May 28th, 1830
Indian Removal Act Forces Indian Tribes to Migrate West
On May 28, 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which authorized the President to grant land west of the Mississippi River in exchange for the lands of the American Indian tribes living primarily in the southeastern United States. President Jackson’s message to Congress stated a double goal of the Indian Removal Act: freeing more land in southern states like Alabama and Mississippi, while also separating the Indians from “immediate contact with settlements of whites” in the hopes that they will one day “cast off their savage habits and become an interesting, civilized, and Christian community.”
Although the act referred specifically to those “tribes and nations of Indians as may choose to exchange the lands where they now reside” and President Jackson described the removal as a “happy consummation” of the government’s “benevolent policy” of Indian removal, the legislation culminated in the brutal forced migration of thousands of Creek, Chocktaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, and Cherokee Indians to present-day Oklahoma. The journey came to be known as the “Trail of Tears.”
There were numerous reports of epidemic illness, exposure to the elements, and death along the migration paths. One eyewitness account published in the Arkansas Gazette stated, “No portion of American history can furnish a parallel of the misery and suffering at present endured by the emigrating Creeks.”
November 15th, 1830
North Carolina Passes Laws to Limit Access to David Walker’s Anti-Slavery Pamphlet
On September 28, 1829, David Walker, a free African American abolitionist and activist living in Boston, Massachusetts, published An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World, a radical, militant anti-slavery pamphlet advocating for racial equality and calling for free and enslaved blacks to actively challenge injustice, racial oppression, and the institution of slavery.
Mr. Walker exhorted enslaved people to “lay aside abject servility” and to unite and rebel against their masters. The Appeal was the first published document to demand the immediate and uncompensated emancipation of slaves in America. Mr. Walker also indirectly targeted his pamphlet to whites, urging them to cease their inhumane treatment of slaves and warning that “your destruction is at hand, and will be speedily consummated unless you repent.” The pamphlet was quickly and clandestinely circulated among blacks, especially in the South, inciting anger among many whites.
The response was swift and harsh. Jacob Cowan, a literate enslaved man in North Carolina, was sold “down river” to Alabama after he was caught with 200 copies of the pamphlet for distribution to other enslaved people in the community. Copies of the pamphlet found by Southern officials were destroyed, the State of Georgia offered a bounty for Mr. Walker’s capture, and several Southern states passed laws to further oppress both enslaved and free black people.
On November 15, 1830, North Carolina passed two laws designed to limit the influence of the pamphlet and discourage its dissemination. An Act to Prevent the Circulation of Seditious Publications banned bringing into the state any publication with the tendency to inspire revolution or resistance among enslaved or free black people; a first violation of the law was punishable by whipping and one year imprisonment, while those convicted of a second offense would “suffer death without benefit of clergy.”
The second law forbid all persons in the state from teaching the enslaved to read and write. A white person convicted of violating the law would be subject to a $100 to $200 fine or imprisonment; a free black person would face a fine, imprisonment, or between twenty and thirty-nine lashes; and an enslaved black person convicted of teaching other slaves to read or write would receive thirty-nine lashes.
Mr. Walker’s Appeal had significant impact and is widely credited with turning the abolitionist movement in a more radical direction and setting the stage for later insurrections, such as Nat Turner’s 1831 rebellion in Virginia.
March 18th, 1831
States Supreme Court Refuses to Enforce Cherokee-United States Treaties
Beginning in 1827, the State of Georgia enacted legislation that nullified Cherokee laws and appropriated Cherokee lands. In response to Georgia’s extension of its law over the Cherokee Nation, the Cherokee filed suit in the United States Supreme Court, challenging the legislation and citing treaties the nation had previously entered into with the United States government. The Cherokee argued that those treaties established the Cherokee Nation as a sovereign and independent state.
On March 18, 1831, the Supreme Court issued an opinion in Cherokee Nation v. Georgia. Chief Justice John Marshall avoided deciding whether the State of Georgia could extend its law over the Cherokee tribes, instead ruling that the Cherokee Nation was not a “foreign nation” and that the Supreme Court had no jurisdiction to hear its claims.
The Court observed that while the Native Americans have an “unquestioned right to the lands they occupy, until that right shall be extinguished by a voluntary cession to our government;  it may well be doubted whether those tribes which reside within the acknowledged boundaries of the United States can, with strict accuracy, be denominated foreign nations.” The Court emphasized that Native Americans were “domestic dependant nations” and that “[t]heir relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian,” and concluded that an Indian tribe could not bring suit in an American court.
