Choctaw Indian Academy

Historical Marker #135 in Scott County notes the location of the Choctaw Indian Academy. Established in 1818, it was later sponsored by future U.S. Vice-President Richard M. Johnson.

At the end of the eighteenth and early-nineteenth century, as the population of Euro-American settlers increased and the threat of Native American attacks decreased, efforts were made to acculturate Indians who were willing to assimilate.

Before the Indian Removal Act of 1830, some tribes chose to remain in their home areas and adopted white ways of living. The Indians of the southeast, for instance, often chose to incorporate white forms of dress, marry white neighbors, and practice white agricultural methods. Some Native Americans even owned African-American slaves.

During this time, Kentuckian Richard M. Johnson was in a unique position to help acculturation projects. Johnson had gained fame for reputedly killing the great Shawnee warrior Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames during the War of 1812. Johnson used that fame to forward his already budding political career.

In 1818, the Baptist Mission Society of Kentucky started the Choctaw Indian Academy at Great Crossings, Kentucky, located near Georgetown and Johnson's home. The school soon failed, however, from a lack of funding. When some Choctaw Mississippi lands were ceded to the United States, the tribal leaders requested that some of the treaty money be used to fund educational initiatives. Therefore, they reached out to Johnson. The congressman, along with his brother-in-law, William Ward, the U.S. government agent for the Choctaw Nation in Mississippi, had the school restarted in 1821.

At the Kentucky school, Choctaw boys were taught to speak English, as well as other foundational subjects including writing and arithmetic. In addition to academic subjects, some practical courses were taught. The school gained in popularity during the 1820s and 1830s, and had a record enrollment of 188 in 1835. During this period, other tribes also sent students and financial support to the institution.

The end of the school had its roots in the Indian Removal Act of 1830. That legislative action led to the migration of thousands of Native Americans to west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory, now present-day Oklahoma. There, many of the migrating tribes—including the Choctaw—started their own reservation schools and attendance began to dwindle at Johnson's Kentucky school. After the Choctaws eliminated their financial support for the school it soon closed in 1842.