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BIOGRAPHY: Catherine Brown – born ca. 1800 – According to some historians, she is Alabama’s equivalent of Pocahontas

Catharine Brown was born about the year 1800. in a part of the country belonging to the Cherokee Indians, now called Wills-Valley,1 in the northeastern part of Alabama. It is between the Raccoon and Lookout mountains, twenty-five miles south-east of the Tennessee river.


David Brown, the brother of Catharine, said, that the name, by which the place is known among his countrymen, is Tsu-sau-ya-sah, or, the ruins of a great city: but, if such ruins ever existed, all traces of them have long since disappeared.

Catharine Brown’s family

The Indian name of Catharine’s father is Yau-nu-gung-yah-ski, which signified the drowned by a bear. He was one of the headmen of the Creek Path community. He is known among the whites by the name of John Brown. The Cherokee name of her mother is Tsa-luh: the whites call her Sarah Webber Brown.

Neither of Catharine’s parents understood the English language. They were about sixty years of age in 1834. Since the decease of the daughter, whose history and character are to form the subject of this memoir, they moved beyond the Mississippi river, to the Arkansas Territory, whither a part of the Cherokee nation of Indians have emigrated, within the last fifteen or twenty years.

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The Memoir Of Catherine Brown A Christian Indian Of The Cherokee Nation 1825

Mr. Brown is represented as possessing a mind more than commonly discerning; yet as having, when the missionaries first saw him, but few ideas on the subject of religion. He believed in a Supreme Being, the creator of the visible world, and that there is a state of rewards and punishments after the present life; and appeared conscious, that there were things implied in this short creed, of which he had no distinct apprehension; such as the character of the Supreme Being, the nature of the rewards and punishments, and the manner in which the one is to be obtained, and the other avoided. He seemed to have no notion of forgiveness of sin upon any terms. When told of these things, he said he had never heard of them before.2

Catharine’s mother’s religious knowledge probably did not exceed that of her husband. She was more attentive to neatness and order in the arrangement of her family, and more conversant with domestic duties than her countrywomen generally. But uneducated as were the parents of Catharine on the more important subjects, they belonged to the more intelligent class of their people: for until within a few years, the Cherokees had scarcely begun to feel an impulse towards civilization; and indeed, as a nation, were almost entirely destitute of the means of intellectual or moral culture.3

Moravian mission established

In 1801, a Moravian mission was established at what is now called Spring-Place, and one or two excellent men have, since that period, resided there but, their means having been limited, their influence could not be extensive. Very commendable exertions in support of a school among the Cherokees were also made, for a few years subsequent to 1803, by the Rev. Gideon Blackburn.


Early in the autumn of 1816, a missionary, sent by the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, made his appearance in a general Council of the Cherokees, and offered to establish schools among them. His offer was favorably received. After consultation, a principal chief took him by the hand and said: “You have appeared in our full council. We have listened to what you have said, and understand it. We are glad to see you. We wish to have the schools established, and hope they will be of great advantage to the nation.” This missionary was the Rev. Cyrus Kingsbury, who, after commencing the first establishment of the Board among the Cherokees, took up his residence with the Choctaws, was the chief agent in establishing the stations of Elliot and Mayhew, and is now the superintendent of the Choctaw mission.

Mission school established

The place selected for the first school was called Chick-a-mau-gah; but it subsequently received the name of Brainerd, in memory of David Brainerd, that devoted friend and benefactor of the American Indians, who stands pre-eminent among modern missionaries. Early in the following spring, Mr. Moody Hall and Mr. Loring S. Williams, with their wives, arrived as assistant missionaries, and, soon after their arrival, a school was opened under favorable prospects.


Information of these proceedings soon spread through the nation, and coming to the ears of Catharine, then living at the distance of a hundred miles, excited in her a desire to attend the school. By the age of seventeen, Catharine had learned to speak English by residing at the house of a Cherokee friend and could read in words of one syllable. She asked her parents to send her to the mission school, and they granted her request. On the 9th of July, 1817, she entered the missionary school at Brainerd near Chattanooga, Tennessee.

From her wealth and beauty, she had been indulged as the pride of her parents; but she was the most docile of all the missionary pupils. Her progress was wonderfully rapid. In three months she learned to read and write. This exceeded the progress of any one record, in this or any other country. She soon became serious, and then religious.  She was the first baptized by the missionaries of the board in January 1818. In June 1820, she began teaching a school at Creek-path, near her father’s house in present day Guntersville, Alabama. Creek Path Mission was established in March 1820 by Rev. Daniel S. Butrick and John Arch (Atsi).