The Court’s ruling refused to enforce the treaties the Cherokee asserted protected them from state and federal interference, and left the tribe vulnerable to the Indian Removal Act that forced their relocation later that year.
August 21st, 1831
Nat Turner Leads Enslaved Black People in Virginia Rebellion
Nat Turner was an enslaved black man who lived in Southampton, Virginia. By many accounts, Turner was a very religious man who ministered to fellow enslaved blacks as well as whites. Turner studied the Bible fervently and often claimed to have divine visions. In the late 1820s, Turner claimed to have several visions leading him to believe that God was calling him to lead a rebellion. In February 1831, he witnessed a solar eclipse and interpreted it as a sign to start his campaign. Turner and his followers planned to rebel on July 4, 1831, but postponed the plan. On August 13, 1831, Turner witnessed a second eclipse and believe it to be yet another sign to begin the rebellion.
On August 21, 1831, Turner led his most trusted followers to various plantations, recruiting other blacks, until their ranks swelled to between 60 and 70 fighters armed with muskets and tools. As the rebels moved, they indiscriminately killed white plantation owners, but seemed to spare poor whites. Turner and his followers killed nearly 60 whites before they were confronted and defeated by a militia. Turner’s men were killed or captured immediately, but he escaped and remained at large until October 30, 1831. Upon capture, Turner was criminally convicted and executed along with 30 other blacks convicted of insurrection. In the wake of the rebellion, angry white mobs tortured and murdered hundreds of blacks and Southern legislatures passed laws prohibiting blacks from assembling freely, conducting independent religious services, and gaining an education.
November 1st, 1831
Trail of Tears Begins
The Indian Removal Act, which gave the president the power to negotiate treaties with Indian tribes east of the Mississippi River in order to relocate them west, was signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830. The Choctaws were the first tribe to sign a removal treaty. The majority of Choctaws did not want to leave but some of their delegates signed the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek in exchange for bribes from federal officials.
The government made no transportation provisions to accomplish the forced relocation of thousands of Choctaw people. On November 1, 1831, the Choctaws began walking west, unprepared for the harsh winter ahead. Nearly one-third of the Choctaw Nation died on the journey. In total, the United States government forcibly removed 90,000 people from their lands and sent them west as part of the removal campaign.
In addition to the Choctaw, the government targeted Chickasaws, Seminoles, Cherokees, and Creeks for removal from lands east of the Mississippi. Like the Choctaws, theses tribes’ journeys were plagued by brutal winters, disease, and death. The brutal and deadly expulsion of Native Americans from the American south and east came to be known as the “Trail of Tears.”
November 11th, 1831
Nat Turner Hanged in Virginia
Nat Turner was an enslaved black man who lived in Southampton, Virginia. A religious leader who ministered to both whites and fellow enslaved blacks, Turner studied the Bible fervently and often reported having divine visions. He was inspired to plan a rebellion by visions that he interpreted as calls to revolt against plantation owners. On August 21, 1831, Turner led a group of his most trusted followers on attacks against various plantations, recruiting other enslaved blacks along the way. Armed with firearms and tools, their ranks swelled to between 60 and 70 fighters. Turner and his followers killed nearly 60 whites before they were confronted and defeated by a militia. Many of the rebels were killed or captured immediately; Turner escaped and hid in a cave near his former plantation but was captured by a local farmer on October 30, 1831.
Although Turner insisted there was no conspiracy to lead attacks in any area outside of Southampton, enraged and fearful slavery advocates throughout Virginia were convinced that the rebellion was intended to expand across the state and wanted Turner harshly punished as an example to others who might be inspired by his efforts. On November 11, 1831, after a swift trial and conviction, Turner was hanged in Jerusalem, Virginia. Up to 30 other black participants in the revolt also were executed for insurrection and in the months after the rebellion, angry white mobs tortured and murdered hundreds of blacks who had not participated in the revolt. In response to renewed fears of uprising, Virginia and other slavery states passed laws prohibiting blacks from assembling freely, conducting independent religious services, and learning to read and write.
