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The Cherokee Freedmen: Slaves of the Tribe

slaves

February 21, 2019

If you have African American ancestors in your family tree, you may struggle to find genealogical records for your ancestors as far back as the late 1800s or before. If your ancestor lived in the southeastern U.S., in what would have been Cherokee Native American territory at that time, your ancestor may have belonged to the group known as the Cherokee Freedmen.

The term Cherokee Freedmen refers to African American men and women who were former slaves of the Cherokee Native Americans before emancipation in 1863 or who lived in the territory during that time. This includes descendants of such former slaves as well as those born in unions between formerly enslaved African Americans and Cherokee tribal members.

In accordance with an 1866 treaty, the U.S. Congress appropriated $75,000 to be shared between members of the Cherokee, Shawnee, and Delaware Native American tribes. In the 1890s, John Wallace was commissioned to create a census of Cherokee Freedmen, which intended to identify those of African American descent claiming Cherokee tribal membership.

You can find a transcription of the Wallace Rolls on Ancestry Library Edition (in-library use only), and search the records by name or location lived in. Information presented on the Wallace Rolls includes the person’s name, relation to the head of the household, age, and where they lived. Other resources at MGC include Confounding the Color Line: The Indian-Black Experience in North America and Index to the Cherokee Freedmen Enrollment Cards of the Dawes Commission, 1901-1906.

If you are interested in learning more about African American genealogy research, register for Born a Slave with historian David W. Jackson, which MGC will host on February 26 at 6:30 p.m.

Jenny T.
Midwest Genealogy Center

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