An Examination of Cherokee Marriage Following the Establishment of the First Cherokee Written Laws, 1808




Gallay, Janet M.

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In this work I challenge the view held by some scholars that the written laws published by the Cherokee Nation on September 11, 1808 attempted to undermine matrilineal clan management of marriage practices. I describe how Cherokee leaders, both women and men, adopted aspects of the legal template from the United States juridical system and designed laws to accommodate existing marital practices, reflecting the goal to protect, defend, and ensure the political, economic, and social rights of women. Although there was now to be written law consistent with legal systems in Europe and the United States, there was already extensive Cherokee “law” (albeit unwritten) that regulated choice of spouse, defined the legality of the marriage, designated membership, and directed inheritance through the woman. The matrilineal kinship structure effectively resisted the persistent pressures exerted upon it by the government of the United States to capitulate to a patriarchal legal system that privileged men over women as heads of household, iii property owners, and guardians of children. The process of developing written laws that accurately reflected Cherokee values and beliefs involved the complementary governance defined by the authority and power exercised by both women and men. My interpretation of the events recorded by Euro-American and American men of the colonial period, including often quite biased accounts and misinterpretations of Cherokee life, ultimately provided the evidence that matrilineal clan management of marriage and inheritance was not evanescent.



Cherokee, Kinship, Marriage, Matrilineal