John Ridge’s Assasination
Early in the morning of June 22, 1839, John Ridge was dragged from his bed to the yard outside and brutally assassinated in front of Sarah and their children. Sarah tried to rush to his aid, but she was held back by gunmen while her husband was stabbed twenty-nine times. Their son would later write that Sarah “had given him her heart in the days of her youth and beauty, left the home of her parents, and followed the husband of her choice to a wild and distant land.”
Following the assassination, Sarah wrote to the U.S. Secretary of War, John C. Spencer, stating that she feared “every night our sufferings would be terminated by assassination from the murderers of my husband.” Her farm was plundered daily by vengeful Cherokee, who slaughtered the cattle, chicken, and pigs and let their horses run loose through the corn fields, destroying much of the crop.
Sarah gathered up her family and fled to Fayetteville, Arkansas. She brought with her Sophia Sawyer, a missionary from New Hampshire whom the Ridges had supported as their children’s teacher. In Arkansas, Sophia started a new school for Sarah’s children and for the children of other Cherokee refugees. The school became the Fayetteville Female Seminary, enrolling both Cherokee and white girls.
Sarah eventually returned to the Indian Territory to fight, successfully, for her children’s inheritance. John Ridge had died without a will, and his sister and her husband attempted to disinherit his children on the grounds that their mother was white, not Cherokee. John’s estate was finally settled, with his children regaining their inheritance, in 1847.