The Spaniards in Alabama and Mississippi

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England, having lost her West Florida provinces by the victories of Galvez, and having the American Whigs, as well as the natives of France, Spain and Holland, arrayed against her, was finally forced to retire from the unequal contest. A preliminary treaty of peace was signed at Paris. England there acknowledged our independence, and admitted our southern boundary to be as follows: A line beginning at the Mississippi, at 31° north of the equator, and extending due east to the Chattahoochie River; down that river to the mouth of the Flint, and thence to the St. Mary’s, and along that river to the sea. Great Britain also expressly stipulated, in that treaty, our right to the navigation of the Mississippi River, from its mouth to its source.

Jan. 20 1783: Great Britain and Spain entered into a treaty. The former warranted and confirmed to the latter the province of West Florida, and ceded to her East Florida.1

But although England, by the treaty of 1782, assigned to the United States all the territory between the Mississippi and the Chattahoochie, lying between the parallels of latitude 31° and 32° 28′, embracing the same portion of the territory of Alabama and Mississippi, which lay in the British province of West Florida, yet it was not surrendered to us by Spain for years afterwards. Spain occupied it, contending that Great Britain, in the treaty with her, in 1783, warranted the province of West Florida to her, not defining its northern limits, and that England had no right to restrict her limits, even if she had attempted it, for Spain had, before the negotiations commenced, acquired all of West Florida, by conquest, through the victorious arms of Don Galvez.

Turning to Georgia, with which this history will now be much connected, we find that that province continued to consist, as at the time of its colonization by Oglethorpe, of a narrow strip of country, between the Savannah and Ogechee Rivers, until 1773, when, as we have already seen, Governor Wright acquired from the Creeks and Cherokees a strip of country north of this, extending above Broad River. The Legislature of Georgia elected commissioners, who met a delegation of Cherokees at Augusta. The latter ceded to Georgia the country upon the western side of the Tugalo, including the head waters of the Oconee. A small delegation of the Creeks also assembled at Augusta, and agreed to the boundary made with the Cherokees. Thus, as Georgia supposed, the lines between her and those tribes were, for a while, determined. But the treaty made with the Creeks was denounced by a large majority of that nation, as obtained unfairly, and with the representation of scarcely any of the towns.2

But, before entering upon these exciting topics, it will be necessary to recur once more to the close of the war. It has been observed, that Lachlan McGillivray, previous to the revolution, owned extensive trading-houses in Savannah and Augusta, and plantations upon the river. He was an active and influential royalist, and the Whigs of Georgia and Carolina sensibly felt his weight. When the British were forced to evacuate Savannah, he sailed with them to his native country, having scraped together a vast amount of money and movable effects. His plantations and Negroes he abandoned, in the hope that his son, Alexander, his two daughters, and his Indian wife, Sehoy, then living upon the Coosa, might be suffered to inherit them. But the Whigs confiscated the whole of this valuable property, with the exception of a few Negroes, who fled to the nation, and were added to those already at the residence of Sehoy. Thus, Col. Alexander McGillivray was deprived of a large patrimony, while his affectionate father was forced to flee the country. Another Scotchman, remarkable for his great commercial enterprise and capital sense, must also be introduced.

William Panton was born in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, and, at an early period, sailed for America, and landed in Charleston. He became an extensive Indian merchant, and owned large estates, in South Carolina and Georgia; but, at an early period of the war, was driven from these provinces, and his estates confiscated. He then established himself upon the St. Mary’s. In 1781, when the Spaniards took Pensacola, he was residing there, owning an extensive trading house. He soon formed a commercial treaty with Spain, which enabled him to become enriched, while the government of Florida was strengthened by his influence with the Indian tribes south of the Tennessee. He had formed an acquaintance with Colonel McGillivray, and was struck with the power of his mind. Knowing that he had been deserted by the British, he sought to place him under the wing of Spain, for the personal advancement of the great Chieftain himself, who he expected would, in return, promote his Indian commerce. He introduced him to the Spanish authorities of West Florida. According to arrangement, Colonel McGillivray went to Pensacola, and entered into a treaty of alliance with Spain. Spain was represented by Don Miro, of New Orleans, Governor of West Florida; Don Arthur O’Neill, Commandant of Pensacola; and Don Martin Navarro, Intendant-General of Florida. Colonel McGillivray represented the whole Creek and Seminole nations. It was stipulated that the Creek and Seminole Indians should defend and sustain the cause of his Catholic Majesty, and obey his orders, through his Captain-General of the provinces of the Floridas and Louisiana, in those points which are compatible with Indian character; that Spain should proportion among the Indians a desirable and permanent commerce at the most judicious places; that the Creeks should establish a general peace with the Chickasaws, Choctaws and Cherokees; that all strangers, introducing themselves among the Indians for the purpose of stirring up rebellion against the King of Spain, should immediately be seized and conveyed to the Governor of Pensacola; that the Indians should admit no white person into their country who did not bear a Spanish permit; that they should abandon the practice of taking scalps, if engaged in war; that they should deliver up all white prisoners, subjects of the United States, and not admit into their nations, fugitive slaves from the provinces of Louisiana and Florida, but should apprehend and deliver them to the commandants.3

