One of the central political figures in Cherokee history, Samuel Worcester set out from Boston for the Cherokee Nation in August, 1825. He and his wife, Ann Orr Worcester, has just married, and Ann was named ‘assistant missionary’ to her husband. Worcester had anticipated being assigned overseas, perhaps India or Palestine once he became ordained as “Missionary to the Heathen.” Six days later, he was on his way to Brainerd Mission in what is now Eastern Tennessee (founded in 1817). The commission came from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, through Jeremiah Evarts, secretary. Evarts had crossed paths with Worcester at an earlier date as an academy teacher.
The mission had ties to Worcester, as his uncle, also named Samuel Worcester, was buried in the churchyard. He immediately began his studies, which included learning the Cherokee language and culture and making contacts among the tribe. His initial mission was to bring the theology of Christianity to the Cherokee, abiding by the goal the American Board had set for its dealings with the Cherokee in 1816:
“To make the whole tribe English in their language, civilized in their habits, and Christian in their religion.”
Although Worcester discovered that he was adept in learning the language of the Cherokee, he never learned to ‘preach’ in the native language. His usage of the language was limited to everyday conversation and translation of scripture and hymns. However, he did find that the Cherokee were reluctant to give up their native tongue to understand Worcester and his message.
His adeptness regarding the language is evidenced in this letter send to his home office written just 3 days after arriving at Brainerd:
“I have been attending to Guyst’s (sic) alphabet, with an hour’s assistance from Mr. Reece. It seems to be the united opinion of all who have formed an opinion, that his mode of writing the language must prevail, although alterations may be made. The number of natives who have already learned it is very great.”
He found that the ‘natives’ who had learned the Sequoyan Syllabary could do so in “usually 2 - 3 days.”
In addition to his missionary duties, Worcester soon found himself working intimately with the newly formed Cherokee press, which soon began publishing the Cherokee Phoenix (rkg qdmasm), the first Native American newspaper, which was bilingual (Cherokee and English). Elias Boudinot was to be the Editor.
The implementation of Boudinot’s duties and the establishment of the press greatly depended on Worcester. He arranged the casting and purchase of type as well as purchase of a press in Boston. With the permission of the American Board, he supervices all the work. In addition, he prepared and distributed the goals and subject matter of the Phoenix:
1. The laws and public documents of the nation
2. Accounts of the manners and customs of the Cherokees, and their progress in education, religion, and the arts of civilized life, with such notices of other Indian tribes as our limited means of information will allow.
3. The principal interesting news of the day.
4. Miscellaneous articles, calculated to pro- mote literature, civilization, and religion among the Cherokees.
In order to promote enlightenment to tribal members, subscriptions were available free of charge to those who could read Cherokee, while English readers were charged $2.50 per annum. In addition to the newspaper, the press translated scriptures and hymns.
The establishment of the press coincided with Worcester’s transfer from Brainerd Mission to New Echota, the capital of the Cherokee Nation and the center of tribal life. Two days after his arrival, Boudinot arrived. The first issue of the Phoenix was published on February 21, 1828.
After two years residing with the Cherokee, Worcester was convinced that the civilization of the whole people, as well as their evangelization, was not an impossible dream. The policy of the missionaries had been to advise and encourage the Indians to exercise their full rights. It was understood that if these rights remain unexercised, they are soon lost.
Rumors were starting to spread about removal of the whole tribe to west of the Mississippi. A continegent of Cherokee, known as the “Old Settlers” or “Arkansas Cherokee,” had already removed to land acquired through a treaty agreement with the Osages. Upon their establishment, Chief Tollunteskee asked the American Board for a mission, and in 1829 Dwight Mission moved west amongst them.
Regarding the alleged removal plans, the citizens of the Aquohee District (Cherokee Nation) submitted a contribution for publication in the Phoenix. The following excerpt illustrates how the words and feelings moved Worcester to align himself with the Cherokee’s position:
“Most of our old men have lived here from infancy to old age, and our young men inherit the same disposition. The lands we possess are the gift of our Creator. They are moreover recognized by the United States, and guaranteed to us forever. Our limits on all sides are permanently fixed and well known. Within these limits we consider ourselves at home, and have no doubt to the goodness of our title. And the pure air of our country, the wholesome springs and fertile soil are well suited to supply our wants and to promote our happiness. In the enjoyment of these blessings, our rising families are making rapid advance in knowledge and industry and good order. Our Creator has not given us the land beyond the Mississippi, but has given it to other people; and why should we wish to enter upon their possessions?”
