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A Forbidden Cornwall Marriage

By Linus Barnes, SHS HVRHS Intern | Fall/Winter 2022

Nearly 150 years before the landmark case of Loving v. Virginia (1967), an interracial marriage between a Cherokee student and the daughter of a powerful white family divided the Northwest Corner of Connecticut.

Elias Boudinot, born in 1802 as ᎦᎴᎩᎾ ᎤᏩᏘ, grew up in Cherokee native land, known today as Calhoun, Georgia. Being the son of a Christian Cherokee father and a white mother, Elias was able to attend the local Moravian Mission School. Around this time, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Schools was starting construction of the Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, CT. The school’s mission was to ‘civilize,’ convert and educate Natives, African-Americans and Asians. With the help of Connecticut state assembly representative Benjamin Gold, the Foreign Mission School finished construction and opened its doors in 1817. Along with Boudinot, a few other Natives were selected to attend.

Harriet Ruggles Gold Boudinot and Elias Boudinot

Harriet Gold was born in 1805 to a wealthy and prominent Connecticut family. Benjamin Gold, her father, was one of the two Connecticut State Representatives in the general assembly. Harriet Gold was not allowed a proper education and instead spent her days doing chores around the house. Being the daughter of one of the founders of the Foreign Mission School, Harriet was constantly introduced to a mix of cultures and people at the student dinner parties hosted by her father. During one of these dinners, Harriet and Elias met.

Harriet and Elias’ friendship grew fast. At first, their friendship started with visits from Elias at the Gold household. Soon enough, they began writing letters to each other. Over the next few months, Harriet and Elias grew closer, eventually starting a forbidden romantic relationship. During his studies, however, Elias grew gravely ill. Not allowed proper medical attention by the local Cornwall doctors, Elias had to leave school and travel back to Cherokee land to get traditional medicine from the tribal healer. Despite the 1,000-mile distance between them, Harriet and Elias continued to write to each other. Elias eventually courted Harriet and began planning his proposal. After recovering somewhat from his illness, Elias returned to Cornwall and immediately asked Benjamin Gold for his blessing. Unfortunately, Benjamin Gold rejected even the thought of letting his white daughter marry a Native. After hearing the news, Harriet grew increasingly ill, most likely from depression after hearing about her father’s rejection and also probably from being around Elias who was still recovering. Harriet’s sickness only worsened, as she became bedridden and not allowed any visitors. Her parents, being devout Christians, soon began to wonder if God was punishing them for not allowing Elias to marry Harriet. Not wanting their daughter to die, Benjamin met with Elias and gave his blessing. With ‘divine intervention’ and help from the top doctors in Connecticut, Harriet grew healthy and began planning her wedding. But Benjamin’s blessing came
at a cost.

At first, Harriet’s parents kept their approval of marriage a secret so that a division wasn’t created in the town and in the family. However, it wasn’t until long after that the Golds met with Reverend Joseph Harvey of Goshen, CT, who disapproved of the marriage. He believed that marrying Elias would make Harriet impure, but still, he believed Harriet should have free will over who she married. He told them that he would not get in the way of marriage, but if they still continued with getting wed, he would have to publicly publish the banns of marriage between Elias and Harriet, which would most definitely create problems. Despite the warnings,
Elias and Harriet continued with the wedding planning. And, just as Reverend Harvey said, once the marriage
was made public, all hell broke loose.

Immediately, Harriet was denounced by nearly all of Cornwall and was banned from church. Although she wasn’t allowed to attend, on Sundays, every church-goer wore black sashes on their arms, an accessory that was typically only worn following the death of somebody. To Cornwall, Harriet and Elias were considered better off dead. The publicization even divided the Gold family. Stephen, Harriet’s older brother, denounced her as a sister and wrote to the papers saying, ‘They may yet do it; & if [Harriett] must die for an Indian or have him, I do say she had as well die, as become the cause of so much lasting evil as the marriage will occasion’ (The Heathen School, John Demos). Not only did Stephen attack Harriet in the papers, Stephen began to threaten Harriet and Elias to the point where he had to be separated from her. Stephen’s anger towards Harriet only darkened as soon he started leading mobs of angry Connecticut citizens toward the Gold’s home. These mobs carried muskets,
swords, clubs and torches. At one such rally, Stephen made Harriet watch as he burned and beat an effigy that resembled both Harriet and Elias. Still, Harriet was unpersuaded and wanted to continue with the marriage. And in the safety of the Gold’s home, on March 28, 1826, Harriet and Elias were married by an anonymous
priest. Stephen did not attend.

Fearing that the threats would turn real, Harriet and Elias fled Connecticut only a few days after their marriage and settled down in Cherokee land with Elias’ family. Shortly after the wedding, the Foreign Mission School was burned to the ground. Living in Cherokee land, Elias and Harriet started the Cherokee Phoenix, the first ever
Native-American Newspaper. With the help of Samuel Worcester, a white missionary and printer, the Cherokee Phoenix spread to every state and is still one of the oldest surviving newspapers in the United States today. Elias
and Harriet had six children. Their seventh baby was stillborn and, only a few months later in 1836, Harriet passed away. Elias did not survive much longer, since after becoming the leader of the Cherokee and signing off on the ‘Treaty of New Echota,’ which allowed President Andrew Jackson to buy the Cherokee
land, forcing the relocation of thousands of Natives, which was later referred to as the
‘Trail of Tears,’ Elias was murdered along with the other signers of the treaty. Despite
meeting unfortunate ends, Elias and Harriet’s legacy lives on in the Cherokee Phoenix. Elias was inducted into the Georgia Newspaper Hall of Fame in 1959. Harriet was not credited.

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