This chapter examines how Cherokee slaves gained freedom following the American Civil War. On the eve of the Civil War, approximately fifteen percent of the Cherokee Nation’s total population were slaves held by Cherokee slave owners. The war, however, provided an opportunity for slaves to flee the Cherokee plantations and homes that had once prescribed the parameters of daily life. In refugee camps, former Cherokee slaves waited for the war to end and their new life of freedom to begin. When the war ended, the 1866 treaty between the United States and Cherokee Nation confirmed the Cherokee Nation’s Act of Emancipation (1863) and the Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution: slavery was finally abolished. The treaty established the legal foundation on which Cherokee freedpeople, or freedmen, claimed citizenship in the Cherokee Nation. This chapter explores issues of Cherokee identity, race, intermarriage, and residency within the Cherokee diaspora’s political homeland in the post-Civil War era.
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