Of the Five Civilized Tribes, the Cherokees were the largest holder of Africans as chattel slaves. By 1860 the Cherokees had 4,600 slaves. Many Cherokees depended on them as a bridge to white society. Full-blood Indian slave owners relied on the blacks as English interpreters and translators. Mainly, however, slaves worked on farms as laborers or in homes as maids or servants. The Cherokees feared the aspect of a slave revolt, and that is just what happened in 1842 at Webbers Falls.
On the morning of November 15 more than twenty-five slaves, mostly from the Joseph Vann plantation, revolted. They locked their masters and overseers in their homes and cabins while they slept. The slaves stole guns, horses, mules, ammunition, food and supplies. At daybreak the group, which included men, women, and children, headed toward Mexico, where slavery was illegal. In the Creek Nation the Cherokee slaves were joined by Creek slaves, bringing the group total to more than thirty-five. The fugitives fought off and killed a couple of slave hunters in the Choctaw Nation.
The Cherokee Nation sent the Cherokee Militia, under Capt. John Drew, with eighty-seven men to catch the runaways. This expedition was authorized by the Cherokee National Council in Tahlequah on November 17, 1842. The militia caught up with the slaves seven miles north of the Red River on November 28, 1842. The tired, famished fugitives offered no resistance.
The party returned to Tahlequah on December 8, 1842. Five slaves were executed, and Joseph Vann put the majority of his rebellious slaves to work on his steamboats, which worked the Arkansas, Mississippi, and Ohio Rivers. The Cherokees blamed the incident on free, armed black Seminoles who lived in close proximity to the Cherokee slaves at Fort Gibson. On December 2, 1842, the Cherokee Nation passed a law commanding all free African Americans, except former Cherokee slaves, to leave the nation.
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Art T. Burton, "Cherokee Slave Revolt in 1842," True West Magazine (June 1996). Rudi Halliburton, Jr., Red Over Black: Black Slavery among the Cherokee Indians (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1977). Kaye M. Teall, Black History in Oklahoma: A Resource Book (Oklahoma City: Oklahoma City Public Schools, 1971). Morris L. Wardell, A Political History of the Cherokee Nation, 1838-1907 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977).
Art T. Burton
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