newspaper published by
American Indians. Publication of the newspaper was made possible by the
acquisition of a press and types in both the Roman alphabet and the Cherokee
syllabary paid for with funds raised on Boudinot’s tour. It was also supported
by the American Board, which was convinced by Samuel Austin Worcester to do so.
Worcester was a missionary with whom Boudinot collaborated in translations of
the New Testament and a Cherokee hymnal. After its first appearance in
February, 1828, the newspaper was distributed not only in the Cherokee Nation,
but in the eastern United States and in Europe as well. While some parts of it
were printed in Cherokee, much of the content was in English and dealt with
news of Cherokee progress in farming, education, and industry.
While the Phoenix
was a news medium to inform its local readers, it was also a propaganda tool
used to persuade the larger society of the strides toward
civilization, that is, assimilation, being taken by the Indian
nation. The Cherokees needed such persuasion in 1828, too, because of the
encroachments of whites from Georgia on Indian lands, especially after the discovery
of gold there. A special militia group, the Georgia Guard, had been started to
patrol the Cherokee land claimed by the state. The Guard engaged in a policy of
harassment of the Indians designed to encourage their emigration to the West.
Georgia had a strong ally in their cause, the federal government, which passed
the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Provisions of the Act called for the removal of
eastern Indians to lands west of the Mississippi. Like most of the Cherokees,
at first Boudinot resisted such a move, arguing that the Cherokees had adapted
to white civilization and should be allowed to remain on their lands and
preserve their political integrity.
But as pressures from
Georgia and the federal government continued, Boudinot concluded that the only
way the nation could be saved was to remove to the West. Accordingly, he and
other Cherokees with similar views signed the Treaty of New Echota in 1835,
providing for the trade of Cherokee lands in the East for land in Indian
Territory. The treaty was opposed by the majority of Cherokees, many of whom
continued to refuse to move. When the government sent soldiers to enforce the
treaty, the result was the Trail of Tears, the mass migration of the Cherokees
in the winter of 1838–39, which resulted in death for many and suffering for
all. On June 22, 1839, a group of Cherokees killed Boudinot at Park Hill,
Indian Territory, in revenge for his having signed the treaty. On the same day
his relatives Major Ridge and John Ridge, both of whom had signed the New Echota
Treaty, were killed as well.
Boudinot was an
eloquent speaker for his people. The rhetoric and persuasive language of his Address
are a forecast of the propagandistic style of his editorials in the Cherokee
Phoenix. His greatest significance in Cherokee letters rests in his
editorship and in his work as a translator of English works into Cherokee.
James W. Parins|
Arkansas at Little Rock
In the Heath Anthology
An Address to the White
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Elias Boudinot: A North Georgia Notable
Brief biography focusing on Boudinot's effect on the Cherokee Nation.
Native American Authors
Information about and links to Boudinot's writings.
Ralph Henry Gabriel, Elias Boudinot, Cherokee, and His America, 1941
Handbook of Native American Literature, 1996
Frankie Hutton and Barbara Straus Reed, eds., Outsiders in 19th-Century Press History: Multicultural Perspectives, 1995
Letters and Other Papers Relating to Cherokee Affairs; Being in Reply to Sundry Publications Authorized by John Ross, 1837
Theda Perdue, ed., Cherokee Editor: The Writings of Elias Boudinot, 1983