Saturday, July 3, 2010

Surname Saturday...House Miscellaneous Document 46 (42-2)


In January of 1872; almost six years following their emancipation; approximately three hundred Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen petitioned the United States Congress to forfeit the $300,000 negotiated in the Treaty of 1866 and pay it to the “freedmen of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nation.”

This is probably one of the first actions by a group of freedmen indicating they were willing to forgo citizenship in either nation because the tribes failed to adopt them as citizens according to the treaty.

Many people fantasize about the relationship between Native Americans and “African-Americans” as if it was based on some mutual admiration. The truth about the relationship of the former slaves of the Choctaw and Chickasaw nations was a bit more complex and adversarial to say the least.
In House Miscellaneous Document 46, the freedmen who applied their mark to this petition in 1872 had no illusions about where they stood as residents of either nation:


This action which was clearly part of the ambiguous treaty signed by the United States and the two tribes should have required the U.S. government to comply with the treaty by awarding these families their share of the $300,000 so the former slaves could relocate on land they could call their own.

“Your petitioners claim that the Choctaw Nation, in refusing to ratify the third article of the treaty of 1866, forfeited all right and claim to the $300,000, as specified therein, and ask that said $300,000 may be paid to the freedmen of the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nation.”

I find this particularly interesting when you consider in a few years the United States would open up areas in Oklahoma Territory for settlers to homestead in the late 1880’s. Another curious aspect of this time was the fact that the Chickasaw Nation would pass an act to adopt its former slaves and their descendants. Senate Miscellaneous Document 95; 43rd Congress, 3rd Session was a letter sent to Congress for ratification and would have put into law the adoption of Chickasaw Freedmen and their descendants as citizens in the nation of their birth.

We don’t know how many of these families actually received money from the $300,000 and we don’t know how many relocated but we are fortunate to have an extensive list of names from which we can perform research and determined who remained and were alive during the Dawes enrollment proceedings.

The two petitions to Congress provide a window into the history of Choctaw and Chickasaw Freedmen that has to be explored for other ramifications. Naturally people will ask the question on if the Chickasaw legislature passed an act to adopt their former slaves why Congress didn’t ratify it.
The language of the treaty was clearly ambiguous and optional for the Choctaw and Chickasaw nation adopting their former slaves and that should have made the fiduciary responsibility of the United States paramount to protect these men, women and children who were less than seven years removed from slavery. Congress demonstrated more concern for the Indians who were enslavers but showed little concern to enforce and ratify an agreement the freedmen had no input into.

Taken in that light it is a remarkable document we have in House Miscellaneous Document 46. These former slaves were aware of their rights under the Treaty of 1866 and sought to exert their rights to the funds earmarked as part of that agreement.

Why didn’t Congress ratify this agreement? Why didn’t they provide the funding and relocate these individuals who were legally entitled to the funds? Who was actually responsible for not fulfilling the treaty and are there any ramifications for the Choctaw and Chickasaw freedmen descendants today? These are just a few of the questions that possibly need to be addressed by the descendants, the tribes and Congress today.


What about the people involved in this action? Who were they? Is it possible to identify them and their family today? This may be the greatest contribution the document provides family historians as well as genealogist. There are four pages of names of the head of household printed in this document, they represent over three hundred individuals and we can determine if some of them survived to be included in the Dawes enrollment process a quarter century later.

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