Colonel McGillivray was induced to form an alliance with the Spaniards for various reasons, the chief of which were that the Whigs, as he contended, had confiscated his estates, banished his father, threatened him with death and his nation with extermination, and were constantly encroaching upon Creek soil. The Spaniards wanted no lands–desired only his friendship, and had not encroached upon him or his people. Besides, they were the first to offer him promotion and commercial advantages. When he had signed the treaty, they made him a Spanish commissary, with the rank and pay of colonel.

Great dissatisfaction arose, as has been stated, in consequence of the treaty at Augusta and the occupation of the Creek lands. Border war commenced. The Spanish authorities fomented these discords between the Creeks and Georgians, for the purpose of monopolizing the entire commerce of the nation. Colonel McGillivray exerted himself to defeat all attempts at peaceable negotiation, now undertaken by those who had charge of our national affairs.

The provisional Congress appointed Benjamin Hawkins, Andrew Pickens, Joseph Martin and Lachlan McIntosh, commissioners, to treat with the Southern Indians. Pickens addressed a letter to Colonel McGillivray, urging him to meet them at a convenient place, at the head of all the Chiefs of the nation, to enter into treaties of friendship. The Alabama Talleyrand replied, and we will publish his able and ingenious letter, as the reader can better understand from it the character of the man, and of the times of which he writes, than by a narration from the author:

“Little Tallase,4 5th Sept., 1785.

“Sir–I am favored with your letter by Brandon, who, after detaining it near a month, sent it by an Indian, a few days ago. He, perhaps, had some reasons for keeping himself from this region.

“The notification you have sent us is agreeable to our wishes, as the meeting is intended for the desirable purpose of adjusting and settling matters, on an equitable footing, between the United States and the Indian nations. At the same time, I cannot avoid expressing my surprise that a measure of this nature should have been so long delayed, on your part. When we found that the American independence was confirmed by the peace, we expected that the new government would soon have taken some steps to make up the differences that subsisted between them and the Indians during the war, to have taken them under their protection, and confirmed to them their hunting grounds. Such a course would have reconciled the minds of the Indians, and secured the States their friendship, as they considered your people their natural allies. The Georgians, whose particular interest it was to conciliate the friendship of this nation, have acted, in all respects, to the contrary. I am sorry to observe that violence and prejudice have taken place of good policy and reason, in all their proceedings with us. They attempted to avail themselves of our supposed distressed situation. Their talks to us breathed nothing but vengeance, and, being entirely possessed with the idea that we were wholly at their mercy, they never once reflected that colonies of a powerful monarch were nearly surrounding us, to whom, in any extremity, we might apply for succor and protection, and who, to answer some ends of their policy, might grant it to us. However, we yet deferred any such proceeding, still expecting we could bring them to a true sense of their interest; but still finding no alteration in their conduct towards us, we sought the protection of Spain, and treaties of friendship and alliance were mutually entered into–they guaranteeing our hunting grounds and territory, and granting us a free trade in the ports of the Floridas.

“How the boundary and limits between the Spaniards and the States will be determined, a little time will show, as I believe that matter is now on foot. However, we know our limits, and the extent of our hunting grounds. As a free nation, we have applied, as we had a right to do, for protection, and obtained it. We shall pay no attention to any limits that may prejudice our claims that were drawn by an American, and confirmed by a British negotiator. Yet, notwithstanding we have been obliged to adopt these measures for our preservation, and from real necessity, we sincerely wish to have it in our power to be on the same footing with the States as before the late unhappy war, to effect which is entirely in your power. We want nothing from you but justice. We want our hunting grounds preserved from encroachments. They have been ours from the beginning of time, and I trust that, with the assistance of our friends, we shall be able to maintain them against every attempt that may be made to take them from us.

“Finding our representations to the State of Georgia of no effect, in restraining their encroachments, we thought it proper to call a meeting of the nation, on the subject. We then came to the resolution to send out parties, to remove the Georgians and their effects from the lands in question, in the most peaceable manner possible.

“Agreeably to your requisition, and to convince you of my sincere desire to restore a good understanding between us, I have taken the necessary steps to prevent any future predatory excursions of my people against any of your settlements. I could wish the people of Cumberland showed an equal good disposition to do what is right. They were certainly the first aggressors since the peace, and acknowledged it in a written certificate, left at the Indian camp they had plundered.

