When Return Jonathan Meigs, known by the Cherokees as "White Path," was appointed agent to the tribe in 1801, he reported that the spinning wheel, loom, and plow were in general use. Farming, manufacturing, and livestock raising were the principal topics of conversation among the men and women of the Nation.1 A visitor to the Nation in 1802 reported that many of the Cherokees had large plantations worked by gangs of Negro slaves.2 The mixed-bloods usually adopted the ways of the white man with alacrity, but not with respect to land ownership. The Indian custom of holding land in common was one tribal practice they always defended assiduously. Common ownership was advantageous to the planter and herdsman.
Ample tillable acreage was available to the prospective planter. Land was free to any Cherokee citizen. All land was owned by the Nation but any citizen could gain exclusive use of unclaimed acreage if it was not within a quarter-mile of land used by a neighbor. All improvements subsequently made on the land became the personal property of the individual and could be sold or willed to any citizen of the Nation. There was no limit of acreage which could be used by an individual. If a planter became surrounded by his neighbors and was therefore unable to expand contiguously, he could start another farming operation at another location. Large numbers of Indian planters took full advantage of this generous land policy. Consequently, in 1835, 224 Cherokee families operated two farms, 77 operated three, 33 operated four, 17 operated five, 8 operated six, 1 operated seven, 1 operated nine, and 1 family operated a total of thirteen farms.3 Moreover, 93 percent of all Cherokee families operated at least one farm.4