Georgia Indian Tribes
Image: Native Territories in Georgia
In 1732, several gentlemen in England, headed by James Oglethorpe, a member of the British Parliament and a philanthropist, organized a plan for establishing a colony in America for the indigent and persecuted in Britain – where the one class might find relief from poverty, and the other from persecution.
King George II granted to a corporation, “in trust for the poor,” the territory of Georgia, which was to be divided among the settlers. Liberal donations were made to defray the expenses of the first company of settlers to the new province.
In November of the same year, 116 prospective settlers left England. They landed, in February, on the banks of the Savannah River. For several days the people were employed in erecting a fort, and in felling trees, while Oglethorpe mapped out the town, which was given the name Savannah after the Indian name of the river.
The fort being completed, the guns mounted, and the colony put in a state of safety, the next object of Oglethorpe’s attention was to treat with the Indians for a share of their possessions. He gathered fifty chiefs, and told them of his plans.
In negotiating with these and other Indians, Oglethorpe was greatly assisted by an Indian woman, whom he found at Savannah, by the name of Mary Musgrove. She had lived among the English in another part of the country, and was well acquainted with their language, and she was of great use to Oglethorpe as an interpreter, for which service he gave her a hundred pounds a year.
Prior to the early 18th Century, most of Georgia was home to Native Americans who belonged to a southeastern alliance known as the Creek Confederacy. The confederacy was probably formed as a defense against other large groups to the north. Most of the groups of the confederacy shared the same language (Muskogean), types of ceremonies, and village layout.
Tribes of the Creek Confederacy in Georgia:
The Creek people lived in large permanent towns with smaller outlying villages that were associated with the larger town. The permanent towns were centered around plazas used for dancing, religious ceremonies, and games. It was here that the Sacred Fire was rekindled annually at the Green Corn Festival.
The people in the villages attended ceremonies in the towns with which they were associated. Surrounding the plaza area were the family homes. Towns were governed by a Chief, an assistant chief, and a Mico Apokta, who acted as speaker for the Chief.
When a Creek town reached a population of 400 to 600 people, they split and half moved to a new nearby site. The new town would build its ceremonial center and develop its own villages, but would also retain a mother-daughter relationship with its original town. This is how the confederacies were formed. Creek legends tell of palisaded compact towns.
By the 1700s, Creek towns began to spread out, reflecting a move to an agrarian lifestyle. At the end of that century, it was not uncommon for each town to have outlying homes separated by a mile or more of crops. The Creek adopted the plow and ax and raised livestock.
While most Creek still lived in traditional huts (not teepees) that were roofed with wood shingles or grass, some began to build log homes with chimneys. By the end of the century Indian Agent Benjamin Hawkins described the Creek towns as being “well fenced with fine stocks of cattle, horses, and hogs surrounded by fields of corn, rice and potatoes.”
Before the middle of the 16th century, the Creek controlled almost all of Georgia. At that time, the Cherokee (and later whites) began to pressure them to move inland. A “tremendous battle” occurred at Slaughter Gap in Lumpkin County in the late 1600’s. After this battle the Creek retreated to a line roughly south of the Etowah River.
A later battle in Cherokee County forced the Creek south to the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and west to the Coosa, and thereafter the terms Upper Creek and Lower Creek became common references to the now separate tribes.
During the American Revolution, the Creek Nation was generally successful in maintaining its neutrality, although factions of the tribe fought on both sides.
In November 1783, two minor chiefs (Tallassee and Cusseta) ceded Creek land between the Tugaloo and Apalachee Rivers. After that, relations between the state of Georgia and the Creek Nation worsened, and on April 2, 1786, the Creek Nation declared war. Attacks against settlers on Creek land were carried out.
Repeated attacks by the Red Sticks – the English term for a faction of Creek Indians who led a resistance movement – and whites lead to open warfare on the frontier of the Creek Nation. With emotions aroused by the Shawnee warrior Tecumseh, the Red Sticks sought to avenge a surprise attack on a village with an attack on Fort Mims near the mouth of the Alabama River in August, 1813. The Creek breached the exterior wall, quickly disposed of the soldiers, and began killing civilians. Lurid details of the battle reached Georgia and Tennessee.
