Baptists and the American Civil War: February 21, 1863

Lewis Downing, Baptist Minister and Cherokee Chief

Lewis Downing, Baptist Minister and Cherokee Chief

Since the previous summer, the Cherokee nation in Indian Territory, once solidly aligned with the Confederacy, has largely switched loyalties and aligned with the United States, although a dissenting faction remains aligned with the Confederate States.

Thanks to Baptist mission efforts among Native Americans, many of the Cherokees are Baptists, including Lewis Downing, Baptist minister and military chaplain. Currently third in line for the position of tribal chief, Downing supports the allegicance of the Cherokee nation with the Union.

U.S. President Abraham Lincoln’s January 1 Emancipation Proclamation has not gone unnoticed among the Cherokee. Today, tribal leaders emancipate all slaves held in Cherokee territory. In addition, future slavery is abolished.

Downing later this year visits Washington, D.C. to inform the government that some Cherokee yet retain loyalties to the Confederacy. The split within the tribe remains throughout the remainder of the war. Upon the war’s conclusion, the Cherokee nation reunites and Downing is elected as Principle Chief of the Cherokees, holding the office from 1867 until his death in 1872.

Sources: Hanna R. Warren, “Reconstruction in the Cherokee Nation,” Chronicles of Oklahoma 45 (1967), pp. 180-189; John B. Meserve, “Chief Lewis Downing and Chief Charles Thompson (Oochalata.),” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Volume 16, No. 3, September 1938 (link)