Native America’s first established newspaper.

Front page of the Cherokee Phoenix, Courtesy of Indian Country Today Media Network
Front page of the Cherokee Phoenix, Courtesy of Indian Country Today Media Network

In a time of great racial and political oppression towards indigenous communities, the 1820s were driven heavily by American expansion. However, a defining moment amongst Native peoples, especially in the south was the invention of the written Cherokee language.

In Georgia in 1821, George Guess, or Sequoyah amongst the Cherokee had begun to transcribe Cherokee language syllables into written symbols on paper. Sequoyah incorporated lines, circles and English letters to create this language

that later went on to a press with the help of Samuel Austin Worcester.

Worcester a missioner from Boston was sent to Georgia in 1825, originally by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions to spread the Word of God to Native people of the area. When he arrived, however he found that after learning the Cherokee language he felt the desire to translate the Bible into Cherokee.

The language’s development and popularity had inclined the Cherokee National Council to vote for the nation to establish its own weekly paper, and in 1827 the Principal Chief of the Council made a statement saying,

“The public deserves the patronage of the people…asserting and supporting our political rights… guard against the admission of scurrilous productions of a personal nature. The freedom of the press should be as free as the breeze that glides upon the surface.”

Thus on October 13, 1827, the Cherokee Phoenix, a bilingual paper including English and Cherokee, was created.

Samuel Worcester worked to translate the book of Genesis into the written Cherokee language now known as Sequoyah. With his devotion to translation he actively requested that the tribe be provided with a printing press. He was able to provide the symbols to a Boston print shop that was able to make prints and casts of the letters. A year later the standard “union model” press was sent from Boston to the small town of New Echota, just east of present day Calhoun, Georgia.

The “union model” press was a 1000 pound, cast iron design with springs and frames that need to inked with wool-filled deerskin balls due to the unpopular use of rollers at the time. This press was used as a training tool for workers and to distribute the Cherokee language.

Before the press’ arrival the Cherokee National Council then moved to elect a twenty-seven year old Cherokee to be the editor of the Phoenix. The man, who adopted the name of Elias Boudinot, after his benefactor, the New Jersey philanthropist was born Galagina and was educated at Cornwall Connecticut Foreign Mission School.

Worcester and Boudinot drew up proposals and aims for the paper to focus on which were:

laws and documents of the nation, the accounts of manners and customs of the Cherokees, the progress in education, religion and arts of civilized life, principle interesting news of the day, and miscellaneous articles calculated to promote literature civilization, art and religion.

While the former were all in the mind of Boudinot, he also made it his mission to confirm that the people of the North were being informed of the Cherokee nation’s as well as to “benefit the Cherokee Indians, who are uninformed.”

The Cherokee Phoenix had its first paper issued on February 21, 1828. Within the Phoenix, the paper was five columns wide and twenty-two inches in length. By this time for the paper the advertisements as well as subscribers were very limited and did not function as a means of support.

As editor, Boudinot earned $300, his responsibilities were to prepare a weekly editorial, edit and proof others writing, the manager of the business aspect within the paper and wrote most of the articles in Cherokee for the paper.

When it came to business, Boudinot was incredibly successful in reaching audiences throughout the east coast of the United States. By 1929, the Phoenix could be found in areas of New York; Boston, Massachusetts; areas of South

Carolina; Powal, Maine; areas of Alabama; Richmond, Virginia; and much of the Choctaw nation. Boudinot’s contacts quickly became his distribution agents in all of these areas.

With the progression of the paper and its growing audience, Boudinot not only advocated for his missions, he also defended the nation, along with himself against Western oppression. A profound piece was his response to an article in a Capital newspaper stating that natives were not making any progress in becoming civilized. As an educated tribal member, this was a clear exaggeration and fallacy.

Cornwall Connecticut Foreign Mission School
Cornwall Connecticut Foreign Mission School

Boudinot also contributed his pen to speaking against slavery, especially if the state of Georgia was to progress. In many respects, Boudinot was considered a muckraker for his exposure of government corruption, specifically when he wrote about Cherokee constitutional errors made by the United States, which had shown a colonel misrepresenting the claims of native people to Congress.

Much like the similar efforts done by the African American community with the Black Press, Boudinot made an effort to provide Cherokee news, spread the Christian religion, incorporate world news, U.S. policy and Choctaw issues into his editorials. However, after the beginning years of the Phoenix, Andrew Jackson soon came into office and begun his widespread malice against indigenous people for control of land.

