Articles/Information

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. http://americasbesthistory.com/abhtimeline1830.html

Foreign Mission School 1817-1826. (n.d.). Retrieved November 7, 2014. http://www.cornwallhistoricalsociety.org/exhibits/foreign_mission_school.html

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

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