Friday, October 21, 2011

The Cherokee Phoenix

    In the spring of 1828 the Cherokee established a press and began publishing their own newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix. They were the only Native Americans in the new world who had their own press and published their own newspaper. It was written in English and also in the Cherokee language, using the new syllabry which was developed by Sequoyah. The name was chosen because the Phoenix, the legendary bird of Egyptian mythology that arose from the ashes to live again, had become the symbol of Cherokee resistance. Elias Boudinot proposed the name stating that the Cherokee must rise like the Phoenix from the ashes of the past.
     The Cherokee had begun to build a new capital in Georgia which they named “New Echota”. It was decided that a printing press was desirable so they could print a newspaper as well as religious material and other material. In addition to the newspaper, a portion of the Bible, the laws passed by the Cherokee Council, political pamphlets, a hymnbook and other documents were translated into the Cherokee language and printed on the new press.
     At New Echota, a twenty by thirty building, with doors at both ends for easy access, was constructed to house the one thousand pounds press. Elias Boudinot was chosen to be the editor. He would be assisted by a Congregational minister, Samuel Worcester. Boudinot, a prominent Cherokee at the time, was well educated and capable of filling this position. The paper was to be a weekly publication with both English and Cherokee editions made available. It was widely distributed with weekly editions being sent to significant cities of that time such as Washington, London, Philadelphia and Boston. This afforded Boudinot, in his editorials, to make weekly reports and carry his message to those he wanted to reach outside the jurisdiction of the Cherokee Nation.
     The advance English language price for the newspaper was $2.50 annually. $2.00 would buy a year subscription of the Cherokee language edition if paid in advance, or $2.50 if paid within the year.
For his efforts, Elias Boudinot was paid $300.00 annually. John Foster Wheeler, a printer from Tennessee was hired to operate the press. The council agreed to pay him $400.00 a year, which did not set well with Boudinot who was making $100.00 less. Wheeler justified this extra amount because he insisted that an assistant would be required to help him whose salary he would be required to pay. He selected Isaac Harris to assist him in operating the press.
     The first issue of The Cherokee Phoenix was printed on February 21, 1828. This accomplishment was not achieved without some difficulty. After installing the press in the printing shop, Boudinot, Wheeler and Harris met to conduct the first test on it. Wheeler was a Christian who watched his words, but Harris seemed to entertain himself by uttering profanities. Harris first attempted to set a few words in the Cherokee language but passed the task on to printer Wheeler after uttering a barrage of oaths regarding his failed efforts. After the type was set, Harris next made the inquiry to Boudinot; “where is the goddamned paper?” There was no paper! In the excitement of the arrival of the press, the paper needed for printing had been forgotten. Harris had to make a trip to Knoxville, Tennessee to purchase the required paper.
     The size of the edition was four superroyal pages with five columns on each. Samuel Worchester, being a Congregational missionary and an unpaid assistant of Boudinot, took advantage of the printing press and newspaper to convey his religious message to the readers. A significant amount of religious material, printed in both Cherokee and English, was included in the weekly publications. In the first edition, the Lords Prayer was printed in both languages. Also in this first edition, Boudinot wrote an editorial critical of the white mans appetite for the Cherokee’s land. He vowed “not to intermeddle with the policies of our neighbors,” and, quoting Proverbs 15:1, he wrote that they had “been taught to believe that a soft answer turneth away wrath, but grievous words stir up anger.” The first edition also contained part of the new Cherokee constitution which had been adopted by the ruling council.
     In 1835 the Cherokee had been ordered to vacate the land on which their Capital city, New Echota, was built. The removal to Oklahoma was in progress and thus the printing press of The Cherokee Phoenix was silenced. In 1838, the long march of the trail of tears would be underway.


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