Elias Boudinot

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Elias Boudinot

Elias Boudinot (ca 1803-1839) became the first editor of the bilingual newspaper Cherokee Phoenix, which began publication in the Cherokee Nation East (now Georgia) in 1828. He later became a primem over in the Treaty Party and was a signer of the Treaty of New Echota in 1835. This treaty was not authorized and had the effect of ceding tribal land, a capital offense. The tragic consequence of the treaty was the Trail of Tears, during which over one-fifth of his tribe died enroute to Indian Territory.

Elias Boudinot was born in the old Cherokee Nation (the area is now part of the state of Georgia) around 1803 (some say 1805). His father was David Oowatie. Stand Watie, the noted Confederate general, was his younger brother. His Indian name was Galagina (pronounced Kill-ke-nah). He assumed the name of Elias Boudinot, a prominent Revolutionary statesman and his benefactor, at Boudinot's request.

The education of the Cherokee Elias Boudinot began at the school of the Moravian Mission at Spring Place (now part of Murray County, Georgia). The Moravians had been active among the Cherokees starting in 1800, when two Moravian brothers travelled from Salem, North Carolina, to Tellico, the Cherokee capital, to address tribal officials with the proposition of setting up a school among them. Around age 15, Boudinot travelled to the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, spending one night with his benefactor en route.

After graduation, he announced his intention to marry a white girl from Cornwall. Boudinot's cousin John Ridge had caused a controversy in the community two years earlier by marrying a white girl, which prompted the local newspaper to call for closure of the Cornwall Mission School. It was with this background that Boudinot asked Harriet Ruggles Gold to be his bride. The marriage was strongly opposed by many Cornwall residents, and the bride's brother burned the two in effigy as Harriet went into temporary hiding for her own safety. During that same demonstration, the church bells tolled a death knell and members of the church choir, to which Harriet belonged, were asked to wear black mourning bands for their lost sister. Harriet's family also struggled with approval of this union, and Harriet became seriously ill. As she grew steadily worse, her parents rethought their position and approved the union, trusting they were following God's will. Eventually, Harriet's health was restored and marriage plans proceeded.

Harriet was very religious and longed to do missionary work. Her love for Boudinot and for a life of religious work combined to help the couple weather the storm. Boudinot had taken classes at Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts, it being his goal to take the gospel of Christianity to his people. Love prevailed, and the couple was married in the home of her parents on March 28, 1826. However, this incident resulted in the closing of the Cornwall School in the autumn of 1826. Harriet Gold Boudinot died ten years later, at age 31, after bearing six children. In 1836, Boudinot married Delight Sargent, also a white woman; they remained childless.

Returned to Georgia

With his course at Cornwall and his study at Andover Theological Seminary completed, Boudinot was one of the best-educated citizens of the Cherokee Nation. He went on a fund-raising tour before taking a teaching position at a mission school in High Tower, Cherokee Nation, from 1826 to 1827. In 1828 he became editor of the Cherokee Phoenix, which made use of the Cherokee alphabet Sequoyah had developed. Much of the paper was printed in English, but at least a quarter of each issue was in Cherokee. Boudinot resigned as editor in 1832, after a disagreement with tribal authorities about whether the newspaper should be a vehicle for discussion on the issue of removal of the Cherokees to Indian Territory. By 1833, Boudinot published a novel in Cherokee, Poor Sarah; or, The Indian Woman.

In 1827, Boudinot was named clerk of the Cherokee National Council (legislature). The major issue facing the council was increasing pressure from the U.S. government to remove the Cherokees from their ancestral land in Georgia to Indian Territory in Oklahoma. The Cherokee council, meeting in October 1829, decided to stand firm, alarmed at the loss of their ancestral land. The resolution that was adopted (drafted by Major Ridge, Boudinot's uncle) called for the death penalty for any tribal member who thereafter undertook "to cede any part of their tribal domain." The Boudinot-Ridge-Watie faction was apparently content with this posture until 1831, when the council named John Ross principal chief (over John Ridge) for an indefinite period. Ross and his majority believed that they could retain their land by using the U.S. court system and by eventually treating with Georgia and/or the U.S. government to keep their lands.

