In a farmer's field a few miles beyond the city limits of Tahlequah, Oklahoma lies a graveyard reserved for two families, the Boudinots and Worcesters. Two men of special significance to evangelical Christianity in general, and to Oklahoma history in particular, are buried there. The first man is a Cherokee Indian named Buck Watie (1800-1839), better known by his English name Elias Boudinot (his picture is to the left). Elias was a very devout Christian and took his 'Christian' name from the nationally renowned Elias Boudinot, a former President of the United States under the Articles of Confederation (1782-1783), and later the director of the U.S. Mint (1795-1805). President Boudinot first met Buck Watie in Washington D.C. in the year 1818. It is said that the the former President was so impressed with the young Christian Indian that he promised to financially support Buck in his pursuit of formal education. From that day forward Buck Watie took the English name of his benefactor - an act that deeply moved the original Elias Bouinot.
Buck 'Elias Boudinot' Watie eventually became one of four Cherokee men who formalized a treaty with the United States government to sell all the Cherokee Indian lands east of the Mississippi to the United States government. In return, the Cherokee Nation was to receive from the U.S. government a 'perpetual homeland' in Indian Territory - now called Oklahoma. The overwhelming majority of Cherokees who lived in northwestern Georgian, southern Tennessee and northeastern Alabama were furious that Buck 'Elias Boudinot' Watie and the three other Cherokee leaders signed the New Echota Treaty with the United States government. In accordance with the Treaty, the Cherokees were allowed to voluntarily move west to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by the summer of 1838. However, when only a few hundred Cherokees had moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) by the imposed deadline, the government began a forced removal. In the fall of 1838 the government escorted Cherokees under gun point to their new home. Over four thousand Cherokees died in this mandatory relocation which is now famously called The Trail of Tears. The bitterness felt by the Cherokees toward Elias Boudinot for signing the Treaty was so great that Boudinot was murdered by his fellow Cherokees in front of his wife and children on June 22, 1839 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. What is ironic about Elias' death at the hands of his own people is that Elias signed the New Echota Treaty genuinely believing his people were better off apart from the sinful oppression of the greedy white men back east who would stop at nothing, including war, to obtain the Cherokees' land.
Buried next to Elias in the farmer's field is the man I wish to honor in this post. His name is Samuel Worcester (pronounced 'Wooster') and the Cherokee Indian Elias Boudinot was his good friend, Christian disciple, and fellow laborer for the kingdom of Christ. Samuel was first an early missionary to the Cherokee Indians in Georgia, and later a missionary to the Cherokees in Oklahoma. Though Samuel is not known by many modern evangelical Christians, his missonary life and testimony rivals that of David Brainard.
Samuel Worcester (1798-1859) was the 7th generation of pastors in his family, dating back to when his family lived in England. When Samuel was born his father, the Rev. Leonard Worcester, was a minister in Peacham, Vermont. According to Charles Perry of the Peacham Historical Association, Leonard also worked as a printer in the town during the week.
Young Samuel exhibited an unusual strength in foreign languages. While studying in New England the minister met and befriended Buck Watie, the Cherokee Indian described above, who by this time had already taken the name of Elias Boudinot. Samuel and Elias became close friends. When Worcester joined the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions he requested assignment to a Cherokee village that was in particular need according to Boudinot. The village came to admire this 'white man' with a message and many were converted to Christianity through Samuel's ministry to them. The Cherokee's in Georgia gave to Samuel a Cherokee name which meant "The Messenger." (see The North Georgia Notables)
A Man Who Served a Higher Kingdom
Samuel deeply loved the Cherokees. He was the best speaker of the Cherokee language among white men in the New World. He not only learned their tongue, he lived their ways. He earned their trust. It is said that Samuel was responsible for leading many chiefs to faith in Christ, and the Cherokees came to be considered the most 'civilized' tribe of the Indians because of their wide professed Christianity, progress in formal education, and particular skills at farming and printing. Samuel and Elias Boudinot began the first ever Indian Newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, and helped bring the Cherokee people into more literacy than the white citizens of Georgia that surrounded them. However, when gold was discovered in northern Georgia in the late 1820's the insatiable thirst for riches in the Cherokee's land led the Georgia state assembly and Georgia Governor George Gilmer to officially adopt 'a policy of forcible Indian removal.' Plans were made for what Georgia called a 'Land Lottery,' to be held in 1832, where all the Cherokee tribal lands would be awarded to white settlers.
Samuuel Worcester and 11 other missionaries and pastors to the Cherokees met at New Echota in Georgia, a city near the current Rome, Georgia, to make plans to protest the forced removal. New Echota was the capital of the Cherokee Nation until it moved to Tahlequah, Oklahoma in 1839. The men met and published a resolution in protest of the Georgia law that the state assembly had passed requiring all whites to get a license to work on Native American land. This law was preparation for the forced removal of the Cherokees. Worcester reasoned correctly that obeying the law would, in effect, be tantamount to surrendering the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation. Governor Gilmer ordered the militia to arrest Worcester and the others who signed the document. Quickly brought to trial and convicted, Worcester and the others held firm to their beliefs. Even though the United States Supreme Court had already ruled the Cherokee Nation was independent and all dealings with them fell under federal jurisdiction, not the state, the Supreme Court rulings were ignored by both Georgia Governor Gilmer and President Andrew Jackson. Samuel Worcester was kept in prison - for almost two years.
