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11.  Hegemony and Cherokee Removal: 1791–1840 For white Tennesseans, the Cherokee presence was always a visible reminder of their frontier heritage, of dreams unfulfilled. That tribe had once claimed more than half of the entire state, but through a series of cessions retained only the southeastern corner by the end of 1806. Whites coveted that region as well, but for more than a decade they were unable to make any legal inroads there. The Cherokees held them off, not through force of arms, but through wily maneuvering and remarkable selective acculturation. They were becoming “civilized” and thereby acquiring the means of retaining both their homelands and identity as a people. For many Cherokees, civilization was simply another strategy in a long process of creatively coping with whites and redefining what it meant to be Cherokee. Ironically, it was a strategy sanctioned by United States Indian policy. Civilization was one part of the twofold U.S. policy regarding Indians. The other was to acquire their lands to accommodate an ever-expanding white population. Whenever the two objectives came into conflict, as of course they sometimes did, the latter always prevailed. The 1791 Treaty of the Holston was a blend of both objectives, authorizing a tribal land cession and instruction of the Cherokees in the ways of white society and agriculture. The government would furnish agricultural implements, seed, and appropriate tutelage in the agricultural and mechanical arts. Cherokees would be encouraged to live like whites: replacing their matrilineal and matrilocal society with a patriarchal society ; forsaking the extended, clan-dominated families for nuclear families; giving up tribal landholding and village society for individual , privatized property; forsaking the old religious beliefs and adopting Christianity; learning English; abhorring the old practices of blood revenge; and in general conforming to the norms of white Americans. The Cherokees were to become redskinned whites. They were expected to conform to an idealized Jeffersonian society of humble yeomen and their families tending individual plots of land. That image and expectation for Indians would continue into the twentieth century. The objective of the United States was never to physically exterminate the Native Americans; rather, its policy implied a cultural annihilation by demanding Indian acceptance of white normative values. To today’s observer the policies of Washington, Jefferson, and others seem terribly ethnocentric, but in those days people assumed that Indians would want to change from what was clearly an inferior state—primitive and savage—to a more settled, aspiring existence. To a Jeffersonian, it was only rational to believe that a savage should be converted to civilization . Believing that people are but reflections of their environment , Jefferson assumed that with proper instruction Indians had the capacity to transform themselves and become assimilated into the larger, white-dominated society. He even believed for a time that racial intermarriage would promote that end and that the whole process would take only a generation or so. He was naive. The first U.S. agent to the Cherokees was Leonard Shaw, who arrived in 1792 at Ustanali, the capital of the Upper Towns in northern Georgia (the Cherokee villages in Tennessee were included among those towns). Little Turkey, the nominal head chief of the Cherokees, was helpless to prevent continued raids by John Watts, Dragging Canoe’s successor among the Chickamauga hostiles, nor could agent Shaw protect peaceable Cherokees from savage retaliation by white Tennesseans. When Shaw TENNESSEE FRONTIERS 276  warned the Indians not to treat with Governor William Blount of the Southwest Territory, who as superintendent of Indian affairs was his superior, Blount requested his removal. His replacement was Benjamin Hawkins, who became agent to the Creeks as well as the Cherokees. Hawkins took up residence among the former tribe while his subordinate, Silas Dinsmoor, became the resident Cherokee agent. Together they began easing the tribes through a transition from hunting and the old female-dominated agriculture to a plow-based farming conducted by males. In an effort to encourage the domestic arts among Indian women, they distributed spinning wheels, looms, and cotton cards and hired white women to provide instruction in their use. Many Cherokee men, however, resisted Dinsmoor’s efforts to get them to farm and attempted to sustain their traditional hunting practices. As late as 1804 almost all able-bodied males spent the winter hunting while women continued as before to do the spring planting. But game was rapidly dwindling on the hunting grounds of the Cumberland Plateau and northern Alabama. Return Jonathan Meigs...


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