In March 1832, Boudinot and his cousin John Ridge traveled to Boston and other northern cities to speak and raise support for the Cherokee cause. In the meantime, Georgia continued its encroachment and its efforts to enforce the Georgia Compact, which would move the Cherokees to the West. Upon his return to the Cherokee Nation in the summer of 1832, Boudinot assessed the situation and the deteriorating fortunes of his tribe and began to change his position on removal. He resigned as editor of the Phoenix in September, under pressure from the tribal government. He wanted to use the newspaper as an instrument of discussion, but John Ross forbade the editor to print a word in favor of removal.

Reversed Position on Removal

At this time, Boudinot and his family began considering their own situation. They ultimately decided that a treaty with the U.S. government, ceding land in exchange for new land in the West, was their best hope. They formed the "Treaty Party" and made a trip to Washington, D.C., in 1835 to negotiate unofficially on behalf of the Cherokees. On December 29, the Treaty of New Echota was signed by Boudinot, John Ridge, Major Ridge, Stand Watie, and 15 others, none of whom had authority to do so. The treaty provided for surrender of Cherokee lands and removal of the people to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The lawful government of the Cherokee Nation was outraged and sent petitions with signatures of more than 90 percent of the tribal members to the Senate, pleading against ratification. Nonetheless, the treaty passed on May 23, 1836, by one vote.

Boudinot and his family were able to choose their time for passage to the West, since they were part of a favored group who had signed the Treaty of New Echota. They traveled to Indian Territory in September 1837, along with John Ridge and his family. When they arrived, they joined Dr. Samuel Austin Worcester, a medical missionary, in Park Hill, near the capitol at Tahlequah.

Joined Worcester in Publishing Venture

Worcester, known as the "Cherokee Messenger" among the Cherokees, had worked with Boudinot since 1826 in the old Cherokee Nation. He established the new Worcester Mission in 1836. Worcester worked fervently among the Cherokees, learning their language with Boudinot as his interpreter. Together they wrote textbooks and translated several books of the Bible into Cherokee. Worcester was imprisoned in Georgia for helping the Cherokees and became famous through the U.S. Supreme Court case Worcester v. Georgia. This case, decided in 1832, established tribal sovereignty and protected Cherokees from Georgia laws. The decision also freed Worcester, although Georgia ignored it until Worcester was pardoned in early 1833.

One of the conditions of Worcester's pardon was that he leave Georgia. When he did, he took his printing press to the new nation with him, with the intention of teaching and preaching among the Cherokee. In 1835 he set up his press at Union Mission, on the west banks of the Grand River south of the present-day Pryor, Oklahoma, in Mayes County. Textbooks, religious tracts, the Cherokee Almanac, and other items were published here. Most notably, the collaboration of Boudinot and Worcester produced the first book published in what is now Oklahoma in August 1835. The title was "I Stutsi in Natsoku," or "The Child's Book." In 1836, the press was moved to the recently established community of Park Hill and Worcester's mission work continued. Boudinot had served as his interpreter and assistant for several years and together they issued more than 13 million printed pages.

Assassinated for Role in Treaty of New Echota

The work continued until Boudinot's assassination on June 22, 1839, on the same day that his relatives John Ridge and Major Ridge were killed; only Stand Watie escaped the plot. Three men lured Boudinot from the home he was building at Park Hill. They wanted him to go with them to the home of Dr. Worcester for medicine. He was killed as they approached the mission. No one was ever brought to justice for his murder (or for the deaths of the Ridges), but it was assumed that the responsibility lay with Ross sympathizers, although not Ross personally. Boudinot is buried in the Worcester Mission Cemetery at Old Park Hill, near Tahlequah, Oklahoma, the capital of the Cherokee Nation since 1839. The site is approximately 300 yards north of the spot where he died, and the cemetery is the only remaining part of the mission. At Boudinot's death, his wife took all six children east to escape the violence in the Cherokee Nation. They were placed with relatives of Harriet Gold Boudinot. The best known of the children was Elias Cornelius Boudinot. He studied engineering and then law, became active in politics, and was eventually elected to the Confederate Congress.


Biographical Dictionary of Indians of the Americas, second edition, American Indian Publishers, 1991.

Cherokee Cavaliers: Forty Years of Cherokee History as Told in the Correspondence of the Ridge-Watie-Boudinot Family, edited by Edward Everett Dale and Gaston Litton, University of Oklahoma Press, 1939.

Dictionary of American Biography, edited by John A. Garraty, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1951.

Dockstader, Frederick J., Great North American Indians, Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1977.

