Before the 19th century, polygamy was common among the Cherokee, especially by elite men. The matrilineal culture meant that women controlled property, such as their dwellings, and their children were considered born into their mother's clan, where they gained hereditary status. Advancement to leadership positions were generally subject to approval by the women elders. In addition, the society was matrifocal; customarily, a married couple lived with or near the woman's family, so she could be aided by her female relatives. Her oldest brother was a more important mentor to her boys than was their father, who belonged to another clan. Traditionally, couples, particularly women, can divorce freely.
It was unusual for a Cherokee man to marry a European-American woman. The children of such a union were disadvantaged, as they would not belong to the nation. They would be born outside the clans and traditionally were not considered Cherokee citizens. This is because of the matrilineal aspect of Cherokee culture. As the Cherokee began to adopt some elements of European-American culture in the early 19th century, they sent elite young men, such as John Ridge and Elias Boudinot to American schools for education. After Ridge had married a European-American woman from Connecticut and Boudinot was engaged to another, the Cherokee Council in 1825 passed a law making children of such unions full citizens of the tribe, as if their mothers were Cherokee. This was a way to protect the families of men expected to be leaders of the tribe.
In the late nineteenth century, the US government put new restrictions on marriage between a Cherokee and non-Cherokee, although it was still relatively common. A European-American man could legally marry a Cherokee woman by petitioning the federal court, after gaining approval of ten of her blood relatives. Once married, the man had status as an "Intermarried White," a member of the Cherokee tribe with restricted rights; for instance, he could not hold any tribal office. He also remained a citizen of and under the laws of the United States. Common law marriages were more popular. Such "Intermarried Whites" were listed in a separate category on the registers of the Dawes Rolls, prepared for allotment of plots of land to individual households of members of the tribe, in the early twentieth-century federal policy for assimilation of the Native Americans.
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Famous quotes containing the word marriage:
“The sum and substance of female education in America, as in England, is training women to consider marriage as the sole object in life, and to pretend that they do not think so.”
—Harriet Martineau (18021876)
“Yes, marriage is hateful, detestable. A kind of ineffable, sickening disgust seizes my mind when I think of this most despotic, most unrequited fetter which prejudice has forged to confine its energies.”
—Percy Bysshe Shelley (17921822)