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Traditionally, women played an important role in Cherokee governance. Over the course of the early nineteenth century, their influence waned as the Cherokee centralized their government and sought to conform to more American ways. The written constitution passed in 1827 excluded women from any formal role in government. This does not mean they were completely without influence. Their opinions were still respected.
The first two of these petitions were written in 1817 and 1818 as the Cherokee were contemplating surrendering their lands in North Carolina. The women urged no further land cessions. Nancy Ward, the last Beloved Woman, was a leader in these movements. The third petition, from 1831, expressed the women’s opposition to Removal.
Theda Perdue and Michael D. Green, The Cherokee Removal: A Brief History with Documents (Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2016), 122–127
PETITION, MAY 2, 1817
The Cherokee ladies now being present at the meeting of the chiefs and warriors in council have thought it their duty as mothers to address their beloved chiefs and warriors now assembled.
Our beloved children and head men of the Cherokee Nation, we address you warriors in council. We have raised all of you on the land which we now have, which God gave us to inhabit and raise provisions. We know that our country had once been extensive, but by repeated sales has become circumscribed to a small track, and never have [we] thought it was our duty to interfere in the disposition of it till now. If a father or mother was to sell all their lands which they had to depend on, which their children had to raise their living on, which would be indeed bad, and to be removed to another country. We do not wish to go to an unknown country, [to] which we have understood some of our children wish to go over the Mississippi, but this act of our children would be like destroying your mothers.
Your mothers, your sisters, ask and beg of you not to part with any more of our land. We say ours. You are our descendants; take pity on our request. But keep it for our growing children, for it was the good will of our creator to place us here, and you know our father, the great president,1 will not allow his white children to take our country away. Only keep your hands off of paper talks,2 for it’s our own country. For [if] it was not, they would not ask you to put your hands to paper, for it would be impossible to remove us all. For as soon as one child is raised, we have others in our arms, for such is our situation and will consider our circumstance.
Therefore, children, don’t part with any more of our lands but continue on it and enlarge your farms. Cultivate and raise corn and cotton, and your mothers and sisters will make clothing for you, which our father the president has recommended to us all. We don’t charge anybody for selling any lands, but we have heard such intentions of our children. But your talks become true at last; it was our desire to forewarn you all not to part with our lands.
Nancy Ward to her children: Warriors to take pity and listen to the talks of your sisters. Although I am very old, yet [I] cannot but pity the situation in which you will hear of their minds. I have great many grandchildren which [I] wish them to do well on our land.3
PETITION: JUNE 30, 1818
We have called a meeting among ourselves to consult on the different points now before the council relating to our national affairs. We have heard with painful feelings that the bounds of the land we now possess are to be drawn into very narrow limits. The land was given to us by the Great Spirit above as our common right, to raise our children upon, and to make support for our rising generations. We therefore humbly petition our beloved children, the head men and warriors, to hold out to the last in support of our common rights, as the Cherokee Nation has been the first settlers of this land; we therefore claim the right of the soil.
We well remember that our country was formerly very extensive, but by repeated sales it has become circumscribed to the very narrow limits we have at present. Our father the president advised us to become farmers, to manufacture our own clothes, and to have our children instructed. To this advice we have attended in everything as far as we were able. Now the thought of being compelled to remove the other side of the Mississippi is dreadful to us because it appears to us that we, by this removal, shall be brought to a savage state again; for we have, by the endeavor of our father the president, become too much enlightened to throw aside the privileges of a civilized life.
We therefore unanimously join in our meeting to hold our country in common as hitherto.
Some of our children have become Christians. We have missionary schools among us. We have the gospel in our nation. We have become civilized and enlightened and are in hopes that in a few years our nation will be prepared for instruction in other branches of sciences and arts, which are both useful and necessary in civilized society.
There are some white men among us who have been raised in this country from their youth, are connected with us by marriage, have considerable families, [and] who are very active in encouraging the emigration of our nation. These ought to be our truest friends but prove our worst enemies. They seem to be only concerned how to increase their riches but do not care what becomes of our Nation, nor even of their own wives and children.
PETITION: OCTOBER 17, 1831
To the Committee and Council,
We the females, residing in Salequoree and Pine Log, believing that the present difficulties and embarrassments under which this nation is placed demands a full expression of the mind of every individual on the subject of emigrating to Arkansas, would take upon ourselves to address you. Although it is not common for our sex to take part in public measures, we nevertheless feel justified in expressing our sentiments on any subject where our interest is as much at stake as any other part of the community.
We believe the present plan of the general government to effect our removal west of the Mississippi, and thus obtain our lands for the use of the state of Georgia, to be highly oppressive, cruel, and unjust. And we sincerely hope there is no consideration which can induce our citizens to forsake the land of our fathers, of which they have been in possession from time immemorial, and thus compel us against our will to undergo the toils and difficulties of removing with our helpless families hundreds of miles to unhealthy and unproductive country. We hope therefore the Committee and Council will take into deep consideration our deplorable situation and do everything in their power to avert such a state of things. And we trust by a prudent course their transactions with the general government will enlist on our behalf the sympathies of the good people of the United States.
- 1. President of the United States.
- 2. Negotiations over treaties.
- 3. Nancy Ward (c. 1738–c. 1822) was, until the modern era, the last ghigau, or Beloved Woman, an honorific title that bestowed certain leadership responsibilities; for instance, Beloved Women made all choices related to war and peace.