Researching ancestors and their stories requires utilizing resources that come from the region where our ancestors lived. In other words----study the community.
Having ancestors who were slaves in Indian Territory has its challenges, since few books and texts even reflect the fact that black chattel slavery took place in Indian country. Furthermore, can details be learned about the lives of the ancestors who were enslaved prior to the removal of the Five Tribes to the west?
What were their lives like?
Were they treated the same way other slaves in the deep south were treated?
Did they flee from bondage?
Were they often sold from each other?
Were there such things as slave auction blocks in Indian communities before removal?
And what about the slaves themselves? Did they practice the traditions of their slave holders? Did they speak the language and practice their customs?
Some of these answers might never be known---however, there are a few glimpses into the lives and the fate of those enslaved, that can be found in early newspapers.
In Georgia, the Cherokee Phoenix was the first American Indian newspaper, and it was published in the years prior to the removal of Cherokees to the west. A few of those issues can be found, online, and I located several issues on the University of Georgia website, particularly for the years 1828-1833.
Glancing through each issue of the newspaper, one can learn a lot about the many issues facing the Cherokee citizens at that time. While I was looking at the images I began to notice that a series of small announcements of local interest, on the pages of the Phoenix, that described estate sells, marriages, deaths and other announcements. It was in that section that I saw them. They were small announcements, but they were there, nevertheless -- notices pertaining to Africans within the Cherokee communities.
Some of the answers to the questions that I had, were found in those small announcements.
The one that was the most sobering----stood out:
Announcement for the sale of slaves of Thomas B. Adair
There they were, listed just above bushels of corn, and horses and cattle. The estate was being sold---and among the "items"---were three people, Joe, his wife Nelly and their child.
More questions arose for me--with no answers to be found.
Were they sold together as a family?
Were they separated from each other?
Did Nelly lose her child to a high bidder?
One can only hope that they may have been fortunate to remain together as they had no choice in their fate.
Did some of those enslaved men and women ever resist enslavement by fleeing on their own? Or-- were there any abolitionists to assist them?
Again, I found some answers by looking at other issues of the same publication.
In January 1832 an announcement appeared pertaining to a woman called Lucy.
Ad for runaway slave Lucy
It is noted that Lucy was raised in the Cherokee Nation, and she was spoke Cherokee better than she spoke English--which was described as being broken English
Some slaves were seized by others. But---it is not clear if they were being assisted by abolitionists or by others seeking to take them into bondage elsewhere.
Jack, a slave was said to have been seized by Jesse Anderson
Were Jesse Anderson's aliases part of a network to assist slaves fleeing from bondage? Or was Jesse Anderson a slave trader?
Ad for the recapture of the slave Eliza and Michael Doudy, said to have assisted her escape.
Was Michael Doudy, who assisted Eliza, working with a network and if so, could that network have been possibly a southern branch of the Underground Railroad? She too, was fluent in Cherokee. It is suggested however, that there was some willingness on her part in her leaving her master.
I noticed that some did runaway with a companion:
Ad for 2 runaway slaves in Cherokee Phoenix
Although the specific answers to my questions remain unclear--what can be learned in general about slaves in Indian communities before the Removal?
It is clear, that like all people---those enslaved, longed to be free. It is also evident that they resisted.
Although these persons cited above are not people in my own family I still learned a great deal from reading these small announcements about slaves in Indian communities in the early 1830s. Even though there were many who would never escape and never live to see freedom, one can definitely determine, that those who did not run away---still felt the same drive, the same passion for freedom, athough the opportunity was not there for them to leave.
And some, it is known---would also feel the pain and sorrow, if any of these runaways been caught---for their punishment would probably be metered out in view of the other slaves.
Most punishments for runaways consisted of public whippings and rubbing salt into lacerated skin. Few men or women survived such punishments. Those who remained behind would have the emotional scars of seeing these punishments, to captured runaways. Reading these ads one can only hope that some were successful in their quest for freedom.
So through the newspapers that came from the regions where our ancestors lived---we can read and learn about the political and social climate that surrounded them.
As we seek to reconstruct the stories of what happened to the ancestors, some small glimpses of their lives can be found in the old newspapers such as the Cherokee Phoenix.
We know, as genealogists to study the community, and I am humbled by the strength shown by my ancestors who survived the horrors of slavery, who who had endured so much.
To them I owe great respect.
In their honor, I shall continue to seek and to tell their stories