read English while only 13 percent were proficient at reading Cherokee."8 Literacy, wealth and mixed blood lines gave these slaveholders the economic upper hand. They owned most of the slaves. "Slaves owned by fullbloods numbered only 4 percent of the total slave population."9 Slaveholding plantations were small by the standards of the day-only several ever exceeded 50 slaves.
The Cherokees followed whites in creating legislation that prohibited slaves from owning property, forbid inter-racial marriages between blacks and Indians or whites, denied slaves the right of ownership, and forbid the practice of freeing slaves for the purpose of marriage. The 1828 Constitution formally excluded blacks from participating in government. "No person who is of negro or mulatto parentage…shall be eligible to hold any office or trust under this government."10
There were, however, significant differences between white slaveholding and Cherokee slaveholding. The Cherokee did not create laws that punished slaves for rebellion or insubordination. Punishments for slave insubordination or insurrection were reserved for masters. Disciplinary matters were left in the hands of individuals, in accordance with previous attitudes toward one's captives. Although the Cherokee frowned on marriage with blacks, census records from the 1830s show that a small percentage of the Cherokee Nation was of mixed Indian and African ancestry. Cherokees and slaves went to social events, such as dances and church, together. Slaves were allowed to attend the missionary schools. "Not only did Cherokee masters grant their slaves considerable freedom to participate in social, religious, and educational activities, but they probably treated their slaves much better, on the average, than did their white counterparts."11 One former slave, Henry Bibb, went so far as to once state, "If I must be a slave, I had by far, rather be a slave to an Indian, than to a white man."12 The Cherokee adopted slaveholding
8. Ibid., 117.
9. Sharlotte Neely, Snowbird Cherokees, (Athens, GA: The University of Georgia Press, 1991), 18. Neely cites the studies of Geographer Douglas C.
10. Cherokee Nation, Cherokee Legislative Council, The Constitution and Laws of the Cherokee Nation, 1839, in Perdue, "Cherokee Planters."
11. Perdue, "Cherokee Planters," 123.
12. Henry Bibb, "Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Henry Bibb, an American Slave," Puttin' On Ole Massa, ed.Gilbert Osofsky (New York: Harper, 1969).