Monday, January 5, 2009

Wills Town Mission - A Cherokee Cemetery in Alabama

One of the most fascinating historic sites I've visited in a long, long time can be found on the outskirts of Fort Payne, Alabama.

Wills Town Mission, a Christian mission to the Cherokee Indians that operated from 1823 until the Trail of Tears in 1838, is marked today by a unique cemetery on 38th Street just south of its intersection with Godfrey Avenue in Fort Payne. First used by the Cherokee inhabitants of Wills Town, a major Native American village, the cemetery was later used by 19th century white settlers as well.

The Cherokee graves are marked by natural stones, some of which exhibit faded symbols and carvings, and the stumps of cedar trees. It is reported locally that the trees were cut years ago for building materials by a previous owner of the site. The cemetery is now preserved and marked by a historical marker and a stone monument.

Wills Town was a significant settlement among the Cherokee of Alabama prior to the Trail of Tears. It was in the vicinity that Sequoyah completed his development of the Cherokee alphabet in 1821, giving the Cherokee Nation the only written language of any Native American nation.

The Christian mission in the town converted many members of the tribe to Christianity and also provided education in English, etc., to the inhabitants of Wills Town. The people of the village, however, were among those forced west under the guns of soldiers on the long and deadly march remembered today as the Trail of Tears.

To learn more about Wills Town and its unique Cherokee cemetery, please visit

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