In 1932, Georgia state officials were carefully analyzing much of the Phoenix, and with reason to believe that it was creating opposition towards the government, Samuel Austin Worcester and printer John F. Wheeler, were arrested. During their arrest, Boudinot went to the North to gain sympathizers for the Cherokee and Choctaw cause. On his return, Boudinot had attempted to persuade the nation that it would be more beneficial to them as sovereign nations to move west in efforts to preserve their livelihoods. Boudinot’s ideas didn’t stand and he resigned as editor on August 1, 1832, and with a new appointed editor, the Cherokee Phoenix continued until 1834. In 1876, the Phoenix was restarted under the name of the Cherokee Phoenix and the Indian Advocate, more informally known as the Advocate.

Elias Boudinot, one of the fundamental journalists and editors in Native American history, was murdered on June 22, 1839. His murder was connected to his signing the Treaty of New Echota in 1835, which stated that the Cherokee Nation would move to the current state Oklahoma. Although Boudinot was murdered for his idea of cultural preservation, he was a great influence on the future of Cherokee people. His work allowed for most of the Cherokee people to become literate in both Sequoyah and English by 1928, and become well educated in Cherokee and U.S. policy.



America’s Best History – U.S. History Timeline: The 1830’s. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2014.

Foreign Mission School 1817-1826. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2014.

“The Cherokee Phoenix: Pioneer of Indian Journalism” The Chronicles of Oklahoma 25 (Summer 1947). Theda Perdue, ed.


Native Woman Crush Wednesday: Nanye-hi of the Cherokee Nation

nancyward_cherokeeNanye-hi, or Nancy Ward was apart of the Cherokee Nation and lived in the area now known as Eastern Tennessee. Having been born in 1738, Nanye-hi grew up in the time of European colonialism and warfare. In her lifetime she had two children and her husband was killed during the 1755 Battle of Tailwa during a Cherokee raid on the Creeks.

While in the Battle, Nanye-hi fought along with her people and the Cherokee people won. The actions she was known for in the battle was biting the lead bullets of her husband’s gun in order to make them sharper and more deadly. These actions had made her one of the “Beloved Woman” of her Cherokee clan.

As a Beloved Woman, honored woman are able to make decisions in tribal government. Nanye-hi, according to the National Woman’s History Museum, was the head of the Women’s Council, apart of the Council of Chiefs, and was fully in charge of the tribe’s prisoners.

In her early twenties, Nanye-hi married Bryant Ward, a trader who was known to live among the Cherokee Nation. They had a daughter together and Nanye-hi had learned English and taken the Anglo-American name, Nancy Ward. Meanwhile, Bryant Ward had another wife and children in South Carolina; however, he continued to visit back and forth to both families.

During this time, the Cherokee Nation was involved with the English in its attempts to breakdown the colonies. However, with her nation in this mindset, Nanye-hi tried to maintain peace. In doing so she had let two prisoners free to warn settlers of an attack, which in turn had created discourse between her and the tribe. The tribe then decided to kill all the prisoners and in defense of her position Nanye-hi tried to save the prisoners from execution.

She was able to save only one however. Lydia Bean, who later helped Nanye-hi learn how to make butter and cheese, which had contributed to her decision to buy and raise cattle. This decision was one of the first that introduced cattle into the Cherokee Nation’s economic standing.

Although the battles between the settlers and the Cherokee Nation continued, because of Nanye-hi’s reverence between both sides, her tribe’s clan was left alone.

By 1781, Nanye-hi’s tribe was captured by the settlers. While imprisoned “the settlers ordered the Cherokee to conduct a peace treaty and selected [Nanye-hi] to lead the negotiations.” In her new position she spoke to the settlers saying that women only

Monument for Nanye-hi "Nancy Ward" erected in 1923, by the Daughters of the American Revolution
Monument for Nanye-hi “Nancy Ward” erected in 1923, by the Daughters of the American Revolution.

want pant peace for those she cares for. This speech changed the minds of the settlers’ commissioners and returned some of the lands back to the Cherokees.

This peace lasted 7 years until a chief was killed and the negotiations ended.

By 1817, Nanye-hi was the last Beloved Woman of the Cherokee, and was seventy-nine when she plead to her nation to keep as much of their land as possible for the next generation.

She lived the rest of her life running an inn after her land was sold. She died in 1822. Today, there is a monument from 1923 (featured left) by the Daughters of the American Revolution by her grave in Benton, Tennessee.