Charles Renatus Hicks (December 23, 1767 – January 20, 1827) was one of the most important Cherokee leaders in the early 19th century; together with James Vann and Major Ridge, he was one of a triumvirate of younger mixed-race chiefs urging the tribe to acculturate to European-American ways. He supported a Moravian mission school in Cherokee territory to educate the tribe's children. Long the second chief, in 1827 he succeeded to the office of Principal Chief when his predecessor Pathkiller died in office. Hicks died two weeks later.
Early life and education
He was born December 23, 1767 in the town of Tomotley near the Hiwassee River at its confluence with the Tennessee River in present-day eastern Tennessee. Hicks was the son of Nan-Ye-Hi, a half-blood Cherokee woman, and a white (probably Scots) trader named Nathan Hicks. At the time, both the Cherokee people and European traders thought that such strategic alliances benefited them. Among his younger siblings was his brother William Hicks. In 1827 after Charles' death, William was selected as interim Principal Chief.
As the Cherokee were a matrilineal culture, the children of Nan-Ye-Hi belonged to her Paint Clan. They grew up within the Nation and gained status from her clan, but the boys also learned English. This gave them advantages for dealing with the European Americans and advancing politically.
Nan-Ye-Hi and her brother Gunrod were the children of a Jennie (Oconostota) Taylor, Cherokee woman and Jacob (aka Johann) Conrad, a Swiss immigrant. Gunrod married a Cherokee woman Onai, and had several children: Hair Conrad, Rattlinggourd, Terrapin Head, Young Wolf, and Quatie.
Marriage and children
Charles Hicks married Nancy as his principal wife. She was the daughter of Chief Broom of Broomstown, located on the northeastern border of present-day Alabama, where the Cherokee had moved under pressure from the Creek and British. The village was later abandoned. (As a successful Cherokee man, Hicks would later take other wives, a traditional practice among his people.) Nancy Anna Felicitas Broom and Chief Charles Hicks had Elsie (1760 - 1826), Nathan Wolf 1795, Elijah 1797, Elizabeth (Betsy) 1797, Sarah Elizabeth 1798, Jesse Hicks 1801, Edward, and Leonard Looney 1804. Son, Elijah, married Margaret Ross, half sister of Chief John Ross. Son, Nathan, married Elsy (Alice) Shorey.
Bilingual, Hicks served as interpreter to the U.S. Indian Agent Return Jonathan Meigs, Sr. (1740-1823), who was agent for more than two decades to the Cherokee in Tennessee/western North Carolina, from 1801 to his death. Hicks also acted as treasurer for the Cherokee Nation.
The Creek, traditional enemies of the Cherokee, became divided over acculturation and land issues, resulting in the Creek War. It spilled over into the War of 1812 between the United States and Great Britain, as some of the Creek were allied with the British. Hicks fought with United States troops and southern militia under General Andrew Jackson against the Creek Red Sticks in the 1814 Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
Allied with the other former warriors James Vann and Major Ridge, who formed a triumvirate, Hicks became one of the most influential younger leaders in the Nation from the late eighteenth century after the Cherokee–American wars to just past the first quarter of the 19th century. They supported acculturation and adoption of some European-American ways.
After reading a book called Idea Fidei Fratrum, Hicks embraced Christianity and was baptized on April 20, 1813 by Moravian missionaries as Charles Renatus ("Born Again") Hicks. His wife was baptized the next day. As the Moravians recognized the Cherokee had a matrilineal society, they were glad to have converted a Cherokee mother, expecting her to influence her children.
Hicks was extremely well-read and acculturated, and had collected one of the largest personal libraries in North America at the time, public or private. In an 1826 letter to John Ross, whom he was grooming as a future Principal Chief, Charles Hicks recounted the history of the Cherokee tribe. He related events from his youth, including his encounters with the chiefs Attacullaculla and Oconostota, and the early European trader Cornelius Dougherty, as well as stories of traditions.
In 1817, Hicks was elected Second Principal Chief under Pathkiller. After the "revolt of the young chiefs" two years later, partly over land deals, Hicks became the de facto head of government, with Pathkiller serving as a figurehead. When Pathkiller died in January 1827, Hicks succeeded him as Principal Chief, the first with any European ancestry to serve in that position.
On January 20, 1827 he died, two weeks after assuming office. His younger brother William Abraham Hicks served as interim Principal Chief. John Ross, as President of the National Committee, and Major Ridge, as Speaker of the National Council, had more true political power. The tribe ended its traditional government and formed a constitutional republic. In 1828 it elected John Ross as the new Principal Chief. Popular with full-bloods, who outnumbered the mixed-race members by a three to one margin, Ross was repeatedly re-elected and served in this capacity until his death in 1867.
- Brown, John P. Old Frontiers: The Story of the Cherokee Indians from Earliest Times to the Date of Their Removal to the West, 1838 . (Kingsport, TN: Southern Publishers, 1938 / Arno Press Reprint, New York, 1971).
- Hicks, Charles R., Memoirs of Charles Renatus (United Bretherin (Moravian) Archives, Winston-Salem, NC).
- McClinton, Rowena. The Moravian Springplace Mission to the Cherokees, 1805-1821. (Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2007, 2 volumes).
- McClinton, Rowena Ruff. "Notable Persons in Cherokee History: Charles Hicks," Journal of Cherokee Studies 17 (1996): 16-27).
- Moulton, Gary E.(editor), The Papers of Chief John Ross,(Norman, OK, University Of Oklahoma Press, 1985), Vol. I.
- William G. McLoughlin|McLoughlin, William G., Cherokee Renascence in the New Republic. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1992).
- Wilkins, Thurman. Cherokee Tragedy: The Ridge Family and the Decimation of a People. (New York: Macmillan Company, 1970).
| Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation–East