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Ties That Bind: The Story of an Afro-Cherokee Family in Slavery and Freedom by Tiya Miles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The first time I read this book (before my Goodreads record keeping), I focused on the Shoe Boots/Doll story and skimmed everything else. Thus I missed a lot of important detail and perhaps the whole point. This time I focused on “everything else” and read the Shoe Boots/Doll story as the glue that holds it together. The Shoe Boots/Doll family is a perfect vehicle because of the many variations in relationship between Black and Cherokee they experience. Is Doll slave or wife or both? Three children are explicitly given freedom and tribal membership, but Doll isn’t–on paper though she seems to have lived as a member. Nor are the twins, born after Shoe Boots’ official request for his first three, explicitly given tribal membership. Thus is illustrated a difference between the official position defined by the white-Cherokee, northeastern educated men who set out to define the Cherokee Nation and the kinship-relationship mores that had existed before and continued to exist after the writing of the constitution. Add to the mix the state of Georgia illegally declaring sovereignty over the Cherokee Nation and annulling all decisions it had made, a move which put wife and children back into the slave category. And the complexity continued after removal and termination. One sees the encroaching ideas of European categories affecting much Cherokee thinking.

I suppose I was more prepared for complexity and nuance on second reading so didn’t get lost in the detail. Miles documents her sources, explains their limitations, explains her attempts to get beyond gaps. There is an important appendix on her historical method and the difficulties of telling histories of Blacks and women when the sources are mostly European and white men. Scholars will appreciate the original sources also shown in the appendices.

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