February 10, 2013

185th anniversary of the first printing of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper to be recognized

Submitted by the Friends of New Echota State Historic Site

— On Feb. 21, 1828, the first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper was printed. In 1971, the New Echota Cherokee Capital State Historic Site was named a Historic Site in Journalism by Sigma Delta Chi, the Professional Journalistic Society, and a plaque was erected at the site museum.

The plaque reads, “The Cherokee Nation of Indians established the first Indian language newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, on this site in 1828. Edited by Cherokee Elias Boudinot and later by Elijah Hicks, The Cherokee Phoenix was printed bi-lingually in the Sequoyan Syllabary adopted by the Cherokees, and in English, during the period 1828-1834.”

In 1994 the Native American Journalists Association also erected a plaque: “To honor the first Native American newspaper and to celebrate the founding of Native American journalism at this place in 1828.”

Around 1809, Sequoyah (also known as George Gist or Guess) had developed a written form of the Cherokee language. By 1826, the Cherokee Council adopted the 86-character syllabary for use in a newspaper to be called The Cherokee Phoenix. The bilingual newspaper was circulated throughout the Cherokee Nation and parts of the United States and Europe. In addition to the newspaper, the printing office also turned out thousands of pages of other publications, including the Bible, hymnals and a novel. Educated in schools of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Boudinot returned to serve as the first editor of The Cherokee Phoenix.

The Print Shop at the Cherokee Capital State Historic Site is a reconstruction of the original 1827 Phoenix printing office. The Rev. Samuel Worcester and the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions assisted Boudinot in the purchase of a Union-style press in Boston. Special printing type in both English and Cherokee was cast for this unique printing office.

On Feb. 21, 1828, the first edition of The Cherokee Phoenix was printed. The Washington-style press on display is similar to the original press. Having closed in 1834 due to a lack of funds for the operation, the Cherokee press was seized by the Georgia Militia during the turmoil leading up the signing of the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. Although the treaty was contested by most Cherokees and was fiercely debated in Congress, it was approved by a one-vote margin in Congress.

In May 1836, President Andrew Jackson signed it into law, giving the Cherokee two years to vacate and move west of the Mississippi. Beginning in May 1838, federal troops and state militia began a forced removal that became known as the Cherokee Trail of Tears.

On Thursday, Feb. 21, journalists are encouraged to feature this important journalism anniversary in articles and journalism teachers are asked to include The Cherokee Phoenix in classroom discussions. Friends of New Echota State Historical Site, a chapter of the Georgia State Parks and Historical Sites, will assist site staff in welcoming visitors and field trip groups to the Print Shop at the Cherokee Indian capital in Calhoun on Feb. 21 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. to recognize this important journalism landmark (museum/site admission fees apply —  group and field trip rates are available). The site is open Thursday through Saturday. Inquiries may be sent to friendsofnewechota@gmail.com or call the New Echota State Historic Site at (706) 624-1321.