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University of California Press
Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom / Edition 2

Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom / Edition 2

by Tiya Miles
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This beautifully written book, now in its second edition, tells the haunting saga of a quintessentially American family. In the late 1790s, Shoe Boots, a famed Cherokee warrior and successful farmer, acquired an African slave named Doll. Over the next thirty years, Shoe Boots and Doll lived together as master and slave and also as lifelong partners who, with their children and grandchildren, experienced key events in American history—including slavery, the Creek War, the founding of the Cherokee Nation and subsequent removal of Native Americans along the Trail of Tears, and the Civil War. This is the gripping story of their lives, in slavery and in freedom.

Meticulously crafted from historical and literary sources, Ties That Bind vividly portrays the members of the Shoeboots family. Doll emerges as an especially poignant character, whose life is mostly known through the records of things done to her—her purchase, her marriage, the loss of her children—but also through her moving petition to the federal government for the pension owed to her as Shoe Boots's widow. A sensitive rendition of the hard realities of black slavery within Native American nations, the book provides the fullest picture we have of the myriad complexities, ironies, and tensions among African Americans, Native Americans, and whites in the first half of the nineteenth century.

Updated with a new preface and an appendix of key primary sources, this remains an essential book for students of Native American history, African American history, and the history of race and ethnicity in the United States.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780520285637
Publisher: University of California Press
Publication date: 06/23/2015
Series: American Crossroads
Edition description: Second Edition
Pages: 416
Sales rank: 458,040
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.10(d)

About the Author

Tiya Miles is Professor of History and American Culture at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She is the author of The House on Diamond Hill: A Cherokee Plantation Story and The Cherokee Rose: A Novel of Gardens and Ghosts. Among other notable prizes and fellowships, she was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2011.

Read an Excerpt

Ties That Bind

The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom

By Tiya Miles


Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-520-96102-9



    O, come with me, my white girl fair,
    O, come where Mobile's sources flow;
    With me my Indian blanket share,
    and share with me my bark canoe;
    We'll build our cabin in the wild,
    Beneath the forest's lofty shade,
    With logs on logs traversely piled,
    And Barks on barks obliquely laid ...

    Then come with me, my white girl fair,
    And thou a hunter's bride shall be;
    For thee I'll chase the roebuck there,
    And thou shalt dress the feast for me:
    O, wild and sweet our feast shall be,
    The feast of love and joy is ours;
    Then come, my white girl fair, with me,
    O, come and bless my sylvan bowers.

    "Ode to John Ridge and Sarah Northrup" (circa 1824)

AT THE TURN OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY, the Cherokee man known as Shoe Boots was a warrior in exile. According to a report of John Howard Payne, a white American journalist, lay historian, and visitor to the Cherokee Nation, Shoe Boots fled his home after accidentally killing a man who refused to sing for him. An ardent music lover, Shoe Boots seems to have become enraged when a bystander would not sing to accompany Shoe Boots's dancing. He then assaulted the man, pummeling him to death. Judging by this account and several others, Shoe Boots was an arresting figure, distinguished in his mode of dress, daring on the battlefield, quixotic and even dangerous in character. Tall, dark, and self-possessed, Shoe Boots was described by one Cherokee contemporary as "about 6 feet 2 or 3 inches high, of slender build, erect, of very dark complexion, straight black hair, and ... about 180 or 200 pounds." The same acquaintance also said that "Shoe-boots was a very peculiar looking man, from the fact that he was a very tall man — his garb was that of a military officer's style. He wore boots, the legs of which reached above his knees. His hat was that of a British military hat, with a red plume in front. ... His coat was a British military uniform coat, which was kipped with red scarlet cloth ... he wore a strap across his shoulders, and on that strap swung a long sword."

