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The Creek War of 1813 and 1814|
Chapter 2: Causes of the Creek War
by Halbert, H. S. and Ball, T. H.
|The part of Alabama, with which, mainly, this work has to do, has had a peculiar history and also some peculiar inhabitants. It may be well to rehearse briefly this history.
Every well informed American knows that Spain at first claimed and afterwards held Florida by right of discovery," and its northern boundary was undefined; that Georgia, as the last of the thirteen colonies, was settled by the English in 1733; and that the French came down the Mississippi as early as 168~, and claimed from the Great Lakes to the Gulf In 1763 France ceded to Great Britain nearly all her claims east of the Mississippi and Spain ceded Florida to Great Britain.* [* The year 1763, the young reader will remember, marked the close of the French and Indian war by the treaty of Paris.] The English divided Florida into two provinces, calling one East and the other West Florida. The latter extended as far north as latitude 320 28', which was the southern boundary of the English province called Illinois. As early as 1700-1699--the French commencing settlements on Mobile Bay, claimed what is now Alabama, and they held it for sixty-four years. They made some settlements up the Mobile and Tensaw rivers. In 1777 Anglo-Saxon or American settlements commenced along these rivers and up the Tombigbee. In 1783 West Florida went again into the possession of Spain, and the Spanish officials did not retire south of latitude 310 until 1799. During the War of the Revolution, and so long as Spanish rule continued, this river region attracted settlers from the Carolinas who were not satisfied with American independence. But after 1800, following the royalists or tories, came also the loyal and true American pioneers. The flags of three nations therefore, of France, of England, and of Spain, had waved over the waters of these rivers before the stars and stripes, in 1799 were here unfurled.
Before proceeding further in the history we may look at some of the peculiar inhabitants.
Of this whole south-eastern portion of the country a characteristic feature was, in the latter part of the eighteenth century, the residence of white traders in every large Indian town, and at points well adapted for commerce and for intrigue. At Fort Toulouse on the Coosa river, established by the French in 1714, Captain Marchand as at one time commander. He was killed there in 1722. He had taken as a wife a Muscogee or Creek maiden of the Clan of the Wind, called the most powerful clan of the Creek nation. He had a beautiful daughter called Sehoy Marchand.
There came from a wealthy home in Scotland a youth of sixteen to see the wonders of this land. His name was Lachlan McGillivray. He landed in Carolina, joined the Indian traders about 1735, saw at length the young Sehoy Marchand, "cheerful in countenance, bewitching in looks, and graceful in form," then herself about sixteen years of age, married her, some say about 1745, when he had gained some property, spent nearly fifty years as Indian trader and Georgia royalist in the American wilds, left his Indian children and his plantations, when the British left Savannah, about 1782, and returned to his native land, taking with him "a vast amount of money and movable effects." But of his Indian children, part Indian, part Scotch, part French, one, Alexander McGillivray, became noted, wealthy, and powerful. He was well educated at Charleston. He returned to the Indian country, took control of the Creek nation, received from the British the rank and pay of a British colonel in the War of the Revolution, in 1884 went to Pensacola and made a treaty with Spain as being "Emperor" of the Creeks and Seminoles, in 1790 at New York made a treaty with the American government receiving the rank of brigadier general with a salary of twelve hundred dollars a year, and afterwards was appointed by Spain Superintendent-General of the Creek nation with a salary of two thousand dollars a year which was increased in July, 1792, to thirty-five hundred. He was at the same time a member of a wealthy commercial house. He died in Pensacola February 17, 1793. One of his sisters, the beautiful and talented Sophia McGillivray, married Benjamin Durant, who was of Huguenot descent, who came from South Carolina and as early as 1786 was settled on the Alabama River. Another Indian trader, Charles Weatherford, some say from Scotland, some say from England, married a half sister of Alexander McGillivray, the daughter of a chief of pure Indian blood, who had been formerly married to Colonel Tate, at one time a British officer at Fort Toulouse. We find here therefore the names of Tate, Durant, Weatherford, and McGillivray, as members of connected families of mixed blood, talented, wealthy, influential, with whom, as individuals, in the Creek-War history we shall become further acquainted. A number of other noted border men there were who need not here be named. But one more name should not be omitted.
General Le Clerc Milfort, a well educated Frenchman, was among the Muscogees from 1776 to 1796, and he also married a sister of Alexander McGillivray, who was sometimes called Colonel and in later life General McGillivray. Milfort was for some time a noted war chief among these Indians. He returned to France and published at Paris in 1802 a work known as "Gen. Milfort's Creek Indians." It does not appear that he left among the Indians any descendants
Mention has already been made of the settlement of this part of the early West Florida, which became a part of the Mississippi Territory as that was organized in 1798 as far south as the thirty-first parallel of north latitude and extending north, as has been stated, to latitude 32"28'.* [* Or from the mouth of the Yazoo Rivet due east to the Chatahoochee, Spanish, and British royalists had all become in some sort, Americans.] Spanish and British plantations had been along these rivers where indigo was largely cultivated, Spanish grants of land had been made to settlers, and French, Spanish, and British royalists had all become, in some sort, Americans.