Removal became a viable solution to the state of Georgia. In 1827, the Cherokees established a Constitution and Supreme Court, which threatened the state of Georgia with the permanent establishment of an imperium in imperio over which state laws did not operate, a district of refuge within which any criminal, if agreeable to the Cherokee, might seek refuge.
Although many legal issues were involved with this situation, the following year other pressures and greed intervened and closed the discussion. The discovery of gold in Cherokee country became the prime focus and motivator of the non-Indians to gain control over the rich lands.
The same year, Andrew Jackson was elected President of the United States. Although the Cherokee had come to his aid, and by some account saved his life at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, his attitude was that of an ardent Indian fighter. Within a month of his election, a law to be effective June 1, 1830, annexed to Georgia all the lands of the Cherokee within the state. It also made null and void any laws and customs of the Cherokee, and any person of Cherokee blood was prohibited from acting as a witness in a lawsuit where a white man was the defendant. John Howard Payne described the indignity of the courts:
“At one of those log-hut courts, where the business was begun before the hit was finished, the trunks of the felled trees were left standing inside for seats, and on the amplest sat the judge, paring the nails of his nether fingers. ‘Why don’t that tarnation jury come, Sheriff?’ The Sheriff said, ‘Please, your honor, they can’t be long now; I’ve got nine of ‘em tied with hickory wyths, and five men and two dogs out a’ter the other tree.”
Cherokee families were run out of their farms and homes, and the Governor of Georgia even issued a proclamation prohibiting the Cherokee from taking any more gold from their own lands. It went on to further state, “to direct all persons to quit possession of said lands and depart from said territory without delay.”
The proclamation was sent to the Phoenix for publication, and Worcester read it with great sorrow. Word also reached him that an old Cherokee man, upon hearing the news, hanged himself from a tree in his own field.
Georgia enacted yet another law on March 1, 1831, that ordered all white persons, except women, children and minors residing within Cherokee Nation to take an oath of allegiance to the state. This was aimed at the missionaries. Worcester was looked up to, respected and revered by the Cherokees. It was plain to the state officials that Worcester was largely responsible for the Cherokee’s recent progress and understanding of the intentions of the white government. Unknown to him, a complaint had already been lodged to the American Board by Col. Thomas McKenney that Worcester was “interfering with the press, and writing scurrilous articles regarding officer of government and other public men.”
In March, Missionaries Proctor, Thompson and Worcester were made prisoners without civil authority by the Georgia Guard. Missionary Elizur Butler was incarcerated in May. The charges were failure to take the required oath to the state of Georgia. Taking the oath would not only jeopardize the missionaries’ position with the Cherokee, but cancel their citizenship with their home states.
Judge Clayton soon released the missionaries , saying the oath requirement did not apply because they were agents of the government, “in administering the Indian Civilization Fund.” Worcester’s case was even more exceptional, as he held a federal position as Postmaster.
In a May 16, 1831 letter from the Governor of George (Gilmer), Worcester was advised that the law applied to everyone. The letter went on to inform him that he had been dismissed as Postmaster, and that the United States does not recognize as agents missionaries from the American Board. The letter further charged that Worcester was “exciting the Indians to oppose jurisdiction of the state.” However, Gilmer expressed that they would delay his arrest to give him adequate time to leave the state.
Colonel Sanfard of the Georgia Guard had a little more sympathy. Ann had bore a child, Jerusha, on February 27, 1831. Her difficult pregnancy and subsequent fever made it impossible to move her.
Taking advantage of the extra time, Worcester wrote a response to Gilmer, but to no avail. In that reply, he defended the right to freedom of speech:
“If by the humane policy of the government, are intended those measures which have been recently pursued for the removal of this and other tribes, and if the opposition is no more than that I have the misfortune to differ in judgment with the executive of the United States, in regard to the tendency of those measures, and that I have freely expressed my opinion, I cheerfully acknowledge the fact, and can only add that this expression of opinion has been unattended with the consciousness of guilt.”
He furthered, “I believe I might safely challenge my accusers to adduce proof of anything beyond that freedom in the expression of my opinions, against which, under the constitution of our country, there is no law. But as it is, the most convincing evidence of perfect innocence on these points would not screen me from the penalty of the law, which construes a mere residence here, without having taken a prescribed oath, into a high misdemeanor.”
Early in the summer, Proctor, Thompson and a Mr. Butrick left Georgia. Worcester stayed, and continued caring for Ann wile working with Boudinot on translating and printing.
