Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818-1823

Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818-1823

Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818-1823

Cherokee Sister: The Collected Writings of Catharine Brown, 1818-1823

Synopsis

Catharine Brown (1800-1823) became Brainerd Mission School's first Cherokee convert to Christianity, a missionary teacher, and the first Native American woman whose own writings saw extensive publication in her lifetime. After her death from tuberculosis at age twenty-three, the missionary organization that had educated and later employed Brown commissioned a posthumous biography, Memoir of Catharine Brown, which enjoyed widespread contemporary popularity and praise. In the following decade, her writings, along with those of other educated Cherokees, became highly politicized and were used in debates about the removal of the Cherokees and other tribes to Indian Territory. Although she was once viewed by literary critics as a docile and dominated victim of missionaries who represented the tragic fate of Indians who abandoned their identities, Brown is now being reconsidered as a figure of enduring Cherokee revitalization, survival, adaptability, and leadership. In Cherokee Sister Theresa Strouth Gaul collects all of Brown's writings, consisting of letters and a diary, some appearing in print for the first time, as well as Brown's biography and a drama and poems about her. This edition of Brown's collected works and related materials firmly establishes her place in early nineteenth-century culture and her influence on American perceptions of Native Americans.

Excerpt

The diary and letters of Catharine, will rank high as
specimens of fine epistolary writing. the simplicity of the
style, and the natural amiableness and ardent piety which
breathe through every sentence, not only interest the feelings,
but excite the admiration for the talents of the writer.
“LITERARY and SCIENTIFIC”
Zion’s Herald, Feb. 2, 1825

In the frontispiece illustration to the second edition of Memoir of Catharine Brown, a Christian Indian of the Cherokee Nation (1825), the memoir’s subject, Catharine Brown (1800?–1823), reclines on her deathbed. Dressed in a nightcap and gown and lying on a four-poster bed bordered by curtains, Brown shows no visual traces of her Cherokee identity except for the shading that slightly darkens her face. a large, open book—presumably a Bible—rests on the bedcovers, signifying Brown’s conversion to Christianity and acquisition of literacy. Near the bed, a female missionary leans over a writing desk, pen in hand, raptly listening to Brown’s words, a scene that illustrates the memoir’s depiction of Brown’s dictation of her final letter when she was too physically weakened by consumption to write.

Significantly, the missionary writes down Brown’s spoken words, thus placing Brown’s cultural productions within a tradition of as-told-to narratives penned by white writers who transcribed American Indian oral transmissions. Yet Catharine Brown was a letter writer and diarist whose writings had been published in scores of religious periodicals and were admired by many. the illustration’s effacement of Brown’s authorial agency and its reduction of her to a supine object of white representation make it a fit visual metaphor for textual renderings of . . .

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