The Indian Gentlemen of Choctaw Academy: Status and Sovereignty in Antebellum America


ACLS Fellowship Program


History and American Studies


Initiated by the Choctaw Nation in 1825, Choctaw Academy became the first multi-tribal boarding school in the United States. Richard Mentor Johnson, a lifelong politician who became Van Buren’s vice president, established the school on the grounds of his Kentucky plantation, which was home to Native boys and young men from 15 different nations until it closed in 1848. Set in a complex social world, this study looks at interactions between students, staff, enslaved people, and Johnson’s own mixed-race family to evaluate the discrepancy between racial ideology and everyday practice in antebellum America as well as cross-cultural notions of status. Most significantly, this study explores Native articulations of sovereignty during the crucial era of Indian Removal.