October 3, 1790 at Turkeytown, Alabama, John Ross
was the son of Daniel Ross, a Scotsman who had gone to live among the
during the American Revolution. His mother was also ĺ Scottish and ľ
father, Daniel, established a store at Chattanooga Creek near the foot of
Lookout Mountain, which operated until about 1816. Determined
that his children would receive a quality education, Daniel built a small
school and hired a teacher. It was here that John Ross
received his early education before attending another school in Kingston,
Tennessee and later the Maryville, Tennessee Academy.
Though only 1/8th Cherokee, Ross was of
Indian heritage through and through. Early in his life, he witnessed
much brutality on the American frontier as both Indians and settlers alike
were constantly raiding the
At the early age of
was sent by U.S. Indian Agent, Return J. Meigs, on an official mission
to the Western Cherokee
in 1809. Due to his quiet and reserved manner, the mission was a
success as he inspired confidence among both the Indians and the white
settlers. Proving his leadership and diplomacy at an early age,
he was immediately sent on another trip.
War of 1812 he served as an adjutant in the
regiment. Though the Cherokee
fought valiantly without receiving any pay, they were still not
considered to be true Americans.
A year later he
fought in the Creek War of 1813-14 along with General Andrew Jackson
and 1000 other Cherokee. Attaining the rank of Lieutenant, he participated in the fighting at
Battle of Horseshoe Bend against the British allied Creek Indians. On March 28, 1814, 600 Creek warriors were killed and peace was
In 1815, John Ross
and Timothy Meigs opened a trading post on the Tennessee River in
Chattanooga that soon became known as Ross' Landing. In addition to
providing supplies at the trading post, a ferry was used to transfer
merchandise and people across the river. Soon, a group of
Congregationalists, descendants of the Puritans, built a mission at
Rossí Landing called the Brainerd Mission. Ross, recognizing the
value of a good education, did everything that he could to help the
missionaries in their effort to provide schooling for the Cherokee
Viewed as astute and
likable, Ross relocated to Georgia as a chosen member of the Cherokee
Nation Council in 1817. In this same year, the U.S. government
asked the Cherokee to cede all lands north of the Hiwassee River and to move
west, despite the treaty of March 30, 1802 which guaranteed the
perpetual rights to their land.
Two years later, in
was elected as president of the National Cherokee
Committee, a position he held until 1826. During this time, Ross, along with Major John Ridge, the speaker of the
Cherokee National Council, established a capitol near present-day
Calhoun, Georgia in 1825.
He then became Assistant Chief of the
Eastern Cherokee, participating in the drafting of the Cherokee
Constitution in 1827. The constitution was modeled after the
U.S. Constitution, including a Senate and a House of Representatives. John Ross
was elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1828, a position he would hold until his death in 1866.
Also an astute
businessman, Ross was involved with a number of business ventures, owned a
200 acre farm, and owned a number of slaves.
Over the next ten years, Ross fought
the white settlers who were attempting to displace the Cherokee
from their lands. Fighting not with weapons, but with words, he
turned to the press and the courts to support the Cherokee
When gold was discovered in White County,
Georgia in 1828, the state began to push even harder for removal of the
Indians. The Georgia legislature soon outlawed the Cherokee government and confiscated tribal lands. When the
Cherokee appealed for federal protection, they were rejected by
Though winning several
court rulings, it would make no difference as Rossí former comrade,
President Andrew Jackson authorized the Indian
Removal Act of 1830.
Administration began to put pressure on the Cherokee and other tribes to sign treaties of removal but the
Cherokee rejected any proposals. However, when Jackson was
reelected in 1832, some of the Cherokee believed that removal was inevitable. A Treaty Party, led by
Major John Ridge, and including Stand
Watie, believed that it was in the best interest of the
Cherokee Nation to get the best possible terms from the U.S.
government. Cautiously, Ridge began unauthorized talks with the Jackson
Chief John Ross and the majority of the Cherokee people remained adamantly opposed to removal. In 1832, Ross cancelled the tribal elections and the Council impeached Ridge,
and a member of the Ridge Party was murdered. The "Treaty Party" responded
by forming their own council, which represented only a small minority of
the Cherokee people. Both the Ross government and the Ridge Party sent independent delegations to
In the end, 500 of the Cherokee (out of thousands) supported a treaty to cede the
lands in exchange for $5,700,000 and new lands in
Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Though the actions was repudiated by more than
nine-tenths of the tribe and was not signed by a single elected tribal
official, Congress ratified the treaty on May 23, 1836.
Chief Ross and the Cherokee National Council maintained that the document was a fraud and
presented a petition with more than 15,000 Cherokee signatures to congress in the spring of 1838. Other
white settlers also were outraged by the questionable legality of the
treaty. On April 23, 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson appealed to Jackson's
successor, President Martin Van Buren, urging him not to inflict "so vast
an outrage upon the Cherokee Nation. But it was not to be.
were forced to move to Indian Territory
on what would become known as the
Trail of Tears. Along the 2,200 mile journey, road conditions, illness, cold, and
exhaustion took thousands of lives, including Chief John Ross'
wife Quatie. Though the federal government officially stated some 424
deaths, an American doctor traveling with one the party estimated that
2,000 people died in the camps and another 2,000 along the trail. Other estimates have been stated that conclude that almost 8,000 of the
Cherokee died during the Indian Removal.
Once the tribe was
relocated to a site near present day Tahlequah, Oklahoma, John Ross
was re-elected Principal Chief. Major Ridge was killed the same
day for violating the law forbidding unauthorized sale of property. Soon,
land was set aside for schools, a newspaper, and a new Cherokee
Civil War, the
aligned themselves with the Confederacy, a declaration that repudiated any
treaties that had been formerly signed with the Federal Government.
In September, 1865, Ross
attended the Grand Council of Southern Indians at Fort Smith, Arkansas
where new treaties between Cherokee
and the Federal government were prepared. In July, 1866, though in
failing health, he accompanied a delegation to Washington where new the
treaties were signed on July 19, 1866. Soon after the treaties were
took to his bed at the Medes Hotel in Washington D.C. where he died on
August 1, 1866. Although first buried beside his wife Mary in Wilmington
Delaware, his body was returned to Indian Territory a few months later
where he is buried at Ross Cemetery in Park Hill, Oklahoma.
of America, updated March, 2017.