By E. Merton Coulter; Regents’ Professor Emeritus of History, University of Georgia

There once stood in Southwest Georgia near Leesburg (northeast of Leesburg) Georgia an immense live oak whose trunk was reputed to be nine feet in diameter and whose boughs measured 120 feet across. The Chehaw Indians who had a village nearby were said to have held their council meetings under this giant tree. In 1912 the Daughters of the American Revolution placed a granite boulder here bearing the follow description:

“CHEHAW

Large Indian town, home of the Chehaws. A friendly agricultural people of the Creek tribe, who aided our early settlers. They contributed man, food, and horses, to subdue the hostile seminoles. Here Andrew Jackson rested with his starving army and was given help in 1818, through misunderstanding, were sacrificed seven of this tribe by Georgia troops, for which all possible amends were made.”

The Chehaws were a part of the Creek Confederation and had villages scattered throughout this part of Georgia, principally along the Flint River until later they moved to the Chattahoochee and ultimately to the Indian Territory, beyond the Mississippi. 1)This village was called Au-muc-cul-le, in later times, Chehaw Town. Benjamin Hawkins describes it as follows:- “Au-muc-cul-le; (pour upon me;) is on a creek of that name, which joins on the right side of Flint river, forty-five miles below Timothy Barnard’s. It is sixty feet wide, and the main branch of Kitch-o-foo-nee, which it joins three miles from the river; the village is nine miles up the creek; the land is poor and flat, with limestone springs in the neighborhood; the swamp is cypress in hammocks, with some water oak and hickory; the pine land is poor with ponds and wire grass; they have sixty gun men in the village; it is in some places well fenced; they have cattle, hogs and horses, and a fine range for them, and raise corn, rice and potatoes in great plenty.”

Strangely enough, the Chehaw affair has gone almost entirely neglected in American history, although it flared up at the time and created a great emotional outburst in Georgia; led to a hot and intemperate correspondence between the governor of Georgia and Andrew Jackson; engaged the attention of President James Monroe, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams, Secretary of War John C. Calhoun, secretary of the Treasury William H. Crawford, and Attorney-General William Wirt; upset Congress for a spell; made issues of state rights and of military versus civil authority; and led the chief actor who created that affair to flee the country and never to be heard of again.

In 1814 Andrew Jackson with the aid of a large body of friendly Lower Creek Indians defeated at the Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River a large army of hostile Upper Creeks and forced upon the Indians both hostile and friendly the Treaty of Fort Jackson. This treaty required without payment the cession of all of Georgia south of a line extending from Fort Gaines to Jesup and large areas in Alabama (then part of the Territory of Mississippi). The friendly Lower Creeks bore this injustice as well as they could, but many of the hostile Upper Creeks joined their kinsmen in Florida, the Seminoles, and began to harass the Georgia frontier.

Edmund Pendleton Gaines with a small army was charged with overawing the Indians but not to bring on war. In late 1817 Gaines ordered the chief of one of their villages, Fowltown (Tut-tal-lo-see), a few miles north of the Florida border, to come to him for a conference. On being refused Gaines marched against the town and destroyed it. This was the spark that lit up the First Seminole War; but before Gaines could organize a full-scale expedition against the Indians, he was ordered to seize Amelia Island, on the east coast of Florida, where a gang of freebooters had made their headquarters. Andrew Jackson, at home in Nashville, Tennessee, now ordered to proceed with Tennessee and Georgia militia into South Georgia, and cross into Florida (which was still a possession of Spain’s) if necessary to bring about peace. On February 12, 1818, Jackson reached Hartford (later to become a dead town, across the Ocmulgee River from twentieth-century Hawkinsville) and soon continued his march. Moving southwest-ward he passed Fort Early, on the Flint river, and on to the Chehaw village where he received some provisions for his half starved troops and was joined there by forth of the Chehaw braves. Jackson entered Florida and practically ran amuck, capturing the Spanish towns of St. Marks and Pensacola and seizing two British suspects, Robert Ambrister and Alexander Arbuthnot, shooting the one and hanging the other.

Jackson left the South Georgia settlers unprotected from thieving and scalping parties of Indians; for although all of these Lower Creeks were supposed to be friendly, there were certain villages which were known to be engaging in these raids. Two, especially, were considered hostile, taking their names from the chiefs who ruled them – Hopaunee (Hopauno, Hipounee) and Philemmee (Phelemmee, Felemma) – and now that Jackson had passed on, their boldness returned. 2)Thus the name of the road in front of Chehaw Park, Philema Road, Albany, GA.

