The history of early Georgia is largely the history of the Creek Indians. For most of Georgia's colonial period, Creeks outnumbered both European colonists and enslaved Africans and occupied more land than these newcomers. Not until the 1760s did the Creeks become a minority population in Georgia. They ceded the balance of their lands to the new state in the 1800s.
The Creek Nation is a relatively young political entity. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, no such nation existed. At that time most Southeastern natives lived in centralized mound-building societies,
About A.D. 1400, for reasons still debated, some of these large chiefdoms collapsed and reorganized themselves into smaller chiefdoms spread about in Georgia's river valleys, including the Ocmulgee and the Chattahoochee. The Spanish incursions into the Southeast in the sixteenth century devastated these peoples. European diseases such as smallpox may have killed 90 percent or more of the native population. But by the end of the 1600s Southeastern Indians began to recover.
They built a complex political alliance, which united native peoples from the Ocmulgee River west to 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. By 1715 English newcomers from South Carolina were calling these allied peoples "Creeks." The term was shorthand for "Indians living on Ochese Creek" near Macon, but traders began applying it to every native resident of the Deep South. They numbered about 10,000 at this time.
Relations with the English
When General James Oglethorpe and his Georgia colonists arrived in 1733, Creek-English relations were already well established.
By the 1730s tens of thousands of skins were leaving the port of Charleston, South Carolina, each year, bound 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 in the 1750s it may have exported more than 60,000 skins each year. In Creek towns the profits from the trade included cloth, kettles, guns, and rum. These items became integral parts of the culture, easing the labor tasks of Creeks. However, they also created conflict by enriching some, but not all, Indians.
Many Georgia newcomers were African slaves, and they also forged ties with the Creek Indians. Over the course of the eighteenth century, hundreds of fugitive slaves settled in Creek towns. They too shaped the Creek peoples, especially by encouraging them to oppose slavery.
The Road to Removal
At the same time, the United States initiated a program to turn Creeks into ranchers and planters. Although some Creeks willingly embraced the program, many opposed it.
Creeks were soon dispossessed of their remaining land. In the Treaty of Indian Springs of 1825, Georgia agents bribed Creek leader William McIntosh to sign away all Creek territory in the state. Outraged Creeks formally voted to put McIntosh to death for his treachery, and the United States rejected the fraudulent treaty. However, Creeks recognized that the Georgia government would not relent. The following year Creek representatives signed the Treaty of Washington, ceding their remaining Georgia land.
Georgia citizens played a central role in removing the 20,000 Creeks still in Alabama. In 1832 the Creeks signed a treaty agreeing to their relocation to Indian Territory (later known as Oklahoma). Land speculators based in Columbus, Georgia, saw opportunity in the Creeks' misfortune. They illegally purchased Creek lands
Kathryn E. Holland Braund, Deerskins and Duffels: The Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685-1815 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993).
Michael D. Green, The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982).
Joel W. Martin, Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees' Struggle for a New World (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991).
Claudio Saunt, A New Order of Things: Property, Power, and the Transformation of the Creek Indians, 1733-1816 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999).
Julie Anne Sweet, Negotiating for Georgia: British-Creek Relations in the Trustee Era, 1733-1752 (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 2005).
David S. Williams, From Mounds to Megachurches: Georgia's Religious Heritage (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2008).
Claudio Saunt, University of Georgia
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