Indian Treaties with Georgia

No sooner was the independence of the United States acknowledged by Great Britain, than Georgia began to increase both in wealth and population. She had, however, many sources of disquietude, some of which were of an alarming character. The first boundaries of the province, as conceded to Oglethorpe by treaty, were confined to a narrow strip of country lying between the Savannah and Ogechee rivers. By the subsequent treaty of 1773, these boundaries were extended north of the original lines, and beyond Broad River.

By another treaty, concluded at Augusta on the 31st of May, 1783, the Cherokee delegates ceded to Georgia the country upon the western side of Tugalo, including the head waters of the Oconee. To this cession, a few Creeks subscribed their names on the 1st of November of the same year. A very large majority of the nation, who had always been adverse to the sale of their lands, denounced the act in the strongest terms, and expressed a resolution to maintain their right to the soil.

As Georgia persisted in asserting her sovereignty over the territory thus acquired, a hostile feeling was, naturally enough, engendered among the Indians of those towns whose delegates were not present at Augusta when the treaty was signed.

In addition to this fruitful source of future difficulty, by an arrangement entered into between Great Britain and Spain, in the early part of the year 1783, the former restored to the latter her old province of Florida; and by this means, Georgia was again made to suffer many annoyances at the hands of her ancient neighbour and enemy.

In 1785, the dissatisfaction between the Creeks and Georgians being fomented by the artifices of the Spaniards, a border war commenced, which the provisional government, then struggling through the last stages of the Revolutionary war, sought to close peacefully by sending commissioners to treat with the Creeks and Cherokees for the purchase of their lands. The commissioners thus appointed invited delegates from the Indian towns to meet them at Galphinton; but as only the chiefs from two towns, with fifty warriors, attended, the object of the mission was not attained, and the commissioners returned home.

They had no sooner left the appointed place of rendezvous, than three commissioners-whom Georgia, tenacious of her rights, had dispatched thither to protest against any proceedings on the part of the provisional government-concluded a treaty with the Creeks then present, which confirmed not only the treaty of 1783, but extended the territorial limits of Georgia, from the junction of the Oconee and Ocmulgee to the St. Mary’s River.

The treaty thus made was, like its predecessor, indignantly spurned by the chiefs of ninety-eight towns ; who denied the right of any two of their country to make a cession of land which could only be valid by consent of the whole nation as joint proprietors in common.

Numerous collisions between the Georgians and the Indians succeeded. At length, a meeting for the purpose of settling existing differences was agreed upon, and in October, 1786, commissioners on the part of Georgia met a delegation of Creek chiefs and warriors, at a place called Shoulderbone, on the Oconee.

Here another treaty was entered into, which the Creeks subsequently asserted was wrung from them by the unexpected presence of a large body of armed men professing hostile intentions.

This charge the authorities of Georgia most emphatically denied. They contended that all the grants were procured fairly and honorably, and without either force or coercion ; that the upper Creeks, who never occupied the Oconee lands, had no right to a voice in the matter. They admitted that armed troops were present at the treaty of Shoulderbone,- not, however, to provoke hostilities, but to suppress them if they arose.

Incursions and retaliations of course continued. Congress several times sought to interpose, but the Creeks would listen to no overtures until the Georgians were first removed from the Oconee lands.

In an earnest endeavor to put an end to this state of things, General Washington-who was now president-appointed four commissioners to treat with the celebrated Creek chief, Alexander McGillivray. This extraordinary man was the son of Lachlan McGillivray, an enterprising Scotsman of good family, trading among the Indians, and of Sehoy Marchand, a beautiful half-breed Creek girl, whose mother was of the tribe of the Wind, the most powerful and influential family in the Creek nation. The advantages in the way of commercial facilities which this marriage gave to the elder McGillivray, enabled him to rapidly accumulate a large fortune. Besides plantations and negroes upon the Savannah River, Lachlan McGillivray soon became the owner of stores filled with Indian merchandise, in the towns of Savannah and Augusta.

