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The Creek Indians of Georgia

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Joined: 30 Oct 2008
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PostPosted: Mon 3 Nov - 10:48 (2008)    Post subject: The Creek Indians of Georgia Reply with quote

The Creek Indians of Georgia By Larry Worthy
Exclusively for Our Georgia History

At the dawn of the 16th century Europeans had barely reached the coast of the North American mainland. Spanish sailors heading north from Florida encountered a vast Indian culture living in a land they called Guale (Wah-li). These coastal Indians were the largest group of a tribe that covered much of the present-day Southeastern United States, The Creek.

Moundbuilder origins

Moundbuilders, the first great civilization in North America, arose 4,000 years before the Spanish set foot on the islands of coastal Georgia. From the oldest of these sites, Poverty Point in Louisiana, this great culture spread across two-thirds of the United States, following the Mississippi north to Minnesota, its tributaries, including the Ohio, east and west deep into the continent, and around the Florida peninsula into coastal Georgia.

By the time Spanish conquistadors worked inland in search of the wealth of a continent the Moundbuilder culture was in steep decline. Cahokia, Etowah and Ocmulgee, major cities of a dying culture, were no longer active sites. The remaining Moundbuilders were absorbed into the Woodland cultures which they dominated. With few exceptions in the state of Georgia, the Indians that deSoto met were not Moundbuilders, but these remnants of that tribe.

Spanish Missionaries

Spanish missionaries and their accompanying garrisons are interesting to study, but in fact this was a minor cultural development in relation to the Creek Indians. It is doubtful that there was ever more than 200 people in these missions and garrisons, and there physical location is a subject of intense debate. Evidence of long-term Spanish habitation exists in three places in Georgia, Genesis Point (site of Fort McAllister), Mount Yonah in northeast Georgia, and Rome (in northwest Georgia). There was a mission at the confluence of the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, one at the falls on the Chattahoochee and a number along the coast in Guale and the other fiefdoms.

In the late 1600's English traders found an interconnected Indian culture south of the Carolinas. Nomadic tribes wandered throughout the land, but remained centered in a group of villages along the Ocheesee Creek that were probably pre-Colombian in origin. The traders named them because their villages were near this creek. They were known to other Indians as the Muskogee, probably a Shawnee term who's meaning has been lost to time.

At the time of this first contact with the English traders there were four distinct tribes in what would become the Southeastern United States:

Of these the Creek were by far the largest, both in land and population. However, to view the Creek Indians as a single tribe, as the others were, is probably wrong. The term confederacy came into popular use to describe the relationship of these individual groups; Commonwealth might also be a good term. Generally, Creek life centered on a village, which had a substantial political structure to govern. Each village was related to, but politically independent of other nearby villages.

The largest tribe in the Creek world were the Muskogee (Muscogee). This culture lived and regularly hunted from the Tennessee River to to the St. Mary's, west to Alabama, . Along the southeast coast a tribe known as the Yuchi (Yuchee) were prevalent. The Hitchitee inhabited the northern half of the Florida peninsula. This tribe would evolve into the Seminoles, thanks to a policy of absorption. Throughout the Creek world a common language was spoken, in addition to tribe's native tongue. This common language, which was also spoken by the Choctaw and Chickasaw, was called the "trade language."

Arrival of the English

In the 1670's, Dr. Henry Woodward was chosen by the recently reorganized colony of South Carolina to befriend the Creek and turn them on the Spanish. It was the intent of the English settlers to drive the missionaries and their garrisons of seasoned Spanish regulars from the coast south of Charles Town, as well as those who had moved inland. DeSoto was not the only adventuresome soul to wander thought the backcounty. Juan Pardo, Tristan de Luna and others also explored deep into Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee.

By 1685 Woodward and the Creek had successfully eliminated all the Spanish missions along the coast and internally, including the Spanish mission at the confluence of the Flint River and the Chattahoochee. From this point onward, the Creek were in constant contact with the English, first with traders who wanted goods for coastal whites, then settlers who wanted land. It was an association the Creek would come to regret.

Over the next 15 years an uneasy peace existed between the white settlers of South Carolina and the Creek. In extreme northeast Georgia the Creek nemesis, the Cherokee had begun to move west in the mid-1400's, but this move was gradual until increased pressure from coastal settlers forced them further inland in the 1600's. Peace would occasionally break out on the Creek border with the Cherokee. 1702 brought Queen Anne's War to Georgia and the Creek learned about the benefits of taking sides. They aided the English settlers of South Carolina on a number of occasions, the most notable were:

Turning back a Spanish advance along the Flint River in 1702
Destroying the Apalachee Province (northern Florida) in January, 1704
Killing the members of a French diplomatic mission, also in 1704
As a result, in 1705, the Creek formally aligned with the South Carolina government. Protection was a major reason why the Carolina settlers wanted friendly Indians on their borders. Another was slaves. Creek warriors would sell captured enemies to South Carolina traders, eventually moving east to work the cotton and rice plantations along the coast. As intertribal conflict lessened the number of Indian slaves decreased. White men who had come to buy slaves simply took the Creek when no other Indians were available. By 1707 conditions worsened to the point that South Carolina took the unusual step of licensing these traders.

Yemassee Wars

Unfortunately, controlling the traders on the frontier did not turn out to be as easy as the South Carolina government had imagined. In 1715, after killing every trader they could find, the Creek Indians launched a broad attack across the Savannah River at settlers on South Carolina's frontier. No one had warned these settlers of the problems further inland, so they were caught completely off-guard. The Yemassee Wars had started.

The Creek were very successful at first. Then the settlers slowly gained the upper hand. The war ended when South Carolina militia joined with the Cherokee to drive the Creek away from the Savannah River. The Creek made an uneasy peace with the South Carolinians;war continued with the Cherokee for more than forty years. During this time that the Creek Confederacy reached its pinnacle; all groups of Creek Indians joined in the common battle under a common leader known as Old Brim (sometimes called Old Bream).

A New Colony

As Cherokee warmed to the advances of the South Carolina government the Creek began to side with both the French and the Spanish. They let the French build Fort Toulouse deep in Creek territory and swore allegiance to the Spanish crown. The English, unknown to the Creek or Cherokee, wanted the two nearby Indian tribes to keep fighting so that they would be too burdened to strike at the English colonies. For about 25 years this sufficed, until Georgia was formed. On May 21, 1733 the Creek officially gave General Oglethorpe permission to live on their land in the Treaty of Savannah. By this time the Creek capital was Coweta.

South Carolina wanted the colony of Georgia as protection. What they did not anticipate was competition. Suddenly the Carolina traders competed with the Georgia traders, French traders from Mobile and New Orleans and the occasional Spanish trader from Florida. The Creek were centered between the four and knew how to trade. They took complete advantage of their situation and over the next twenty years enjoyed a prosperity few Indians had known before that point.

The Cherokee Invade

In the north, the western movement of the Cherokee bothered the Creek. At first the Cherokee contained themselves to land near the Tugaloo River to which the Creek had never laid claim. Even the land further north in Tennessee only had fleeting Creek inhabitants. Now the Cherokee had pushed deep into Creek territory. The battle of Taliwa (1755, multiple spellings) determined the Creek-Cherokee border. After five successful attacks by the Creek warriors the Cherokee were nearly destroyed, but the teenage wife (known today as Nancy Hart) of a dead chief picked up a weapon and advanced on the Creek line. This time the Cherokee overran the Creek, driving them south of the Chattahoochee River, which became the new boundary in Georgia.

Taliwa would be the last major battle fought between the Cherokee and Creek. Afterwards the Cherokee settled to the north of the river, Creek to the south. In northeast Georgia a hard border was formed at the first ridge south of the river. Any Creek found north of this line could be killed. In the western part of Georgia the line was somewhat soft, mostly because the Cherokee did not have enough people to fill the area the Creek had ceded after the loss at Taliwa. A trade zone developed between the Chattahoochee River and Cedartown.

In 1757 the Creek signed the second Treaty of Savannah, which gave Georgia control of coastal land the Creek had given to Mary Musgrove. In 1759 a new superintendent of Southern Indians, Edmund Atkins, introduced himself to the Creek Nation, along with a small force of regulars. An October conference at Cusseta brought assurances of peace from the combined tribe.

Unfortunately, while the Creek were powerful in smaller groups, weren't all that powerful as a nation. Their existence as a confederacy meant that individual groups had significant say in their own destiny. The Upper Creek, under the leadership of the Great Mortor decided to side with their former enemies, the Cherokee, when they retaliated against English actions during the French and Indian War. South Carolinians, Virginia, and Georgia (then English colonies) defeated both the Cherokee and Creek and extracted a sizable secession of land as a result at the peace conference in Augusta in 1763. Among those who attended the conference were Edmund Atkins replacement, John Stuart and Georgia's royal governor, James Wright.

Mortor's success had most of the Creek confederacy behind him, even if they did end up losing the war in 1763. He and his chief rival , Emistesigo, settled their differences at an English brokered peace conference in 1765. Then disagreements with the Choctaws boiled over and the Creek began an extended battle with their neighbors to the west. During a battle Great Mortor was killed; his old foe, Emistesigo, became the leader of the Creek Nation. The battles with the Choctaw continued well into the American Revolution.

From 1763 to 1773 the settlers of Georgia moved inland to claim the territory the Creeks had ceded at Augusta in 1763. Internal strife in the colonies before the American Revolution meant slower westward movement by the settlers. Yet by 1773 Georgians were once again demainding lands in payment for debts run up by the Creek. This time the Cherokee and Creek shared claim to the land the Georgians wanted, so both had to be satisfied. Georgia "purchased" the land, although all they actually did was to forgive debt that the tribes had accrued.

The Revolution presented serious problems for the entire state of Georgia. With the Spanish to the south, French to the west and Cherokee and Creek on the frontier Georgia felt isolated and for good reason. It would have been easy for the Indians to overrun the still lightly populated state. During the opening days of the American Revolution loyalist Superintendent John Stuart and surveyor/commissary agent David Taitt tried to sway the Creek into the English camp but Emistesigo was unwilling to turn his back on the American colonies. He had a complete understanding of what was transpiring between America and England and knew the English could not and would not bring him the trade the Americans could. There was a division in the Creek Nation, with the Lower Creeks tending to side with the Americans. The Upper Creek had been heavily influenced by the Cherokee, whom the English won over to their side. On May 1st, 1776 representatives from the combined Creek Nation met with George Gauphin, an Irish trader and ardent American who spoke on behalf of the revolutionary governments of Georgia and South Carolina. Gauphin convinced the Creek to remain neutral in the fight between the Americans and their English oppressors.

To counter the negative effects of Augusta, Stuart appointed Alexander McGillivray as Taitt's assistant commissary. The move was brilliant. Creek had been unhappy with Taitt's attempts to eliminate liquor from the triibe; McGillivray was close to Chief Emistesigo (they were both from Little Tallissee); McGillivray was head of the powerful Wind Clan; and McGillivray was seething at the Americans for siezing his father's estate.

McGillivray asked for English assistance in ending the war with the Choctaw. In Pensacola on October 26, 1776, the long warring nations declared peace. The price the Creek had to pay for the treaty was to join the Cherokee in their battles on the frontiers of Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia. By the time the Creek force had been mounted, however, the Americans had retaliated against the Cherokee, driving Dragging Canoe and his people from their villages. To retaliate against the British agitators would be somewhat more complicated.

Delegations from Cusseta and Okfuskee visited Gauphin at his trading post a few miles south of present-day Louisville, Georgia. From Gauphintown, also known as Ogeechee Old Town the Creek chiefs continued on to Augusta and Charleston. Gauphin exhorted the chiefs to murder the English agents among them. David Taitt and John Stuart's assistant Alexander Cameron (a surveyor who worked with the Cherokee) were in Little Tallassee meeting with McGillivray when the warriors returned from Augusta. The Cussetas wasted no time trying to kill Taitt and Cameron, who barely escaped to Pensacola. McGillivray organized a peace conference with Stuart, Taitt and Cameron, in which the Creek apoligized for the actions of the Cussetas. The net result of Gauphin's botched attempt at influencing the Creek was increased raiding activity against the Georgians across their frontier with the Creek and consolidation of power by McGillivray.

During this time the English had Captain William McIntosh try to raise an army of Creek warriors. He was not very successful, only inspiring a handful of Hitichis to join the Spanish in St. Augustine. He did however, meet a Creek woman with whom he had a child, also known as William McIntosh.

1779 saw the English implement a "Southern Strategy" to defeat the Americans. General Augustine Prevost was to move north along the coast and capture Savannah with the aid of attacks along the frontier by both the Creek and Cherokee. Over the next three years the state of Georgia remained in English hands, with the exception of some bands of upcountry resistance. When General Anthony Wayne surrounded the English in Savannah, Emistesigo led a band of Creek in an attack to relieve the English troops. Wayne's troops turned back the Creek and killed Emistesigo.

With the death of Emistesigo, Alexander McGillivray became leader of the Creek Nation. One of the problems McGillivray faced was the division of his tribe along pro-American and pro-British lines. The pro-American faction, smaller of the two was led by the Tame King and the Fat King, while McGillivray represented the pro-British faction. On June 1, 1783 all British forces were ordered withdrawn from the United States.

British withdrawal meant one thing - McGillivray had no outside trade, and hence, no outside support. Trade, to the Creek, meant power (mostly in the form of weapons and ammunition). Then news came from Augusta that The Tame King and the Fat King had agreed to cede Creek land to the Americans. His old rivals had once again betrayed the Creek chief. Although McGillivray could do nothing against the chiefs, he did manage to exact a heavy toll of the chief's supporters.

Only the Spanish could offer any of the goods McGillivray needed. He signed a treaty with them on June 1, 1784, guaranteeing trade for the Creek and ensuring their protection.

Meanwhile, the American demands continued. Unsatisfied with the Creek land cession of 1783, commissioners for the United States (then organized as a confederacy), tried to negotiate another cession at Gauphinton in October, 1784. When the Creek failed to show up in sufficient numbers the commissioners left in disgust. However, Elijah Clarke was not as discriminating as the U. S. commissioners and he coerced the Creek into signing a treaty ceding the land from the Ocmulgee and Oconee River south to the St. Mary's. This treaty also validated the 1783 Treaty of Augusta.

On April 2, 1786 the Creeks declared war on Georgia and attacked settlements on a wide front. Americans wanted peace but were unwilling to give back Creek lands gotten at Augusta and Gauphinton. McGillivray's wide front included attacks as far north as the Cumberland River. The Creek chief refused to negotiate with the Georgians until they recognized the boundary of Creek and Georgia land to be that of the Augusta treaty of 1773, something the Georgians would not do. He then signed a treaty with the settlers in the Cumberland area while continuing to attack Georgia.

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