After fleeing his home in Cherokee country for fear of retribution, Shoe Boots traveled north to Shawnee territory and joined a band of young men who were incensed at the encroachment of white Kentucky settlers. It was here, in the rolling bluegrass hills, that the story of Shoe Boots's successive "marriages," first to a white woman, and next to a black woman, begins to unfold. The inception of Shoe Boots's relationship with a young Kentuckian named Clarinda was later described by the couple's grandson, William Stephens, as "somewhat romantic." Stephens continued: "At an early day, about the year 1780 ... the Cherokees made an assault on the village where my grandmother lived at that time, she being then only sixteen years of age, and among others they took my grandmother into captivity, and subsequently one of the raiding band took her to be his wife according to the customs, usages and laws of the Cherokees." Other sources give Clarinda Allington's age as eleven or thirteen at the time of her abduction. The tenor of this episode, misinterpreted as romantic by Stephens, is better captured by Kentucky historian Harry Enoch, who reports that Clarinda's story was an "unhappy" one that was nevertheless "told and retold for many years as part of the country's lore."

When Shoe Boots took up with the Shawnee men who would make their famous raid on Kentucky's Morgan's Station, he would not have been focused on the imminent capture of a young girl. Rather, Shoe Boots and his fellows were motivated by righteous indignation at the gall of white intruders who were pouring into Shawnee territory. By 1792 Kentucky had become a fast-growing state. Settlers were crowding in with their slaves, elevating the population of Lexington to nearly one thousand, clearing forests, depleting wild game, and engaging with Wyandots, Shawnees, Mingos, and Cherokees in armed skirmishes over territory, game, horses and livestock. Three years before the coming of statehood, a wealthy Virginian named Ralph Morgan had founded a settlement and fort on the western "frontier" of the region. The settlement, called Morgan's Station, overlooked Slate Creek and was home to six families, many of which also had emigrated from Virginia in search of land and prosperity. Because of its location as an outpost of Kentucky settlements, Morgan's Station was particularly vulnerable to Indian attacks, especially from Shawnees to the north and Cherokees from the south. Residents were constantly fearful of Indian raids in their first years of settlement, but by the time Kentucky achieved statehood, citizens of Morgan's Station had relaxed their vigilance. They became so comfortable in their new environment that they allowed defenses at the station to deteriorate. An entry gate that formerly had guarded the station was neglected, and fencing that had connected each of the buildings in a protective palisade had been removed for use as firewood.

The settlers now viewed their Indian neighbors as a contained threat, even as they adopted Indian ways to help them survive in the Kentucky wilderness. Like their countryman, the famed Daniel Boone, Kentucky settlers "not only understood [the Indians], they virtually adopted their lifestyle. ... Early Kentuckians wore buckskin shirts, breechcloths, leggings and moccasins; assumed the nomadic existence of hunter-gatherers; could endure incredible hardship and were capable of extreme brutality to their enemies." Thus, the frontiersmen described by Enoch above became part of a process of Americanization analyzed by scholars Richard Slotkin and Rayna Green, in which white men adopted a unique identity and means of subsistence that depended on the employment of Native ways and the simultaneous extermination of Indians. In the spring of 1793, a group of thirty to forty Shawnee and Cherokee warriors stunned the residents of Kentucky by launching what would later be described as "the last Indian raid in Kentucky." Much of what we know of that raid is based on the eyewitness accounts of early residents of Morgan's Station who were interviewed by a lay oral historian, Reverend John Shane, in the 1840s and 1850s.

