John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Nation

Photograph of John Ross

John Ross

John Ross letter to Andrew Jackson

A letter of protest written from John Ross to Andrew Jackson

John Ross was born in Turkeytown, Alabama in October 1790. Daniel Ross, John’s father, was a Scottish immigrant who lived with the Cherokee people. John’s mother, Mollie, was of Scottish-Cherokee descent. 

Ross was raised in Alabama before moving to Tennessee for his schooling. At the age of 19, Ross was appointed as a Native American consultant for the US army. During the War of 1812, he fought under General Andrew Jackson.  

From a young age, John Ross was an advocate for Cherokee rights and was a supporter of education for the Cherokee people. In 1817, Ross moved to Georgia and was chosen to the Cherokee National Council. By 1819, Ross was elected principal of the National Council due to his successful diplomatic and leadership skills. During his time on the Council, Ross traveled back and forth to Washington D.C. to negotiate with the U.S government over land disputes and white encroachment. 

John Ross dedicated his entire life to fighting for Cherokee rights. Despite the hardships faced by the Cherokees, Ross “advocated cultural assimilation and sought to use democratic tools to protect Cherokee land rights within the United States. Hence the Cherokees established a system of government modeled on the United States, lobbied Congress, and sought to mobilize public opinion through the press, churches, and a letter-writing campaign of northern women.” (1). In 1828 he would be elected Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation. As Chief, Ross regularly challenged Andrew Jackson and other supporters of Indian Removal.  In 1836, Chief John Ross wrote: 

"Little did they [the Cherokee people] anticipate, that when taught to think and feel as the American citizen, and to have with him a common interest, they were to be despoiled by their guardian, to become strangers and wanderers in the land of their fathers, forced to return to the savage life, and to seek a new home in the wilds of the far west, and that without their consent. An instrument purporting to be a treaty [1835] with the Cherokee people, has recently been made public by the President of the United States… this instrument is fraudulent, false upon its face, made by unauthorized individuals, without the sanction, and against the wishes, of the great body of the Cherokee people. Upwards of fifteen thousand of those people have protested against it, solemnly declaring they will never acquiesce." (2)

Despite Ross’s efforts, he was unable to prevent the removal of the Cherokee from their lands.

John Ross, Chief of the Cherokee Nation