“I have only to add, that we shall meet the commissioners of Congress whenever we shall receive notice, in expectation that every matter of difference will be settled, with that liberality and justice worthy the men who have so gloriously asserted the cause of liberty and independence, and that we shall, in future, consider them as brethren, and defenders of the land.5

“I am, with much respect, sir,
“Your obedient servant,
“Alexander McGillivray.”
“Hon. Andrew Pickens.”

This well-written communication affords the first evidence of the consummate diplomacy of this great native Alabamian. The history of this remarkable Indian will be found to be full of interest.

The commissioners of Congress, elated by the conciliatory tone of Colonel McGillivray, arrived at Galphinton.6 The latter failed to appear, and only the Chiefs from two towns, with sixty warriors, met them. Disappointed and mortified, the commissioners declined to treat with so few. In the meantime the Georgia commissioners protested against those proceedings which the agents of Congress had intended to adopt; but the latter declined to do anything further than to explain to the Indians the policy which the Congress intended to pursue towards them, thanked them for their attendance and afterwards departed. No sooner had they left than the commissioners representing Georgia made a treaty with the Creeks who were present, which confirmed the treaty of Augusta of 1783, and granted to the State of Georgia the territory lying on the east side of a line to run from the junction of the Oconee and Ockmulgee to the St. Mary ‘s River, including all the islands and harbors, and which now constitutes more than half the coast of Georgia. What considerations induced the Indians to divest themselves of so much territory is not stated. The commissioners of Georgia laid before the legislature a copy of the articles intended to have been proposed to the Creeks by the agents of Congress had a sufficient number been present, which that body declared, by resolutions, to be subversive of the rights of the State. They instructed their members in Congress to insist on the abolition of the powers of the commissioners, while they adopted measures for the preservation of the rights of the citizens of Georgia. Edward Telfair, John King and Thomas Glasscock received the thanks of the General Assembly for their vigilance and patriotism, and particularly for the treaty which they had made.

The Georgia Legislature established a county called Houston, embracing the territory extending from Nickajack, below the Muscle Shoals, out of which are now formed the modern Alabama counties of Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison and Jackson. Sevier, Downs, Herd, Donaldson and Linsey were appointed commissioners to organize the county of Houston. With eighty men, in flat boats, they arrived at the Muscle Shoals, and in the western part of the present Lauderdale county established a land office, appointed military officers and magistrates, and elected Valentine Sevier to be a member of the Georgia Legislature. This remarkable government existed but two weeks, when the colonists were driven off by the Indians.7

Congress appointed James White a superintendent of the Creek Indians, who immediately proceeded to the town of Cusseta, upon the Chattahoochie. He addressed a letter to Colonel McGillivray, and received the following reply:

“Little Tallase, 8th April, 1787.
“Sir–It is with real satisfaction that I learn of your being appointed by Congress for the laudable purpose of inquiring into and settling the differences that at present subsist between our nation and the Georgians. It may be necessary for you to know the cause of these differences and our discontent, which, perhaps, have never come to the knowledge of the honorable body that sent you to our country.

“There are Chiefs of two towns in this nation, who, during the late war, were friendly to the State of Georgia, and had gone, at different times, among those people, and once, after the general peace, to Augusta. They there demanded of them a grant of lands, belonging to and enjoyed as hunting grounds by the Indians of this nation in common, on the east of the Oconee River. The Chiefs rejected the demand, on the plea that these lands were the hunting grounds of the nation, and could not be granted by two individuals; but, after a few days, a promise was extorted from them, that, on their return to our country, they would use their influence to get a grant confirmed. Upon their return, a general convention was held at Tookabatcha, when these two Chiefs were severely censured, and the Chiefs of ninety-eight towns agreed upon a talk, to be sent to Savannah, disapproving, in the strongest manner, of the demand made upon their nation, and denying the right of any two of their country to make cession of land, which could only be valid by the unanimous voice of the whole, as joint proprietors in common. Yet these two Chiefs, regardless of the voice of the nation, continued to go to Augusta, and other places within that State. They received presents and made promises; but our customs did not permit us to punish them for the crime. We warned the Georgians of the dangerous consequences that would certainly attend the settling of the lands in question. Our just remonstrances were treated with contempt, and these lands were soon filled with settlers. The nation, justly alarmed at the encroachments, resolved to use force to maintain their rights; yet, being averse to the shedding of the blood of a people whom we would rather consider as friends, we made another effort to awaken in them a sense of justice and equity. But we found, from experience, that entreaty could not prevail, and parties of warriors were sent, to drive off the intruders, but were instructed to shed blood, only where self-preservation made it necessary.