A group of 5000 volunteers (mostly farmers and miners from Tennessee) led by General Andrew Jackson were joined by both Creek and Cherokee forces in an attempt to defeat the Red Sticks. Troops under Jackson’s command avenged the deaths at Fort Mims on a number of occasions, killing the women and children of the Creek faction.
After defeating the Red Sticks, Jackson forced the entire Creek Nation to cede one-third of its land to the United States on very favorable terms. By 1820, the removal of the Creek Nation had become a major platform for the Democratic Party in Georgia.
Elected in 1823, Governor George Troup saw the Creek as a serious problem. He believed the Indians should be moved to the Western Territory of the Louisiana Purchase, an idea proposed by Thomas Jefferson in 1803.
Chief William McIntosh, Governor Troup’s first cousin, agreed to cede all Lower Creek land to Georgia in the Treaty of Indian Springs in 1825. He had been manipulated by both the federal and state governments to sign the treaty. Prior to the removal, McIntosh and several other leaders were murdered by angry members of the tribe. The Treaty of Indian Springs was ratified in the U.S. Congress by a single vote. Troup’s stand on Indians gave him a razor-thin margin of victory in Georgia’s first popular election in 1825. Flaunting his victory, Troup began to force the Creek off their lands.
In January, 1826, President John Quincy Adams negotiated the Treaty of Washington with the Creek. Although this treaty was nearly as corrupt as the Treaty of Indian Springs, Troup did not support it. He refused to honor it and quickly began to forcibly remove the Upper and Lower Creek from Georgia. When Adams threatened Troup with federal intervention, Troup called his bluff, prepared the state militia, and continued the removal. Adams backed down, and by 1827, the Creek were gone.
Hitchiti, Oconee and Miccosukee
The Hitchiti were a Muskhogean tribe formerly residing in a town of the same name on the east bank of Chattahoochee river, and possessing a narrow strip of good land bordering on the river, in west Georgia. When Hawkins visited them in 1799, they had spread out into two branch settlements: the Hitchitudshi that populated both sides of the Flint River, and the Tutalosi, on a branch of Kinchafoonee creek, 20 miles west of Hitchitudshi.
The Hitchiti were a sedentary hunter/farmer tribe. The Muskhogean peoples arrived in their aboriginal area sometime after 1000 BC. They were located on the lower course of the Ocmulgee River. The Okmulgee apparently fissioned from the Hitchiti earlier. The Hitchiti later split and fused into the Seminole and Creek Confederacies as a result of White pressure.
The Hitchiti tribe is not often mentioned in history, and appears for the first time in 1733, when two of its delegates met Governor Oglethorpe at Savannah. The language appears to have extended beyond the limits of the tribe, and it was spoken not only in the towns on the Chattahoochee – Chiaha, Hitchiti, Oconee, and Apalachicola – but by the Miccosukee and over considerable portions of Georgia and Florida.
The Seminole are also said to have been a half-Creek and half-Hitchiti speaking people, although their language is now almost identical with the Creek. It is believed that the Yamasee likewise spoke the Hitchiti language. The Hitchiti were absorbed into and became an integral part of the Creek Nation, though preserving to a large extent their own language and peculiar customs.
Image: Creek Chief McIntosh
Charles Bird King’s portrait of William McIntosh, who negotiated and signed the Treaty of Indian Springs, signing away all Creek lands in Georgia and thereby defying most of the reforms that he had encouraged and the laws that he had helped write.
The largest of the Five Civilized Tribes of the Southeast, the Cherokee are a people of Iroquoian lineage. The Cherokee, who called themselves Ani’-Yun’ wiya or Principal People, migrated to the Southeast from the Great Lakes Region. They commanded more than 40,000 square miles in the southern Appalachians by 1650, with a population estimated at 22,500.
Similar to other Native Americans of the Southeast, their nation was a confederacy of towns, each subordinate to supreme chiefs. When encountered by Europeans, they were an agrarian people who lived in log homes (not teepees) and observed sacred religious practices.
During the American Revolution, the Cherokee, as well as the Creek and Choctaw, supported the British and made several attacks on forts and settlements in the frontier.