Gabriel, Ralph Henry, Elias Boudinot, Cherokee & His America, University of Oklahoma Press, 1941.

Native North American Almanac, edited by Duane Champagne, Gale Research, 1994.

Starr, Emmet, Old Cherokee Families: Old Families and Their Genealogy, University of Oklahoma Foundation, 1972.

Schwarze, Edmund, History of the Moravian Missions among the Southern Indian Tribes, Moravian Historical Society, 1923.

Waldman, Carl, Who Was Who in Native American History, Facts on File, 1990.

Wardell, Morris L., A Political History of the Cherokee Nation, 1838-1907, University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.

Wilkins, Thurmond, Cherokee Tragedy: The Story of the Ridge Family and of the Decimation of a People, Macmillan, 1970.

Woodward, Grace Steele, The Cherokees, University of Oklahoma Press, 1963.


Chronicles of Oklahoma, 11:3, September 1933; 12:1, March 1934; 31:2, summer 1953; 46:4, winter 1968-1969; 48:2, summer 1970; 51:4, winter 1973; 53:3, fall 1975; 55:3, fall 1987. □

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Boudinot, Elias

BOUDINOT, ELIAS. (1740–1821). Jurist, commissary general of prisoners, president of the Continental Congress, director of the U.S. Mint, author. His Huguenot great-grandfather came to New York in 1687. The fourth Elias in a line, he studied law with Richard Stockton, his future brother-in-law and signer of the Declaration of Independence. Licensed to practice law in 1760, he moved to Elizabethtown, New Jersey, and became a prominent attorney (receiving an honorary LL.D. from Yale in 1790); he mentored young Alexander Hamilton. Conservative in his politics, he supported the colonial cause mainly by opposing the royal New Jersey government. When, on 11 June 1774, Boudinot became a member of the Committee of Correspondence for Essex County, he believed that some ties with England were necessary. But in March 1775 he urged the General Assembly's approbation of delegates to the Continental Congress. He was in the Provincial Congress in 1775 and sent gunpowder to Washington at Cambridge when the general's supplies ran low.

On 1 April 1777 Washington asked him to be the first commissary general of prisoners and also to procure intelligence. Boudinot declined the job, but Washington "objected to the conduct of Gentlemen of the Country refusing to join him in his Arduous Struggle…. That if Men of Character & influence would not come forward & join him in his Exertions, all would be lost. Affected by this address … I consented to accept" (Elias Boudinot, Journal, p. 9). On 6 June 1777, Congress approved him as commissary general of prisoners with the pay and rations of a colonel, backdated to 15 April, and two deputies. He was answerable to General Washington.

At that time some five thousand American prisoners were in British hands and had to be fed and clothed by the Americans. On a visit to New York in February 1778, Boudinot borrowed nearly twenty-seven thousand dollars on his own credit to clothe and feed fourteen hundred men. He overcame great difficulties to organize the care of prisoners, becoming particularly close to Washington during this time. Boudinot regarded the general with reverence and aided him in a number of ways, such as by resolving conflicts between Steuben and other officers. In the area of intelligence, on 4 December 1777 he procured information "that Genl Howe was coming out the Next Morning with 5000 Men" and passed it on in time for Washington to prepare for the enemy's movement against the commander in chief's position at Whitemarsh, Pennsylvania (ibid., p. 50).

On 20 November 1777 he was elected to the Continental Congress but did not attend until July 1778. He also served terms from 1781 to 1783 and was named president on 4 November 1782. He was described by Eliphalet Dyer as "a Gentn of good Carracter, virtuous, & decent behavior." On 15 April 1783 he signed the proclamation of the cessation of hostilities. On 24 June 1783 he ordered the removal of Congress to Princeton in order to avoid mutinous soldiers that the state of Pennsylvania refused to control. As president he signed resolutions of thanks to the departing French army, treaties with Sweden and France, and proclamations disbanding the Continental army and calling for public thanksgiving. He was also acting secretary of foreign affairs in 1783–1784. He presided over Congress at Princeton and on 26 August 1783 read a congratulatory address in which Washington was praised: "Your services have been essential in acquiring and establishing the freedom and independence of your country. They deserve the grateful acknowledgements of a free and independent Nation."

