- The Press of the Cherokee Phoenix Newspaper as Artifact
The Cherokee Phoenix was published in the Cherokee Nation's capital in what is now northern Georgia. By the first issue of the Phoenix, Cherokee lands had been reduced by encroachment and multiple treaties, and there existed the possibility of total displacement westward of the Cherokee people. New Echota, near the confluence of the Coosawattee and Conasauga Rivers, became the capital in the mid-1820s, the seat of government for a much smaller Cherokee Nation.1
In 1825 the Cherokee Nation approved funds of $1,500 for both a press and a "national academy," and in 1827 the Cherokees requested the assistance of the Boston-based American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) in purchasing equipment and materials.2 The ABCFM focused upon the majority non-Christian Cherokees of the area and had placed several outposts near the Cherokee Nation, situating them in southeastern Tennessee, northern Georgia, and northeastern Alabama.3 Even before publication of the Phoenix, this request for assistance from the Cherokees to the missionaries could potentially have instigated intertwined purposes for the newspaper. The complexities in purpose denote the difficulties of the era in which the paper was published, a true crucible in which no one purpose might be stated clearly. The Phoenix was born out of this turmoil, and it eventually ceased being printed in Georgia because of it.
Samuel Austin Worcester was an ABCFM missionary in the 1820s at the Brainerd Mission, near New Echota and present-day Chattanooga, Tennessee.4 Worcester worked with Jeremiah Evarts, a missionary in Boston who assisted with the procurement of Phoenix equipment. In a [End Page 117] 7 November 1827 letter to Worcester at New Echota, Evarts describes a new press purchased by saying that
the types and press, and furniture for the office are to be ready for shipping by the close of this week. The types and furniture have been ready for several weeks; but we have delayed purchasing a press, because we supposed that the printer who would be employed, would wish to have some voice respecting the kind. We have this morning engaged one called the "union press"—it is an iron press; but seems simple in its structure—easily set up and not likely to get out of repair.
Drawings of the press, with directions for putting it up and working it, will be forwarded to you. It weighs about lbs. 1000, the types and furniture—say—1200. All will be well packed and sent as soon as possible, to Augusta.5
While this bibliographic information is of value in defining the newspaper's press, it also illustrates the issue of newspaper control. Did missionaries assist with more than the purchases? Worcester already had been working with the Cherokee writing system developed by Sequoyah for some time, so metal printing type could have been ready for such a print shop.6
Conversely, the first editor of the Phoenix, Elias Boudinot, found himself on a fund-raising tour of New England in 1825, delivering speeches to raise money to begin publication of the Phoenix.7 Boudinot, a Cherokee man educated in missionary schools, was to add his efforts to those funds from the Cherokee Council. While it is not known how much Boudinot's fund-raising tour contributed to the financial needs of the press, the tour does imply Cherokee financial management at the advent of the publication, albeit Boudinot potentially having an additional interest in supporting the missionaries who educated him.
Much has been written of the newspaper's content and how it was affected by these competing interests.8 In particular, in the early life of the press, the issue of editorial control was raised when printer Isaac Harris suggested in the first year of publication that the Phoenix was simply a mouthpiece for the missionaries. Boudinot was compelled to go to the pages of the Phoenix to deny that Worcester was the true editor.9 Previous scholarship thus addresses the issue of relative control of the press, but we can tease apart these combined desires by looking at [End Page 118] the "artifacts" of New Echota. Even if few...