Throughout her career and political campaign, Elizabeth Warren has found victims everywhere she looked, including when she looked in the mirror and saw an alleged descendant of one of the most historically victimized groups, Native Americans.

In what may be the ultimate and cruelest irony, not only is it unlikely that Elizabeth Warren’s great-great-great grandmother was Cherokee, it turns out that Warren’s great-great-great grandfather was a member of a militia unit which participated in the round-up of the Cherokees in the prelude to the Trail of Tears.

The evidence resulted from a tip provided by a Legal Insurrection reader to a genealogical compilation of militia members who allegedly participated in the removal of the Cherokees from Georgia.  The list included the name Jonathan Crawford, who was the husband of O.C. Sarah Smith, the person the Warren campaign has identified as Warren’s great-great-great grandmother and allegedly Cherokee.

Since confirming this genealogical information was outside my comfort zone, I forwarded the information to author and genealogist Michael Patrick Leahy, who already had written about and investigated Warren’s genealogy.

Leahy reaches the conclusion, based on a variety of sources, that Jonathan Crawford was indeed a member of the militia which rounded up Cherokees in the prelude to the Trail of Tears.

Leahy lays out the evidence supporting his conclusion in a post at, Elizabeth Warren Ancestor Rounded Up Cherokees for Trail of Tears:

But the most stunning discovery about the life of O.C. Sarah Smith Crawford is that her husband, Ms. Warren’s great-great-great grandfather, was apparently a member of the Tennessee Militia who rounded up Cherokees from their family homes in the Southeastern United States and herded them into government-built stockades in what was then called Ross’s Landing (now Chattanooga), Tennessee—the point of origin for the horrific Trail of Tears, which began in January, 1837.

Why is this the ultimate and cruelest irony?

Who Warren’s great-great-great grandparents were or what they did should be irrelevant, except that Warren has incorporated “lore” about those victimized ancestors into her own personal, professional and, now, political narratives.

Recall the background.

In the mid-1980’s through the mid-1990’s Elizabeth Warren filled out biographical forms for the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) identifying herself as Native American.

That self-designation was based solely on Warren’s family “lore” not genealogical research, and resulted in Warren being included on a list of “Minority Law Professors” in the AALS annual directory.  That listing would have put Warren in a position to benefit from the desire of law schools to diversify their faculties.

Warren apparently did nothing else to follow up on her alleged heritage, such as seeking tribal membership or publicly identifying herself as Native American, even though she says her alleged Native American heritage was a frequent topic of family conversation.

When The Boston Herald discovered that Harvard Law School in 1996 was promoting Warren as Native American, Warren pleaded ignorance, and denied ever identifying as Native American in any professional capacity.

When law professor David Bernstein discovered the AALS annual directories, Warren then asserted that she listed herself that way in order to meet other Native Americans.  That explanation made no sense since the AALS annual directories only list the category “minority,” not which minority.  Warren also never has explained why she stopped listing herself as Native American in the AALS annual directory after joining Harvard Law.

Shortly after the controversy broke, the Warren campaign asserted that Warren’s great-great-great grandmother, O.C. Sarah Smith, may have been Cherokee based on an electronic index of a marriage license filled out by O.C. Sarah Smith’s son.  That would make Warren 1/32 Cherokee, a notion which has formed the basis for Warren’s defense of her AALS listing, even though Warren was not aware of the 1/32 Cherokee connection until recently.

But further scrutiny caused that 1/32 connection to be called into question, since none of the source documents confirmed that O.C. Sarah Smith was Cherokee.  According to Leahy, there is no credible evidence that O.C. Sarah Smith was Cherokee, and the best evidence is that O.C. Smith was at least partially of Swedish descent.

The entire episode has led to claims that Warren tried to game the system, to take flimsy family “lore” and spin it into minority status to help Warren in climbing the law school ladder all the way to Harvard Law School, which touted Warren’s Native American status at a time when it was under intense pressure to hire more minority law professors.  To this day Harvard Law says it has a single Native American law professor, although it will not identify if Warren is that person.

Where are we as of this writing?

Warren’s Native American self-narrative has not held up to scrutiny, so far.  Worse still, that narrative has revealed a cruel irony in the form of Warren’s great-great-great grandfather, who was a member of the militia which rounded up the Cherokees in the prelude to the Trail of Tears.


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