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When adopting white ways, the Cherokee often did so on terms that amalgamated Western ways with the Cherokee ones detailed briefly above. These assimilations were not always the dramatic reforms that they initially appeared to whites, but rather dynamic modifications of previous indigenous institutions.

I. A Solitary Tree. Assimilation.

The program of strategic assimilation adopted by the Cherokee can be separated into four domains: missionary education, government, agriculture/slaveholding, and language. These domains were not formal and frequently overlap, as the discussion below illustrates, but for the sake of simplicity I've condensed them into these arenas.

It should be noted that these reforms were by not universally accepted. Dissent, although sometimes widespread, was commonly centered among the more removed factions of the Nation in the Georgian Mountains. In 1808, after the passage of the first Cherokee Constitution, some disenchanted Cherokee headed west under the headmen Bold Hunter and Fox. They called themselves the "Old Settlers," or the "Cherokees West," and they settled in Arkansas, west of the Mississippi, where they continued to live in a traditionalist fashion as a kind of foil to the Eastern Cherokee.

Intertwining Branches: Agriculture and Slaveholding

In 1796 President Washington appointed Benjamin Hawkins the Principal Temporary Agent for the Southern Indians. The same year Hawkins wrote Washington that the Cherokee:

said they would follow the advice of their great father George Washington, they would plant cotton and be prepared for spinning as soon as they could make it, and they hoped they might get some wheels and carts as soon as they should be ready for them, they promised also to take care of their pigs and cattle…That they were willing to labour if they could be directed how to profit by it.3

One of the duties of Hawkins' job was the construction of model plantation farms on Native American lands. The model farm on the Cherokee reservation employed slave labor. Washington had long

 


3. Benjamin Hawkins, "Letter of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796-1806," in Woodward.
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