The Portland Oregonian, November 23, 1992.


More than 160 years after Georgia officials ignored a direct order from the U.S. Supreme Court to stop actions leading up to the infamous Trail of Tears, the state is admitting it made a mistake.  Officials on Wednesday will formally pardon tow missionaries jailed when the fought the state's seizure of Cherokee Indian land.  "This is one of many injustices done, but it's something that we could do something about," said Marsha Bailey, spokeswoman for the state Board of Pardons and Paroles.  "It was a miscarriage of justice."  The pardon says it "acts to remove a stain on the history of criminal justice in Georgia" land acknowledges the state usurped Cherokee sovereignty and ignored the Supreme Court.

A legislator and Cherokee descendant called the pardon a sign that Georgia finally realizes the scope of its mistreatment of the Cherokee.  "If we ever had political prisoners in this state or this nation, these two were the best examples," said state Rep. Bill Dover, chief executive of the Georgia Tribe of Eastern Cherokee.  "It's been a sore place in the side of the Indian people for all these generations that these two wonderful Christian gentlemen were sent to prison because they believe in God and they believed in the Cherokee Nation," Dover said.

Samuel Austin Worcester and Elihu Butler were sentenced to four years in jail in 1831 for residing in the Cherokee Nation without a license.  A law was enacted to try to stop the two from protesting the state's seizure of Cherokee land in northwest Georgia.  Until 1828, the Cherokee Nation was considered a sovereign foreign country, with its land off limits to settlers.  But in 1829, gold was discovered in Dahlonega and Georgia seized much of the land and abolished Cherokee sovereignty.  Worcester and Butler, who lived at the Cherokee capital of New Echota, attracted national attention to the American Indians' cause.  To muzzle them, the state required all white men living on Cherokee land to obtain a state license.  Worcester and Butler refused and were convicted of "high misdemeanor."  The missionaries appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.  In 1832, Chief Justice John Marshall declared Georgia had no constitutional right to extend any state laws over the Cherokee, including seizing their land, and must release the missionaries.  But Georgia ignored the ruling.  The missionaries spend 16 months doing hard labor as part of a chain gang, Dover said.

They were released in time to join the Trail of Tears, when Georgia forced up to 17,000 Cherokees to move west.  Thousands died of cold and starvation during the march, but the missionaries made it to Oklahoma and continued their work among Cherokee there.

The state repealed its Cherokee laws in 1979, but until now never formally admitted the actions were wrong, said Dover.