After 1800, the Cherokee profoundly assimilated into the White culture. They adopted a government patterned after the United States, wore European-style dress, and followed the white man’s farming and home-building methods. Ironically, the Cherokees fought with Andrew Jackson in the Creek War (1813-14).
Cherokee culture continued to flourish with the invention of the Cherokee syllabary by Sequoyah in 1821. This system, in which each character represents a syllable, produced rapid literacy. It made possible the Cherokee Constitution, the spread of Christianity and the printing of the only Native American newspaper, The Cherokee Phoenix, begun in 1828.
A seat of government was built at New Echota. However, that same year, gold was discovered in north Georgia’s Cherokee territory. Within a decade the Principal People’s native home, their Enchanted Land, would be theirs no more..
The Cherokee were ravaged by European diseases, and repeatedly swept with smallpox outbreaks. As coastal whites moved closer to the inland, significant trading with the Cherokee developed. During the first 15 years of the 18th century, over a million pelts were shipped from the port of Charleston, South Carolina.
The impact on the environment forced Cherokee braves to hunt further from home, and competition from white hunters depleted these resources. With the encroachments of whites beginning in 1721, border wars, and disease, the Cherokee faced a new life. To the Cherokee the world was crumbling.
As death became commonplace among the Cherokee, customs changed. Society was more promiscuous, a natural reaction to ever-present death. A new ceremonial dance reflecting the prevalence of death in the culture was introduced, but strong matrilineal clans were still the core of Cherokee society.
Each clan had a name – Paint, Deer, Wolf – and members of each clan populate villages. Intra-clan marriages were forbidden. When married, the man lived with his wife’s clan. Anyone could speak at council, which was ruled by the oldest warriors, and in some cases, elder women.
During the French and Indian War, the Cherokee sided with the British. After unprovoked attacks from South Carolina in 1760, they switched sides and engaged the settlers in violent battles on the frontier for nearly two years, but they signed a peace treaty on British terms in late 1761.
Impressed by the British victory, they sided with them during the War for American Independence. In 1781, word reached the Cherokee that the British had lost. In 1782, members of the Long Swamp branch of Cherokee signed a treaty with the government ceding about 1600 square miles in eastern Georgia.
Settlers were restricted from Indian Territory prior to the end of the American Revolution by decree of the English king. With the overthrow of the British, the frontier was thrown open to a vast hoard of frontiersmen, blazing the way for farmers and merchants to follow.
Unaware that the American Government was weaker than the British king, the Treaty of Hopewell was negotiated, giving the government sole power to negotiate with the Cherokee. That treaty soon divided the Cherokee into two distinct groups, the Lower Towns and Upper Towns. The Lower Towns, known as the Chickamauga, engaged in pitched battles during the next 9 years, trying to drive the white settlers back. The defeat of the Chickamauga in November, 1794, marked a low point for the Cherokee.
Under the Treaty Clause of the United States Constitution, the President was responsible for negotiation with the Cherokee. George Washington faced continuing friction between white settlers and Native Americans, many of whom had already relocated once.
The man who was appointed to represent the United States to the Cherokee Nation, and would do so until 1823, was Return J. Miegs. A Revolutionary War veteran, he acted as advisor, assistant, and emissary to the Cherokee. The obedient Miegs followed the orders of various Presidents. The United States policy evolved from one of assimilating the Cherokee into white society to one supporting removal. Miegs had no problem adapting to the new policies, and actively negotiated with chiefs he knew he could bribe.
Cherokee leaders like the aging Charles Hicks and John Ross were united in their stand to create a Cherokee Nation. Having completed the institutionalization of the tribal council, Hicks and Ross began to consolidate their power, which included passing a number of nationalistic laws. In addition to the law forbidding the sale of land to settlers, they created a bureaucracy similar to the United States.
Cherokee politicians soon understood the American’s approach to the Nation. Cherokee property was held in severalty, or by the tribe. Americans viewed property as being held by an individual. By dealing with individuals rather than the tribe as a whole, Americans succeeded in dividing the nation, creating rifts that destroyed the original Cherokee Nation in Georgia, and nearly destroyed it after it was forced to move to Oklahoma in 1838. Four thousand Cherokee died during the mass migration that they called the Trail of Tears.