The Trail of Tears is a name given to the ethnic cleansing and forced relocation of Native American nations from southeastern parts of the United States following the Indian Removal Act of 1830 . The removal included many members of the following tribes who did not wish to assimilate Cherokee , Muscogee (Creek) , Seminole , Chickasaw , and Choctaw nations, among others in the United States, from their homelands to Indian Territory . The Native Americans who wished to stay behind and assimilate were allowed to stay and become citizens in their states. The phrase originated from a description of the removal of the Choctaw Nation in 1831.
Many Native Americans suffered from exposure, disease and starvation on the route to their destinations. Many died, including 2,000-6,000 of 16,542 relocated Cherokee. European Americans (both Christians and Jews), and African American freedmen and slaves also participated in the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Muscogee Creek and Seminole forced relocations.
In 1831, the Cherokee, Chickasaw , Choctaw, Muscogee Creek, and Seminole (sometimes collectively referred to as the Five Civilized Tribes ) were living as autonomous nations in what would be called the American Deep South . The process of cultural transformation (proposed by George Washington and Henry Knox ) was gaining momentum, especially among the Cherokee and Choctaw. Andrew Jackson continued and renewed the political and military effort for the removal of the Native Americans from these lands with the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830.
In 1831 the Choctaw were the first to be removed, and they became the model for all other removals. After the Choctaw, the Seminole were removed in 1832, the Creek in 1834, then the Chickasaw in 1837, and finally the Cherokee in 1838. After removal, some Native Americans remained in their ancient homelands - the Choctaw are found in Mississippi, the Seminole in Florida, the Creek in Alabama, and the Cherokee in North Carolina. A limited number of non-native Americans (including African-Americans - usually as slaves) also accompanied the Native American nations on the trek westward. By 1837, 46,000 Native Americans from these southeastern states had been removed from their homelands thereby opening 25 million acres (100,000 km) for predominantly white settlement.
The fixed boundaries of these autonomous tribal nations , comprising large areas of the United States, were subject to continual cession and annexation prior to 1830, in part due to pressure from squatters and the threat of military force in the newly declared U.S. territories —federally administered regions whose boundaries supervened upon the Native treaty claims. As these territories became U.S. states , state governments sought to dissolve the boundaries of the Indian nations within their borders, which were independent of state jurisdiction, and to expropriate the land therein. These pressures were magnified by U.S. population growth and the expansion of slavery in the South.
Trail of Tears - Painting by Robert Lindneux