When his son Alexander had reached the age of fourteen years, he withdrew him, with the consent of his mother, from the Creek nation, in the midst of which he had hitherto resided, and placed him in a school at Charleston; from whence, on the completion of his studies, he was transferred to a counting-room in Savannah. But a mercantile life was soon discovered to be unfitted for a youth of Alexander McGillivray’s studious and retiring disposition ; and he was sent back to Charleston, to acquire, under the teaching of a clergyman of that city, a knowledge of the Greek and Latin languages.

As he grew up to manhood, the remembrance of his youthful forest haunts; the sports and games of the tribe to which he was allied by blood ; the faces of the dusky warriors, who regarded him as their future chief ; and the mother and sister who still resided on the banks of the Coosa, proved stronger than the ties which civilized society had thrown around him. With the old wild-woods feeling stirring his heart, he turned his back upon the settlements of the whites, and rejoined the warriors who had cherished his childish years in the midst of their sylvan recesses.

His return was warmly welcomed. Crafty, sagacious, enterprising, and well educated, he was gradually enabled so to extend his influence over the Creek and Cherokee nations, that in a few years he was invested with the supreme authority, to which he was entitled by his birth, according to the Indian custom.

When the Revolutionary war broke out, Alexander McGillivray received the rank and pay of a colonel in the British service, and during the whole of that eventful period remained, like his father, a firm and devoted loyalist; often acting in concert with McGirth and his Florida rangers, in harassing the frontiers of Georgia.

As the war drew to a close, the British were compelled to evacuate Savannah, taking with them many active and influential loyalists, among whom was Lachlan McGillivray. Having succeeded in getting together a considerable portion of his wealth, the elder McGillivray returned to his own country, entertaining the hope that in his absence his wife and family, then living in the Creek nation, might be suffered to tale peaceable possession of the plantations and negroes he had abandoned. The confiscation of the property of fugitive loyalists soon after, not only frustrated the hopes of McGillivray, but compelled his wife and daughters to remain at their old home on the Coosa.

Colonel McGillivray, the son, who had some time before this become the principal chief of the Creek and Cherokee nations, finding himself thus deprived, at one blow, of British protection and the estates previously owned by his father, threw himself into the arms of Spain, with whose authorities in Florida he formed, on behalf of his nation, a treaty of alliance.

The chief reasons which induced him to court this alliance arose from his apprehensions of the Americans, who, as he contended, had confiscated his estates, banished his father, threatened him with death, and were constantly encroaching upon the Creek soil. The Spaniards wanted no lands, desired only his friendship, and had not encroached upon him or his people. Besides, they were the first to offer him promotion and commercial advantages. When he had signed the treaty, they made him a Spanish commissary, with the rank and pay of a colonel.

The commissioners appointed by Washington, reached Rock Landing on the Oconee about the middle of September, 1789, where they found McGillivray, who, at the head of two thousand warriors, had been encamped on the eastern bank of the river for more than a week. The commissioners pitched their camp on the western bank.

For several days the prospect of attaining the object the commissioners had in view seemed peculiarly favourable. They had several private conferences with McGillivray, by whom they were received with great courtesy and politeness. The chiefs, also, whom they visited previous to opening more formal negotiations, appeared to be animated with the most friendly spirit. All the indications promised to result in a treaty satisfactory to both parties.

On the 24th, negotiations were commenced, and a copy of the proposed treaty read to the Indians. It stipulated that the boundaries defined by the former treaties entered into between the Creeks and Georgians should remain unchanged; that the United States would guarantee the territory west of those boundaries to the Creeks for ever ; that a free trade should be established with the Indians from ports upon the Alatamaha, through which they could import and export, upon the same terms as the citizens of the United States; and that all negroes, horses, goods, and American citizens taken by the Indians, should be restored.

It is a matter of surprise to this day, how intelligent commissioners could have supposed that a treaty, which took so much from the Indians, and granted so little in return, would be acceptable either to McGillivray or to the chieftains under his control.

Andrew Pickens did indeed remonstrate. He well knew that the lands on the Oconee, which the Georgians were already cultivating, would never be suffered to remain peaceably in the possession of the latter, unless some compensation was made to the Indians.

