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John Ross
About North Georgia

Born:Turkeytown(near Center), Alabama, October 3, 1790
Died:Washington, D.C., August 1, 1866

Tribal Chief John Ross, leader of the Cherokee Nation from 1828 until 1866
Last known photograph of John Ross, Principal Chief of the Cherokee from 1828 until his death in 1866
John Ross was the first and only elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation from the time it was formed until his death in 1866. Highly regarded for his role in leading the fight against removal and leading his people to their exile in Oklahoma, controversy was his constant companion once the Georgia Cherokee arrived.

Ross had a private tutor as a youth. Although only one-eighth Cherokee, Ross played Native American games and kept his Indian ties. Early in his life he worked as a federal postmaster from his home at the southern end of Missionary Ridge on the Old Federal Road, now Rossville, Ga. The town John Ross founded as Rossville Landing was renamed Chattanooga, Tennessee following the Cherokee Removal on the Trail of Tears.

Growing up with the constant raids of settlers and Indians, Ross witnessed much of the brutality on the early American frontier. The future Walker County was a hunting ground for both white and Cherokee raiding parties, strategically located midpoint between head of Coosa and Col. John Sevier's band of marauders from Tennessee.

"Little John" served as a Lieutenant in the Creek War, fighting with many famous Americans including Sam Houston. When future president and Cherokee oppressor Andrew Jackson called the Battle of Horseshoe Bend "one of the great victories of the American frontier," losing 50 men while killing 500 Creek men, women, and children, John Ross penned the words.

Ross was invaluable to Moravians who established a mission near present-day Brainerd, Tennessee. Serving as translator for the missionaries, just as he had for Return J. Miegs, Indian agent for the Cherokee, Ross acted as liaison between the missionaries, Miegs, and the tribal council. He proposed selling land to the Moravians for the school, a radical idea in a society that did not understand the concept.

Ross was viewed as astute and likable, and frequently visited Washington. After the death of James Vann, Ross joined Charles Hicks, with whom he worked, and Major Ridge as a member of the Cherokee Triumvirate. During the trip to negotiate the Treaty of 1819 in Washington D. C. he was recognized for his efforts.

Ross, one of the richest men in North Georgia before 1838, had a number of ventures including a 200-acre farm and owned a number of slaves. He would not speak Cherokee in council because he felt his command of the language was weak.

After the death of Charles Hicks, and others in the early 1820's, settlers believed that the Cherokee time was short. Ross and others decided to make legal moves to prevent the forced removal including organizing the Cherokee tribe as a nation, with its own Constitution, patterned after the Constitution of the United States of America. As president of the Constitutional Convention that convened in the summer of 1827 he was the obvious choice for Principal Chief in the first elections in 1828. He held this post until his death in 1866. Ridge, his close friend and ally, would serve the last years in Georgia as "counselor," for lack of a better word to describe the roll.

Over the first 10 years of his rule he fought the white man not with weapons but with words. As the encroachment of the settlers grew, he turned to the press to make his case. When the Land Lottery of 1832 divided Cherokee land among the whites he filed suit in the white man's courts and won, only to see the ruling go unenforced. His old friend Major Ridge and the Treaty Party signed away the Cherokee land in 1835. Ross got 16,000 signatures of Cherokees to show the Treaty party did not speak for a majority of the tribe, but Andrew Jackson forced the treaty through Congress. He lost his first wife, Quatie, on the "Trail Where They Cried," or as it is more commonly known, the Trail of Tears.

After his forced departure from the State of Georgia, Ross was embroiled in a number of controversies. Internal and external conflict kept him busy for the rest of his life.

First Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, John Ross led the Cherokee until his death in 1866
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