Creek Indians and other Alabama refugees from Georgia
Charles Franklin McDonald, my maternal grandfather, otherwise known as "Papa," was a landowner in Meriwether County, Georgia--but just barely.
I remember him telling how his father, John W. McDonald, nearly lost his plantation because he countersigned a note for a friend who skipped off to Alabama with his debts unpaid. As Papa further described it with a great westward sweep of his arm, that remote fastness "might as well have been the end of the world at that time."
It seemed Alabama served as the repository for everyone driven out of the more civilized frontier of Georgia. My ancestors, in fact, acquired part of their Georgia holdings through the Creek Indian land lottery. That was a random drawing of 200-acre lots of land ceded by the natives that could be entered by various classifications of citizens with three-years' residence in Georgia, including Revolutionary War veterans (entitled to two chances), widows, illegitimates born in Georgia, and wives with children whose husbands had been absent from the state for three years (presumably fled to Alabama).
The lottery even included separate eligibility classifications for "Male idiots, lunatics or insane, deaf and dumb, or blind, over 10 years and under 18 years, 3-year residence in Georgia" and "Female idiots, insane or lunatics, deaf and dumb, or blind, over 10 years, 3-year residence in Georgia." For some reason there was no age limit on female idiots.
The backdrop to that lottery was an even more colorful and dramatic affair.
The Meriwhether County land came from the Indian Springs Treaty of 1825 ceding Creek Indian lands to the State of Georgia. The Creek leader who signed the treaty in exchange for bribes, was put to death by his countrymen who then protested the fraud. More on that later, but when all was said and done the Creeks lost lands which became Muscogee, Lee, Coweta, Carroll, and Troup Counties in Georgia. Meriwether County was later carved out of Troup, and the Creeks displaced to the west before most were later forcibly located to Oklahoma along with the Cherokees.
Meanwhile, many discontented Creek inhabited Alabama lands along the border (near present-day Auburn) in frequent conflict with the white settlers.
They were descendants of the Mississippian culture peoples, who built earthwork mounds at their regional chiefdoms located throughout the Mississippi River valley and its tributaries. It is believed the early Spanish explorers encountered ancestors of the Muscogee Creek when they visited Mississippian-culture chiefdoms in the Southeast in the mid-16th century.
De Soto's expedition, though it ran afoul of Tuskaloosa and started to founder on the banks of the Black Warrior River near Moundville, wrought vengeance through new infectious diseases that caused a high rate of fatalities among the indigenous peoples. Historians believe that disease epidemics contributed to the depopulation and collapse of the Mississippian culture. As the survivors and descendants regrouped, the Muscogee or Creek Confederacy arose, which was a loose alliance of Muskogee-speaking peoples, which brings us back to the Georgia colony.
Britain, France and Spain all established colonies in the present-day Southeastern U.S. The Spanish burned most of the towns along the Chattahoochee River after the inhabitants welcomed Scottish explorer Henry Woodward in 1685. In 1690, the English built a trading post on the Ocmulgee River, known as Ochese-hatchee, the Muscogee word for creek, where a dozen towns relocated to escape the Spanish and acquire English trade goods. The name "Creek" most likely derived from Ocheese Creek and broadly applies to all of the Muscogee Confederacy.
This alliance was orchestrated by the Coushatta chief Alexander McGillivray, son of Lachlan McGillivray, a wealthy Scottish Loyalist fur-trader and planter, and another Cox family connection, whose properties were confiscated by Georgia. McGillivray was a prominent example of intermarriage between the native Creek and Scottish settlers.
The Muscogee, or Creek, were the first Native Americans to be "civilized" under George Washington's civilization plan. In the 19th century, they were known as one of the "Five Civilized Tribes", because they had widely adopted the clothing, culture, and practices of their European American neighbors.
But the cozy relationship did not last.
A comet appeared in March 1811. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh, whose name meant "shooting star," traveled to Tuckabatchee, where he told the Muscogee that the comet signaled his coming. Tecumseh claimed that the Great Spirit would prove he was sent to lead resistance to white encroachment by giving the Muscogee another sign.
On December 11, 1811, the New Madrid Earthquake shook the Muscogee lands. Influenced by prophetic interpretations of an 1811 comet and earthquake, the Upper Towns of the Muscogee, supported by Tecumseh, began to resist European-American encroachment. The Red Stick War started as a conflict between the Upper and Lower Creek that enmeshed them in the War of 1812 against the United States.
The first clashes between Red Sticks and the American whites took place on July 21, 1813, when a group of American soldiers from Fort Mims near Mobile, Alabama stopped a party of Red Sticks who were returning from West Florida, where they had bought munitions from the Spanish governor at Pensacola. The Red Sticks fled the scene, and the U.S. soldiers looted what they found, allowing the Red Sticks to regroup and retaliate with a surprise attack that drove the Americans off. The Battle of Burnt Corn, as the exchange became known, broadened the Creek Civil War to include American forces.
On August 30, 1813, Red Sticks led by Red Eagle William Weatherford attacked Fort Mims, where white settlers and their Indian allies had gathered. The Red Sticks captured the fort by surprise, and carried out a massacre, killing men, women and children. They spared only the black slaves whom they took as captured booty. Settlers across the American southwestern frontier were in a panic. This rebellion was squashed by Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama. Jackson demanded the cession of more Creek lands, and the Creeks fought the seizure all the way to the Supreme Court, where the Creeks won their case, but Jackson ignored the ruling.
Thereafter the expansion of Georgia into Creek lands took new forms of lawlessness and corruption. In 1821, the Creek leader General McIntosh and several other chiefs signed away Lower Creek lands east of the Flint River at the first Treaty of Indian Springs. As a reward, McIntosh was granted 1,000 acres at the treaty site, where he built a hotel to attract tourists to local hot springs.
The Creek National Council responded by proscribing the death penalty for tribesmen who surrendered additional land. Georgian settlers continued to pour into Indian lands, particularly after the discovery of gold near Dahlonega. In 1825 McIntosh and his first cousin, Georgia Governor George Troup, a leading advocate of Indian removal, signed the second Treaty of Indian Springs at his hotel. Signed by six other Lower Creek chiefs, the treaty ceded the last Lower Creek lands to Georgia, and allocated substantial sums to relocate the Muscogee to the Arkansas River. It provided for another large payment directly to McIntosh.
In April, the old Red Stick Menawa led about 200 Law Menders to assassinate McIntosh according to their law. They burned his upper Chattahoochee plantation. A delegation of the Creek National Council traveled to Washington D.C. to protest the 1825 treaty. They convinced President John Quincy Adams that the treaty was invalid for fraud and bribery, and negotiated the more favorable Treaty of Washington in 1826. The tribe ceded their lands to Georgia in return for $200,000, although they were not required to move west. Governor Troup ignored the new treaty, preferring the deal he made with his half-white Cousin McIntosh, and ordered the eviction of the Muscogee from their remaining lands in Georgia without compensation, mobilizing state militia in early states rights defiance when Adams threatened federal intervention.
That is how eastern Alabama came to be a hotbed of Creek resistance, as well as a refuge for absconding debtors. Our family records show claims made to the State of Georgia for property damage and loss of horses and livestock from Creek raids. Alabama was, in fact, the original Wild, Wild West.
This article is excerpted from BACK IN TIME, an historical family account by Claire Cox Wilkie based on primary documents from Sourcery Publishing, a division of Birmingham Communications LLC.