The Treaty of New Echota and the Trail of Tears

A painting of the Trail of Tears by Robert Lindneux. Image from the National Library of Medicine.

On December 29, 1835, U.S. government officials and about 500 Cherokee Indians claiming to represent their 16,000-member tribe, met at New Echota, Georgia, and signed a treaty. The agreement led to the forced removal of Cherokees from their southeastern homelands to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.

The signature page of the Treaty of New Echota. Image from the National Archives.

The Treaty of New Echota gave the Cherokees $5 million and land in present-day Oklahoma in exchange for their 7 million acres of ancestral land. Though the majority of Cherokees opposed the treaty, and Principal Chief John Ross wrote a letter to Congress protesting it, the U.S. Senate ratified the document in March 1836.

Aware of the lack of support for the treaty among the Cherokee, President Martin Van Buren proposed a two-year extension to allow the Cherokees time to move. Still, by May 1838, only 2,000 Cherokees had moved voluntarily.

That spring, the federal government sent 7,000 soldiers under General Winfield Scott to evict the remaining Cherokees. They built six forts in North Carolina to hold the captured Indians until their forced westward journey could begin.

The 1,200-mile trek, begun in October 1838, lasted six months. Along the way, an estimated 10 to 25 percent of the tribe died of disease, starvation and exhaustion. Today, their route is known as the Trail of Tears.

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