History of Indian Georgia – Alcohol, Drugs and Controlling the Cherokees

By on June 1, 2017

History Editor Leslie Barker Thomas Digs Deep Into The Rich and Exciting 
Cultural Past with This Ongoing Series

The Trade and Intercourse act of July1790 prohibited any trading with Indian tribes without a license specifically for that purpose. To do so without permission or license was to be fined one thousand dollars, that would be over $26,000 in today’s economy. Licenses could not exceed more than two years. A set of statutes over the course of six years through 1834 set Indian boundaries and described the tribes as “domestic dependent nations.” This is not to be confused with the Non-Intercourse Act of 1809, which dealt with foreign trade. The original intent was to deal with the Indian Territorial Lands in the Southeastern states, but was expanded to include special products, in particular alcohol.

A revision of the trade act in 1793 appointed Federal Indian Agents and allowed for the Indians to trade with the whites under the same principles delineated in the act. President George Washington sought for the civilization of the Indians and implemented programs overseen by U.S. Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins. The Indian Agent was responsible for the protection of the Indians from non-Indians.

The introduction of alcohol early on in the relationship between the traders and Cherokees wreaked untold havoc. Over a ten-year period 1800 -1810 there were multiple murders in both the colonial society as well as that of the Cherokee and Creek domains, primarily resulting from alcohol. Indian agents were at an impasse to quell the demands for alcohol in 19th century Cherokee and Creek society.

Travelers felt that alcohol leveled the playing field when they came upon a group of Indians and would bid them to sit and drink with them. This added to the stereo- typing of the “drunken Indian.” It was not isolated to Georgia, but encompassed the entire Southeastern Cherokee and Creek Territory covering over more than four states.

By 1819 the Cherokee passed a law regulating trade within the nation. It included a provision for regulating the alcohol traffic within the borders. American traders had to procure a license for $80 and if they didn’t, there was a fine of upwards of $200. Additionally, if travelers entered into the nation with a personal stash of alcohol they could be fined $100.

The law had an adverse effect on many Cherokees. They felt that no government, even their own, had a right to impede or interfere with their affairs. They made efforts to eliminate liquor from public events and suppress drunkenness amongst their people. They felt strongly that no nation could be stable, prosper or flourish in such a state of inebriation.
The federal government, in an attempt to regulate alcohol amended the 1802 Trade and Intercourse Act in 1822 giving militia, Indian agents and superintendents the right to inspect stores and trade posts for “spirituous” goods.

However this did not keep illegal transactions from occurring. In 1825 brothers James and Samuel Reid, and unlicensed traders, were caught on the Conasauga River selling 653 gallons of whiskey. The meager fine of $100 hardly seemed worth the effort and the Reids refused to pay. Militia officials confiscated twenty barrels of flour from the Reids’ boat as a fine payment.

The then militia attempted to have the Cherokees prosecute those Cherokees who bought the alcohol. The Cherokees wanted to also prosecute the Reids for violating their laws of trade. However the end result was that the Indian office of the federal government ended up giving the Reids restitution for their losses in the amount of $779.10.

By 1828, Andrew Jackson debated the issue of Indian Sovereignty and by 1830 passed the removal bill. In June of that same year the state of Georgia enforced a code of law over the Cherokees, denying them title to their tribal lands, and declared all tribal laws null and void. Samuel Worcester, US Post Master had been arrested and William Tarvin took his place. Yet Tarvin immediately began selling whiskey to the Indians in defiance of both the federal and Cherokee laws.

Visit the Gilmer County Historical Society
Historic Tabor House & Civil War Museum

138 Spring Street, Ellijay, Georgia 30540
706. 276. 1861.
Open Thursday–Saturday 10am to 2pm

Leslie Barker Thomas is a resident of Ellijay and the President of the Gilmer County Historical Society, President, Georgia Chapter Trail of Tears Association and Communication Chair Cartecay UMC.

“When history is erased, people’s moral values are also erased.” –Ma Jian