Renowned author’s work with Native Americans documented by SIUE history professor

John Howard Payne gained international fame when he penned the lyrics to the classic song “Home Sweet Home” from his 1823 opera, “Clari.”

Dr. Rowena McClinton, SIUE history professor, is annotating and translating historical texts by 19th century actor and playwright John Howard Payne. Most famous for his classic song "Home Sweet Home," Payne is also known for his detailed documentation of the Cherokee American Indian tribe. (Photo courtesy of Rowena McClinton)

Coincidentally when the Cherokee people were exiled from their home in the American Southeast, Payne sympathized with the Indian tribe and paid tribute to their heritage.

Following the Indian Removal act of 1830, the U.S. Government forced the Cherokees 2,200 miles west to the Oklahoma Territory. The actor, playwright and poet traveled to the Cherokee homelands in 1836 and spent years hand writing thousands of pages and documenting Cherokee history, its cultural traditions and political interactions with the U.S. government. SIUE history professor Rowena McClinton has spent the past two years annotating and translating these historical texts of the Cherokees. McClinton, who said she expects to publish the texts in 2016 or early 2017, presented the work as part of the history department’s Brown Bag series on Feb. 13.

“(Payne’s work) tells us all about the Cherokees at a time when the country was going in one direction in plantation slavery and then how the country was going in another direction: to displace indigenous peoples from their homelands,” McClinton said. “It talks about those tensions between the United States and the indigenous peoples.”

Evangelical minister and missionary Daniel Sabin Butrick began a documentation that would later become known as the Payne-Butrick papers. Butrick recorded the spiritual history of the tribe and later passed on his work to Payne. McClinton has traveled to various locations in the Southeast including Georgia to speak with language experts to translate the text. Payne was not able to publish Volumes 7-14 before his death in 1852. McClinton has been consulting with other scholars from the University of Nebraska’s Press and also received assistance from Chicago’s Newberry Library to publish those volumes for the first time.

A Cherokee silversmith and blacksmith named Sequoya developed a symbolic system or a syllabary to document Cherokee history and help translate the Cherokee language. McClinton said Sequoya later passed his work on to Payne. After the Cherokees were forced to leave their homeland as part of the “Trail of Tears,” when the Cherokee, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations were forced to remove from their homes in the Southeast to the Oklahoma territory to make room for white plantation owners.

The Cherokees initially resisted removal, but eventually were forced to leave in 1838. Payne later befriended Sequoya in the Oklahoma territory.

“John Howard Payne just had tremendous sympathy for the plight of the Cherokees and of all these tribes,” McClinton said. “He was a person who just had incredible sympathy, because he had heard what they were going through; they were being mistreated. He realized just how extensive his country was racist as far his country was concerned in wanting to get rid of the Native Americans from their native lands.”

McClinton said the Payne-Butrick papers are a historical treasure because records from the time period rarely detail Native American life in such detail.

“They are a window into Cherokee political and religious life before force removal,” McClinton said. “They give us an extraordinary eyewitness account to what was happening to the Cherokees. And John Howard Payne was the champion of this magnificent tribe and he saved all these documents.”


Be Sociable, Share!

Filed Under: Historical StudiesMusicNative American Studies

Tags: , , , ,

Comments are closed.

Switch to our mobile site