January 16th, 1832
Alabama Criminalizes Creek and Cherokee Tribal Customs
On January 16, 1832, the General Assembly of Alabama enacted provisions prohibiting the Creek and Cherokee from practicing customs or making laws that conflicted with Alabama law. The provision stated, “All laws, usages and customs now used, enjoyed, or practiced, by the Creek and Cherokee nations of Indians, within the limits of this State, contrary to the constitution and laws of this State, be, and the same are hereby abolished.”
This statute was created just three years after another that effectively extended the jurisdiction of Alabama into Creek territory. In response to that first law, and white settlers’ increasing unlawful encroachment into the Creek Nation, the Creek Council repeatedly – yet unsuccessfully – petitioned the federal government for assistance and protection.
Even without federal support, many Creeks refused to succumb to mounting pressure to emigrate west of the Mississippi River, and their leaders continued organizing efforts to secure their tribal lands. These efforts were frustrated by this 1832 law, which also declared it illegal for tribal leaders to “meet in any counsel, assembly, or convention” and create “any law for said tribe, contrary to the laws and constitution of this State.” Punishment for violating this law was imprisonment “in the common jail of the proper county, for not less than two, nor more than four, months.”
The 1832 law also provided that the Cherokee and Creek could only testify in court in suits involving other Cherokee and Creek, effectively ensuring that Creeks defrauded and illegally deprived of their land by white intruders would have no recourse in the Alabama courts. White settlers, speculators, and those intending to illegally occupy tribal lands were enticed by the law preventing any suit for trespass and traveled to Creek territory in Alabama to take advantage of the law. Both the Alabama and federal government’s singular goal was removal of Indians from Alabama to the Western Territory and this law furthered those aims. By 1837, 23,000 Creeks had emigrated out of the Southeast.
March 24th, 1832
Besieged Creek Indians Seeking Federal Protection Sign Treaty that Later Leads to Land Loss and Forcible Removal
On March 24, 1832, the Creek Indians signed the Treaty of Cusseta with the United States, giving up all 5.2 million acres of their tribal lands in Alabama. Following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, this treaty was yet another step in the federal government’s plan to remove Indian tribes to west of the Mississippi River and acquire tribal lands for white settlement. Creek leaders had negotiated the treaty with the federal government in hopes of gaining security and protection from growing pressures and threats, as Alabama extended its laws over Creek territory and authorized white encroachment into Creek land.
Under the terms of the treaty, the federal government would survey the land, complete a census of the Creeks remaining in the region, and redistribute 2.1 million acres to Creek chiefs and male heads of household, leaving the remaining land available for white settlers. The treaty gave Creek landholders five years to decide whether to maintain ownership of their land or sell to white settlers and emigrate to the Western territory at the United States’ expense. Although the treaty stipulated that the provision regarding Creek emigration “shall not be construed so as to compel any Creek Indian to emigrate, but they shall be free to go or stay, as they please,” the federal government made clear it was “desirous that the Creeks should remove to the country west of the Mississippi, and join their countrymen there.”
The treaty purported to guarantee protection against intruders during the five-year decision period. However, intruders persisted and the United States succumbed to pressures to cease blocking and removing them. In addition to unlawful intruders overtaking Creek land, speculators defrauded, threatened, and undersold Creek landholders to deprive them of the land guaranteed under the Treaty. Growing resentment and hostility led to violent outbreaks and eventually erupted into the Second Creek War, leading the United States to forcibly remove the remaining Creeks on March 3, 1837.
January 17th, 1834
Alabama Legislature Bans Free Black People from Living in the State
On January 17, 1834, the Alabama State Legislature passed Act 44 as part of a series of increasingly restrictive laws governing the behavior of free and enslaved blacks within the state.
In the immediate aftermath of the infamous Nat Turner slave rebellion in Virginia, Alabama passed a statute in 1833 that made it unlawful for free blacks to settle in Alabama. That statute provided that freed blacks found in Alabama would be given thirty days to vacate the state. After thirty days, the freed slave could be subject to a penalty of thirty-nine lashes and receive an additional twenty-day period to leave the state. After that period had expired, the free person could be sold back into slavery with proceeds of the sale going to the state and to those who participated in apprehending him.
Act 44 expanded on this legislation by specifying a series of procedures that had to be followed for a slave to be freed within the state. One of the requirements was that emancipation for an enslaved person could take effect only outside of Alabama's borders. Further, if an emancipated slave returned to Alabama, he could be lawfully captured and sold back into slavery. In fact, Act 44 required sheriffs and other law enforcement officers to actively attempt to apprehend freed slaves who had entered Alabama for any reason.