Thirty-six-year-old Shoe Boots was among the warriors who camped along the banks of Little Slate Creek on Easter Sunday, 1793. The Indian men are said to have entered Morgan's Station from the south and then to have divided their ranks, with one group entering an isolated cabin to take prisoners and another continuing on to attack the heart of the station. Inside the targeted cabin the woman of the house, Rachel Becraft, and several of her children were visiting with two neighbor girls, Polly Baker and Clarinda Allington. All were taken captive and carried away, while most of the station's residents tried in vain to fend off the second group of raiders. The party of warriors inside the station attacked men, women, and children with muskets and tomahawks. In the words of one eyewitness, James Wade, a small girl was shot by a warrior aiming for her father, and "the women and children were flying in all directions." Only one family, the Martins, was able to flee. Clarinda Allington's grandmother narrowly escaped by running with the Martins as far as she could and hiding inside a hollow fallen tree. By the end of the raid, two settlers would be killed inside the settlement and eleven out of nineteen prisoners would be killed outside the station. The warriors burned the station to the ground, killed livestock, and are said to have captured a few black slaves before taking their leave of the place.

Meanwhile, the small party of bedraggled prisoners was making its way along the Little Sandy River at the command of its captors. As a posse to pursue the Indians formed back at the station, the raiders began killing captives who were slowing the pace of their retreat. At times the raiders even left their captives alone on the long trek toward the territory of present-day Michigan. Clarinda Allington, an adolescent girl who has been described as a "plucky" child, thought that she could find her way back to the Ohio River and urged the other captives to escape with her. They refused to follow Clarinda, however, and also refused to let her go alone. With her bid for escape thwarted, Clarinda, along with her neighbor Polly Baker, was taken south into Cherokee country, while most of the remaining captives were taken north to Detroit. After the raid, President George Washington appointed General "Mad Anthony" Wayne to raise a militia to suppress the midwestern tribes. Wayne's army prevailed in the Battle of Fallen Timbers, and in 1795, a treaty signed by several tribes, including the Shawnee, secured the release of many of the captives from Morgan's Station. Clarinda Allington, then confined in the home of Shoe Boots, was "the last of the captives still being held."

Snatched from her neighbor's home and witness to the killing of friends, Clarinda must have been terrified when she first reached Cherokee country. But she was known as a girl of fortitude and was able to adapt to her new conditions. For a time Clarinda seems to have lived platonically with Shoe Boots, who may have had a Cherokee wife. Within a few years, however, she became Shoe Boots's sexual partner. Sometime between 1794 and 1803, the couple had three children: William, Sarah (or Sally), and John. They also had at least two African slaves — including a teenaged girl named Doll who was not much younger than Clarinda.

It is not clear how Clarinda came to feel about her predicament, since written accounts of her experience were kept by and between white men. Did she accept Shoe Boots as her husband, or would she always view him as her captor? Did she enjoy living at what must have been a greater level of material comfort in Cherokee country, with a slave of her own? Or did material circumstances have no impact on her experience of forced exile? Though many white people captured by Indians in the eighteenth century later told tales of their difficult adjustment to Native culture, many also came to prefer life among the Indians and chose to remain in Native communities, even when presented with the opportunity to return to their families of origin. According to Indian Agent Silas Dinsmoor, Clarinda was content to live with Shoe Boots; according to his successor, Return Jonathan Meigs, she wanted to return home but could not for fear that she would be compelled to leave her children behind.

Clarinda's Kentucky family was devastated by her capture and tried for years to bring about her return. Payne notes that they even hired local hero William Whitley to track her down and rescue her. Whitley, who had been appointed a major in the Kentucky militia by Governor Isaac Shelby, had gained renown for his zest in fighting Indians. A history of Kentucky published in 1882 recorded how Whitley had acquired his fame, reporting that in 1794, "aggravated by continued Indian raids, [he] led two hundred men against Chickamauga [a Cherokee] village in Tennessee. After resoundingly defeating the Indians, Whitley gave a barbeque at his newly completed home, Sportsman Hill." Now a lieutenant colonel, Whitley traveled to Cherokee country to meet with federal Indian Agent Dinsmoor to discuss Clarinda Allington's return. As Dinsmoor noted in the Cherokee Agency records, "relative to the business of Col. Whitely I am of opinion that the woman who lives with Tuskiaoo [Shoe Boots] will not be willing to leave him ... she has three fine children by the man and I believe is well satisfied with her situation." Dinsmoor's successor, Agent Return Meigs, inherited the problem. In October 1803, when Clarinda's relatives appeared at the agency, Meigs called in Shoe Boots to ascertain the details of the case. Meigs reported:

