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RIDGE, MAJOR (1771-1839)

Major Ridge, 1837

From his birth at Hiwassee until his death, Major Ridge was a forceful leader of his people and at the forefront of the Cherokee "civilization" movement. In many ways he represents the transition of the Cherokee Nation from hunters and warriors to a market economy. He educated his children at mission schools, and although he emulated his white neighbors in dress and habitat, he was a consummate Cherokee.

Known from his early youth as The Ridge, he gained recognition and status as a warrior, orator and diplomat. In the Creek War of 1813-14, he was promoted to major and adopted his military rank as his first name. He was a staunch opponent of land cessions and removal and a champion of education and religion. While he served on the tribal council, as speaker of the council in 1822-28, and counselor, his protege John Ross became principal chief in 1828.

Ridge, a successful businessman, operated a ferry, a trading post, and a plantation with thirty slaves. Due to the influence of his son John Ridge, he reversed his stand on removal in 1832 and became an advocate of emigration. Convinced that his people faced destruction, Ridge openly opposed John Ross's leadership and signed the removal treaty of New Echota in 1835. He removed to the West in 1837, resumed farming, and opened a mercantile business. Because of his role in removal, Ross supporters assassinated him, his son, and his nephew, Elias Boudinot, on 22 June 1839.


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Grant Foreman, The Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1934). Stan Hoig, The Cherokees and Their Chiefs: In the Wake of Empire (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1998). Thurman Wilkins, Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People, rev. ed. (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1986).

James P. Pate

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