Women in the AntiremovAl movement, 1829-1838
by Natalie Joy
pposition to Indian removal
is generally less well known
than other reform movements
of the antebellum period,
but, like antislavery, it too was an interna-
tional, interdenominational, and multira-
cial movement. It was also a movement,
like antislavery, in which women played a
crucial role. roughout the 1830s women
signed petitions protesting Indian remov-
al in great numbers, the first time they
had done so on a national issue.
submitted their own petitions, separate
from the men of their communities, and
some signed their names to mixed-sex
petitions. ere were two major waves of
antiremoval petitioning; both received
significant participation from women.
e first occurred between 1829 and 1830
in response to the Indian Removal Bill, a
hallmark of President Andrew Jacksons
new administration. Largely orchestrated
by Catharine Beecher, this fascinating
episode has been the subject of recent
e second wave of female
petitioning, which occurred in 1838, has
not received the same degree of attention,
despite its connection to both the earlier
antiremoval petition campaign and the
burgeoning antislavery movement.
In my
work I seek to understand how this later
petition campaign against removal of the
Cherokee Nation developed, its relation-
ship to the first antiremoval petition cam-
paign, and its intersection with abolition.
e Indian Removal Act was signed
into law on May 28, 1830. is legisla-
tion discouraged antiremoval reformers,
and there was a noticeable recession of
antiremoval activity in the next few years
as slavery began to dominate national
politics and reform activity. But many
Catharine Beecher
A Most Sacred Duty”
Treaty of New Echota
reformers did not forget about the plight
of Indians, and the reemergence of anti-
removal activity in 1838 provides evidence
of the continuing saliency of this issue for
such reformers.
e second major wave of petition-
ing developed in response to President
Martin Van Burens proposed enforce-
ment of the Treaty of New Echota, which
had been ratified by the Senate in 1836.
Petitions protesting enforcement of the
Treaty of New Echota and consequent
removal of the Cherokee Nation poured
in throughout the spring of 1838. ese
petitions bore strong similarity to those
that had been sent in the earlier petition
campaign. Petitioners urged Congress to
halt enforcement of the treaty, which they
argued would be an irreversible blot on
the new nations character and standing in
the world should it be carried out.
As before, women from many towns and
cities in the North and West submit-
ted petitions to Congress protesting the
Treaty of New Echota and its pending en-
forcement. A particularly interesting ex-
ample of such activism comes from Con-
cord, Massachusetts, where, in the spring
of 1838, a group of women sent a petition
to Congress protesting the Treaty of New
Antiremoval petition
Echota. is antiremoval petition was
submitted by 206 women, many of whom
belonged to the recently formed Con-
cord Female Antislavery Society. Sandra
Petrulionis has expertly documented the
extent to which Concord’s women were at
the forefront of abolitionist activity in this
period, but their antiremovalism has not
received equal attention from scholars.
e efforts of these antislavery women in
this antiremoval petition campaign pro-
vides evidence of the centrality of women
to many antebellum reform movements.
In October of 1837, not long after a visit
from Sarah and Angelina Grimké, the
Concord Female Antislavery Society was
formed. Its founding members included
Mary Brooks, Prudence Ward, Susan
Garrison, Cynthia, Sophia and Helen
oreau, Mary Wilder, Susan Barrett,
Maria Prescott, and Lidian Emerson.
ere is a close correlation between the
women of the Concord Female Antislav-
ery Society and those who signed the 1838
petition protesting Cherokee removal.
Mary Wilders name appears first on the
petition, suggesting that she was probably
the initiator of the petition. Henry Da-
vid oreaus mother Cynthia, his aunts
Elisabeth, Maria, and Jane, and his sisters
Helen and Sophia, all signed the peti-
tion. Ralph Waldo Emersons wife Lid-
ian, and Ruth Emerson, his mother, both
signed their names. At least two free black
women, Susan Garrison and her daughter
Ellen Garrison, also signed the Concord
A group of men from Concord sub-
mitted a similar petition to Congress pro-
testing the Treaty of New Echota. Sign-
ers included Concords most illustrious
resident, Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose
name appears second on the petition.
But Emersons most famous expression
of antiremovalism was a letter he wrote
on April 23, 1838, to President Van Bu-
ren protesting the impending removal of
the Cherokee Nation.
Despite the fame
Emerson has achieved for this letter, it ap-
pears from the documentary evidence that
his wife, Lidian, played the more signifi-
cant role in directing Concords response
to the Cherokee removal crisis of 1838.
In a letter to her sister, Lucy Jackson
Lydia Maria Child
Brown, dated April 23, 1838, Lidian Em-
erson strongly implies that it was she who
convinced her husband to do something
on behalf of the Cherokees. “Mr. Emer-
son very unwillingly takes part in public
movements like that of yesterday prefer-
ring individual action,” she wrote, going
on to suggest that only when her husband
was convinced (possibly by her) that “this
occasion seemed to require all modes of
action did he participate.
