What's in a Name?

One of the major arguments against removing the Cherokee from their homelands in 1835 was that they had adopted many of the trappings of white, frontier civilization. They farmed, lived in houses, published a newspaper in their own language, and some even owned slaves. The Treaty of New Echota required that a census of the Cherokee be taken as a means of establishing the value of the Cherokee land and property so that reparations could be made:

And be it further enacted, That if, upon any of the lands now occupied by the Indians, and to be exchanged for, there should be such improvements as add value to the land claimed by any individual or individuals of such tribes or nations, it shall and may be lawful for the President to cause such value to be ascertained by appraisement or otherwise, and to cause such ascertained value to be paid to the person or persons rightfully claiming such improvements.1

As a result of the census we know about the number of farms, mills, houses and other types of improvements the Cherokees made and have a perspective on Cherokee life beyond that provided by the historian's more traditional sources. You will start your study of the census by looking at what's in a name as you learn how to work with the data in the file.

Open the Cherokee Removal map. Data from the census is available as a map layer as are layers showing the location of church missions to the Cherokee and the extent of gold mining in the Cherokee territory. You can also open a portion of a map from the Atlas of the United States prepared by H.S. Tanner in 1836 at the same time the Cherokee census was taken.

Cherokee Map

Open the 1835 Census layer and zoom in on the Cherokee territory. You have access to a random sample of the 1835 census that represents approximately 10% of the total. Click a point to open a pop-up with information for a single family and examine the categories of information that are included. Please understand that the locations of the Cherokee households on the map are approximate - most often to the creek indicated in the census document.

Names were often given in honor of personal accomplishments or existing character traits or traits that were valued. Show the table in the 1835 Census layer, scroll down the list of names, and study the translated Cherokee names. In general, what do they say about the individuals and culture of the people who gave them? Do you find any notable exceptions?

To Start You Thinking

1) Examine the location of Cherokee home sites in the map carefully. What common geographic feature do most share?

2) Use the Distance button and measure how far it is from the census location near Blountsville, Alabama to the most extreme eastern Cherokee household on the map.

3) As mentioned, the sample you are working with is about 10% of the total. Approximately how many Cherokee were counted in the complete census?

4) As the census suggests, some Cherokee owned slaves. What was the average number of slaves owned by Cherokee families? Was there a close relationship between slave holding and any of the other census characteristics?

5) What does the data in the census tell you about the Cherokee as farmers? Use statistics from the file to support your observations.

6) Was bilingual literacy common among the Cherokee. That is did households with Cherokee readers also tend to have English readers and vice-versa?

7) Identify and address a question that you have about the Cherokee using the available census data.


1"The Indian Removal Act," in A Century of Lawmaking for a New Nation: U.S. Congressional Documents and Debates, 1774 - 1875 Statutes at Large, 21st Congress, 1st Session, pp 411-412 part of the Library of Congress American Memory Project.

image from National Archives, Census Roll, 1835, of Cherokee Indians East of the Mississippi. NA#T496 overlayed on a portion of a map from H.S. Tanner, Atlas of the United States part of The David Rumsey Historical Map Collection.

Last modified in June, 2019 by Rick Thomas