On July 7, the Georgia Guard arrested him and took him to Camp Gilmer with other white prisoners. He was told he was not to be tried until September. He was soon, however, released on a writ of habeas corpus, and put up bond. He returned to Brainerd. Back in New Echota, Jerusha died on August 14, 1831. Worcester couldn’t be brought to the capital in time to attend his daughter’s funeral. Two nights after he did return, he was arrested on his own doorstep, but Col. Nelson soon released him when he learned of the domestic situation.
Eleven white men, including Worcester, were tried on September 16, 1831, for violation of Georgia law. The jury brought a quick verdict of guilty, and Worcester was condemned to 4 years of hard labor in a penitentiary. He was chained to his bedstead at night, and forced to walk 35 miles per day, through mire and water, to the prison. Upon arrival, he was again urged to take the oath. For hours they urged, and tried to establish a point. So did the two missionaries, one of which was Samuel Worcester.
The American Board offered no assistance. In fact, it appears they took a rejoicing attitude, and looked upon the missionaries as ‘martyrs.’ This, despite the fact that the Board had previously stated, “You are where you are by the authority and under the protection of the United States and the Cherokees...under the protection of the highest and most sacred laws of the U.S., plainly expressed.” At a later date, the Board also refused to pay for any legal expenses incurred for Worcester’s defense.
Those legal expenses racked up, in part by efforts to free Worcester and Butler. President Jackson was openly on the side of the state, but even so, the case was brought before the Supreme Court of the United States and argued by William Wirt and John Sargeant. No appearances were made by anyone on behalf of the state of Georgia.
On March 3, Chief Justice Marshall pronounced in favor of the missionaries and declared the laws of Georgia extending her jurisdiction over the Cherokee ‘repugnant to the constitution, treaties and laws, therefore null and void.’ It was ordered, “all proceedings on the indictment against the missionaries do forever surcrease and dismissed.” By the end of 1832, the situation was at a stalemate. Georgia would not release the prisoners, and Jackson would not enforce the decision saying, “John Marshall has made his decision, now let him enforce it.”
Remaining in prison, Worcester wanted to study medicine, and also worked on his carpentry and cabinet-making. On the outside, legal experts were carefully analyzing the situation and found that nullification (a state over-riding a federal law), had become a practice in South Carolina. Now, Georgia was attempting to do the same in this very case, and it was feared that Mississippi and Alabama would be next. The backdrop for the War Between the States (or, Civil war), was beginning to be painted. In November, Worcester was finally released, but urged to drop any impending lawsuits he had planned.
The scene did not change. Jackson was reelected as President, and Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross continued his adamant stance against Removal. At the time of Worcester’s release, Ross and a delegation were in Washington City (D.C.) defending the rights of the Cherokee people, and refused an offer of three million dollars for all of the Cherokee lands east of the Mississippi other than those in North Carolina, declaring that the gold mines alone were worth more than that. Elias Boudinot opposed this stand along with John Ridge and others.
It became harder and harder for Worcester to remain an onlooker when his heart made him devote himself to the welfare of the people he had come to save. Even harder for Worcester was the elimination of funding for printing from the American Board. On top of that, threats were being made by the Georgia Guard to ‘discontinue’ the press. Unification among the Cherokees were hopeless, due to confusion of words, language of treaties, and contempt by the white man for their own laws. In the minds of the Cherokee, no men in high places were to be trusted.
Property and possession in the Cherokee Nation were no longer safe — Joe Vann was run from his plantation and expensive home, and took his family through snow and ice to seek refuge in an open log cabin with a dirt floor in Tennessee. John Ross’ home had been seized, and he, too was living in Tennessee in a one-room cabin. New Echota was no longer safe for tribal gatherings, and a temporary council ground had been set up in Tennessee. In 1835, Ross was captured in this new home by twenty-five members of the Georgia Guard along with the seizure of all the tribal papers he had in his possession. He was taken to Spring Place where he was held for twelve days, then released, and was given no explanation or apology. A few days before this, the Georgia Guard, accompanied by Elias Boudinot’s brother Stand Watie, suppressed the Phoenix and took possession of the printing press. Soon, the state of Georgia’s lottery system, where the prize was Cherokee land and homes, awarded to a claimant the mission premises at New Echota. The Worcester’s were once again threatened with homelessness, and Ann had once again just given birth to a new baby girl, named Hannah.
