By: Kris Erskine
Although not a Christmas story, it is a true story that embodies the ideals of love and peace in the Christmas season. In an era where the differences between us are used as a wedge to divide us, a story of peace despite stark differences, love despite hate, a moment of redeeming love in the storm of violence, this is worth retelling.
In the wake of the American Revolution, Native Americans in the southeastern United States were forced into treaties with the U.S. government. The British provided a supply of weapons to native peoples who were willing to resist the westward march of white settlers. On the eve of the War of 1812 and the Creek Wars, violence against native peoples and white settlers was on the rise. Tecumseh’s visit to this region in 1811 further encouraged resistance against white settlement and made life dangerous for white settlers.
In this setting, probably around 1810, the Greenberry and Elizabeth Taylor family moved to the area of what is now Cherokee, Alabama, and seem to have quickly established friendly relations with a local band of Cherokee, including a chief whose young daughter Mrs. Taylor is said to have cured from sickness when Native remedies did not seem to help. The daughter lived and, according to oral tradition, the Cherokee chief befriended the Taylors, and later warned them when a band of Choctaw warriors were planning violence against settlers in the region. Violence against white families was not unusual and became more common during the Creek War (1813-1814). But instead of offering violence, the Cherokee offered the Taylors protection from the attacks. At a time when Native relations with whites were not good, both the Taylors and the Cherokee chose to view the other with compassion as human beings. Despite how different they were from each other, they did not cancel each other. Where hate could have won, love prevailed. The legacy of this story is tangibly alive and well here today in Athens resident Cherry Anne Ward.
When the Taylors asked the chief how they could repay his life-saving kindness, he is said to have asked only that the Taylor’s next child be named after the Cherokee people in honor of the relationship. That child was born in April 1812, and named Priscilla Cherokee Taylor. Every generation born in this lineage until 1898 named their first daughter Cherokee. This last daughter was Cherokee Jemison Rountree, but she passed away in 1934, having given birth to only one son, who himself was father to two sons. Seemingly the vow to name first-born daughters died.
But this vow has a second lineage.
Local Athens resident Cherry Anne Ward’s mother was named Cherokee, as was her mother’s paternal grandmother. That grandmother was Cherokee “Cherrie” Williamson, born in 1849, and was the first known daughter in this second lineage to bear this name. Cherry Anne Ward has continued the tradition. Her daughter and twenty-year-old granddaughter are both named Cherokee.
Cherry Anne is a long-time Athens resident, moving here in 1960 after marrying Bill Ward. She attended Athens College and became a teacher. “In those days,” Cherry Anne says, “women didn’t work. So, finding a nine-month job to match my kids’ nine-month school schedule was important.” Cherry Anne taught language arts at Athens Middle School for more than twenty-five years. “It was a privilege” she says, to work with those kids.
Long retired, Cherry Ann and Bill, husband of sixty-three years, go on bike rides every day. Until the pandemic in 2020, she volunteered with Learn-to-Read’s after school program for children. She also regularly has volunteered for the First Methodist Church where she has been a member since moving to Athens.
Cherry Ann Ward loves Athens and enjoys retirement. Cherry Ann advises readers to savor the sunset, the sunrise. To enjoy the full moon. She adds, “I enjoy our little cat’s love, and the leaves falling, and all of God’s creatures.”
This profile was taken from an oral history conducted with Mrs. Ward as part of The Stories Project, a project developed by Dr. Kris Erskine for his students, future history and social science teachers in and around Athens. The Stories Project seeks to preserve the stories of average folks in and around the Athens area. If you’d like to be interviewed and have your story preserved and available on the Athens State University digital archive, please go to AthensStateStory.com and make a request through our online contact form. We would love to hear from you.
By: Kris Erskine, Assistant Professor of Secondary History / Social Studies Education
Athens State University