© 2024 Blue Ridge Public Radio
Blue Ridge Mountains banner background
Your source for information and inspiration in Western North Carolina.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Women's History Trail Celebrates Cherokee Woman - And Her Legal Win

Courtesy of Women's History Trail
Mary Polanski, co-leader of the Women's History Trail, presents the story of Na'Ha 'Rebecca' Morris at the dedication of her plaque at the Nikwasi Mound.

The Women’s History Trail in Franklin continues to uncover new stories, as it celebrates the history of Western North Carolina. 

Mary Polanski, one of the co-leaders of the Women’s History Trail in Franklin, sits at a picnic table along the Little Tennessee River. 

“August is upon us here at the Little Tennessee River and East Franklin. And we’re in the park by the river and the mound is near us. And the beautiful land around the river is summery looking and it’s a little breezy out,” said Polanski.

Polanski says she can imagine Na’Ha ‘Rebecca’ Morris working on her 640 acres here in the 1800s.

“Summertime I think about them harvesting corn and squash. And they had apples. The kind of things that we see still going here in Macon County,” said Polanski.

Morris is the most recent addition to the Women’s History Trail. Last week, a plaque in her honor was erected at the Nikwasi Mound. Morris was a Cherokee woman who married a white Baptist minister named Gideon Morris. Because she was a land owner, Rebecca was given a “reservation” as part of a treaty which ceded thousands of acres from the Cherokee to the United States in 1819.

Credit Courtesy of Women's History Trail
The plaque at the Nikwasi Mound was dedicated on July 31st.

But there was a loophole. If there wasn’t a home on the land, then it was taken from the family. So General Thomas Love ordered the Morris home burned by his son Captain Robert Love.

“[It] immediately reverted [to the U.S. government] and they moved uptown in Franklin. But Rebecca sued the federal government and Gideon backed her. And he had that ability to go into the court system, but they stood the course with that,” said Polanski.

They won $3,000 from the courts – a big sum at that time - and remained prominent members of the region. Rebecca would one day be the inspiration for a character in the first novel written about North Carolina by a North Carolinian.

Morris will be featured on the 7-foot-tall Women’s History Trail monument, along with two other women whose lives were intertwined with hers in early Macon County: Timoxena Siler Sloan, a white woman and Salley, a Black woman who was enslaved.

The group hopes to have the monument erected around this time next year.   

Credit Courtesy of Wesley Wofford
The Women's History Trail sculpture is already in progress. The trail has funded about half of their goal for the $400,000 cost of the monument.

Rebecca Morris’ plaque and the monument are both part of Barbara McRae’s legacy. McRae was one of the co-leaders of the project who passed away in March. She did much of the original research about the women featured on the Women’s History Trail.

“We will keep accurate research going on these women's lives in this area,” said Polanski.

Polanski says the team is working on a research library of McRae’s writings and research to make it accessible for those who want to study and continue this important work.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
Related Content