Christine A. Elmore
This section involves the study of the lives of Andrew Jackson and Sequoyah and through the use of the biography genre the class will develop some background knowledge about the historical factors leading up to the forced exodus of the Cherokee people. First, the teacher will review the basic elements of biography on an anchor chart.
are true stories about real people
have settings that take place in a real historical time period
are written about people who make the world different for others
The focus in studying these two men will be on how they affected the lives of the Cherokee people in the 19
century. Jackson and Sequoyah can easily be called contemporaries although they came from two very different worlds. Interestingly, their careers did converge, at least momentarily, when Sequoyah, as a member of the Mounted and Foot Cherokees, joined forces with Andrew Jackson to fight the British troops and the Creek Indians (the Red Sticks) in the War of 1812. By studying these two historical figures students will gain perspective on Westward Expansion from two wholly different points of view: one, from the engineer of a systematic forced removal of Native Americans from their ancestral lands and the other, from a Cherokee traditionalist who strongly believed that the Cherokee people should remain united, not give up their traditional ways, and preserve their history and identity.
Before becoming the seventh president of the United States in 1828, Jackson served as a lawyer, a scout, an Indian-fighter, a politician, a judge, a soldier and a tough treaty negotiator, to name a few. It is significant to note that he negotiated nine of the eleven major treaties signed between 1814 and 1824, all of which transformed all Indian-owned territories into government land. In fact, there is no other American who was so instrumental to Indian removal. By the 1840s Jackson’s policy was completed and there were no Indian nations existing in the American South.
As Ann Graham Gaines recounts in her book,
Andrew Jackson: Our Seventh President,
he was called the “people’s president” who championed the problems of ordinary Americans—except, it must be added, it was not all Americans. (p. 27) Jackson believed in the supremacy of white people and did not think the people of other races deserved equal rights. Historians describe Jackson’s attitude toward Native Americans as complicated but not unusual for that historical period. During his early military career he was often allied with Indian tribes but at other times he conducted brutal campaigns against them.
Like the majority of white settlers, Andrew Jackson held the view that Indians were an inferior race. On the one hand, he saw them as savages who were much too violent to live beside white people. On the other hand, he viewed them as children incapable of determining their own fate and undeserving of either property or voting rights. As Nel Yomtov states in his book,
Andrew Jackson: Heroic Leader or Cold-Hearted Ruler,
“Jackson wanted to bring American Indians under government control” (p. 20). Once he became president, he used his power to advocate the desires of white settlers who wanted more land on which to grow cotton and to mine gold.
The common theme of the times, explains Jon Meacham, in his biography of Jackson entitled,
American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House,
was that “as a people Indians were neither autonomous nor independent but were to be manipulated in the context of what most benefited Jackson’s America—white America . . . The white agenda—more land, few Indians, complete control—took precedence in the North and the South (and in the West, too, in the long run)” (p. 96). It was in this atmosphere that Jackson was able to accomplish Indian Removal politically. In order to free up more land, Jackson drew up a policy that would move American Indians westward into Indian Territory and in 1830 he signed the Indian Removal Act. Shockingly, by the year 1837 more than one-fourth of the Cherokee nation had died because of that act.
An Abbreviated Time Line of Andrew Jackson’s Life
The teacher will use a simplified timeline of Andrew Jackson’s life as a visual reference for ongoing review. It will include the following:
1767 born on March 15
1780 at age 13 joined the army and fought in the Revolutionary War
1788-1798 held such jobs as lawyer, senator, congressman, and judge
1812-1814 became a military leader who fought in the War of 1812 and the Creek War
1814-1824 was a treaty negotiator, establishing 9 different treaties with the Cherokee
1821 appointed governor in Florida
1828 elected president of the U.S.; his term ended in 1837
1830 signed the Indian Removal Act
1832 ignored a Supreme Court ruling stating that Native Americans have a right to keep their land; continued his Indian Removal policy
1838-1839 Cherokee Trail of Tears occurred
1845 died on June 8
The essential question during our study of Andrew Jackson will be: How did Jackson change the lives of the Cherokee People? This open-ended question will spark discussion and call upon students to think critically about the subject. One interactive history notebook activity will be writing a letter to President Jackson expressing your opinion about how he should treat the Cherokee people and handle the problem of land settlement. Lesson Plan I will detail that activity.
