The 1843 Choctaw Almanac

An almanac is a publication with a calendar for the upcoming year, particularly in terms of weather, astronomy and meteorology. The most well-known example in our modern era is the Farmers Almanac.

Another famous example from colonial times is Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanack. First published on December 19, 1732 under his pseudonym of Richard Saunders, the book became one of the most popular publications in colonial America, selling an average of 10,000 copies a year. The yearly pamphlet was published continuously for 25 years, making Franklin a wealthy man.

As for contents of the almanac, nothing was off-limits for Franklin: recipes, trivia, advice, and proverbs about industry and frugality as well as a calendar and weather predictions. Franklin even included jokes and elaborate hoaxes, his most famous hoax being the prediction of the death of Titan Leeds, also a Philadelphia-based almanac publisher. Franklin kept up the hoax until Leed’s actual death five years later in 1838.

~~Many more interesting facts available at the Benjamin Franklin Historical Society website

As you can image, availability of printed documents was a rarity in the early days of the Indian Territory. The printed word was of special interest to the Cherokees. Before removal, the Rev. Samuel Austin Worcester (1798-1859) helped organize the “Cherokee Phoenix,” the first Cherokee newspaper in 1828 at New Echota, Georgia.

The Reverend followed the Cherokees to their new nation in Indian Territory and soon acquired the first printing press in Indian Territory, called the Washington Hand Press, which was shipped from the East specifically for Rev. Worcester. The Union Mission, where the printing press was first set up, and where the first printing was done, was located in the Cherokee Nation, a few miles southeast of current-day Pryor, within Mayes County, Oklahoma.

In 1843 there were 500 pupils attending schools in the Cherokee Nation, all needing primers and readers. In addition, the American Board of Com­missioners for Foreign Missions had similar needs for their own missions/schools built at Dwight, Fairfield, Mount Zion, and Park Hill. There at Park Hill, Dr. Worcester supervised the mission and operated the original printing press removed from Union Mission in 1837. On it he and his assistants published books and pamphlets in Cherokee, Creek, and Choctaw. In 1843 he reported the following publications from his press since it was first set up at Union in 1835 [as replicated in Grant Foreman’s book, The Five Civilized Tribes, pages 365-366]:

Calling it a literary curiosity, the editors of the Charleston Daily Courier (South Carolina) took a particular interest in the 1843 Choctaw almanac, which had been sent to the newspaper by one of the missionaries in hopes of garnering donations for their Choctaw school:

Chahta Almanak.—We have been favored, by an esteemed and reverend friend, with the privilege of ex­amining and perusing quite a literary curiosity, in the shape of a Choctaw Almanac, printed partly and chiefly in the Choctaw language and partly in English, possessing all the usual astronomical requisites of the Almanak, to­gether with statistical details, moral and economical les­sons, temperance songs and other practically useful or morally and intellectually instructive matter. The fol­lowing is the title page, in the midst of which is a neat vignette [of figures], grouping a globe, a map, a telescope on a three- legged stand, and a pile of folio volumes, with inkstand and pen resting upon it.

The rest of the article lists important figures in each of the three Choctaw districts. The names include legendary Choctaw figures such as Forbis LeFlore and brothers David and Israel Folsom. The fabled missionary men also make an appearance in the almanac: Kingsbury, Wright, Byington, Hotchkin, and Copeland.

The first young talented Choctaw teachers had emerged and are noted: Lovinia Pitchlynn (daughter of Chief Peter Pitchlynn and Rhoda Folsom) and Mrs. Tryphenia Wall Stewart (daughter of Noah Wall and Minerva Folsom). These young women, both age 19, both born the same year in 1824, were seen as paragons of godly virtue, grace, and beauty for the Choctaw Nation.

Tryphena had just married the year before in May 1842 to Charles F. Stewart, a well-liked merchant in Doaksville. Their first-born son Charles was born July 26, 1843. Six years later in 1849, her life was cut short by consumption ( or tuberculosis, as it is called today).

In 1846 Lovinia married Richard Harkins, son of District Chief George Harkins. As happened to many couples in that era, they lost three of their children at a tender young age. Then in late December 1858 on their lands near Doaksville, her husband Richard was ambushed and murdered by one of their slaves. A death of another young daughter followed five years later. Lovinia found that she could not cope with so much loss. Her vitality faded away and she succumbed to illness in February 1867 at age 42. Her 18-year-old daughter Madora followed her in death seven months later.

NOTE: Spelling of the names of the three Choctaw Districts in Indian Territory is the actual spelling used in the Charleston newspaper (and probably in the 1843 almanac). The spelling of these names has changed many times over the years.

YAHOKE, ikana! Thank you, friends. Much GRATITUDE for spending time on a Choctaw Journey with me.
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Sources:

  • Grant Foreman, The Five Civilized Tribes, (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1934), pages 365-366.
  • Comments on the 1843 Choctaw Almanac, The Charleston Daily Courier (Charleston, South Carolina), Friday, Feb 3, 1843, Page 2.
  • “Centenary of Printing in Oklahoma,” Chronicles of Oklahoma, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Sep 1935), page 251-252.
  • Find-A-Grave memorial for Rev. Samuel Austin Worcester.
  • See also “Primitive Textbook, First Work Printed in State,” The Daily Oklahoman (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma), Sunday, May 26, 1918, Page 30.
  • Granite Marker at Union Mission near Pryor, Oklahoma – “ERECTED IN 1935 BY OKLAHOMA LIBRARY ASSOCIATION. PHOTO BY THOMPSON STUDIO, PRYOR, OK.,” from the Thomas J. Harrison Collection, Photo 7930.1, courtesy of Research Division, Oklahoma Historical Society.

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