A Fragile and Important Diary
I recently spoke with Pastor John Worcester who lives in Seattle, Washington. John is the great-great-great-grandson of Samuel Worcester. When John was ordained into the ministry, his aunt gave to him, in a very solemn family ceremony, the diary that Samuel Worcester kept during his imprisonment in Georgia. This diary is now held by the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, under loan by the Worcester family. The family gifted the dairy in order to ensure its proper. The diary has never been published but John Worcester has graciously agreed to send me a copy of the microfilm for my own archives.
In the diary Samuel speaks of God's goodness and sovereignty over all things. Ironically, it was the imprisonment of Samuel that played a significant role in Elias Boudinot changing his mind about Cherokee removal to Indian Territory. Although Elias initially and publically opposed such a plan, he came to believe that if the United States government could harshly imprison a white man who opposed Indian relocation - and a missionary at that - the government would not stop at anything to obtain Georgia Cherokee land. This dim view of future treatment of Cherokees in Georgia by the respective federal and state governments eventually led Cherokee leaders Elias Boudinot, Major Ridge, John Ridge and Stand Watie to sign the New Echota Treaty. This signing of the Treaty also eventually resulted in the execution of all the signers in Oklahoma by their fellow Cherokees except for Stand Watie - who was Elias' brother - and who would later become the only Indian general in the Confederate Army. Stand Watie is also recognized as the last Confederate General to surrender in the Civil War. Stand Watie laid down the fight on June 23, 1865 in Fort Towson, Oklahoma, two months after the surrender of General Lee in Virgiania.
Upon release from prison in 1834 because of a change of governorship in Georgia, Samuel Worcester moved to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) and eventually established residence at Park Hill (just outside Tahlequah, Oklahoma). Samuel prepared the area for what he knew would be the removal of the entire Cherokee Nation from Georgia to Indian Territory. In a future post I will explain the tremendous influence Samuel had here in Oklahoma in establishing both a men's and a women's seminary in Tahlequah, printing the first book ever published in Oklahoma (according to the Oklahoma Historical Commission), and discipling the Cherokees regarding Christianity by teaching them the Bible in their own Cherokee language. My own city and region around Enid, Oklahoma have felt the influence of Samuel Worcester. When the federal government had trouble negotiating a treaty with the wild Plains Indians in the mid 1800's (our highschool mascot is the Enid Plainsmen), it was a Cherokee Christian convert and disciple of Samuel Worcester who helped the United States government make peace with the Plainsmen Indians. But, I digress . . .
Lessons from the Life of Samuel Worcester
There are a few lessons that can be taken from the life of Samuel Worcester:
(1). This highly educated missionary was considered a 'traitor' to the United States and 'unpatriotic' by his fellow citizens. Yet, even while enduring a long imprisonment, Samuel Worcester determined it was better to suffer for the kingdom of Christ than to be praised by the kingdom of men. I am reminded that my main priority as a pastor should be the gospel and not popularity. As Billy Graham is said to understand, 'The gospel trumps the Gallup Poll.'
(2). While some are going through their lives searching for comfort and temporary pleasures, there are others who are giving their lives for the sake of eternal and higher pleasures. I couldn't help but think of the thousands of people who travel to Grand Lake, or float the Illinois, or go about their daily business all around Tahlequah and never realize the significance of the actions of some great men and women that are buried near them at Park Hill.
(3). There are some events, even in the lives of God's people, that can never be explained satisfactorily by human standards. The murder of Samuel's good friend, Elias Boudinot, in front of Elias' own wife and children, is horrific. Yet, in the end, both Samuel and Elias died. How they died matters little. What they died for matters everything. As 19th century missionary to the New Hebrides cannibals John Paton said,
"I confess to you, that if I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms; and in the Great Day my Resurrection body will rise as fair as yours in the likeness of our risen Redeemer."
Not everyone enjoys history as much as I, but I am thoroughly convinced that we have a great deal to learn from those who have gone before us. From Samuel Worcester we learn that the world in which we live is evil and cursed, and our personal allegience is ultimately to the kingdom of Christ above all else. In addition, one should never confuse a national government for the kingdom of Christ or vice-versa, for many of the tasks our government either feels compelled undertake by necessity or natinoal security would never even be considered appropriate by Christians and/or the church. Finally, all of us will one day wind up in a grave. May it be said of us all, like it can be said of Samuel Worcester and Elias Boudinot, that we lived our lives for the sake of others, forsaking even reputation and admiration for the glory of God and the good of our fellow man.