Samuel Austin Worcester

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Samuel Austin Worcester

Birthdate: (61)
Death: April 20, 1859 (61)
Immediate Family:

Son of Rev. Leonard Worcester and Elizabeth Worcester
Husband of Ermina Worcester and Ann Worcester
Father of Ann Eliza Robertson
Brother of Leonard Worcester; Ezra Worcester; Jerusha Worcester, (A); Isaac Worcester; Lydia Worcester and 5 others

Managed by: Private User
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About Samuel Austin Worcester

Samuel Austin Worcester (19 January 1798 – 20 April 1859), was a missionary to the Cherokee, translator of the Bible, printer and defender of the Cherokee's sovereignty. He was a party in Worcester v. Georgia (1832), a case that went to the United States Supreme Court, in which Chief Justice John Marshall defined the exclusive relationship of the federal government to the Indian nations and recognized the latter's sovereignty, above state laws.

Early life and education

Worcester was born in Peacham, Vermont on January 19, 1798, to the Rev. Leonard Worcester, a minister. He was the seventh generation of pastors in his family, dating back to ancestors who lived in England. According to Charles Perry of the Peacham Historical Association, his father also worked as a printer in the town. The young Worcester attended common schools and studied printing with his father.

Samuel Worcester became a Congregational minister and decided to become a missionary to the American Indians.

Marriage and family

Worcester married and had a family. They accompanied him to New Echota, where he went as a missionary to the Cherokee. Later they accompanied him to Indian Territory before 1835.

Cherokee Phoenix

Worcester was strongly influenced by Elias Boudinot, another missionary at New Echota. The two had become close friends over the two years they had known each other. The Cherokee Sequoyah developed a syllabary to create a writing system for the Cherokee language. He and his people had admired the written papers of the European Americans, which they called the "Talking Leaves." Boudinot asked Worcester to use his printing experience to establish a Cherokee newspaper. Worcester believed the newspaper could be a tool for Cherokee literacy, and a means to draw the loose Cherokee community together; it would help promote a more unified Cherokee Nation.

Using his missionary connection, Worcester secured funds to build a printing office, buy the printing press and ink, and cast the syllabary's characters. Since the 86-character syllabary was new, type had to be created. The two missionaries helped produce the Cherokee Phoenix, which first rolled off the presses in 1828 at New Echota (now Calhoun, Georgia). From this point on, Worcester probably participated in most Cherokee publications until his death.

Worcester in court and prison

The westward push of European-American settlers from coastal areas had begun to dramatically encroach on the Cherokee. With the help of Worcester and his sponsor, the American Board, they made a plan to fight the encroachment by using the courts. They wanted to take a case to the US Supreme Court to define the relationship between the federal and state governments, and establish the sovereignty of the Cherokee nation. No other civil authority would support Cherokee sovereignty to their land and self-government in their territory. Hiring William Wirt, a former U.S. Attorney General the Cherokee tried to argue their position before the US Supreme Court in Georgia v. Tassel (the court granted a writ of error for a Cherokee convicted in a Georgia court for a murder occurring in Cherokee territory, though the state refused to accept the writ) and Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) (the court dismissed this on technical grounds for lack of jurisdiction).

The Cherokee finally reached the Supreme Court with their third case, Worcester v. Georgia (1832). Worcester and eleven other missionaries had met at New Echota and published a resolution in protest of a recent Georgia law prohibiting all white men from living on Native American land without a state license. While the state law was an effort to restrict white settlement on Cherokee territory, Worcester reasoned that obeying the law would, in effect, be surrendering the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation to manage their own territory. Once the law had taken effect, Governor George Rockingham Gilmer ordered the militia to arrest Worcester and the others who signed the document and refused to get a license.

After two series of trials, all eleven men were convicted and sentenced to four years of hard labor. Nine accepted pardons, but Worcester and Elizur Butler declined their pardons so the Cherokee could take the case to the Supreme Court. William Wirt argued the case, but Georgia refused to have a legal counsel represent it, claiming that no Indian could drag it into court. In its late 1832 decision, the Court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was independent and all dealings with them fell under federal authority. President Andrew Jackson ignored the ruling by continuing to lobby Congress for a new treaty with the Cherokee, and Governor Gilmer continued to hold the two men prisoner.

Wilson Lumpkin assumed the governorship early the next year. Faced with the Nullification Crisis in neighboring South Carolina, he chose to free Worcester and Butler if they agreed to minor concessions. Having won the Supreme Court decision, Worcester believed that he would be more effective outside prison and left. He realized then that the larger battle had been lost, because the state and settlers refused to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court. He moved to Oklahoma in 1835 to prepare for the coming of the Cherokee. Within three years, the Cherokee Nation was forced to follow the "Trail of Tears".

Later life in Oklahoma

After moving to Oklahoma, Worcester continued to preach to the Indians. He worked tirelessly to help resolve the differences between the Georgia Cherokee and the "Old Settlers", some of whom had relocated there in the late 1820s. On April 20, 1859, he died in Park Hill, Indian Territory.

Worcester House

Worcester House is the only surviving original house on the land of the former Cherokee community of New Echota. The rest of the original buildings were destroyed after the Cherokee were forced to leave Georgia on the "Trail of Tears." The house was constructed in 1828 as a two-story building.

The Worcesters lived in the house from 1828 until 1834, when it was confiscated by a Georgian who obtained title in the 1832 Land Lottery. The house was owned by many Georgians through the years until 1952. The house was turned over to the state of Georgia, and in 1954 to the former government agency, the Georgia Historical Commission. It is managed by the Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites, part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources. In 1962, the New Echota Historic Site was opened to the public; it preserves the restored Worcester House as an important symbol of New Echota and Cherokee civilization.

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Samuel Austin Worcester's Timeline

January 19, 1798
Age 27
Tennessee, United States
April 20, 1859
Age 61