Tomochichi (ca. 1644-1739)
Tomochichi, chief of the Yamacraw Indians, remains a prominent character of early Georgia history. As the principal mediator between the native population and the new English settlers during the first years of settlement, he contributed much to the establishment of peaceful relations between the two groups and to the ultimate success of Georgia.
Little is known about the youth of this warrior and chieftain because of the absence of accurate documentation. Presumably, he was Creek and participated in their early activities with Englishmen in South Carolina, both peaceful and hostile. About 1728 Tomochichi created his own tribe of the Yamacraws from an assortment of Creek and Yamasee Indians after the two nations disagreed over future relations with the English and the Spanish. His group, approximately two hundred people, settled on the bluffs of the Savannah River because the location was the resting place of his ancestors and had close proximity to English traders. When General James Oglethorpe and his fellow settlers reached the region in February 1733, they realized the need to negotiate fairly with the neighboring Indian tribes or risk the success of their enterprise. Among Oglethorpe's entourage was Mary Musgrove, daughter of a Creek mother and an English father, who served as interpreter between the general and the chief. Tomochichi had had previous contact with English colonists, making him unafraid yet cautious. The aging warrior had several different options available, but he decided to receive the new arrivals and to give them permission to establish Savannah in order to take advantage of trading and diplomatic connections.
Accomplishments in Georgia
During the first five years of English settlement, Tomochichi provided invaluable assistance to the new colony. One year after Oglethorpe's arrival, the Indian chief accompanied him back to England along with a small delegation of family and Lower Creek tribesmen. There, Tomochichi expertly fulfilled the position as mediator for his people during numerous meetings with important English dignitaries. He politely followed English mannerisms in his public appearances while pushing for recognition and realization of the demands of his people for education and fair trade. Upon his return to Georgia, Tomochichi met with other Lower Creek chieftains to reassure them of the honest intentions of these new Englishmen and convinced them to ally with the English despite previous deceitful encounters with their northern neighbors in South Carolina.
After Oglethorpe returned to Georgia in February 1736, the chief received John Wesley, minister of Savannah, his brother Charles, and their friend Benjamin Ingham. Tomochichi reiterated his requests for Christian education for his tribe, but John Wesley rebuffed him with complex replies. Ingham, on the other hand, assisted in creating an Indian school at Irene, which opened in September 1736 much to the delight of the elderly chieftain. The same year, Tomochichi and Oglethorpe participated in an expedition to determine the southern boundaries of Georgia and helped mediate interactions with the Spanish. Tomochichi exerted his best efforts to maintain peace, and Oglethorpe regularly asked his friend for advice and assistance in achieving this goal. During the summer of 1739 Oglethorpe made an unprecedented journey to Coweta, deep in Indian Territory, to bolster his connections to the Lower Creeks, which resulted in a mutually favorable treaty. Tomochichi was unable to partake directly in Oglethorpe's negotiations; instead, he lay at home in his village fighting a serious illness.
Tomochichi died on October 5, 1739, and while sources differ over his exact age, historians and contemporary observers generally agree that he was in his late nineties. His contributions to the colony of Georgia were celebrated with an English military funeral, and the grave site was commemorated with a marker of "a Pyramid of Stone" collected from the vicinity. He left his wife Senauki and his nephew Toonahowi in charge of his small tribe, but he appointed no one to take his place as the impartial mediator between the Indians and the English. It was in this role that he provided his most lasting contributions, a role that both cultures accepted and applauded. The mound of stones honoring his final resting place in Savannah was removed in the early 1880s, and as a replacement, a large granite boulder with a decorative copper plate was installed southeast of the original structure with a dedication ceremony on April 21, 1899. The Georgia Historical Commission later placed a large marker in Savannah's Wright Square, which details the achievements of the Yamacraw chieftain.
Charles C. Jones Jr., Historical Sketch of Tomo-Chi-Chi, Mico of the Yamacraws (Albany, N.Y.: J. Munsell, 1868).
Helen Todd, Tomochichi: Indian Friend of the Georgia Colony (Atlanta: Cherokee, 1977).
Julie Anne Sweet, Baylor University, Waco, Texas
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