She encour-
aged her sister to do the same thing in
Plymouth, urging her to speak to some of
their mutual female friends “that they may
mention it to the gentlemen most likely
to care that something be done.”
Emersons efforts seem to have paid off.
ough the women of Plymouth did not
send an antiremoval petition to Congress
in 1838, the men of Plymouth did, and it is
signed by at least one of the men Emer-
son suggested her sister seek out.
It is
possible that many other women acted in
similarly covert ways. Unless they left a
record of their actions, as Lidian Emerson
did, historians can never be sure if such
covert activity was common.
e removal of Native Americans
from their lands and the relocation and
enslavement of Africans were interlocking
processes. is undeniable fact convinced
many antislavery reformers—in Con-
cord, Massachusetts, and elsewhere in the
North—to expand their sphere of activ-
ity. Petition campaigns against the Indian
Removal Bill and Treaty of New Echota
attest to the saliency of these issues for
northern reformers concerned with the
growing political influence and territo-
rial expansion of the slaveholding South.
e 1838 antiremoval petition campaign
did not stop removal of the Cherokee
people, but it does provide evidence of a
persistent concern for Indians interwoven
with rising antislavery sentiment. e
antiremoval movement also reveals a more
complex picture of womens work in ante-
bellum politics. Lydia Maria Child, aboli-
tionist and antiremovalist, likely spoke for
many such women when she wrote in 1836
that all Americans should help the “op-
pressed, whose relief has become to us a
most sacred duty.
Women like those of
the Concord Female Antislavery Society
were often at the forefront of such actions,
signing petitions, writing letters, and
goading their (often) reluctant menfolk
to action.
Natalie Joy is a doctoral candidate in the
Department of History at UCLA. Her research
interests include politics, gender, and race in
the antebellum U.S., with a particular focus on
interracial or cross-racial reform efforts. is talk
is taken from her dissertation, "'Hydra's Head:
Fighting Slavery and Indian Removal in An-
tebellum America," which explores the intersec-
tion of the antislavery and anti-Indian removal
movements, with particular attention to the role
of women. She is a - AAUW American
Dissertation Fellow. She gave a CSW talk on
this topic on November , .
1. Mary Hershberger, “Mobilizing Women,
Anticipating Abolition: e Struggle
against Indian Removal in the 1830s,"
Journal of American History 86 (1999), 15.
2. Mobilizing Women, Anticipating
Abolition: e Struggle against Indian
Removal in the 1830s," 15; Alisse Portnoy,
Their Right to Speak: Womens Activism in
the Indian and Slave Debates (Cambridge:
Harvard University Press, 2005).
3. Kathryn Sklar does include three of the
1838 petitions in her document project on
womens involvement in the antiremoval
movement. Kathryn Kish Sklar,How
Did the Removal of the Cherokee Nation
from Georgia Shape Womens Activism in
the North, 1817-1838?” (State University of
New York at Binghamton, 2004). Women
and Social Movements in the United States,
-. http://www.alexanderstreet6.
4. Sandra Harbert Petrulionis, To Set This
World Right: The Antislavery Movement
in Thoreaus Concord (Ithaca, NY: Cornell
University Press).
5. To Set This World Right, 18-9.
6. Memorial of 206 women of Concord,
Massachusetts (SEN25A-H6); 25th
Congress; Records of the United States
Senate, Record Group 46, Box 132; National
Archives, Washington, D.C.; According
to Sandra Petrulionis, Susan Garrison, her
husband John, a former slave, and their
daughter Ellen were members of Concords
free black community. Petrulionis, To Set
This World Right, 11; 19.
7. Memorial of the inhabitants of Concord,
Massachusetts (SEN25A-H6); 25th
Congress; Records of the United States
Senate, Record Group 46, Box 132; National
Archives, Washington, D.C.
8. William Lloyd Garrison reprinted it in his
Liberator and titled it “Words Fitly Spoken.”
Boston Liberator, June 22, 1838.
9. Delores Bird Carpenter, ed., The Selected
Letters of Lidian Jackson Emerson (Columbia:
University of Missouri Press, 1987), xvii.
10. The Selected Letters of Lidian Jackson
Emerson, 74-5.
11. The Selected Letters of Lidian Jackson
Emerson, 75.
12. Memorial of the citizens of Plymouth,
Massachusetts (SEN 25A-H6); 25th
Congress; Records of the United States
Senate, Record Group 46, Box 132; National
Archives, Washington, D.C.
13. Lydia Maria Francis Child, The First Settlers
of New-England (Boston: Munroe and C.S.
Francis, 1836), 282.