Under the Treaty of New Echota the United States established a Commission in 1836 to adjudicate the various claims for valuation of improvements, spoliation of personal property, claims by whites of unpaid debts and obligations of individual Cherokee and many other matters. That Commission, referred to as the 1st Board of Cherokee Commissioners was composed of Wilson Lumpkin & John Kennedy. Thomas Wilson was added as a third Commissioner. Later James Liddell replaced Wilson Lumpkin. A Committee of Cherokee was established to provide preliminary review of the claims and make recommendations to the Commission. That Committee was heavily weighted with members of the Treaty Party. Many Cherokee refused to participate with any of the U.S. Valuing Agents and Claims Agents holding out hope for a resolution that would allow them to remain in their homeland. As the inevitability of removal west became apparent, John Ross appointed individuals to go into the Removal Camps and take claims from Cherokee who had yet to receive satisfaction for their losses. Most of these claims were made between early August and late October 1838.
On August 15, 1838 John Ross wrote to General Winfield Scott
Sir, Amid my constant engagements attending the Cherokee emigration, I have presented to me, almost hourly, claims for improvements, altogether omitted, or erroneously valued by the valuing Agents of the United States, and also claims for spoliations. I am asked to act upon these, and to have them adjusted. Of the duties of my official station in reference to the Cherokees themselves I am duly informed, but of those imposed on me by the authorities of the United States under existing circumstances I am not. Since we have been collected, for emigration, under your direction, the Cherokee consider you the legitimate representative of the authority of the United States, so far as our present position to that government is concerned, and the agent with whom we have to do, in the adjustment of our affairs.
It is not known how, or if, these claims were specifically reviewed and considered. They may have become the impetus for the later work of the 2nd, 3rd and 4th Boards of Cherokee Commissioners. In addition to claims of Cherokee, there are a considerable number of claims made by members of the Creek Nation who were among the Cherokee in the Removal Camps.
This series is in excess of 3,600 claims found in seven volumes of bound claims and numerous loose claims papers. Many of the bound claim books became separated over the years with portions ending up in various collections and repositories. There are at least 101 claims missing from those extant portions. There may well be more claims which have not yet been uncovered. Six of the seven bound claims books have claims recorded in no apparent order (not by agent, geography, claims agent, chronology or type of claim). Clerks handwriting changes occur sometimes in the middle of claims.
Since most of the agents who took these claims were themselves Cherokee the spellings are very different from those used by U.S. appointed claims agents. It is suspected, even with the wide range of spellings in these claims, individuals and place names could be closer phonetically to actual Cherokee pronunciations. Handwriting of the scriveners and clerks is quite often rushed and names may be spelled multiple ways within the same claim.
Special thanks are extended to those institutions and collections who serve as custodians of these claims and for their enthusiastic partnership with the Trail of Tears Association and the National Park Service in making them more accessible to researchers.