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Se-quo-yah; from Harper's New Monthly, V.41   By:

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From Harper's New Monthly, V. 41, 1870

In the year 1768 a German peddler, named George Gist, left the settlement of Ebenezer, on the lower Savannah, and entered the Cherokee Nation by the northern mountains of Georgia. He had two pack horses laden with the petty merchandise known to the Indian trade. At that time Captain Stewart was the British Superintendent of the Indians in that region. Besides his other duties, he claimed the right to regulate and license such traffic. It was an old bone of contention. A few years before, the Governor and Council of the colony of Georgia claimed the sole power of such privilege and jurisdiction. Still earlier, the colonial authorities of South Carolina assumed it. Traders from Virginia, even, found it necessary to go round by Carolina and Georgia, and to procure licenses. Augusta was the great centre of this commerce, which in those days was more extensive than would be now believed. Flatboats, barges, and pirogues floated the bales of pelts to tide water. Above Augusta, trains of pack horses, sometimes numbering one hundred, gathered in the furs, and carried goods to and from remote regions. The trader immediately in connection with the Indian hunter expected to make one thousand per cent. The wholesale dealer made several hundred. The governors, councilors, and superintendents made all they could. It could scarcely be called legitimate commerce. It was a grab game.

Our Dutch friend Gist was, correctly speaking, a contrabandist. He had too little influence or money to procure a license, and too much enterprise to refrain because he lacked it. He belonged to a class more numerous than respectable, although it would be a good deal to say that there was any virtue in yielding to these petty exactions. It was a mere question of confiscation, or robbery, without redress, by the Indians. He risked it. With traders, at that time, it was customary to take an Indian wife. She was expected to furnish the eatables, as well as cook them. By the law of many Indian tribes property and the control of the family go with the mother. The husband never belongs to the same family connection, rarely to the same community or town even, and often not even to the tribe. He is a sort of barnacle, taken in on his wife's account. To the adventurer, like a trader, this adoption gave a sort of legal status or protection. Gist either understood this before he started on his enterprise, or learned it very speedily after. Of the Cherokee tongue he knew positively nothing. He had a smattering of very broken English. Somehow or other he managed to induce a Cherokee girl to become his wife.

This woman belonged to a family long respectable in the Cherokee Nation. It is customary for those ignorant of the Indian social polity to speak of all prominent Indians as "chiefs." Her family had no pretension to chieftaincy, but was prominent and influential; some of her brothers were afterward members of the Council. She could not speak English; but, in common with many Cherokees of even that early date, had a small proportion of English blood in her veins. The Cherokee woman, married or single, owns her property, consisting chiefly of cattle, in her own right. A wealthy Cherokee or Creek, when a son or daughter is born to him, marks so many young cattle in a new brand, and these become, with their increase, the child's property. Whether her cattle constituted any portion of the temptation, I can not say. At any rate, the girl, who had much of the beauty of her race, became the wife of the German peddler.

Of George Gist's married life we have little recorded. It was of very short duration. He converted his merchandise into furs, and did not make more than one or two trips. With him it had merely been cheap protection and board. We might denounce him as a low adventurer if we did not remember that he was the father of one of the most remarkable men who ever appeared on the continent... Continue reading book >>

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