The result justified his sagacity. After the commissioners had recrossed the river to their own camp, McGillivray and his chiefs met in grand council. The next morning the commissioners were informed by a letter from McGillivray, that the terms which had been proposed were unsatisfactory, and that the Indians had resolved to break up their camp and return home.

The commissioners, startled by so abrupt a conclusion to their negotiations, now saw at once the whole folly of their course. They sought every means to induce McGillivray to remain, and begged him to state his grounds of objection to the draft of the treaty. But he broke up his encampment, and falling back upon the Ockmulgee, wrote from thence a letter to the commissioners, in which he stated that finding a restitution of territory and hunting-grounds was not to be the basis of a treaty between them, he had resolved to return to the nation and defer all further treaty until the next spring.

The commissioners, thus baffled, returned to Augusta, and obtained from Governor Walton a statement of the various negotiations between the Georgians and the Creeks, together with a list of the citizens who had been killed, and of the property stolen during the recent hostilities.

The answers of Governor Walton placed matters in so very different a light, both as regarded the fair and open manner in which the treaties with the Indians had been made, and the great injuries sustained by their pitiless depredations, that, basing their report upon the evidence laid before them, the commissioners expressed an opinion favorable to the three treaties made by Georgia, and Washington, urged by the demands of the Georgia delegation in Congress, was at first inclined to embark in a war against the Indian confederacy.

More prudent counsels, however, prevailed. It was found that the expenses of such a war as would be necessary to bring the Creeks to terms would not be less than fifteen millions of dollars and it was reasonably feared that the general government would not be able to sustain so large an outlay while it was struggling with difficulty under the debts incurred during the war of the Revolution. At length a secret negotiation was determined on. Colonel Willett was selected by Washington as. the agent to visit the Creek nation by a circuitous route, and endeavor to persuade McGillivray to return with him to New York, which yet remained the seat of the federal government.

In this mission Willett was eminently successful. On the 13th of April, 1790, he reached the residence of General Pickens, on the Seneca River. Having explained to the latter the object of his journey, he was immediately furnished with letters to various chiefs and traders within the nation, by whom he was received and entertained with a generous warmth and hospitality, which contrasted strangely with the consciousness that. the country through which he was passing was the constant scene of murder and robbery. After a journey of ten days through the Cherokee country, Colonel Willett arrived at the house of a wealthy trader, by the name of Scott. This place was the first Creek settlement to which he had penetrated. Learning that McGillivray was then on a visit to Ocfuske, on the Tallapoosa River, Colonel Willett resolved to continue his journey, and at length came up with the Creek chief, at the house of Mr. Graison, in the Hillabees.

When the letter from General Washington had been received and read by McGillivray, he detained Willett at Graison’s for two days, during which. time various conversations passed between the agent and McGillivray, which, without doubt, influenced the subsequent action of the latter.

Leaving Graison’s, the party, accompanied by McGillivray and his servant, arrived on the 4th of May at the Hickory ground-a portion of the Creek territory, which the Indians considered holy-where there was a large town, and in it one of the residences of the chief.

From this place McGillivray issued his summons to the chiefs of the lower towns, to meet him at Ositchey on the 11th of May, for the purpose of consulting on public business.

The assembly met at the place appointed, and when Colonel Willett had delivered an address inviting them to the council-house at New York, where General Washington desired with his own hand to sign with Colonel McGillivray a treaty of peace and alliance, and offering many other inducements for the chiefs present to embrace the opportunity, he retired, leaving them to deliberate upon his overtures.

In about an hour after, Colonel Willett was again called in, when the Hollowing King addressed him in the following speech