What’s appealing about James Rumford’s biography of Sequoyah entitled,
Sequoyah: the Cherokee Man Who Gave His People Writing
, is that he presents him as a man great in deed despite his crippled stature. Sequoyah never let such a physical limitation stop him from doing what he had set out to do. For many years he worked as a metal-worker in Tennessee. As Rumford explains, “For much of his life, Sequoyah was nobody famous” (p. 6). The reason that the awesome Giant Sequoia trees in California are named after him, according to the author, is because of his heartfelt desire that the Cherokee people “stand as tall as any people on earth” (p. 7). The way they could do this, he determined, was by having a written language of their own.
And so Sequoyah spent twelve years creating and perfecting the syllabary that Cherokees would use for both reading and writing their language. During this time Sequoyah faced a lot of ridicule from other Cherokee who lived in his village, some who simply thought him crazy and others who suspected his efforts involved some kind of evil magic. He eventually left his village and moved to Arkansas, taking his youngest child, Ah-yoka with him. He approached his friend, Chief John Ross, who agreed to allow him to present his syllabary to the council of Cherokee chiefs. Initially leery of Sequoyah’s so-called magic, they demanded numerous tests before they accepted his writing system. In 1822 he went on to teach hundreds of Tennessee Cherokees how to read and write. Amazingly, by using this 85-character syllabary, people could learn to read and write in just a few days!
Sequoyah felt strongly that the Cherokee should keep their traditional ways and not become like white people. His syllabary allowed them to write down and preserve important tribal knowledge. Not only that but it served to bring the tribe together. As Roberta Basel states in her book,
Sequoyah: Inventor of Written Cherokee
“Having a way to write their language transformed and unified the Cherokee Nation” (p. 46). In 1828, the first issue of a newspaper called the
was published using this new writing system.
Sequoyah and his family were directly affected by Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Policy and in 1829 moved from Arkansas out west to Oklahoma and later, in 1839, he helped the Eastern and Western Cherokee to unite and write a constitution.
Sequoyah’s continued concern for the welfare of his people and his belief that they remain unified prompted him to set out in 1842 on a journey to Mexico. Hearing of a band of Cherokee who had moved there a number of years earlier, he made it his mission to go out there and persuade them to return to the Indian Territory and live with the rest of the tribe. It was a difficult journey for Sequoyah, being older now and in poor health. After an arduous journey in which he faced many setbacks, he reached Mexico and found the Cherokee living there. Unfortunately, his health worsened and he died there in 1843.
An Abbreviated Time Line of Sequoyah’s Life
This simplified timeline of Sequoyah’s life will include the following:
1778 born in Tuskegee, Tenessee
1809 began his work on a written language for the Cherokee
1813-1814 joined Jackson’s forces to fight the Red Stick Creek Indians
1821 finished his syllabary and the Cherokee nation accepted it
1828 his syllabary was used in the first Native American newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix
1829 forced to move to ‘Indian Territory” (Oklahoma)
1839 helped the Eastern and Western Cherokee write a new constitution
1842-43 journeyed to Mexico to find the lost tribe of Cherokees
1843 died near San Fernando, Mexico
The essential question in the study of Sequoyah will be: What did Sequoyah do that changed the lives of the Cherokees?
An interactive history notebook activity appropriate to use in this section is one where students will trace outlines of the heads of both historical figures and then fill them in with thoughts they have or words they might say. In this way students will be called upon to form some conclusions about these two characters and their perspectives on the plight of the Cherokee. A second comparison and contrast activity will employ a Venn diagram where the character traits of the two men will be compared.