John Ross – Encyclopedia of New Georgia

John Ross became the main chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1827, following the establishment of a government modeled on that of the United States. He presided over the nation at the height of its development in the Southeast, the tragic Trail of Tears, and the subsequent rebuilding of the nation in Indian Territory, in present-day Oklahoma.

Ross was born on October 3, 1790, in Turkey Town, on the Coosa River near present-day Center, Alabama. His family moved to the base of Lookout Mountain, an area that became Rossville, Georgia. At his father’s store, Ross learned traditional Cherokee customs, although at home his mixed-race family practiced European traditions and spoke English.

After attending South West Point Academy in Tennessee, Ross married Quatie (also known as Elizabeth Brown Henley). He began selling goods to the U.S. government in 1813. Profits from the store at Ross’s Landing on the Tennessee River (now Chattanooga, Tennessee) enabled Ross in 1827 to establish a plantation and ferry business where flow the Oostanaula and Etowah rivers. together to form the Coosa River, located in present-day Rome.

During this period, Ross’s diplomatic skills enabled him to rise to prominent positions, culminating in his election as Principal Chief of the newly formed Cherokee Nation, which Ross, along with his friend and neighbor Major Ridge , helped establish. When Ross took over the reins of Cherokee government in 1827, white Georgians intensified their lobbying efforts to remove the Cherokees from the Southeast. The discovery of gold on Cherokee lands fueled their desire to own the area, which was dotted with lucrative businesses and successful plantations like Ross’s. The Indian Removal Bill passed by Congress in 1830 provided the legal authority to begin the removal process. Ross’ fight against the 1832 Georgia Lottery, designed to give away Cherokee land, was the first of many political battles.

Ross’s faith in the Republican form of government, the authority of the United States Supreme Court, and the political power of Cherokee supporters, especially the Whig party, gave him assurance that Cherokee rights would be protected. When the fraudulent Treaty of New Echota was authorized by a vote in the United States Senate in 1836, Ross continued to believe that the Americans would not wipe out the more “civilized” natives of the Southeast. He fought withdrawal until 1838, when it was clear there was no alternative; he then successfully negotiated with the U.S. government to handle the affairs of the move.

Ross oversaw the removal process from Tennessee until December 1838. Ross, Quatie, and their children then joined the last detachment of departing Cherokees, who traveled by ship because they were too old or ill to travel overland. Ross, too, experienced personal tragedy along the “Path Where They Wept”, or the Trail of Tears, as Quatie died on the journey in early 1839.

Once in Indian Territory, Ross led efforts to establish farms, businesses, schools, and even colleges. Although the Cherokee Nation was torn apart politically after the removal treaty fight, Ross clung to the reins of power. When the Civil war (1861-1865) began, Ross initially sided with the Confederacy but soon moved to the Union position. Once again the Cherokee Nation has split. Elected Pro-Confederates Stand Watie as leader in 1862, while pro-Union supporters re-elected Ross. The United States continued to recognize Ross’ government. He remained the principal leader of the Cherokee Nation until his death in Washington, DC on August 1, 1866.

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