"Swept Into Eternity" Impact of Cherokee Removal and Washington's Apathy

Lucy Ames Butler penned these words in a letter to Drusilla Burnap of Lowell, MA. She wrote her letter on January 2, 1839 and posted it a week later from Cleveland, TN. Lucy was a Presbyterian missionary and the second wife of Dr. Elizur Butler, whom the State of Georgia incarcerated along with Samuel Worcester for entering Indian Territory without proper authorization. After Chief Justice John Marshall ordered their release, Lucy’s husband accompanied the Cherokee on the tragic forced migration which is known today as The Trail of Tears. At the time of the writing of this letter, Dr. Butler nearly had completed the trek. He went on to become the first religion instructor at The Cherokee Female Seminary in Oklahoma. Lucy Butler’s letter is currently part of The Fadjo Cravens II Collection (Fort Smith, AR).

My husband has been engaged in camp, preaching and attending on the sick Cherokees, since they were first taken. He was appointed to serve as Physician inone of the first companies. He also preaches in camp on the Sabbath as they have made arrangements not to travel on that day. We have heard from several companies, and understand they have considerable sickness. Twenty-five in a company of seven hundred had died, when they had proceeded three hundred miles. In another, which numbered about the same, in two hundred miles, eighteen had been laid in their graves. I have not heard particularly from others. When these companies arrive in their new country, the greatest part will be without shelters as they were in this [place], after they were prisoners; and it is to be feared many will be cut down by death, as has been the case with new emigrants in the country. It is estimated about two thousand died while in camp in this country. Will not the people in whose power it is to redress Indian wrongs awake to their duty? Will they not think of the multitudes among the various tribes that have within a few years been swept into Eternity by the cupidity of the “white man” who is in the enjoyment of wealth and freedom on the original soil of these oppressed Indians? I know many friends of the Indians have set down in despair, thinking oppression has been carried so far, nothing now can be done. I will mention one person who thinks otherwise; and it may surprise you when I tell it is John Ross, the principal Chief of these oppressed Cherokees. In speaking of the distresses of his people, I have heard him with subdued agitation of feeling, with calmness and confidence say, “Though for years, the Press has been closed against us, and the few friends we have left, have at times, been ready to think we must sink to ruin unheard; yet I cannot think the United States’ Government is so lost to all justice, that our wrongs will not be redressed, if the truth is fairly set before those, who have the power to do it.” With these feelings, this man has presented himself at our seat of Government year after year; and though false reports, in almost every form, have been circulated against him, and indignities heaped on him and his associates, and withal being told by the highest Authorities of our Government, that he must accept [the] terms already offered, that nothing more favourable would ever be granted, yet the returning Congress has again found him at Washington pleading for his people. It may now be thought as his people have actually been driven from their native country, and one eighth of them already cut off by death, that he will think nothing can be gained by further intercession; but probably, if his life is spared, he will again be seen pleading with Government, for those that remain.

Last updated: August 28, 2017

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