“This was in May, 1786. In October following, we were invited by commissioners, of the State of Georgia, to 1787 meet them in conference, at the Oconee, professing a April 8 sincere desire for an amicable adjustment of our disputes, and pledging their sacred honors for the safety and good treatment of all those that should attend and meet them. It not being convenient for many of us to go to the proposed conference, a few, from motives of curiosity, attended. They were surprised to find an armed body of men, prepared for and professing hostile intentions. Apprehensions for personal safety induced those Chiefs to subscribe to every demand that was asked by the army and its commissioners. Lands were again demanded, and the lives of some of our Chiefs were required, as well as those of some innocent traders, as sacrifice to appease their anger. Assassins have been employed to effect some part of their atrocious purposes. If I fall by the hand of such, I shall fall the victim of the noblest of causes, that of maintaining the just rights of my country. I aspire to the honest ambition of meriting the appellation of the preserver of my country, equally with the Chiefs among you, whom, from acting on such principles, you have exalted to the highest pitch of glory. And if, after every peaceable mode of obtaining a redress of grievances proved fruitless, a recourse to arms to obtain it be a mark of the savage, and not of the soldier, what Indians must the Americans be, and how much undeserved applause have your Cincinnatus, your Fabius, obtained. If a war name had been necessary to distinguish that Chief, in such a case, the Man-Killer, the Great Destroyer, would have been the proper appellation.

“I had appointed the Cussetas, for all the Chiefs of the Lower Creeks to meet in convention. I shall be down in a few days, when, from your timely arrival, you will meet the Chiefs, and learn their sentiments, and I sincerely hope that the propositions which you shall offer us will be such as we can safely accede to. The talks of the former commissioners, at Galphinton, were much approved of, and your coming from the White Town (seat of Congress) has raised great expectations that you will remove the principal and almost only cause of our dispute, that is, by securing to us our hunting grounds and possessions, free from all encroachments. When we meet, we shall talk these matters over. Meantime, I remain,

“With regard, your obedient servant,
“Alexander McGillivray
“Hon. James White.”

Dr. White met McGillivray at Cusseta, with a large number of Lower Creeks, when the Superintendent desired them to ratify the treaties of Augusta, Galphinton and Shoulderbone, and to make arrangements for running the boundary line around the ceded territory. The Chiefs boldly opposed the proposition, and declared that their “lands were their life and breath, and if they parted with them they parted with their blood.” The two Chiefs, who conveyed away these lands, being severely censured, stated that the Georgians compelled them to make the grant by threats and the flourish of long knives.

McGillivray startled the Superintendent with a new proposition. He said: “Notwithstanding I prompt the Indians to defend their lands, I look upon the United States as our most natural ally. Two years I waited before I would seek the alliance I have formed. I was compelled to it. I could not but resent the greedy encroachments of the Georgians, to say nothing of their scandalous and illiberal abuse. But I will now put it to the test, whether they or myself entertain the most generous sentiments of respect for Congress. If that honorable body can form a government to the southward of the Altamaha, I will be the first to take the oath of allegiance, and, in return to the Georgians for yielding to the United States that claim, I will obtain a regular and peaceable grant of the lands on the Oconee, on which they have deluded people to settle, under the pretence of grants from the Indians, and which you yourself (Dr. White) have seen are most ill-founded. I will give you till the first of August for an answer.”

Thus terminated the council, and the Superintendent found himself baffled and perplexed by the ingenuity of McGillivray, who always managed to defeat any scheme of the Federal Government.

The Georgians on the other hand, denied the charges of violence and fraud, contended that a sufficient delegation of Indians were present to make the grants, and that they were procured from them fairly and honorably, without threats or the display of knives. They contended that the Upper Creeks, who never occupied the Oconee lands, had no right to have a voice in the matter. They admitted that, at the treaty of Shoulderbone, in 1786, they had armed troops present; but they were there for the purpose of suppressing hostilities, should they show themselves. They also admitted that, for enforcing a compliance of the treaty, they carried hostages to Augusta, which had been customary in all former negotiations with Indians.8

Footnotes

  1. American State Papers, Boston edition, vol. 10, p. 132. 

  2. American State Papers, Indian Affairs, folio edition, vol. 1, p. 23. 

  3. American State Papers, Boston edition, vol. 10, pp. 223-227. 

  4. Little Tallase, four miles above Wetumpka, on the east bank of the Coosa, was one of the residences of Colonel McGillivray, and from that point he wrote most of his able letters. Colonel Howell Rose now owns the site of Little Tallase, which is embraced in a cotton plantation. 

  5. Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 17-18. 

  6. This town was named in honor of George Galphin, the great Indian Trader. 

  7. Haywood’s History of Tennessee, pp. 157-158. 

  8. Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 18-23. 



MLA Source Citation:

Pickett, Albert James. A transcription from the manuscript History of Alabama, Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi, From the Earliest Period. Charleston: Walker and James. 1851. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 9 October 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/alabama/spaniards-alabama-mississippi.htm - Last updated on Feb 7th, 2014

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