"In this great future you can't forget your past" ~No Woman, No Cry, Bob Marley

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

HARLIN's Cherokee Freedmen

A couple of weeks ago, in my Facebook newsfeed, was the cut out of an article from a Portland, Oregon newspaper—The Oregonian (see below for the article as shared). The brief article, shared by one of my cousins, was about descendants of those enslaved by the Cherokee, and tribal membership. My uncle shared that his mother, my grandmother, had told him about this some twenty-five years ago. I commented that being descendants of Cherokee Freedmen this was something I have followed off and on over the years. My cousin then shared that she had not been aware that we were descendants of Cherokee Freedmen—that Facebook exchange prompted this post. 

The newspaper clip that was shared by my cousin

Cherokee Freedmen were those persons who had been enslaved by members of the Cherokee Nation, and were freed upon the passage and ratification of the Thirteenth Amendment (the Civil War ended in April of 1865; the Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing the institution of slavery took effect in December of 1865. Some of these enslaved individuals, according to the website, IndiVisible African-Native American Lives in the Americas, accompanied the Cherokee on their forced march from the Southeastern United States to Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma). According to this same source, there were some 4,000 African heritage enslaved persons living amongst the Cherokee. When the Civil War ended, a treaty was signed that granted Freedmen, “all the rights of Native Cherokees” (see aforementioned website for this quote). However, according to the site, in 2007 the tribal constitution was amended such that in order to qualify for membership, one had to have “Indian blood”; this stripped almost 3,000 Freedmen descendants of their tribal membership.
Twenty-eight years after the end of the Civil War, in 1893, a commission was established, by an act of congress, to help negotiate land agreements with five Nations—the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole Nations. According to information provided by the National Archives, the job of the commission was to determine which individuals were to be allowed land that was being divided into plots. The Commission was to do this through an interview process and make the determination, in part, based upon whether or not the tribal government had previously recognized the applicant.

While I do not have very much on this family line, and am in the process of corroborating with the wife of a cousin who has done some research, what I do know is here. As far back as I can go thus far with the HARLIN line is the birth of Bass HARLIN, circa 1838/1839 (however, more accurately, it would be that of Mary HARLIN, who Bass names as his mother; his father’s name was Jesse ROACH, however, no given name is listed for the enslaver’s name, simply the surname, ROACH). Bass was, according to the information provided to the Dawes Commission, born into slavery, and was enslaved in Indian Territory (modern day Oklahoma) by Delilah HARLIN. Bass had six children that I know of, four of whom I can name (in no particular order): Clem, Solomon/Sol, Sallie, and Georgiann [it is speculated that one of the other two children was an individual by the name of Darkie]. It is from Sallie that my family and I descend.

Sallie married Jack McCONNELL on 06 January 1891 [the marriage record lists his name as Jack McCONNEL, Sallie’s delayed birth certificate lists his name as Jackson; he has also been seen with the name Andrew J.]. They had three daughters, Pearlie, Violet, and Bertha/Elnora (my second great grandmother). At the time of her interview, Sallie had Elnora living with her; the other daughters were living with their father. Sallie and Jackson did not stay together long, though according to her Dawes interview, she retained the McCONNELL surname. She also had  daughter with Samuel STIDMAN, Lizzie, and a son by the name of Willie GARNETT with Jerry GARNETT. Jackson did attempt to enroll, however, his application was rejected; the applications of his daughters’ with Sallie were approved. 

In addition, it seemed, based upon a letter Elnora received from the Department of the Interior, dated 07 July 1921, that both Sallie and Elnora had been granted significant parcels of land. My uncle and I wondered how this may have come to be. I posed the question to some individuals, and expert, Angela Walton-Raji shared with me, once a person was deemed eligible (the purpose of the Dawes Commission), they would then apply for and receive their land—mystery solved. However, as Ms. Walton-Raji shared, a lot of the land was lost with Oklahoma Statehood (1907), and the land of Freedmen was often some of the first land to be taken and sold away. My family’s land was used for the construction of a highway, as shared in an article my uncle shared with me over Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend, 2014.
Perhaps I will share more about the individuals from this line in future posts. 

Information for this post was retrieved from:
Sallie and Jackson’s marriage record
Dawes Commission records

*A thank you to my Uncle Cleatis, who shared with me a number of years ago some of what my grandmother shared with him. The information he provided (names) allowed me to find the family in the Dawes Records and in census records. All of the information presented here related to the HARLIN family comes from Dawes Commission interviews and enrollment cards.

Note: the discussion about whether or not descendants of Cherokee Freedmen should be allowed full, or any, tribal rights has been ongoing for quite some time. There are many resources online and not online that one can read to get acquainted with the topic; use your favorite search engine to point you in the direction of some reading material. Here are a couple of websites that may be of interest to you, they are shared with no endorsement http://www.freedmen5tribes.com/cherokee%20freedmen%20facts.doc.pdf ;
http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/tags/cherokee-freedmen [stay abreast of various things in Native American news]


  1. Hi,

    I want you to know that your blog is listed in today Fab Finds post at http://janasgenealogyandfamilyhistory.blogspot.com/2014/04/follow-friday-fab-finds-for-april-25.html

    Have a fantastic weekend!

    1. Jana,

      Oh my gosh, what an honor, thank you!


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