Elias Boudinot: Thoughts on Removal and His Controversial Marriage to a White Woman

by Paul Ridenour email

The following information is adapted from the book "To Marry an Indian: The Marriage of Harriett Gold and Elias Boudinot in Letters, 1823 - 1839," edited by Theresa Strouth Gaul.

Harriet Boudinot explained to her family the difference between the John Ross anti-Treaty Party and her husband's Treaty Party in that the former was "lovers of the land" and the latter was "lovers of the people."

Elias Boudinot's thoughts on Removal

In 1831, Elias felt pretty good about the Cherokee's situation and that removal was not inevitable.  However, as the situation changed, he signed the Treaty of New Echota in his home in 1835.  Here is a letter he wrote in 1837 explaining why he signed the treaty:

I see here nothing but certain death, and at the West a probable way to escape, I cannot hesitate. Whether it is right and justifiable on the part of the United States that the Cherokees should remove, is not now the question, That it is right for the Cherokees to save themselves from destruction, bears no question in my opinion; and such is the dictate of wisdom and sound reason.

But whether or not it will be of any advantage to the Cherokees to remove, that they will have to go, is a proposition that bears no reasonable dispute, and of which the Cherokees ought long since to have been fully satisfied,  But for want of proper information they have not been, and those who have been satisfied, compromising a portion of the Intelligence of the Country, have pursued, what I conceive to be very a destruction policy, to remain here at all events until they are forced away, as though that would add credit to their character, and disgrace and infamy to the oppressors,  This is a mistaken policy.

It was in view of all of these matters, to which I have referred in the foregoing paragraphs, that I was induced to sanction the Treaty of 1835,  I was fully satisfied that it was the best that could be done for the Cherokees, and that it was far preferable that they should go, however reluctantly, with the advantages of that Treaty, than that they should be driven away degraded and impoverished. - Letter to David Green, August 1, 1837.

Elias Boudinot: His Controversial Marriage to a White Woman

Harriet and Elias were married 10 years and had six children before she died at New Echota.

Harriet Gold's parents, siblings, brothers-in-law, and the Cornwall Foreign Mission School teachers and staff were not happy about her engagement to Elias BoudinotJohn Ridge married a white girl the previous year and that caused an uproar at the school.  Harriet's family tried to get her to break off the engagement.

Harriet was forbidden to sing in the choir.  When she was able to sing again, the women stayed but all of the men got up and walked out except for one.

Her sister Abigail Everest and husband never forgave her for marrying Elias and remained estranged the rest of her life.

Harriet had a sister who married a non-Christian white man and not a word was said about that.

Harriet's parents changed their minds and excepted the engagement and told the rest of the family to accept it or not come around.

Her brother-in-law Herman L. Vaill wrote a long letter to her.  He was not against Elias Boudinot personally or even Indians, he was just concerned the school might close.  Here are some of the things he said to Harriet in his letter:

"Intelligence, such as we never expected, has reached us, concerning you."

"There is a wide difference in going [among the heathen Indians], because we love the cause of Christ, and have a single eye to his glory, and going because we love another subject; and have a selfish inducement."

"I am prepared to advise....that you give up all present pretensions, and all thoughts, of becoming united with an Indian."

"You cannot fulfill your designs of marriage with the person in question, without an evident disregard to the interests of the School, and the cause of missions; and a total inconsistency as it respects your Christian profession."

"it will be wrong; and that God will hold you accountable to Him, for all the injury which His cause may thus receive."

"That the former marriage [John Ridge and Sarah Bird Northrup] did have a tendency to injure the school."

"Another such event would annihilate the institution."

"Less money will be contributed."

"Remember the word, 'but thou, and thy father's house, shall be destroyed.' (Esther 4:14)"

"And will you become the voluntary agent in undoing all that the people of God have thus sought to accomplish.  Will you be that individual..."

"Will you...become that one female enemy, who shall quench the Light which the Mission School may yet shed upon the heathen world?"

"You put the means of triumph in the hands of the enemy.  While Christians weep, the enemy will rejoice."

"They have prophesized ill against you."

"O Harriet, He [Christ] has already bled enough; and should you go on, well might the Redeemer say, in view of the wound you would thus give him. 'They are those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends.' (Zech. 13:6)"

"How are you to go away with this infamy upon you, not in marrying an Indian, but of, like Judas, betraying the interests of that cause into which you had entered, in covenant with Christ, and his church."

"Do you fear that because you have gone so far, you cannot turn back?  Yes, you can."

"If you turn [back] there will be more evidence in it that you are a Christian, than you ever gave before.  Do not go away like Cain, and Judas, but come back like Peter. Your friends invite, the cause of the Redeemer demands, the vows you have made to Christ require."

"The Providence of God has shut the door against your going; and be afraid, O my sister, be afraid to burst it open.  For if you do, all of the evils which may result, through your life, through eternity, will stand charged against you."

Abigail's husband C. B. Everest wrote:

"Why must the school, and the cause of Christ suffer so much?...it is all to be summed up in this - our sister loves an Indian!"

"But can this unnatural - this foolish - this wicked, and mischievous connection be permitted to take place?"

"This contemplated marriage must not take place."

"And what a Jezebel of a woman has employed her art, her intrigue, her selfishness, and her devilry in bringing the whole family connections into this distressed state, and in ruining Harriet."