John Ross, Cherokee Chief
To start at the beginning we first come to William Shorey born
in Scotland, married a full blood Cherokee wife called
Shorey originally came to the mountains as an interpreter for
army at Fort Loudoun in what is now Tennessee or TA NI SI. in
Cherokee. When he died in 1762 he had two children, a daughter
named Anna and a son named William.
Anna married a man named John McDonald who had been born in
Inverness around 1747 and had travelled to Fort Loudon via
Charleston, South Carolina.
At Fort Loudon he met and married Anna Shorey and they moved close
to what is now called Lookout Mountain where John established a
trading post where he dealt with the Cherokee on a daily basis and
this gave him much influence with the English, French, and the
Spanish who were all seeking an alliance with the
The McDonalds had one child, a daughter named Molly and in time
Molly met and married Daniel Ross from Sutherland in Scotland who
had come to the mountains to live and trade with the Cherokee
during the American Revolution. Molly and Daniel Ross settled near
the now older McDonald and started a family.
On October 3, 1790 John Ross was born at Turkey Town, Georgia
(now Etowah County, Alabama). He was seven-eighths Scottish and
one-eighth Cherokee and it was rumored that he had blue eyes but in
all portraits they're shown as brown. John and his brother Lewis
came under the influence of their MacDonald grandfather who
insisted they were to be brought up as Scots.
As John grew older his father Daniel established a store at
Chattanooga Creek, near the foot of Lookout Mountain and he built a
small school house and hired a teacher. It was here that John
started his education since Daniel was determined his
would be well educated. John later studied with a Reverend Gideon
moving to the Maryville, Tennessee Academy.
John's education in that period and location unheard of: the
average person, white or Cherokee, was lucky to even see the
outside of a school house, let alone own a book or be able to read
from it. Under his grandfather's influence John dressed in the
manner of white settlers and was made fun of by his young Cherokee
companions. Under the influence of his grandmother Anna, who was
half Cherokee, half white, he was taught the Cherokee ways and
developed a deep love for the
Cherokee people, their traditions and the way of life.
John had seen the aftermath of settlers raiding Cherokee
villages and he vowed to help his Cherokee people in any way that
he could and knew that his education was his best weapon.
In 1809 at the age of 19 he was sent to Arkansas by Indian agent
Return J. Meigs to see to needs of the Western Cherokee of Arkansas
and in the war of 1812 he served with Andrew Jackson as an adjutant
with The Cherokee Regiment. Jackson used the Cherokee in his
various campaigns but had a deep dislike of all native peoples. The
Cherokee fought with much valour but received no pay and were on
the lowest rung of the social ladder.
In 1813-14 John again fought along side Andrew Jackson in the
Creek wars where Jackson had 1000 Cherokee with him plus his
regular troops. John Ross participated in the battle of Horseshoe
Bend on March 28th 1814 and attained the rank of Lieutenant. The
British Allied Creek Indians were defeated and peace was
John Ross then turned his hand to making his fortune and around
1815 John and
Timothy Meigs opened a trading post on the banks of the TA NI SI
river which became known as Ross's Landing which is now
Chattanooga, Tennessee. John added a 170 acre farm to his holdings
which proved very profitable and he also established warehouses and
a trading company. Since he knew very well the value of education,
John helped start the Brainard Mission and School that was made
available to the Cherokee people.
Around 1817 John was chosen a member of The Cherokee Nations
Council and in 1819 he was elected president of the Cherokee
National Committee. He then moved to Coosa to be closer to the
Cherokee capitol at New Echota, Georgia where he was elected
assistant chief of the Eastern Cherokee and participated in
drafting the Cherokee Constitution based on the U.S. Constitution.
That included a Senate and House of Representatives. In 1828 he was
elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
In 1828 gold was discovered in North Georgia, Cherokee country
and gold fever was rampant but the Cherokee were in the way. For
the state of Georgia and its white settlers rich or poor, getting
the Cherokee out was essential and the first step was the outlawing
of Cherokee government. The Cherokee appealed for Federal
protection but President Andrew Jackson rejected it and the act
opened the door to a landslide of whites into Cherokee country.
These were dark days for the Cherokee: whole families were killed;
Cherokee were shot working their farms; houses were burnt to the
ground, sometimes with families in them. Livestock was slaughtered
and left on the ground, all in an effort to get to the gold. The
final blow came when President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian
Removal Act of 1830 and Jackson's administration put much pressure
on the Cherokee to go west.
That pressure was resisted and Chief John Ross and the majority
of the Cherokee were resolutely against removal to Indian territory
(present day Oklahoma). But, by using various underhand methods,
Jackson's. government got about 500 Cherokee to support a treaty
giving up their present lands in exchange for land in Indian
Territory. Regardless of the fact that the treaty was repudiated by
nine-tenths of the tribe, congress ratified it on May 23, 1836.
During all of this, John Ross was travelling back and forth to
Washington pleading the Cherokee but all in vain and in 1838 the
removal started. To the Cherokee it is known as The Trail of Tears
which was a 2,200 mile forced march which claimed many lives
including that of John Ross's wife Quatie. The federal death
figures claimed that 424 Cherokee died but a doctor travelling on
the march estimated 1500 died in the camps and another 2000 along
the trail. Those who died on the trail
were not buried, but just left. Some estimates claim that a total
of 6000 died on the march.
Once the Cherokee reached Oklahoma, John Ross was re-elected
Principal Chief which in July 1886 took him to Washington again
working on behalf of the Cherokee Nation. On August 1st 1866 John
Ross died in his hotel room in Washington at the age of 76. His
body was returned to Indian Territory and he was buried at Ross
Cemetery, Park Hill Oklahoma.