On April 8, 1835, the Worcesters left Brainerd, where they had sought temporary refuge, and headed for Dwight Mission in the Cherokee Nation, West. They arrived May 29. Their journey took them through Kentucky, Illinois and Missouri to avoid swamps which were almost impassable for wagons.
One of the priorities of Worcester’s was to order new type and a press from Boston. It was hoped that his Cherokee Press might expand into an Indian Press.
However, Worcester was now among the Western Cherokees, who did not know him, and greeted him as they would any other white man. Their Chief, John Jolly, was skeptical. Worcester worked on designing a Cherokee ‘alphabet’ book to show his interest, skills, and worth. The project proceeded to it’s final format, Alphabet and Select Passages of Scripture. He then prepared a formal petition to the Council. He indicated that he would not intermeddle with the political affairs of the nation. The petition was heartily accepted, not because of the missions, but due to the character, presentation and resume of Worcester. He set about relocating the press to Park Hill, Cherokee Nation, 15 miles south of Tahlequah.
Just as New Echota was in the Cherokee Nation East, Park Hill quickly became the center of Cherokee life. Removal oppositionist, Principal Chief John Ross, settled there in his new home called Rose Cottage.
The Cherokee Removal was a closed case once a faction of Cherokees, including brothers Stand Watie and Elias Boudinot, signed the Treaty of New Echota, falsely representing the entire Cherokee Nation. By the summer of 1839, the Cherokee Nation West was overflowing with arrivals from Georgia. Misunderstandings of all factions quickly embittered the climate. On June 22, 1839, three leaders of the faction who signed the faulty treaty, Major Ridge, John Ridge and Elias Boudinot, were assassinated. As the time, Boudinot was living with Worcester. Worcester wrote:
“Mr. Boudinot is murdered. . . . Mr. Boudinot was yet living in my house. On Saturday morning, he went to his house, which he was building, a quarter of a mile distant. There some Cherokee men came up, inquiring for medicine, and Mr. Boudinot set out with two of them to come and get it. He had walked but a few rods, when his shriek was heard by his hired men, who ran to his help, but before they could come up the deed was done. A stab in the back with a knife, and seven gashes in the head with a hatchet, did the bloody work. He lived a few minutes, till we had time to arrive at the spot, and see him breathe his last — his wife among the rest — but he was speechless, and insensible to surrounding objects. The murderers ran a short distance into the woods, joined a company of armed men on horseback, and made their escape.”
“They have cut off my right hand,” Worcester stated regarding the death of Boudinot.
Friends of Ross quickly placed a guard at Rose Cottage. Other signers of the faulty treaty fled to outlying locations. On July 12, a general convention was called at the new council ground, and an act of union was passed between the Eastern and Arkansas (or Western) Cherokee. In September, Tahlequah was adopted as the national capital, and a commission was formed to draw up a new constitution.
As Cherokee life progressed, and the mission and family life of Worcester went about it’s course, one of the most encouraging events to Samuel was the reestablishment of the Cherokee newspaper. The new paper was called the Cherokee Advocate. The Editor was William P. Ross and the first issue was September 26, 1844. Although Cherokee Nation purchased the press, the American Board continued to purchase the paper. Worcester had always required the best quality of paper, stating, “Good paper is more important for Cherokee than English.” He also believed that the nation’s progress depended largely on the intelligence of its individuals, and that intelligence, he believed, was earned through information and the printed word.
The Cherokee Press did, indeed, progress into a more intertribal, Indian Press. Eventually, Choctaw and Muscogee (Creek) publications were produced.
By the fall of 1858, Worcester was forced to spend most of his time in bed. Illness forced him to sometimes lie only on his face or side. Stephen Foreman assisted him as stenographer so he could continue his work. By March, 1859, Samuel had hoped to improve.
With no strength to be lifted from bed, Worcester was frustrated that he still had the Epistle of the Hebrews, the Epistle of Jude, and two thirds of the Book of Revelation to complete the New Testament. On April 4, he wrote his last letter to the Board. It urged the Board to send a missionary to Honey Creek. He concentrated on how to pack, instruct and delegate work that was yet unfinished. A Mr. Torrey became his assistant, and because Worcester knew the print shop by heart, instructed Torrey where everything was and how to go about packing it. Some manuscripts went to the New York Bible Society, manuscripts were arranged for printing, and notes were made on translations yet to be completed. On April 20th, the word went out among the Cherokee that their Messenger, Samuel Worcester, had passed away. He was laid to rest in the cemetery at Park Hill, where Ann had been interred 19 years earlier.