Its a long road to travel from Guntersville, Alabama to Keene, New Hampshire, and then from there to Muskogee, Oklahoma. That journey would involve over 2,600 miles using today’s interstate highway system. But for two Cherokee girls living in the 1830s, the road was much longer as they travelled primarily by stage coach and steam boat.
Lizzie and Amanda Fields were the daughters of Richard Fields, a successful Cherokee merchant, and his first wife, Lydia Shorey. Lizzie, the older sister, was born about 1822, and Amanda about 1826, both in Guntersville, Alabama, where the Tennessee River reaches its southernmost point. The girls had two younger brothers, William P. Fields, born about 1830, and Writ Fields, born about 1832.
About 1834, when Lizzie was 12 years old, her father made the decision to send the girls away to be educated in the town of Keene, New Hampshire. Some sources indicate the girls travelled together, while other say that Amanda went to Keene a year after Lizzie. The girls were placed in the home of Sally and Elijah Parker to be educated by Mary Morse Parker, daughter of Sally and Elijah. In a letter dated August 5, 1927, Gertrude Sheffield, the daughter of Mary Morse Parker, wrote to her cousin about how her mother came to be the teacher of the two Cherokee girls:
“The story of the two Indian girls is that at the time the Cherokee were ordered west of the Mississippi – one of the terrible wrongs to a peaceful and much civilized tribe – some of the leading men of the tribe came to Washington to plead their cause, and among them was Mr. Field, the father of Elizabeth and Amanda. While pleading for his people he told of their great desire for education. My mother heard of this and sent word that she would take a girl into grandmother’s family and give her her education. Elizabeth Field came. Mother and Uncle Horatio always spoke of her as “Queenly.” The following year her sister Amanda came. They said she was pretty and lively, almost kittenish in her playful ways.”
One can imagine that at the time, the girls’ father, Richard Fields, could foresee the difficulties ahead for the Cherokee and wished to spare his daughters the hardships associated with the increasing hostility towards native Americans. The Cherokee people valued education for their children and it was not uncommon for Cherokee families to send their children away to be educated if they could afford to do so. In addition, about this same time (prior to 1838) Lydia Fields, the mother of the two girls, died. All of these factors may have played a part in the decision to send the girls to New Hampshire.
The two girls were taught privately by Mary Morse Parker until 1837 when the Keene Academy was opened under the direction of Breed Batcheller, a graduate of Dartmouth College. Batcheller had two teaching assistants, one of whom was Mary M. Parker, who would have been about 19 years old at the time.
The girls seemed to have enjoyed their studies at the Keene Academy, particularly their Latin Class. In July of 1839, Lizzie wrote that her Latin Class was “certainly the most promising class in school...On returning home (to Guntersville) or on going to the Nation (Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma) I will have to talk Latin to the woods, who will understand me as well as I do myself.”
In addition to Latin and other academic subjects, the girls also studied literature, art and music at their school in New Hampshire. In February 1841, Lizzie wrote to Henry E. Parker, brother of Mary Morse Parker as follows:
“We young ladies devote our time principally to polite literature & the fine arts. Cowpers poems, Mrs. Adams Letters, Humphrey’s Travels and some others...Painting & music have occupied some of our attention. We have performed one or two pieces of most exquisite workmanship. I am sure you would be seized with an amusing fit of laughing at our skill in laying on colors. We promise to send you some specimens.”
William Cowper was an English poet and hymn writer who lived from 1731 to 1800. Mrs. Adams was most likely Abigail Adams, the wife of President John Adams. Herman Humphrey was the president of Amherst College, and wrote a two-volume work describing Great Britain, France and Belgium in 1835.
Part II of this story, which will be in Sunday's Phoenix, will relate the travels of the two girls from New Hampshire to the Cherokee Nation in Oklahoma.
Lawrence A. Brown is a resident of Rome, Georgia, and the author of a three-volume series entitled “The Letters of Henry Elijah Parker.” (Available on Amazon.com) Parker is Lawrence’s great-great-grandfather.