William Rabun, the Georgia governor, sent a hurried dispatch to Jackson to detach part of his over-sized army and let them return for the defense of the Georgia settlers. Jackson had gone too far to comply effectively with Rabun’s wishes, and as a result he never answered the Georgia governor’s letter. Feeling that it was his first duty to heed the pleas of the settlers for protection, Rabun, on April 14, 1818, issued orders for the collection of a force of militia to gather at Hartford to punish the Indians. He stated that he had received information which he could not doubt “that wanton and cruel murders so frequently committed on the frontier inhabitants of this state, and which are almost daily practiced by the savages, [were] ascertained to be the Phelemmes and Hoppones; inhabitants of two small villages of their names, on or near Flint river, who have during the late hostilities endeavored to conceal their blood thirsty and hostile disposition under the cloak of friendship,” and that he was ordering out an expedition against these villages. He explained that “the utmost precaution will be necessary to the accomplishment of this important object; and that effect which, it will be necessary that a profound secrecy should be observed, and the expedition be prosecuted with the greatest possible dispatch, in order to take the Indians by surprise; as this is the only probable means of obtaining an effectual and decisive victory over an enemy who will not come in contact on equal terms.”

The small army was to be made up of volunteers, militia companies from Twiggs and Jones counties, and a contingent of Federal troops (Georgia militia in the Federal service) stationed at Fort Early (present day location near Lake Blackshear, Crisp County, a few miles north of Warwick, GA.). To command this expedition, Governor Rabun selected Captain Obed Wright, who had been part of the Chatham County militia which had been called out to aid General Gaines in taking Amelia Island; but Wright on account of illness had not been sworn into the Federal service and was now available for duty with Governor Rabun’s Georgia army. Only after having carefully investigated Wright’s record and having received high testimony of his reliability afforded by people of the greatest respectability, did Rabun put Wright in charge of the expedition.

Wright set out on April 21st with about 270 men, including the contingent at Fort Early who joined him there. By this time Wright had determined to attack Chehaw rather than the two villages named in Rabun’s orders, because he had evidence that hostile chief Hoppone had taken up residence in this village and ruled it. The commander at Fort Early insisted that Chehaw was a friendly village and refused to accompany the expedition, through he reinforced it with part of his troops. Years later, it was stated that Wright had been “misled by false information.” The next day he arrived at the Flint River and crossing it to the west side, at daybreak (according to his report to Gov. Rabun) he “advanced with caution against the Chehaw Town.” About a half mile from the town he took and Indian prisoner who was tending some cattle and on inspection he found that they bore the mark of a citizen of Telfair County, and had therefore, been stolen from him. There seems to have been some parleying with the Indian, which came to nothing, and between 11 and 12 o’clock noon Wright attacked the town, giving his men “positive orders not to injure the women, or children, and in the course of two hours, the whole was in flames; they made some little resistance but to no purpose.” Wright reported that about twenty-four warriors were killed, and since some of the houses had their doors shut and guns were being fired from the crevices, the buildings were fired and some of the inhabitants were burned to death. He estimated that the total number killed was between forty and fifty. Some of the inhabitants fled to the thick swamp nearby. Wright’s forces blew up all the powder they found in the village. Wright supposed that the chief of the village was slain. The Georgia forces did not lose a man and they marched back to Fort Early the same day. Wright’s report to Governor Rabun was made on April 25th; but since it varied widely form other estimates of the number slain, Wright must have made a very slight investigation of the ruins, and especially so as he returned to Fort Early the same day. Perhaps he purposely was exaggerating the number of deaths to add to the glory of this victory.

Wright’s second in command was Jacob Robinson, who made a report to the Georgia Journal, a Milledgeville newspaper, on April 30th. By this time a furor had been raised over the destruction of a village, which most people believed had been inhabited by friendly Indians. Robinson insisted that these Indians were hostile and that most of the cattle being tended nearby bore the brands of white settlers. He asserted further that a dozen or more shots had been fired from sinks or caves before the Georgia troops opened up; that some of the Indians in the village were painted; that there was found in the village a supply of British muskets, carbines, and other war supplies, and powder in almost all the houses. He said that the Indian which they had captured near the village reported to them that Hoppone was living there and was in the village at the time. Robinson did not know whether or not Hoppone had been killed. About a month after the destruction of the village, Governor Rabun declared that the accounts given by Wright and Robinson substantially were correct except for the number of those killed, “which was fortunately incorrect.”

References   [ + ]

1.This village was called Au-muc-cul-le, in later times, Chehaw Town. Benjamin Hawkins describes it as follows:- “Au-muc-cul-le; (pour upon me;) is on a creek of that name, which joins on the right side of Flint river, forty-five miles below Timothy Barnard’s. It is sixty feet wide, and the main branch of Kitch-o-foo-nee, which it joins three miles from the river; the village is nine miles up the creek; the land is poor and flat, with limestone springs in the neighborhood; the swamp is cypress in hammocks, with some water oak and hickory; the pine land is poor with ponds and wire grass; they have sixty gun men in the village; it is in some places well fenced; they have cattle, hogs and horses, and a fine range for them, and raise corn, rice and potatoes in great plenty.”
2.Thus the name of the road in front of Chehaw Park, Philema Road, Albany, GA.