This Cherokee man named Tuskingo or Shoeboots being brought before the agent with the said three children and questions being first put to the woman. Do you wish to return to your friends in Kentucky? — Answered Yes if I can carry my children — and the following questions being put to the Cherokee man — Are you willing to let Clarinda Ellington the woman you call your wife go with her children to see her friends in Kentucky? Answered No. If my children are taken away I shall look on it the same as if they were dead. And the said Clarinda therefore declines going to see her friends as she cannot leave her children. The said Tuskingo says that he saved her life at the time she was taken, and therefore thinks he has a right to keep her as his wife. It appears that Tuskingo is a man of very considerable property.

Clarinda Allington, discussed in this report as if she were property, had remained in Cherokee territory for the sake of her children in the view of Agent Meigs. Because Clarinda left no account of her own, we cannot know whether she actively chose to stay with Shoe Boots or whether she was content, as Agent Dinsmoor believed. Perhaps Clarinda was relieved and even elated when a year after this meeting her relatives made an arrangement with Agent Meigs for her and the children to visit Kentucky. According to Payne, Shoe Boots agreed to the trip only on the condition that his family would return to Cherokee country. Payne noted that after an agreement was reached, Clarinda and her children departed from Shoe Boots's home in high style: "Captain Shoe Boots fitted out his wife and children as became his dignity and his wealth. He gave them several fine horses, and abundance of clothes and silver money, and a negro slave, besides a hired servant, to attend them."

This leave-taking is an essential part of the Shoeboots family story not only because of what it would mean for Clarinda's servant, Doll, who was left behind, but also because of what it suggests about the symbolic meaning of idealized (white) womanhood in Cherokee country and how this meaning gets bound up with the practice of owning black slaves. In the lavish description quoted above, Payne highlights Shoe Boots's gentlemanly behavior toward his beloved wife, who had transformed him from a marauding warrior into a man of gentility. However, Clarinda's relationship with Shoe Boots would be represented quite differently in the public forums of her home community, revealing ambivalence about intermarriage between white women and Native men among white Americans, an ambivalence sometimes influenced by the presence of black slaves in these multiracial households.

* * *

When Shoe Boots first brought Clarinda to his home in the 1790s, few white women lived with Cherokee families. The majority of interracial marriages took place between white men — often traders — and Cherokee women. For a white man seeking to do business with Indians, marrying an Indian woman was a wise investment, since it allowed him to become more familiar with Cherokee language and culture and offered the added advantage of family and community ties. In 1819 the Cherokee National Council mediated these relationships, passing a resolution meant to protect Cherokee women, requiring that white men legally marry the Cherokee women they called their wives and making it illegal for a white man to have more than one Cherokee wife. The law also dictated that intermarried white men would not have the right to control their Cherokee wives' property, in keeping with Cherokee understanding that women, not men, owned the homes in which they lived. In an 1825 law the Cherokee Council referred to the 1819 act, broadening its provision on polygamy by making it illegal for anyone in the Cherokee Nation to have more than one wife. In addition, the 1825 law was the first to acknowledge the presence of intermarried white women in the Nation. Because the Cherokees were a matrilineal tribe in which clan membership, and thus Cherokee belonging, had customarily passed from Cherokee mother to child, the government had to address whether and by what means the children of white women would be considered citizens. The Council thus enacted a special provision for these children, granting them automatic Cherokee citizenship. In essence, the Cherokee government sanctioned marriages between white women and Cherokee men by promising their children an equal place in the nation.


Excerpted from Ties That Bind by Tiya Miles. Copyright © 2015 The Regents of the University of California. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Along with a fascinating biography, this book offers an utterly original angle on American history itself.—New Haven Review

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