Exploring the North Georgia Mountains
|The Creek Indians meet with James Oglethorpe. By the time Oglethorpe and his Georgia colonists arrived in 1733, relations between the Creeks and the English were already well established and centered mainly on trade. Courtesy of Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries|
By Don & Diane Wells
The Creek Indians in Georgia – Part 1
Creek Indians once occupied entire area now known as Georgia
At one time the Creek Indians occupied what is now the entire state of Georgia. Over a hundred years and after many battles, the Cherokee Indians secured for themselves the North Georgia area leaving the rest of the state to the Creeks.
Unlike the Cherokee, the Creek Indians were not a nation under one chief. They were a confederacy of tribal groups linked together by similar customs and heritage. John R. Swanton in his comprehensive study, “The Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbor,” published by the Smithsonian’s Bureau of American Ethnology in 1922, grouped the creeks under Muskogean stock.
He also divided them into seven different language groups and by regional area. These seven groups were made up of multiple smaller groups, each of which considered itself, in some cases, a separate tribe. When a treaty was signed between the British Colonial Government and later by the U.S. Government, a Chief from each tribal group had to affix their signature or mark to the treaty for it to be acceptable to the entire confederacy.
When General Oglethorpe arrived at present day Savannah he had to secure land rights from the Creek Indians who were already there. He was aided in this endeavor by John and Mary Musgrove. John, the son of a former governor of the Colony of South Carolina, and Mary, a full-blood Creek Indian, helped negotiate a treaty allowing Oglethorpe to acquire land from Tomochichi, the Chief of the Indians who lived in that area. For reasons unknown Tomochichi had been exiled from the Creek Indians and had formed his own tribe, the Yamacraw, which may have been related to the Yamasee Indians who lived in that area before being defeated by the Cherokees.
|Chief Tomochichia and Nephew. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia|
The Colony of Georgia
Once land had been secured, Oglethorpe established the Colony of Georgia. The first colonists were a group of 114 English settlers. However, Oglethorpe opened the colony to persecuted religious minorities against Trustee policy including Jews, Lutherans, and other persecuted religious minorities who also settled in Georgia, Thus, the available land was quickly overrun by the influx of new settlers and more was needed.
In order to acquire more land, Oglethorpe had to travel over 230 miles on Indian trails to the Creek Indian capital of Coweta which was located on the Chattahoochee River near present day Columbus, GA. In the Treaty of Coweta Town in 1739, the Creek Indians ceded the lands from the Savannah River to the Ogeechee River and south to the St. John’s River giving up all of the coastal lands in the Colony of Georgia. The Treaty of Coweta Town is usually referred to as the Treaty with the Lower Creeks, however, both the Lower and Upper Creeks were present for the treaty talks.
Geographically speaking, the Upper Creeks occupied villages on the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers in Alabama and the Lower Creeks lived along the Chattahoochee and other rivers in the southern part of Georgia. Getting representatives from each of the tribal groups to a single place for a meeting or for signing a treaty must have been a significant undertaking. One can only speculate on how these negotiations took place considering the language differences. The Coweta’s spoke Muskhogean (Muscogee, Myskoke), but any treaty signed had to be understood by those who spoke Hitchiti, Koasati, Alabama, Natchez, Yuchi, and Shawnee. The language of the Treaty of Coweta indicates that there was a suitable interpreter present for the negotiations. William Bartram, the naturalist of the 1700’s and Benjamin Hawkins, the Creek Indian agent from the late 1700’s into the early 1800’s traveled among the various tribes and somehow overcame the language barrier.
Oglethorpe, under the direction of the British Crown and his benefactors, was tasked with acquiring land, building plantations, and shipping goods back to England that were profitable to them. In 1754, William Gerard, de Brahm was appointed by the British as surveyor general for the Georgia Colony. His survey report contains fascinating accounts of the table of goods such as tobacco, indigo, rice, and animal skins shipped annually to England. Their cumulative value was substantial.
Demand for more land grows
Oglethorpe left the Georgia Colony in 1744. He was replaced by a succession of Presidents or Governors. Other than the land north of Augusta, which was added to the Colony in 1773, neither Oglethorpe nor his successors had made substantial progress in adding new territory to the Colony. In fact, the settlers were wearing out the land that had already been obtained. Therefore, the demand for more land was ever-present in daily operations of the English Colony.
The push for land was put on hold when the Revolutionary War began. During that time Georgia was under the governance of the military. After the Revolutionary War was over, the new United States of America was overwhelmed by a seemingly unstoppable flood of new settlers.
The Creek Indians, some of whom sided with the British in order to protect their trading partnerships, found their land in Georgia and other parts of the Southeast in greater demand than ever. In a series of treaties, the Creeks were pushed out of Georgia and into Alabama.
One legacy that the Creek Indians left in Georgia is the Placenames that remain today. Traveling throughout Georgia you find towns with the Creek names of Cusseta, Centralhatchee, Tallapoosa, Attapulgus, Coosa and Cohutta; counties named Muscogee, Coweta, Chattahoochee, and Chatooga; and streams with the names of Upatoi, Penholoway, Oostanaula, Withlacoochee, Tobesofkee, Softee, Hachasofkee, Echeconnee, Sowhatchee, Canooche, Eastanollee and hundreds more.
Many of the Creek words are found in South Georgia. It seems that many of the words here in North Georgia that we think of as Cherokee began life as Creek words. As the Cherokee moved into the Creek lands place names, with slight adaptations, were adopted as the Creeks had given them. One of the Creek Indian elders told us that even our own Etowah was first, with a slightly different spelling but very similar pronunciation, a Creek word. Just to play around try making Etowah and Hightower sound similar. Settlers apparently heard Etowah (I-tow-ah) as Hightower.
In Part 2 we will explore how the language of the treaties led to the downfall of the Creeks and their presence in Georgia.