John Ridge was born to the Cherokee chief Major Ridge and his wife Sehoya around 1802 in their village of Oothacaloga, near present-day Calhoun, Georgia. The Cherokee were a matrilineal tribe, so he belonged to the Wild Potato Clan through his mother, Sehoya (Susannah Catherine Wickett). Ridge was often sick as a child. He studied at the nearby mission school run by the Moravian Brethren at Spring Place, Cherokee Nation (now Georgia). It was founded on land given to them by his father's mentor and fellow former warrior, James Vann.
Ridge's father sent him to the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut in 1819, where he learned reading and writing in English and other subjects typical of middle-class education at the time. Many families in the town supported the school and were hospitable to its students. As the top-ranked student, Ridge was asked to write an essay for President James Monroe, to be presented by Jedidiah Morse. His cousin Elias Boudinot also studied at the school.
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