“We are glad to see you. You have come a great way, and as soon as we fixed our eyes upon you we were made glad. We are poor, and have not the knowledge of the white people. We were invited to the treaty at the Rock Landing. We went there. Nothing was done. We were disappointed, and came back with sorrow. The road to your great council-house. is long, and the weather is hot; but our beloved chief shall go with you, and such others as we may appoint. We will agree to all things which our beloved chief shall do. We will count the time he is away, and when he comes back, we shall all be glad to see him with a treaty that shall be as strong as the hills and lasting as the rivers. May you be preserved from every evil.” The voice of the upper Creeks expressing sentiments similar to those of the lower, no time was lost in arranging for the departure of the deputation. On the 1st of June, Colonel McGillivray, with his nephew and two servants, accompanied by Colonel Willett, set out from Little Tallasse for New York. They were all mounted on horseback, and attended by pack-horses. At the Stone ‘Mountain, the Coweta and Cusseta chiefs joined them; and at the house of General Pickens, they were met by the Tallasse King, Chinnobe, the “great Natchez warrior,” and several other chiefs. The deputation being complete, twenty-six warriors started for New York in three wagons, and four others on horseback. Colonel McGillivray and his suite were mounted, the agent riding in a sulky. Taking the route by way of Guildford, North Carolina, the party passed through Richmond and Fredericksburg, and arrived at Philadelphia on the 17th of July; having been received everywhere on their journey with marked kindness and attention. Sailing thence to New York, the chiefs were received by the Tammany Society of that city in the full Indian dress of their order, were marched in full procession up Wall street, past the Federal Hall, where Congress was then in session, and from thence to_ the house of General Washington, to whom they were introduced with much pomp and ceremony. The St. Tammany Society next entertained the chiefs at a public dinner. As being the son of a Scotsman, McGillivray was chosen an honorary member of the St. Andrew’s Society. Spain now began to feel uneasy. The authorities in Florida and Louisiana no sooner learned that McGillivray had departed for New York, than the governor-general at Havana was notified of the circumstance. After some correspondence upon the subject, an agent was sent from East Florida with a large sum of money, ostensibly to purchase flour, but in reality to embarrass the negotiations with the Creeks. Washington, apprised of the presence of this officer, had his movements so closely watched that the object of his mission was defeated. Having first advised with the senate as to the terms of an arrangement, Washington appointed Henry Knox to negotiate with McGillivray and the chiefs, and a treaty having been concluded, it was solemnly ratified the day after the adjournment of Congress. By this treaty, all the lands south and west of .the Oconee,-including the tract recently claimed and partly occupied by Georgia,-were solemnly guaranteed to the Creeks ; the latter resigning all pretensions to any lands north and east of that river, and acknowledging themselves to be under the sole protection of the United States. As an inducement to the Indians to come into this arrangement, and to secure their fidelity, it was provided that the sum of fifteen hundred dollars should be paid annually to the Creek nation ; while by a secret article agreed upon between McGillivray and Washington, annuities of one hundred dollars were to be paid to each of the principal chiefs, and to McGillivray, as agent of the United States, the sum of twelve hundred dollars per annum, with the rank of Brigadiergeneral. That provision in the treaty of New York, by which the United States guaranteed to the Indians the possession of the Oconee lands, created an intense excitement in Georgia. An association was formed for settling the lands in defiance of the treaty ; but the fire of resistance gradually burned itself out. The legislature of the state severely criticized the articles of the treaty, but recognized its validity, and pledged the faith of ;,he state to support it. On the other hand, the Creeks themselves were far from satisfied, and instigated by one Bowles, a noted freebooter, who aspired to rival McGillivray in the affections of the Indians, the influence of the great chief appeared for some time to be gradually on the wane. McGillivray, however, was not idle. Knowing that his treaty with the United States could not be otherwise than most distasteful to the Spanish authorities in Louisiana and Florida, he quitted the nation and descended to New Orleans, leaving Bowles and his emissaries to exult in the belief that he would never dare to show his face upon the Coosa again. But the rejoicing of the freebooter did not last long: His piratical seizure of vessels trading under the protection of the Spanish flag soon brought him under the notice of that nation, which only waited a favorable opportunity for his capture. In the mean time, McGillivray, who was visiting Pensacola, Mobile, and New Orleans, succeeded in establishing himself in as great favor as ever with the Spanish authorities. Here he arranged for the capture of Bowles, who was shortly afterward brought to New Orleans in chains, and sent from thence a prisoner to Spain; while McGillivray, returning to the banks of the Coosa, was speedily restored to the affections of his nation, and the full exercise of his former power.


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