Gaston: Worcester brought Christ's message to Cherokee at Brainerd Mission

Gaston: Worcester brought Christ's message to Cherokee at Brainerd Mission

September 2nd, 2018 by Kay Baker Gaston in Opinion Columns
Samuel Austin Worcester earned the name "The Messenger" after preaching at the Brainerd Mission.

Samuel Austin Worcester earned the name "The Messenger"...

Photo by Contributed Photo /Times Free Press.

Visitors touring the picturesque Brainerd Mission Cemetery will notice a handsome oblong monument bearing the name of Samuel Worcester, who died there on June 7, 1821. In 1845, however, his remains were removed to the Harmony Grove Cemetery in Salem, Massachusetts, where they were marked with a second headstone.

Born on Nov. 1, 1770 in Hollis, New Hampshire, Worcester graduated from Dartmouth College in 1795 and was licensed to preach in 1796. He served as pastor of the Fitchburg, Massachusetts, Congregational Church from 1797 to 1802, when he was forced to resign because of his staunch Calvinist views. The following year he became pastor of the Tabernacle Church in Salem, Massachusetts, and served until his death.

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Worcester came from a family of distinguished activists and clerics. His brother, Noah, was a pioneer of the peace movement. Two other brothers, Thomas and Leonard, were also clergymen. One of his 11 children, Samuel Melancthon Worcester (1801-1866), was a Harvard graduate who taught at Amherst College before becoming pastor of the same Tabernacle Church his father had served.

Samuel Worcester was one of nine commissioners appointed to a board that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts officially chartered on June 20, 1812, as the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM). Worcester was elected corresponding secretary.

The group authorized four fields of missionary activity: peoples of ancient civilizations, peoples of primitive cultures, peoples of the ancient Christian churches, and peoples of Islamic faith. The first missionaries sailed for Calcutta, India, in February of 1812, but after 1814 the ABCFM's efforts centered mainly on missions to the North American Indians. Worcester was traveling for his health when he died while visiting the Cherokee mission at Brainerd in East Tennessee.

On Jan. 19, 1798, his nephew Samuel Austin Worcester was born in Peacham, Vermont. His father, the Rev. Leonard Worcester, was a minister who also worked as a printer in town during the week. His tutor was Jeremiah Everts, a proponent of Indian rights and treasurer of the ABCFM. After graduating with honors from the University of Vermont, Samuel attended Andover Theological Seminary in Massachusetts. There he became close friends with Buck Oowatie, a Cherokee who had taken the name Elias Boudinot.

Worcester joined the ABCFM and requested assignment to Brainerd upon Boudinot's recommendation. Worchester began preaching there within days after arriving on Oct. 21, 1825, earning his Cherokee name "The Messenger." He also served as blacksmith, carpenter, translator and doctor.

About 1821, Sequoyah had invented a Cherokee syllabary. Boudinot asked Worcester to help establish a Cherokee newspaper at New Echota, the Cherokee capitol newly established near today's Calhoun, Georgia. The two worked together to raise funds necessary to build a printing office, buy the printing press and ink, and cast the type for the syllabary's unique characters. Worchester had a house built at New Echota for himself, his wife, Ann Orr, and their seven children and moved there in November 1827. The first edition of the Cherokee Phoenix rolled off the press on Feb. 21, 1828, enabling the eastern Cherokees and those who had already moved west to communicate in their own language. In the 1830s, Boudinot and principal Chief John Ross used the Phoenix to editorialize against the encroachment and harassment by white settlers in Georgia.

Georgia Gov. George Gilmer and the state legislature adopted a policy of forced Indian removal and began plans for the Land Lottery of 1832. Worcester and 11 other ministers signed a resolution protesting a law challenging the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation. Gilmer ordered the militia to arrest all the missionaries and sentenced them to prison on Sept. 16, 1832. In late 1832, Worcester v. Georgia was brought before the United States Supreme Court. The court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was independent and under the Treaty Clause of the Constitution, all dealings with the Cherokee fell under federal jurisdiction, but the State of Georgia continued to hold the ministers as prisoners.

Worcester was finally freed in March 1834. Realizing the decision of the courts would not be upheld, he set out for Arkansas, arriving on May 29, 1835. He moved to Park Hill, Cherokee Nation, Indian Territory on Dec. 2, 1836, to prepare for the removal called the "Trail of Tears." After signing the removal treaty, Boudinot joined Worchester in Park Hill, where a group of Cherokees assassinated him in 1839. In 1844 Worcester reestablished the Cherokee Phoenix. He died on April 20, 1859 and is buried in Park Hill.

Kay Baker Gaston is a regional historian and a former Chattanoogan. For more, visit

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