Wednesday, October 03, 2018

James J. Trott: Missionary to the Cherokees, 1

In early December 1831, James J. Trott, sent a letter to Alexander Campbell, editor of the Millennial Harbinger. Filled with notes of both hardship and joy, the letter relates a story of pilgrimage.

Trott was born in North Carolina in 1800. Around the year 1815, he moved with his family to Tennessee. There, in 1821, he joined the Methodist Episcopal Church, and two years later became one of their circuit-riding preachers. His career with the Methodist "travelling connexion" soon took him to Georgia where for several years he worked among the Indians. But his devotion and commitment to the Cherokees eventually brought him into direct conflict with the government.[1]

As historian Tim Alan Garrison explains, beginning in the late 1820s Georgia required all white people living in Creek or Cherokee lands within the state's putative borders to swear an oath of allegiance. Taking this oath implied a repudiation of the Indians' legal claim to any territory in Georgia. Dozens of missionaries then working among Native Americans refused to take such an oath. They had only two alternatives: leave the state or face arrest.[2]

This background helps to explain a remarkable passage in Trott's letter to Campbell:
This year I have had some difficulties with the Georgians. I have been arrested, chained, imprisoned, condemned, reprieved, and banished the territory of the state, because I refused to take, what I believe to be, an unconstitutional and impious oath!
Then, he revealed an even greater source of heartbreak and sorrow:
My affliction has been increased by the loss of a pious Cherokee wife, who died not long since, leaving behind her two little ones, Benjamin and Mary.
During his confinement in Georgia, Trott had somehow happened upon the published work of Campbell. This marked the beginning of a change. He expressed his gratitude to the Lord that "the ancient gospel, like the sun of a cloudless morning," had risen upon the eyes of his understanding. He reported that on a recent trip to visit his family in Tennessee, he was "immersed into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit." Now, he had returned to the Cherokee Nation where he was "on a tour, proclaiming the glad tidings."

Trott closed his letter affirming that whatever the destiny of the Cherokees, he expected to live and die with them. His "heart's desire and prayer to God" was that the "primitive gospel" would triumph among the Indians. By quoting Romans 10:1 in this way, Trott compared his devotion to the Cherokees to the Apostle Paul's concern for his fellow Jews.[3] He underscored the wholehearted character of his mission when he signed his letter simply, "Cherokee."[4]

In all likelihood, Trott knew that Campbell would be sympathetic to his position and plight. The missionary likely had read the very first issue of the Millennial Harbinger, published in January of 1830. It included an article by Campbell titled "The Cherokee Indians."

In that article, Campbell railed against any state that would seize a person's land and banish the owner "because he is red, or yellow, or some other unfashionable color." Quoting the abolitionist leader William Lloyd Garrison, founding editor of The Liberator, Campbell stated that the forcible removal of the Cherokees from Georgia would "brand this country with eternal infamy, and expose it to the accumulated vengeance of Heaven." He concluded by expressing his hope that there was enough justice, truth, and faith in the hearts of the American people that they would not allow "an innocent and harmless nation" to be given up "to the cupidity of a few capitalists in Georgia or anywhere else."[5]

Tragically, the United States did not realize this hope. Many Americans of European descent refused to conceive of a national expansion that included Indians. To them, Manifest Destiny was the destiny of white Americans only.


[1] James J. Trott, "To the Editor of the Millennial Harbinger," Millennial Harbinger (February 6, 1832), 85.

[2] Tim Alan Garrison, The Legal Ideology of Removal: The Southern Judiciary and the Sovereignty of Native American Nations (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 2002), 169-97.

[3] According to the King James Bible, in Romans 10:1, Paul writes: "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved."

[4] Trott, "To the Editor of the Millennial Harbinger," 85.

[5] Alexander Campbell, "The Cherokee Indians" Millennial Harbinger (January 4, 1830), 44-46.