October 21st, 1835
White Mob Attacks Abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison in Boston
William Lloyd Garrison was a prominent white abolitionist and newspaper editor in the 19th century. Born in 1805 in Newburyport, Massachusetts, to English immigrants, Garrison co-founded his first newspaper at age 22 and began to focus on the issue of slavery. In 1829, Garrison became the co-editor of the Baltimore-based Genius of Universal Emancipation, through which he and his colleagues criticized proponents of slavery.
Unlike most American abolitionists at the time, Garrison demanded immediate emancipation of enslaved black people rather than gradual emancipation. In 1830, he founded The Liberator, which continued to publish criticisms of slavery. By that time, Garrison had become a vocal opponent of the American Colonization Society, which sought to reduce the number of free blacks by relocating them to Africa. In 1832, Garrison helped to organize the American Anti-Slavery Society and sought to keep the organization unaffiliated with any political party. He also advocated for women to be allowed equal participation in the organization, a radical stance nearly 90 years before women in America obtained the right to vote.
On October 21, 1835, Garrison attended a meeting held by the Boston Female Anti-Slavery Society to hear remarks from George Thompson, a British abolitionist and personal friend. Thompson had been warned that a pro-slavery mob planned to tar-and-feather him and declined to attend the meeting. The mob seized Garrison instead, dragged him through the streets by a rope around his waist, and threatened to lynch him until he was rescued by police. Garrison spent the night in a city jail and left Boston the next morning. He remained a staunch opponent of slavery and lived to see the institution’s demise 30 years later.
December 24th, 1835
Georgia Lawmakers Prohibit the Entry of the Creek Nation
On December 24, 1835, Georgia's legislature voted to block the entrance of any Creek Native American into the state unless he or she was escorted by a white person and was there to handle legal matters. The act prohibited the people of Georgia from trading with Native Americans and from hiring Native Americans to work on cotton plantations.
This legislation added to a larger national effort to remove the Creek, Seminole, and Cherokee Nations from the American South by reinforcing earlier laws that attempted to limit Native American residency to west of the frontier. In 1832, the federal government and the Creek Nation signed the Treaty of Cusseta, which divided Creek lands into smaller allotments in Georgia and Alabama. Creeks were then forced to sell their individual allotments and move west or remain in the South and abide by local laws.
The passage of the 1835 act further fueled ongoing conflict over land between Creeks and white Southerners. This led to the Second Creek War of 1836, which resulted in the transference of all Creek territory east of the Mississippi River to the United States. By the 1840s, no Native American tribes retained a sizeable presence in the South, except for a small number of Seminoles who resisted removal in Florida.
July 1st, 1839
Kidnapped Africans Seize Control Aboard Amistad Slave Ship
Though the United States Congress passed legislation in 1807 banning the importation of enslaved persons, traders continued to transport enslaved Africans into the country. During the early 1800s, many European countries also placed prohibitions on the trafficking of enslaved Africans. In January 1839, a group of Africans from the Mende tribe who had been kidnapped in Sierra Leone by Portuguese traders were sold to Spanish traders Don Jose Ruiz and Don Pedro. Ruiz and Pedro then transported the Africans to Havana, Cuba, on the ship La Amistad. In Cuba, the traders falsely classified the Africans as native Cubans. On June 27, 1839, the Amistad departed for another Cuban city, still carrying 49 of the Africans.
On July 1, 1839, Cinque, a Mende leader aboard La Amistad, used a file to free himself and others from their chains. The captives then revolted, killing the ship’s captain and cook. After taking control of the ship, the Africans demanded that the remaining crew return them to their homeland. The crew deceived the revolters and instead sailed toward the northeastern United States.
On August 24, 1839, American authorities in New York seized the ship. The Africans aboard were arrested and charged with murder. Though murder charges were eventually dropped, a debate arose over the status of the Africans: were they free human beings or enslaved property? Future President John Quincy Adams represented the Africans in litigation to decide that question, and won their release with a ruling from the United States Supreme Court. Many of the Africans died awaiting recognition of their freedom, but in 1841, 35 of the survivors - including Cinque - were returned to their homeland.
(From Mural No. 2, The Court Scene, by Hale Woodruff, 1938, housed in Savery Library at Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama)