The new Colony of Georgia’s warm relations with the Creek Indians
By 1690 not a single Spanish mission remained on the coast of what would become the State of Georgia. A century earlier it had contained twice as many missions and mission Indians as the entire 800+ mile long coast of California would ever have. The Spanish had been driven out by a combination of relentless attacks by the Muskogean provinces of the interior and the high death rate of the mission Indians due to European diseases.
After almost driving the English out of South Carolina in 1715, the members of the Yamasee Confederacy suffered catastrophic losses when the English and their Cherokee allies counterattacked. Those few Yamassee who were not killed in battle or enslaved, fled to the Spanish province of La Florida. Member towns of the Yamasee’s erstwhile ally, the People of One Fire (Creek Confederacy) quickly founded colony towns in the region abandoned by the Spanish and their ethnic kin, the Yamassee. Bitter enemy of the Spanish since the mid-1500s, the People of One Fire formed a comfortable barrier against Spanish military activities for the South Carolina colony. South Carolina defined the southern English frontier by building a fort at the mouth of the Altamaha River near what is now Darien, GA.
In 1732 the political terrain of the Lower Southeast became much more complex with the founding of the City of Savannah, 16 miles up from the mouth of the Savannah River. It was to be the capital of the new colony of Georgia. South Carolina no longer owned the coast from the Savannah River down to the Florida frontier.
The leader of the Georgia Colony, General James Edward Oglethorpe, knew that it was absolutely critical that his government maintain good relations with the indigenous peoples around Savannah. It would be another 15 years before anyone called them the Creek Indians. Then they were known by their individual provinces, such as the Yamacraw, Tamatli, the Koweta, the Ochesee, the Okonee, the Tallassee, the Taskekee, and the Sawakee.
There was a Yamacraw village directly adjacent to the site of Savannah. The small ethnic group welcomed the English settlement as protection against its enemies. Its leader, Mikko Tamachiki (House of Tama~Tomochichi in English) and General Oglethorpe quickly became close friends.
Unlike the situation with all the other indigenous ethnic groups up the Atlantic Coast that the English had encountered, the people soon to be known as Creeks had an ancient tradition of living in towns, having formal governments with full time bureaucrats, and a written language. One of the first gifts the Muskogeans presented to General Oglethorpe was a white buffalo skin with the written history of their people on it. The red and white letters were capable of transmitting complex thoughts and grammar. The translation of the text takes up several pages of a book. Unfortunately, the English Colonial Office misplaced the original skin many decades ago.
Once the Muskogeans and the English knew each others language, there was no problem with miscommunication due to cultural barriers, as was a chronic problem when the Crown negotiated with the Cherokees. The People of One Fire even had professional architects and town planners called talliya, who were impressed that General Oglethorpe had so closely copied their towns in the planning of Savannah.
As soon as feasible, General Oglethorpe met with the leaders of the People of One Fire at their capital at Indian Springs, about 20 miles north of modern day Macon, GA. Apparently, the council was also attended by the kin of Georgia Indians, who were trading partners of the French, and still at war with the Cherokees. Their villages were located in what is now northern Alabama. Oglethorpe hoped to lure all of these sophisticated Native peoples into the fold of the British Empire by providing superior trade goods, military support and fairer treatment.
If that goal was accomplished then the future of both the French and Spanish colonies in the Southeast looked very grim. The combined population of all “Creek Indians” was far greater than any other Native ethnic group in North America. Remember it was just three of the 24 provinces of the Creeks that were making life so miserable for the Cherokees in North Carolina. The other 21 provinces never fought the Cherokees except during the American Revolution, and generally remained on good terms with them.
General Oglethorpe was determined that his colonists would not blatantly steal the land of the Muskogean farmers as the Carolinians had done. The Carolinians had lost an opportunity to form a partnership with the advanced societies in their midst, through their arrogance and greed. The growth of the colony was inhibited for three decades because of conflicts with the Native peoples, and the abominable institution of slavery. Oglethorpe also banned all forms of slavery and serfdom – including both Native Americans and Africans.
