The Vagabond – Many local Cherokee Indians were Christians

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By Danny Crownover

The Vagabond recently discovered an article written in 1948 by local historian Will I. Martin.

“It may seem surprising to many people here that many Cherokee Indians of Etowah and Cherokee counties and in parts of Georgia not only converted to the Christian faith but became preachers before the whites moved in to take over their lands.

“Notable among these Cherokee Christian preachers were John Arch and Thomas J. Meigs, the former a member of the Moravian church and the latter the Methodist church.

“When whites began to settle in Cherokee County in the 1830s, they found that most of the Indians had been converted and were members of the Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Moravian faiths.

“The Reverend J.D. Anthony, who was the son of the Reverend Whitfield Anthony and one of the first immigrants to Cherokee County, wrote an article for a local newspaper in 1875 in which he mentioned Meigs, who was a full-blooded Cherokee and spoke English fluently. Meigs, however, refused to preach, pray, sing or ask blessings in any language except that of the Cherokees. When Anthony asked Meigs why he would not preach in English when among the whites, he replied, “The ‘postle Paul says, ‘no preach, no pray in unknown languages.’ That’s why I no do it.”

“From the very beginning of their settlements in the area, the whites tried to teach the Indians how to read and write in English. They soon found it to be a very difficult procedure. There was no remedy for the situation until George Guest, son of a mixed-blood mother and white father, invented a Cherokee alphabet of 86 characters.

“Guest, later known by his Indian name of Sequoyah, lived for some time in Big Will’s Valley and played around Noccalula Falls as a child. A small park on Lookout Mountain, belonging to the City of Gadsden, was named in his honor.

“As Sequoyah grew into manhood, he tilled the soil, broke colts and kept a herd of dairy cows. He also became an expert in making silver ornaments such as bracelets, armbands and brooches. One day while he was working in his shop, Sequoyah was visited by a white man named John Hicks, who had the benefit of schooling. Hicks wrote Sequoyah’s name on a piece of paper, which could then be carried miles away and read and understood by another white man.

“Sequoyah then copied his own name on a piece of silver and thereafter stamped it on the items he made. It inspired him to invent the Cherokee alphabet, which is said by linguists to be one of the easiest to learn and use of any language yet invented. The Cherokees soon became used to the alphabet, and in 1829, the Reverend Samuel Worchester caused several fonts of Cherokee type to be cast in a type foundry in Connecticut.

“This type was used in establishing a newspaper at New Echota, Georgia, called The Cherokee Phoenix. The paper was printed half in English and half in Cherokee and was edited by Elias Boudinot, a Cherokee Indian. The paper continued operation until 1835, when it was suspended due to Georgia’s treatment of the Cherokee nation.”

Contact The Vagabond at dkcrown@bellsouth.net.

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