Brought many to Christianity

Catharine showed the greatest zeal in the cause of enlightening her country-women. She brought many to Christianity. She was not contented with the measure of information she had acquired, but intended to push her studies into higher branches of knowledge, which she knew to exist; but while she was contemplating great things for herself and her nation, her health began to decline. In the fall of 1821, Catharine moved to the home of her brother, John Brown, Jr. to care for him until he died of tuberculosis on February 2, 1822. She then contracted the disease and moved to the home of a physician in Limestone County, Alabama.

In her sickness, she discovered the greatest resignation and the most exalted piety. She had made a deep impression on the honest hearts of her people, and they watched the progress of her disease with most poignant anxiety. She died July 18th, 1823, aged twenty-three, and was buried at Creek-path, by the side of her brother John, who had died the preceding year, having, through her instrumentality, embraced the Christian religion.

“She would have been, in the early ages of Christianity, ranked with saints, and martyrs; and at this time, deserves to be held in sweet remembrance. By her conversion, her parents became of the household of the faithful; and a mission was established at Creek-path, which has been productive of much good. Catharine Brown must be ranked with Pocahontas, the loveliest daughter of the wilderness; both forming the highest proof that the children of the forest have talents, and strong and noble affections, and only require instruction to rival those of the Anglo-Saxon blood.”4

1Little Wills Valley was named for Chief Little Wills, a Native American

2Female Biography: Containing Notices of Distinguished Women, in Different Nations and Ages, by Samuel Lorenzo Knapp, J. Carpenter, 1834

3Female Biography: Containing Notices of Distinguished Women, in Different Nations and Ages, by Samuel Lorenzo Knapp, J. Carpenter, 1834

4Female Biography: Containing Notices of Distinguished Women, in Different Nations and Ages, by Samuel Lorenzo Knapp, J. Carpenter, 1834

ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS Confrontation: Lost & Forgotten Stories is a collection of lost and forgotten stories that reveals why and how the confrontation between the Native American population and settlers developed into the Creek-Indian War as well as stories of the bravery and heroism of participants from both sides.

Some stores include:

  • Tecumseh Causes Earthquake
  • Terrified Settlers Abandon Farms
  • Survivor Stories From Fort Mims Massacre
  • Hillabee Massacre
  • Threat of Starvation Men Turn To Mutiny
  • Red Eagle After The War


  1. This is such an interesting bit if history. I grew up in northwest Alabama on a farm where we found many broken arrowheads & I would think about the people who was there before us.

  2. Catherine Brown is more the equivilant of Saint Kateri Tekakwitha of the Mohawks who became a Christian and died at the age of 24 from T.B. She wasn’t treated well by her relatives and tribesman as was Catherine Brown though after becoming a Christian.
    Love this story and had not heard of her before reading this! Thank you !

  3. Brown, in my heritage

    1. Do you know if it is true that she, Catharine Brown 1, was born 1819 had a dtr she named Tsa-luh after her mother, but was called by the whites Catharine Brown 2 after her and not her mother (known to whites as Sarah), around 1844? and that two more girls were born to each generation of the offspring of each Catharine Brown (1st born of dtr. Catharine 2 about 1869 in Tennessee land) and was each born given the same name of Tsa-luh, but also called by whites as Catherine Brown after each mother? Catherine Brown 3, b. 1903 possibly in W.V.? Does anyone know of any documentation to help prove or disprove this line of 3 generations of Tsa-luh/Catherine Browns? Then in 1925 the last Catharine Brown married a white man had a son and then a daughter 4 or 5 years after the boy? (Also the spelling seems to have gone back and forth from Catharine to Catherine back to Catharine to Katherine Brown, so it has been difficult to track.)

  4. As a child rambling In my father’s cotton/corn fields, I found many arrowheads and turquoise. Alas, when I moved, my collection was left behind, and I do not know who got it. My Dad always told me that it was an obvious Indian camp. Any article like the above stirs my memories…and, it make me wish I could relive this experience so that I could have put these items in possession of our Native Americans. There was a “Nisrah” in my family history (Cherokee), but she was up in NC/TN. Ironically, she married one John Brown and became Sarah.