John Ridge, A Cherokee Interpreter

John Ridge
John Ridge
A Cherokee Interpreter
Son of Major Ridge

The subject of this sketch was a son of Major Ridge, a distinguished Cherokee chief. That individual was a remarkable instance of one born and brought up in savage life, accustomed to war and hunting, and to the habits and modes of thought of the Indian warrior, yet abandoning those habits, and by deliberate choice, adopting the customs of civilized men, and persevering in them un changeably through life. There have, doubtless, been other in stances, but we know of none in which the change was so thorough and the result so successful. Commencing life as a mere savage, with no knowledge but that of the hunter, he adopted with energy the forms of civilization, became a successful farmer, and a public-spirited citizen, and reared his family in the observance of the social duties and virtues of civilized life. His wife zealously seconded his views, and though bred in a wigwam, learned, after her marriage, the domestic arts appertaining to good housewifery, and be came as skilful in housekeeping and agriculture, as she was industrious and persevering.

John Ridge was second of the five children of this sensible and worthy couple. The pains and expense bestowed upon his education show how thoroughly his parents were imbued with the principles of civilization, and how high an estimate they placed upon the possession of knowledge. He was put to school to the Rev Mr. and Mrs. Gambold, Moravian Missionaries at Spring Place, who taught him the alphabet, spelling, reading, English grammar, and some arithmetic. He was first sent to Brainerd, a Missionary station, established by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions; then to a school at Knoxville, Tennessee; and afterwards to the Foreign Mission School at Cornwall in Connecticut, where he spent four years under the able instruction of the Rev. Herman Daggett. These opportunities seem to have been well improved, and Ridge acquired the essential parts of a good education; his attainments in literature were respectable, and, what was of more importance, his morals were correct and firmly established, his habits good, and his disposition mild and amiable.

While a student in “Connecticut, he fell in love with a beautiful and excellent young lady, Miss Northrop, who reciprocated his affection, and after an engagement of two years, they were married. It must have required great strength of affection in this young lady, to enable her to overcome the aversion which is usually entertained against alliances with a race so different from ourselves, in many important particulars, as well as to nerve her for a life in which she could foresee little else than trouble. A contest had already commenced between the United States and the Cherokees, which promised to be fruitful in discord, and which could only end in the discomfiture of the latter and then a new home, new neighbors, fresh troubles, and unknown difficulties awaited them in the wilderness. All this, however, she was willing to brave. She loved the young Indian, who. abandoning the bow and the tomahawk, had successfully cultivated the arts of peace, and the literature of the white man, and had exhibited a mildness and benevolence of character, peculiarly interesting in the descendant of a wild and ferocious race. She possessed, too, a missionary spirit, a deeply seated and fervent piety, which impressed her with the belief, that it was her duty to embrace the opportunity offered her, of becoming a messenger of peace to the savage; and she followed her Indian husband to the western forests, full of enthusiastic hope, pious aspirations, and plans for the civilization and conversion of the heathen.

We are happy to say that the noble courage of this truly excel-lent lady was not exhibited in vain, nor were her hopes of usefulness disappointed. It is true that the plan of a separate government formed by some leading men of the Cherokees failed, and with it were crushed some benevolent schemes and some infant institutions which promised well; for they carried with them the elements of premature decay, in the erroneous political views with which they were connected. But the pious labors of the devoted woman bud and blossom like the violet, untouched by the storm that rages in the political atmosphere. Her assiduity was unabated through all the vicissitudes which attended the Cherokees, and there is reason to believe that her example and her counsels were eminently useful to her adopted countrymen. And the full extent of her influence is yet to be developed and expanded, by the character of her children, who are numerous, and are receiving the best education the United States can afford.

John Ridge was a conspicuous man among the Cherokees. He returned from college and commenced his active career as a public man, at the period when his people were attempting to erect them selves into an independent nation when the invention of the alpha bet by George Guess gave them a written language and when the establishment of schools, missions, and a newspaper, afforded them the facilities for instruction. Ridge was fitted for the crisis in which he was an actor. He had youth, education, talents, piety, enthusiasm, and was the son of a race out of which it was proposed to rear a new nation. He was the son of a distinguished and popular chief, and had all the advantage of family influence. His fault and that of those with whom he acted, was in cherishing a zeal without knowledge a zeal which, confiding in pure intentions, and in the goodness of the end in view, overlooked the impracticability of the scheme by which it was attempted to accomplish the object. Ridge was an active man in all these scenes. He accompanied several of the delegations to Washington, and, though not a chief, was usually an interpreter, a secretary, or an agent, and exerted great influence in the negotiations. He was a writer for the Cherokee newspaper, and a civil functionary under the Cherokee government during its brief existence.

We know little of the life of John Ridge, after the removal of his people to their lands west of the Mississippi. He continued to be a conspicuous man until a few years ago, when, in consequence of a violent quarrel, growing out of political differences, he was cruelly and basely murdered by a party of the opposing faction of his own countrymen. We forbear a detail of the circumstances of this outrage, and any comment, because we are aware, that distant as we are from the scene, and limited as our knowledge of the parties and the facts must necessarily be, we could scarcely touch on such an event without the risk of injustice to some of the actors or sufferers.

McKenny, Thomas & Hall, James & Todd, Hatherly & Todd, Joseph. History of the Indian tribes of North America: with biographical sketches and anecdotes of the principal chiefs. Embellished with one hundred portraits from the Indian Gallery in the War Department at Washington. Philadelphia: D. Rice & Co. 1872.

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