African-Native American Research Forum Archive
Re: Free-Colored v. Slaves in Indian Territory
In Response To: Free-Colored v. Slaves in Indian Territory ()
Free People of Color is an imported term virtually unknown among the members of the FCT and more particularly the Cherokees prior to its usage in the Treaty of 1866. While the negotiators easily understood its meaning the term has foreign baggage also unknown among the Cherokees. Further, the term does not capture the nuances of race and citizenship in existance in the pre-Civil War Cherokee Nation.
The white negotiators from Washington were well aware of people in the southern states who fell between the races and between the status of slave and citizen. These, in their vernacular, were known as "free people of color." They were persons of negro ancestory (and sometimes also Indians and Asians) who were not slaves, but were not considered to be citizens, having no vote and often no right to own property.
Prior to 1866, living among the Cherokees citizens were a class of individuals whose fathers were Cherokee Indians and their mothers were negro. Unless they were slaves, these individuals occupied a legal netherworld. They were a part of the Cherokee social landscape, but had no legal or political rights. They could not vote and could not hold land. This was a status imposed upon the children of negro women by Cherokee men made possible by the words of the 1839 Constitution wherein it was forbidden to intermarry with the negro race and any child born of a negro woman was a negro regardless of the race or citizenship of the father.
On the other hand, children born to a Cherokee Indian mother, regardless of the race or class of the father, was a Cherokee Indian. However, there are several instances where the Dawes Commission relegated legal Cherokee Indians of negro ancestry to the pages of the Freedmen roll. Numerous examples of this exist in the records of the Freedmen enrollments.
Thus, in the Cherokee Nation, there existed three groups of individuals of negro ancestry with very different legal rights or lack thereof yet all homoginized upon the Freedmen roll. First there were the slaves, ex-slaves and their children having no Cherokee Indian blood. Their rights are strictly legal and constitute the class of Freedmen who today are pointed to by the Smith camp as being "non-Indian Freedmen." The second group was made up of individuals who have a Cherokee Indian father and a negro mother. Members of this group may have been slaves or may have been free. Their status of enslavement or freedom does not impact their legal status in the Cherokee Nation because the 1839 Constitution says they are NOT citizens. And the third group is comprised of natural born Cherokee Indians (having a Cherokee Indian mother) and a negro father.
The white negotiators lumped together any person of negro ancestry, regardless of whether that person had Cherokee blood or not and if Cherokee blood was present, how it came to be there, as a "free person of color." This was an imposed biased brought on by the fact that whites of that day (and many today) considered one drop of negro blood to taint the individual and negate his/her other blood ancestry. The whites looked at the negro population and saw only two classes of people, enslaved and free.
The 1866 Cherokees, in order to avoid a protracted argument about the nuances of Cherokee blood, citizenship, intermarriage and misegination, opted to go with the single-minded classification of all free persons of negro ancestry in the Cherokee Nation at the commencment of the rebellion as "free people of color" thus officially negating any Cherokee blood ancestry and setting the stage for the Dawes Commission's racist actions against Cherokee Indians of negro ancestry.
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