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Did the Cherokee have more than one wife?

The Cherokee are one of the indigenous tribes native to North America with a rich history and culture. Many people are often curious about the customs, traditions, and beliefs of the Cherokee, including their approach to marriage. One of the most common questions asked is whether or not the Cherokee had more than one wife. In this blog post, we will delve into the history of marriage among the Cherokee people and explore whether or not polygamy was a common practice.

Marriage among the Cherokee

The Cherokee had a unique approach to marriage that was steeped in tradition and ceremony. In the past, marriages were often arranged by the parents, with the young couple having little say in the matter. The ceremony itself involved several different rituals, including a formal exchange of gifts between the families of the bride and groom, followed by the couple consuming food and drink together.

One of the most notable aspects of Cherokee marriage was the emphasis placed on women and their role in society. In Cherokee culture, women held a great deal of power and influence, and this extended to their role in marriage. Women were seen as the heads of households and held the right to own property and make decisions regarding their children’s education and upbringing.

Polygamy among the Cherokee

Before the 19th century, polygamy was common among the Cherokee, especially among elite men. This was due in part to the matrilineal nature of Cherokee culture, which meant that women controlled property such as their dwellings and their children were considered born into their mother’s clan, where they gained hereditary status. As a result, men who had multiple wives could increase their wealth and influence by gaining access to more property and resources.

However, it’s worth noting that polygamy was not a widespread practice among the Cherokee, and it was generally only practiced by a small percentage of men in positions of power. Most Cherokee marriages were monogamous, with husbands having only one wife.

Changes in Marriage Practices

In the 19th century, Cherokee marriage practices began to change as the tribe interacted more with European settlers. One of the most significant changes was the shift away from polygamy and towards a more monogamous approach to marriage. This was due in part to pressure from Christian missionaries who viewed polygamy as immoral and encouraged the Cherokee to adopt “modern” marriage practices.

Over time, the Cherokee themselves began to see the benefits of monogamous marriage, particularly in terms of social stability and familial harmony. Today, the vast majority of Cherokee marriages are monogamous, with polygamy being a rare and largely frowned upon practice.


In conclusion, while polygamy was a common practice among some Cherokee men in the past, it was by no means a widespread or universal practice. Most Cherokee marriages were and continue to be monogamous, with women holding a great deal of power and influence within their families and communities. As the Cherokee continue to evolve and adapt to changing cultural and societal norms, it’s likely that their approach to marriage will continue to evolve as well. However, the rich traditions and customs that have defined Cherokee marriage for centuries will undoubtedly remain a vital part of the tribe’s cultural heritage for generations to come.


Did Cherokees have multiple wives?

The Cherokee people are one of several indigenous tribes of the Southeastern United States. They had their own unique social customs and practices, including those related to marriage.

In the traditional Cherokee society, marriages were usually monogamous, meaning that a person would have only one spouse at a time. However, polygyny, which is the practice of having multiple wives, was permitted and occasionally practiced.

Polygynous marriages were typically reserved for men of high social status, such as chiefs and warriors. It was believed that having multiple wives would increase a man’s prestige and influence within his community. However, only a small percentage of Cherokee men practiced polygyny, and most marriages were monogamous.

In addition to polygyny, the Cherokee also allowed for divorce and remarriage. If a couple was unhappy in their marriage, they could separate and each seek an annulment in the manner prescribed by Cherokee customs. Once divorced, they were free to marry someone else.

Today, few modern Eastern Cherokee marriages conform to the traditional rules and customs of their ancestors. Monogamous marriages are the norm, and there is little to no acceptance of polygyny. However, it is still interesting to recognize and understand the cultural practices of the Cherokee people and how they evolved over time.

What were the marriage laws in the Cherokee?

Marriage was an essential component of Cherokee culture and was treated with great importance. In early Cherokee society, marriage was based on the principles of matrilineal descent and clan affiliation, with family lineage dictating who could marry whom. However, as the Cherokee began to interact more with European Americans, their marriage practices began to shift. By the early 1800s, the Cherokee had implemented new marriage laws that reflected these changes.

The first marriage law passed by the National Council and Committee in 1819 legalized marriage between white men and Cherokee women, but did not allow bigamy. This was a significant departure from traditional Cherokee marriage practices, which generally forbade intermarriage with outsiders. However, many Cherokee women saw marriage to white men as a source of protection and stability in changing times, and were willing to accept this change.

Along with legalizing marriage between Cherokee women and white men, the 1819 law also included provisions related to property and divorce. The law stated that the man could not dispose of the property of the Cherokee woman without her consent. This was a significant departure from earlier practice, where a husband would typically control all marital property. Additionally, if a husband abandoned his wife, she would retain all of her property.

Later marriage laws passed by the Cherokee added additional protections for women. For instance, a law passed in 1825 stated that a husband could not dispose of property without the consent of his wife. And in 1839, a law was passed stating that the Cherokee Nation would recognize the legal validity of any marriage that was entered into in accordance with the laws of the state in which it was performed.

Despite these changes, marriage remained a significant undertaking in Cherokee society. Marriages were often arranged by families, and involved elaborate ceremonies designed to bring the two families together. Couples were also expected to contribute to the good of the larger community through their marriage. And while marriage laws may have shifted over time, the central importance of marriage and family in Cherokee culture has remained a constant.

What is the Indian Princess Syndrome?

The Indian Princess Syndrome is a term used to describe a cultural appropriation phenomenon in which individuals try to falsely claim Native American heritage. This type of behavior is often seen as mimicking the traditional clothing, accessories, and customs of Native American cultures without any actual cultural ties. This is considered an extreme form of cultural appropriation, sometimes also referred to as ethnic fraud or race-shifting.

One of the most common justifications for this type of behavior is the claim that one has a Native American ancestor, typically a “Cherokee Princess.” This trope is a myth that has been perpetuated in popular culture and is completely untrue. In reality, there were no Cherokee princesses as royalty is not a part of Cherokee culture. Instead, individuals who claim to be Native American without any real connection to the culture are often referred to as “pretendians.”

The Indian Princess Syndrome has a significant impact on Indigenous communities, as it perpetuates harmful stereotypes and misunderstandings about Native American history. This type of behavior also erases the lived experiences of Indigenous people and perpetuates systemic racism.

It should be noted that cultural appropriation is not the same as cultural exchange. Cultural exchange involves the respectful sharing of culture between two groups on a mutual basis, whereas cultural appropriation involves taking elements of a culture without permission or acknowledgement. Appropriation is often done by individuals who hold power or privilege over those whose culture is being appropriated.

To combat the Indian Princess Syndrome and cultural appropriation in general, it is important to develop an understanding and appreciation for other cultures without disrespecting them. It is also essential to acknowledge the harm caused by appropriation and actively work towards making amends in order to build a more equitable society for all.