Under the new Constitution, Boudinot served in the House of Representatives from 1789 to 1795 as a strong Federalist. After his retirement from Congress, he became the third director of the U.S. Mint in October 1795. He resigned in July 1805. In 1790 he became the first counselor named by the U.S. Supreme Court. An extremely rich man, he retired to study biblical literature and, as a trustee of Princeton University (1772–1821), helped the school through financial troubles; in 1805 he spent three thousand dollars to found its cabinet of natural history. He authored four religious texts from 1801 to 1815 and helped found the American Bible Society, an institution he endowed and of which he served as president.

His sister married Richard Stockton, who was the father-in-law of Benjamin Rush. Elias married Stockton's sister Hannah in 1762, and his many letters to her are a wonderful testament to love and devotion. Described as "elegant … tall, handsome every way prepossessing," he combined good sense with benevolence (J. J. Boudinot, ed., vol. 1, pp. 23-24). His home in Elizabeth, New Jersey, is a National Historic Landmark. He is buried at St. Mary's Episcopal Churchyard in Burlington, New Jersey.


Boudinot, Elias. Journal or Historical Recollections of Events during the Revolutionary War. 1894. Reprint, New York: New York Times, 1968.

Boudinot, J. J., ed. The Life, Public Services, Addresses, and Letters of Elias Boudinot, LL.D. 2 vols. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1896.

Boyd, George Adams. Elias Boudinot; Patriot and Statesman, 1740–1821. 1952. Reprint, New York: Greenwood Press, 1969.

Boyle, Joseph Lee, ed. "Their Distress is almost Intolerable": The Elias Boudinot Letterbook, 1777–1778. Bowie, Md.: Heritage Books, 2002.

Clark, Barbara Louise. E. B.: The Story of Elias Boudinot IV, His Family, His Friends, and His Country. Philadelphia: Dorrance, 1977.

                                  revised by Joseph Lee Boyle

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"… there are no express words; and this is the case with most of the powers exercised by Congress."
Elias Boudinot

The first lawyer admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court was New Jersey patriot Elias Boudinot. A good friend of President George Washington, Boudinot was a prominent public official who strongly supported the American Revolution. Boudinot held several key positions in the continental congress and signed the 1783 peace treaty with England after the United States' victory in the war of independence.

After the war he aligned himself with Federalists john adams and alexander hamilton. Like them, Boudinot supported a strong, centralized national government and distrusted many of the principles of participatory democracy.

Born May 2, 1740, in Philadelphia, Boudinot studied law and was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1760. By 1770 he had risen to the prestigious level of serjeant at law. Although Boudinot began his career as a political conservative, he eventually supported the colonies' efforts to break away from English domination. He joined the Revolutionary party after the U.S. War of Independence erupted and served as deputy of New Jersey's provincial assembly.

Boudinot was a representative to the Continental Congress from 1777 to 1784. He was president of the Congress from 1782 to 1784 and was named secretary of foreign affairs. He became commissary general of prisoners in 1777 and donated a large sum of his own money to help improve prison conditions. In 1787 Boudinot played a key role in obtaining New Jersey's ratification of the new U.S. Constitution.

In 1789 Boudinot became a member of the House of Representatives from New Jersey, holding office during the first three sessions of Congress. Once the U.S. Supreme Court was officially established, Boudinot became the first lawyer admitted to practice before it, on February 5, 1790. He also served as a trustee of Princeton University and was director of the U.S. Mint in Philadelphia from 1795 to 1805.

In the later years of his life, Boudinot's interests turned from politics to evangelical theology. Founder and president of the American Bible Association, Boudinot proposed a universal acceptance of religion as a cure for society's ills.

Boudinot died in New Jersey on October 24, 1821, at age eighty-one.

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Elias Boudinot (bōō´dĬnŏt), 1740–1821, political leader in the American Revolution, b. Philadelphia. A lawyer of Elizabethtown (now Elizabeth), N.J., he took an active part in anti-British activities and was a member of the Continental Congress both before and after the adoption of the Articles of Confederation (1777–78, 1781–84), serving as its president from 1782 to 1783. He ardently supported the U.S. Constitution and helped secure its ratification by New Jersey. He served in Congress (1789–95) and was director of the U.S. mint (1795–1805). He was an ardent philanthropist, notably for the Native Americans, and he was first president (1816–21) of the American Bible Society.

See his Journal of Events in the Revolution (1894, repr. 1968); biography by G. A. Boyd (1956).