In 1799, May 5th, Lieutenant McLeary, for the United States, took possession of the old Fort St. Stephens on the Tombigbee River, the Spanish garrison marching out and descending the river below latitude 31 (the boundary line, this parallel, then having been but recently surveyed. In July of that year Fort Stoddart* [* Written at first Stoddert.] was established, three miles below the union of the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers, five by water, and about six above the Spanish line. Here was built a stockade with one bastion. already, in Spanish times, quite a settlement had been made on Lake Tensaw, just east of the Alabama and the Cut Off and Nannahubba Island, largely by tories, where was opened "the first American school" in what became Alabama, John Pierce teacher, probably in 1799. Says Pickett: "There the high-blood descendants of Lachlan McGillivray--the Taits, Weatherfords, and Durants--the aristocratic Linders, the wealthy Mims, and the children of many others first learned to read. The pupils were strangely mixed in blood, and their color was of every hue."* [** Captain John Linder was a native of Switzerland. He had been in Charleston as a British surveyor. He was aided by General McGillivray to settle with his family and a large number of colored servants at Tensaw Lake in the time of the Revolution.]
These early white settlements, including those of mixed blood, were on lands which the Indians had ceded to the British and Spanish authorities, and which, when Washington county was formed in June, 1800, belonged to the United States. Says Judge Meek: "The various treaties of the French, British, and Spanish with the Indians made this region the resort of the first emigrants. The experiences of this backwoods life, for more than twenty years, were quite as singular and wonderful as those of Boone and Kenton in Kentucky, or Sevier and Robertson in Tennessee."
These settlements, taking Judge Meek's quotation from the American State Papers, were "thinly scattered along the western banks of the Mobile and Tombigbee for more than seventy miles, and extending nearly seventy-five miles upon the eastern borders of the Mobile and Alabama." For some time there was no actual civil government; there were no magistrates, no ministers, no marriage ceremonies. The young people were accustomed to marry themselves, that is they paired off, like birds, and lived together as husband and wife. Instead of weddings they had that were called pairings.
The reader may begin to think that the rehearsal of the history of this region with the notices of the peculiar inhabitants is not very brief; but surely the young reader, at least, will not object to this note, in which we will take a glance at a home where a very different scene will appear by and by. I quote:-- (The authority is Pickett, but not his words.)
"An instance is recorded of one couple who observed a little more form than the others. It was Christmas night of 1800. Daniel Johnson and Miss Elizabeth Linder, at Lake Tensaw, were acknowledged lovers. He was poor and she an heiress, so her parents objected, even in those wilds, to the 'pairing.' A large party were that night assembled at the house of Samuel Mims, and among these were the two lovers, enjoying the dance, the music, the festivities. During the evening a few younger people, Johnson and Miss Linder among them, secretly left the house, embarked on board of some canoes, paddled down the lake and down the Alabama, and arrived at Fort Stoddart an hour before the dawn of day. Captain Shaumburg, a merry-hearted German, in command of the fort was called upon to perform the marriage ceremony. In vain he declared his ignorance of such ceremonies and his want of authority. He was told that he was placed there by the Federal Government to protect the people and to regulate their affairs, and that this little affair needed his sanction.
In 1801 the inhabitants were estimated at seven hundred and fifty, (five hundred being whites), in these river settlements. In 1802 a trading house was established at St. Stephens. There were American settlers now between the rivers, and new ones on the west, from Georgia and the Carolinas, from Tennessee and Kentucky.* [* By a supplementary act of Congress in 1804 there was added to the Mississippi Territory all the "tract of country" south of the State of Tennessee between Georgia on the east and Louisiana on the west. From Mississippi Statutes in the library of Colonel J. W. Portis of Suggsville, Clarke county, Alabama.] Settlers came in rapidly until 1812, when it became evident that trouble with the Indians was near. In 1810 the population of Washington county was, whites 733, and blacks 517. Of Baldwin, formed in December, 1809, the population was, whites 667, and blacks 760. In the north, bordering on Tennessee, there was then one county only, Madison. In December of 1812 Clarke county was formed by act of the territorial legislature, being the fourth county in what became Alabama. It may readily be seen that these river settlements were well called "completely insulated." South of them, between latitude 310% and the Bay, between the Perdido River and the Mississippi, were the Spaniards; on the east, between them and Georgia, were the Creeks; on the west, between them and the Natchez and the Yazoo settlements, were the Choctaws; and on the north were the Chickasaws and Creeks between them and the nearest settlements in the bend of the Tennessee River. The reader will see therefore why this history is largely of the Creek War in South Alabama, although no Alabama state or territory existed then; for in what became South Alabama, then a part of the large Mississippi Territory, were then living the white settlers, about two thousand in number, with nearly two thousand blacks, who were deeply interested in this war, to whom it was indeed a matter of life or death.