Twice, Georgia’s Creek Indian allies played substantial roles in the defeat of Spanish forces that were invading the colony. The victories pushed the Spanish frontier southward to roughly the Florida State Line today. The Carolina colonies used the Cherokees as mercenaries, who went into battle alone against Britain’s European and Native enemies. However, because of the close relationship between the Creeks and the leaders in Savannah, the Creeks, Redcoats and militia went into battle together, sometimes even fighting the Spaniards side by side. The Georgia Patriot Militia even adopted Creek military clothing during the American Revolution.
Conflicting claims of colonial governments
There was still great confusion as to which European or colonial government owned what land in the Lower Southeast. Spain had a legitimate claim to all of Georgia, South Carolina and western North Carolina. On the official maps of Europe (outside of Great Britain) Spain still claimed all of the drainage area of the Chattahoochee River in Georgia up to its source near the Nacoochee Valley. Spaniards had mined and smelted gold in the Nacoochee Valley up until around 1700 when their colony was destroyed by the Cherokee allies of the English.
The first Spanish colony in what is now the United States was at or near Sapelo Island, GA in 1526. Spain had thoroughly explored the region in the 1500s and formerly claimed it for their king. In 1565 Spain began developing a chain of missions and forts along the coast of South Carolina, Georgia and northern Florida. During the 1600s covert Spanish mining colonies had been established in the mountains of Georgia, and North Carolina. By all the laws of Europe, English had stolen Georgia from Spain. The lawyers of the indigenous peoples of this region were not consulted on this matter! (chuckle)
The French claimed all of North America, north of Mexico and west of the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, because their people had been first to explore the Mississippi River Basin. French engineers and marines even journeyed up the rivers of the Georgia and North Carolina mountains to thoroughly map Native villages and physical features – at a time when the English in Charleston did not have a clue as to what lay beyond the mountains.
General Oglethorpe understood that his charter from King George granted the new colony all of the lands north to the headwaters of the Savannah River and west to the Mississippi River. Of course most of this land was claimed and occupied by the French in 1732. Furthermore, the Colony of South Carolina understood that the new Colony of Georgia only extended about 100 miles north of the mouth of the Savannah River – or just below what is now Augusta, GA. All of Georgia where is now located the cities of Atlanta, Augusta, Macon, and Columbus was shown as being in South Carolina on South Carolina sponsored maps and in Georgia, on Georgia sponsored maps.
The bickering between the two colonies concerning the correct northern boundary of Georgia continued for over three decades. Settlers from South Carolina continued to pay taxes to South Carolina when they crossed the Savannah River. Settlers from Georgia assumed that they were in Georgia when they migrated northward. All of that disputed region was designated as a single county, Wilkes County, by the Georgia colonial government, whereas South Carolina made sections of the region parts of several counties on the east side of the Savannah river.
What particularly concerned South Carolina leaders was Georgia’s cozy relationship with what was now called the Creek Indians. Shortly after their first meeting with Oglethorpe, the leaders of the People of One Fire had moved their capital to Koweta on the Chattahoochee River in what is now west-central Georgia. The Koweta branch of the Creeks also occupied a huge chunk of the North Carolina Mountains, south of Asheville and east of Franklin, NC. It was obvious that the Georgia Creeks intended to bring their kin, who were allies of the French, into the Georgia fold, by placing the capital only a few miles from French territory.
Perhaps it is difficult today for readers to understand the times, but in that era, each colony viewed itself as a semi-sovereign state in direct competition with its neighbors. An alliance between the Colony of Georgia and all of the Creek, Alabama and Koasati towns in the Lower Southeast would instantly make the fledgling colony the heavyweight on the block. The alliance would make Georgia’s claims to what is now northern Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi a fait accompli. A united Creek Tribe could easily exterminate South and North Carolina’s favorites, the Cherokees. North Carolina feared that the Creeks would then move northward and take all of what is now western North Carolina and western Tennessee. The westward growth of both Carolina’s would be blocked forever.
In the next article, we will see how the South Carolina colonial government used the Overhills Cherokees in what is now eastern Tennessee to further its territorial ambitions, while making the British Crown think that South Carolina was doing its part to serve Mother England. The founding of New Echota occurred 70 years later as a direct result of South Carolina’s scheme.