APG-L ArchivesArchiver > APG > 2007-04 > 1176225460
From: "Elizabeth Shown Mills" <>
Subject: Re: [APG] Georgia court case question/ Removal of Indiandisabilities
Date: Tue, 10 Apr 2007 12:18:19 -0500
>these family members who weren't officially removed and/or didn't
go to Oklahoma to claim rights, were definitely not wealthy or
educated either, although your example about those who were makes
> why did Georgia grant these Cherokee and Creek
>naturalizations? What made my fifth G-GF and the others qualify for this?
Carolyn and Michelle, the Moniac example did involve wealth, but most of the
"acts to remove disabilities and grant citizenship" that were passed in the
South for families of Native American descent did deal with "ordinary"
folks. My hyperbolic comment last night, that green was the best color of
all, addressed only one dimension of the issue. When Justice Harper (and
numerous others across the antebellum South) spoke of "worth," money was not
the only issue. Worth and substance were also measured in terms of merit and
In asking yourself why such a law would be passed for your particular
ancestor, consider first the underlying premise of Carolyn's dissertation
and U of Georgia Press book _Communities of Kinship_. Think like a
genealogist and ask yourself: Who were your ancestor's neighbors,
associates, and extended kin? Community and kinship were important concepts
on the frontier and one or the other usually underpinned the laws.
Historians who write about the South and race relations focus upon
restrictive laws. However, what those punitive laws said and what people did
were two different issues. Those that historians and the media focus
upon--such as the laws that supposedly removed all Native Americans from the
Southeast or required all freed slaves to leave the state--were power tools
employed on a practical, as-needed basis. If a person with some color
(Native American or African American) misbehaved, the law was applied; but
so long as they were an asset to the community, the community thought of
them as good folk who should not be penalized.
When historians "think like a genealogist"--when they actually identify
individuals who belonged to those "underclasses" and then track those
individuals--they find that the restrictive laws were simply ignored in
many, many cases. Slaves would be freed on the stipulation that they must
leave the state in 30 days; so the newly emancipated man, woman, or family
would do that, but--after a while--come right back to their home community
and live out their lives as free. (Those laws usually said they had to
*leave* the state, not that they couldn't come back.)
For Native Americans, the notorious expulsions of the 1817-early 1840s
generally applied only to those who wanted to remain in the tribal
environment. Those who were "living as white" or intermarried with whites
generally stayed on unmolested.
Why would expulsion laws be ignored or special laws be passed to guarantee
citizenship for your ancestor in particular? Ask yourself questions such as
these: What was his occupation? Was he a churchgoer? Do you find him in the
court records and, if so, in what capacity? Who introduced the bill on his
behalf and what was his relationship to that person? Were they neighbors or
what other situation brought them into contact so that the person in power
got to know your ancestor as a man of integrity, if not wealth?
A skilled tradesman (a blacksmith, carpenter, etc.) with, even without
wealth, was an asset to a community. A small-scale landowner who did his
road service and other civic duties and stayed out of tavern brawls and
public card games, was an asset to the community. A farmer who owned no land
but was a stable renter who helped his neighbors and shared their sense of
"community" was an asset.
Less nobly, perhaps, you might ask: What was his political leaning? Did he
espouse the same principles as community leaders or certain factions? How
large was their extended family--particularly in terms of males of voting
age? Politicians, even then, took advantage of opportunities to increase the
number of voters who would support them. The Ten Mile Creek community of
antebellum western Louisiana, heavily composed of families known to have
Native American and sometimes darker ancestry out of the Carolinas serves as
a case at point here.
In Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee and Alabama, particularly, you might
also ask: what do you know about their white ancestry? Were their forebears
traders among the Indians? As such, the family typically would have
interacted for decades or generations with men of prominence who helped to
finance, or otherwise participated in, their trade expeditions.
Finally, we have to remember that many Southerners had Native American
ancestry dating back to the 1600s and early 1700s. By the mid-1800s, a
significant number of them enjoyed prominence but still knew their
antecedents and were willing to "overlook" similar ancestry in neighbors who
were good citizens--even when the neighbor's tribal connection was quite
recent. General Thomas S. Woodward, who left us his reminiscences about the
Creek, is a prime example: a prominent public figure, of Indian ancestry
himself (though he tried to hide it) he spoke ill of Creeks and "mixed
bloods" who acted violently, while praising those who lived by the ideals of
white society and "acted nobly" in circumstances that affected the peace and
stability of the frontier.
Reasons why this-or-that happened in the past do tend to be as complicated
as human nature itself. The wonderful thing about the pursuit of genealogy,
as opposed to the study of history, is that we probe those reasons on a very
personal basis; and in that process, arguably, we gain deeper insight into
the human spirit--not just generalizations about society that we acquire
from our readings in published history.
Elizabeth Shown Mills, CG, CGL, FASG
Track 4, Advanced Research Methodology, Interpretation & Analysis
Samford University Institute of Genealogy and Historical Research
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