Creek Indians – Encyclopedia of New Georgia

The history of early Georgia is largely the history of the Creek Indians. For most of Georgia’s colonial period, the Creeks outnumbered European settlers and enslaved Africans and occupied more land than these newcomers. It wasn’t until the 1760s that the Creeks became a minority population in Georgia. They ceded the rest of their land to the new state in the 1800s.

Ancient history

The Creek Nation is a relatively young political entity. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, such a nation did not exist. At that time, most natives of the southeast lived in centralized mound-building societies, whose architectural achievements are still visible today in places such as the Etowah Mounds at Carterville and the Ocmulgee National Monument in Mason.

Around AD 1400, for reasons still debated, some of these large chiefdoms collapsed and reorganized into smaller chiefdoms spread across Georgia’s river valleys, including the Ocmulgee and Chattahoochee. Spanish incursions into the Southeast in the 16th century devastated these peoples. European diseases such as smallpox may have killed 90% or more of the native population. But by the late 1600s, the Southeast Indians began to recover.

They built a complex political alliance, which united the indigenous peoples of the Ocmulgee River in the west with the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers in Alabama. Although they spoke a variety of languages, including Muskogee, Alabama and Hitchiti, the Indians were united in their wish to remain at peace with one another. In 1715, English newcomers to South Carolina called these allied peoples “Creeks”. The term was shorthand for “Indians living on Ochese Creek” near Macon, but traders began to apply it to all native residents of the Deep South. They were about 10,000 at that time.

Relations with the English

When General James Oglethorpe and his Georgian settlers arrived in 1733, Creek’s relationship with the English was already well established. Early interactions between the Creeks and settlers centered on the exchange of slaves and buckskins for foreign goods like textiles and kettles. Shortly after the establishment of South Carolina in 1670, the Creeks created a vibrant business capturing and selling Florida Indians to their new neighbors. By 1715, this segment of the trade had almost disappeared due to lack of supply and demand. Deer skins then became the main currency.

Oglethorpe with the Creek Indians

In the 1730s, tens of thousands of hides left the port of Charleston, South Carolina each year for English factories, where they were cut into breeches, stretched into book covers and sewn into gloves. Savannah, Georgia later joined Charleston as a leading port, and by the 1750s it was exporting perhaps more than 60,000 skins each year. In the Creek towns, trade profits included cloth, kettles, guns, and rum. These objects have become integral parts of the culture, facilitating the work tasks of the Creeks. However, they also created conflict by enriching some, but not all, Indians.

The trade also encouraged closer cultural ties between natives and newcomers. Some Georgia traders made their home among the Creeks, settling in towns on the Chattahoochee, Coosa, and Tallapoosa rivers. They married Creek women and had children, some of whom later became important Creek leaders, such as Alexander McGillivray and William McIntosh. Along with others, they encouraged the indigenous people of Georgia to join the plantation economy that was spreading through the South.

William McIntosh
William McIntosh

Image from the Archives and Rare Books Library, University of Cincinnati Libraries

Many of the newcomers from Georgia were enslaved Africans and they also forged ties with the Creek Indians. During the 18th century, hundreds of fugitives from slavery settled in the towns of Creek. They too shaped the Creek peoples, including encouraging them to oppose slavery.

The Road to Rapture

Brooks largely avoided the American Revolution (1775-1783), but their lives changed dramatically afterward. The buckskin trade collapsed due to the dwindling white-tailed deer population. The new state of Georgia therefore viewed the Creeks as obstacles to the expansion of plantation slavery rather than trading partners. Under pressure from Georgia, the Creeks ceded their lands east of the Ocmulgee River in the Treaties of New York (1790), Fort Wilkinson (1802), and Washington (1805). The first treaty, the Treaty of New York, solidified Alexander McGillivray’s position as national chief of the Creeks, who were often crippled by a decentralized political system.

Creek Indian Painting

At the same time, the United States launched a program to turn the Creeks into ranchers and planters. Although some Creeks voluntarily adopted the program, many opposed it. The tension between the two factions was so enormous that it erupted into a civil war in 1813. American troops and state militia entered the conflict, and a final and final battle in March 1814 at Horseshoe Bend, Alabama , General Andrew Jackson led a force that killed 800 Creeks in action. The Red Rod War, as it is known, officially ended in August 1814 with the Treaty of Fort Jackson. In this agreement, the Creeks were forced to cede 22 million acres, including a huge tract in southern Georgia.

Fort Jackson Treaty
Fort Jackson Treaty

Image from the New York Public Library’s Digital Collections

The Brooks were soon dispossessed of their remaining lands. In the Treaty of Indian Springs (1825), Georgia agents bribed Creek chief William McIntosh to give up all Creek territory in the state in exchange for plantation land along the Chattahoochee River. Creeks, who was already outraged by McIntosh’s alliance with General Jackson during the Red Rod War, officially voted to put McIntosh to death for his treason. Although the United States rejected the fraudulent Indian Springs Treaty, the Creeks acknowledged that the Georgia government would not back down. The following year, Creek’s representatives signed the Treaty of Washington, ceding their remaining Georgian lands.

Georgian citizens played a pivotal role in removing the remaining 20,000 Creeks in Alabama. In 1832, the Creeks signed a treaty accepting their resettlement in Indian Territory (later known as Oklahoma). Columbus, Georgia-based land speculators saw an opportunity in the Creeks’ misfortune. They illegally purchased land from Creek and then secretly encouraged hostilities between whites and Indians, hoping to start a war that would rid the Southeast once and for all of its native residents. They found success in a brief conflict between the United States and the Creeks in 1836. At its conclusion, American troops, assisted by Georgia and Alabama militia and led by General Winfield Scott, mustered de force the Creeks and sent them to Indian Territory. Some left in chains, watched by armed soldiers. The brooks had to start living again in the lands west of the Mississippi.

creek indians
creek indians

Reprinted with permission from The Granger Collection, New York

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