"At length the captain yielded to their solicitations, and having the two lovers placed before him proclaimed: 'I, Captain Shaumburg, of the second regiment of the United States army, and commandant of Fort Stoddart, do hereby pronounce you man and wife. Go home, behave yourselves; multiply, and replenish the Tensaw country.' They re-entered their canoes, returned to the Tensaw Boat Yard, and the whole settlement pronounced them to be 'the best married people they had known in a long time'".
And now we can more intelligently and with larger interest, having looked at some of these inhabitants, examine the CAUSES of this Creek War. It was considered at first, a war upon the whites; it became, at length, and mainly, a war, almost of extermination, against the Indians.
The opening paragraph of the fifty-third chapter of Ramsay's History of the United States, published in 1818, contains statements so just and appropriate that they are repeated as an introductory paragraph here.
"In treating of the causes and conduct of a war, maintained by a savage against a civilized nation, we are aware that the greatest caution ought to be observed, lest an undue degree of moral or physical superiority be ascribed to the latter. Between the contradictory narratives of enlightened nations, differing, as they often do, in the most minute, as well as in the most important statements, the truth may generally be found. When, however, the art of recording and perpetuating events, is possessed only by one party, it is natural that misrepresentation should occur, and the annalist to whom one source of information only is open, finds it difficult to delineate the principal textures of such hostilities without deserving the charge of partiality. Passion, prejudice, the love of gain. and contempt for the rude and uninformed people by whom they are surrounded, operate strongly to incite the frontier inhabitants of the Republic to hostilities, and to exaggerate the merit and importance of their triumphs over these undisciplined tribes. On the other hand, causes no less powerful, have long kept the greater part of the Indian people in a state of virtual warfare with the United States.
That the Creek Indians should have been ready for war when opportunity offered is by no means surprising. That the Indians did not all unite and sweep off the white settlers from all the Alabama portion of the Mississippi Territory, is almost remarkable. From the time of the Spanish discoveries the tread Or the white man on American soil has usually meant aggression. The white man crowds. He wants the choicest lands; he wants, in fact, the whole. The Indian is hospitable for a time; he yields; and then he tries to fight his way back.
"The influence of feelings, common to all mankind in a similar situation, the desire of revenge, and the hope of re-possessing those happier seats, from which their ancestors were driven, added to the sense of their diminution, through the power and arts of their civilized neighbors, had, previously to the war of the United States with Great Britain, produced a spirit of irritation and animosity, which that event soon kindled into flame."
In 1621 Edward Winslow of Plymouth wrote to a friend in London,
"We have found the Indians very faithful to their covenant of peace with us, very loving and ready to pleasure us. We often go to them, and they come to us.
But as settlements advanced a change came. Martyn writes for 1637, as introducing his account of the Pequod troubles,
"We entertain them pleasantly and familiarly in our cabins, and they, as friendly, bestow their venison on us."
But now this old epoch was buried; a new one dawned. The Indians surveyed the in-coming paleface tide which seemed always to flow and never to ebb. They asked each other: Where will this end?î And the Pequod war--the extermination of the Pequods, resulted. Often history repeats itself.
These Alibamo Indians were the nearest of the Creek tribes and would naturally claim to the Tombigbee river. They would at once feel the encroachment of these white settlers. Thirty chiefs and warriors of the Creek nation were in Washington in the fall of 1805, and, through the influences brought to bear upon them there, they had granted the right " of using a horse path through their country." The chiefs agreed even to build bridges across the streams or to have ferry boats and to open houses of entertainment for travellers. In this same year the Choctaws ceded five million acres of their land to the United States, including that which the Creeks claimed west of the water shed. Instead of fighting with the Choctaws for this strip of land it was agreed to leave the question of ownership to be decided by an Indian game of ball. One game was played by men and the Choctaws won the game. The Creek were dissatisfied. The Choctaws then proposed that the women of each side should play. To this the Creeks agreed, and the Choctaw women won the game and held the land. This boundary line was surveyed in 1808, Creeks and Choctaws assisting in the work. Starting from what was afterwards called Hal's Lake, the line was to cross no water; and the corner post was driven near the north line of Clarke county, the locality being called the Choctaw corner. Not far away a village is now situated called Choctaw Corner.
