“It is some kind of hell to be forced to choose one irreplaceable thing over another.” – John Silver (Black Sails)
Jamie is tasked with an impossible choice, irreparably change history for the worse by warning Chief Bird about the ultimate fate the the Cherokee tribe, or watch them all trudge onward to their death, unwitting cogs in the machinery of revolution.
This post may contain outdated language to cultural and disability descriptions that are used in the show. We use these terms to remain consistent with the verbiage used in the show and books.
Cherokee Indian Chief Bird wants one thing – guns. Jamie, being an Indian Agent for the Crown, has promised to fulfill this request, but not without reservation.
“I canna be two things at once, Claire. A rebel, a loyalist. An agent for the crown and an enemy of the king. It’s pulling me apart,” Jamie tells Claire.
If Jamie gives guns to the Cherokee, he has no idea if they will be used alongside him in the battle for freedom, or against him in the fight for British rule. Before handing the weapons over to Chief Bird, Jamie consults an expert on the future – his daughter.
Brianna tells Jamie that guns will not be enough to save the Cherokee.
“The government will force the Cherokee off their land. Eight thousand of them will die. They’ll call it the Trail of Tears.”
Though it won’t happen for another sixty years, Jamie takes this newfound knowledge with him to deliver the guns to Chief Bird.
A Word of Warning
Waiting for the right time to divulge this information, Jamie finally gets a moment alone with Chief Bird. He tells him that his wife and daughter are see-ers of the future and that they have come to know what will pass in sixty years time.
“Your people will be taken from their land. They’ll be removed to a new place far from here. Many will die on this journey, so much that the path they tread will be called the trail where they wept,” Jamie explains. “You should not go to this new place or fight. But when the time comes, your people must hide.”
“And by hiding, they will escape what is to come?” Chief Bird asks.
“I hope so,” Jamie replies. “Whoever you fight for, be it King George’s men or our enemies, fight for yourselves.”
Little did Jamie know, 300-400 Cherokee Indians would survive the Trail of Tears by hiding in the mountains of North Carolina.
What was the Trail of Tears?
A devastating time in American history, Congress, with the support of President Andrew Jackson, passed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. This began the forced removal and relocation of approximately 100,000 Native Americans in the white man’s pursuit of gold and land. The five tribal nations affected were the Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Seminole.
In 1835, a minority of Cherokee signed the Treaty of New Echota, which promised the Cherokee five million dollars in exchange for their lands west of the Mississippi. The treaty was ratified in 1836 and gave the Cherokee two years to remove themselves or face forced removal. The Cherokee rejected the treaty.
As a result, 16,000 Cherokee from Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia, and North Carolina were forcefully removed by federal soldiers between May of 1838 and March of 1839. Forced to march to present-day Oklahoma, they faced hunger, disease, and exhaustion. Four thousand lost their lives and were buried in unmarked graves. A quarter of the Cherokee population gone.
This cataclysmic time became known as the Trail of Tears.
Hidden in Plain Sight
During the Trail of Tears, a group of 300 – 400 Cherokee hid deep in the mountains of western North Carolina. Rough terrain made it difficult for soldiers to find them.
While in hiding, one of their leaders, Tsali, killed two federal soldiers who attempted to capture them. Tsali and his family lived as fugitives until he was found. He agreed to execution in exchange for his people to remain in their homes in the mountains.
Those who escaped and survived are considered the forefathers and ancestors of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. Today they are a sovereign nation with over 14,000 members.
This destruction of the Indian way of life mirrors what the British army did to the Scottish way of life. To quote Claire in The Garrison Commander, “It is their land and you are occupying it.” But those words fell on deaf ears. Just like the lead up to the Battle of Culloden, we are now leading up to the War of Revolution. What side of history will Jamie be on?
In the end, the Cherokee became British allies during the Revolutionary War because they felt that Americans were invading their lands. Little did they know what would happen to them a mere sixty years later.
Today, the National Historic Trail of Tears is run by the National Park Service. It can be accessed via foot, horse, bike, or car. Learn more here.