Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Legislating women's sexuality: Cherokee marriage laws in the nineteenth century

The story of Michael Rowan and Morning Star is one model of how white men and Cherokee women united in the late 1700's. The wedding bands pictured here are purely for show, since we concluded during table work last week that their marriage was strictly common law with not a hint of matrimonial ceremony save for the traditional carrying the bride over the threshold. Only in their case, the bride was kicking and screaming and the context was intimidation and domination. But then again, some people like that (secret table work inside joke:).

This article from the Journal of Social History
(Winter, 2004 by Fay Yarbrough) takes it further to look at how the Cherokee nation responded to protect its female population.

Legislating women's sexuality: Cherokee marriage laws in the nineteenth century

The nineteenth century was a time of tremendous social and political upheaval in the Cherokee Nation. Most readers are likely to be familiar with the tragedy of the "Trail of Tears" when federal troops forced the Cherokee Indians to abandon lands in Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, and North Carolina to settle in the Indian Territory (present day Oklahoma) in 1838-1839. What may not be as widely known is that Removal was only one of several dramatic changes experienced by the Cherokee Nation in the nineteenth century. The Cherokees radically transformed their political and legal institutions early in the century; survived the internal strife, which verged on civil war, that was the result of the removal policy of the 1830s; weathered the American Civil War and their own reconstruction as they struggled to incorporate their former slaves into society; and confronted federal attempts to dismantle Indian sovereignty as the century drew to a close. In many respects, the legal institutions of the nineteenth-century Cherokee Nation resembled those of the United States. The Cherokees divided their government into three branches: an executive embodied by the Chief; a judiciary with district and Supreme courts; and a legislature that created laws for the Nation. This essay will consider some of the laws passed by the legislative branch of the Cherokee government, particularly those regarding marriage and sex.

(click here to continue)

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