The Indians known in this history as the CREEKS, then occupying Western Georgia and what is now eastern and central Alabama, a region watered by the Chattahoochee, Coosa, Tallapoosa, Cahaba, and Alabama rivers, had seen the growth of the settlements eastward of them in Georgia. They knew something of the white settlement in Tennessee. And since the year 1800 they had seen a brisk migration of white families from Georgia and the Carolinas, directly through their country, to the Mississippi Territory. They knew that white families were living east of the Tombigbee river, between that and the Alabama river, in what is now the county of Clarke, and that some even settled east of the Alabama. They themselves claimed west of the Alabama to the water shed line, and this line bounded Clarke county on the east when it was set off from Washington county, December 10, 1812. They had claimed also to the Tombigbee River, although the Choctaws claimed to the watershed; and when in 1802 a treaty was made with the Choctaws and a tract of land was ceded by them to the United States, a Creek chief, the Mad Wolf is reported to have said: "The people of Tombigbee have put over their cattle in the Fork, on the Alibamo hunting grounds, and have gone a great way on our lands. I want them put back. We all know they are Americans."
In 1811 Lieutenant Luckett with a party of soldiers cut out a road, called the "Federal Road," through the Creek country, from a point on the Chattahoochee River to Mims' Ferry on the Alabama, and this road was soon, in the language of those who knew the facts of that migration, "filled from one end to the other" with parties of white families bound for the river and the western settlements.
The "horse path" was now a government wagon road, and the Creek Indians could not fail to see that the whites were beginning to build up a large and permanent settlement on their very borders. It was evident that they would encroach more and more upon the Alibamo hunting grounds. Choice hunting grounds these were between the two rivers, even as late as 1850. This wagon road of 1811 and this stream of migration passing through the Creek nation awakened in many of the Creek warriors strong discontent. While efforts had been made to introduce civilization among them, and with some success, yet many were restless amid the restraints which were increasing around them. The Spaniards also disliked these river settlements, and they excited still more the discontent of the Creek warriors. As Pensacola was at this time the great place of trade for the Indians and for these white settlers, it was very easy for those Spanish traders to learn the growth of the settlements and to arouse hostility in the minds of the Indians. Pensacola, to some extent, was responsible for the Creek War. But perhaps the most active agent in stirring up strife, outside of the Creek nation, was the noted Indian chief, Tecumseh, well called great, who came like a blast from the North, endeavoring to lead the Southern tribes to join his great confederacy. As he will be fully mentioned in other chapters two sentences only in regard to him will be given here.
"Brave, sagacious, and enterprising, he left no means untried to retard at least, if he could not present, the approaching extermination of his tribe."
There is also another fact to be considered here. Alexander McGillivray who has been already mentioned, born at Little Tallassee, four miles above the present Wetumpka, in 1746,--Drake says, about 1739--commencing his public life as early as 1766, had held a very firm control over these Indians. Brewer speaks of him as the controlling mind in that region, the most distinguished native then born, and at the head of the Muscogee confederacy, which was more compact and formidable at that time than at any other known period of its history. Brewer further says, that he wielded an influence over his people "not felt since the days of Tuskaloosa. He was a diplomatist and scholar among a nation of savages "
"He visited, in person, all the tribes west of the Mississippi, and on Lakes Superior, Huron, and Erie, exciting them to hostilities by the appeals of religion and interest."
Pickett speaks of him as possessing the most marked ability of any man born or reared on Alabama soil. He was now dead; and there was no one to take his place as a recognized head of the nation. In that year after his death, 1793, such was the commotion among Indians, Spaniards, and Americans, (and some very bad Americans were among the Indians), that Pickett wrote, "It appeared that the evil one himself was stalking through this wild region." Native Indian chiefs were now again coming forward to exercise their rights of government, such as Big Warrior, as Menawa, and others; while leaders of mixed blood were also exerting their influence. There was no head. The United States Agent, Colonel Benjamin Hawkins, residing for some time among them, was not their ruler, and it is not strange that a conflict broke out among themselves. Some of them continued on friendly terms with the whites, but others became very hostile.
From these statements it appears that the great exciting cause of this war was, the large and growing settlement of white pioneers along the Tombigbee and the Alabama rivers. Encroachments upon the Indian hunting grounds and rights were of necessity made. The great wagon road was an encroachment; the presence of so many white families with their cattle and hogs and horses was an encroachment. It needed not Tecumseh's stirring words to assure them that they must before long give up their Indian life, cultivate the ground and accept the white man's civilization; or the must migrate; or they must break up this settlement of sturdy frontier families on their western borders. Their proposed attempt thus to do, encouraged by the Spaniards, by Tecumseh and the British, brought on the disastrous Creek War.