Biography of General Alexander McGillivray

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General Alexander McGillivray this remarkable man was the son of Lachlan McGillivray, a native of Scotland, who came to South Carolina in the year 1735 and engaged in the Indian trade, at that time a very lucrative business.

In the course of a few years, by his address and industry, he amassed a large property.

During the Revolutionary War, he associated himself with the royalists, and when Savannah was evacuated by the enemy, he left Georgia, with a hope that his son might be permitted to take possession of his valuable estate; but in this he was disappointed; for, with the exception of a few negroes, it was confiscated by the State of Georgia.

The mother of Alexander McGillivray was the daughter of a full-blooded Creek woman, of high rank in her nation. Her father, Capt. Marchand, was a French gentleman who was killed by his own soldiers at Fort Toulouse, in August, 1722. Her name was Sehoy. She is represented as having been, at the time when Lachlan McGillivray formed her acquaintance, “a maiden of sixteen, cheerful in countenance, bewitching in looks, and graceful in form.”

Of the early age of Alexander little is known. When he was ten years old, his father sent him to the city of New York, and placed him under the care of a relative. Here be went to school to Mr. George Sheed, an eminent English teacher, and afterwards to Mr. Henderson, to learn the Latin language. When he was seventeen years old, he came to Savannah and entered the counting-house of Samuel Elbert; and afterwards, he remained a short time’ in the establishment of Alexander Ingliss & Company. His father, discovering that he had no relish for commercial pursuits, directed him to return to the Creek Nation. The British had stationed at the Hickory Ground, the site of the lower suburbs of the present Wetumpka, in Alabama, Col. Tait, for the purpose of inducing the Creeks to take sides with the King of England. Here McGillivray became acquainted with Col. Tait, and, operated upon by his advice, he attached himself to the cause of the royalists. Over the Creeks he acquired a powerful ascendancy, and when about thirty years of age, he presided at a Grand National Council at the town of Coweta, upon the Chattahoochee. The British conferred upon him the rank and pay of a colonel. During the war of the Revolution, he used all his exertions to exasperate the Creeks against the Whigs, and led several expeditions against them. With the notorious Col. Daniel McGirth and his adherents McGillivray often co-operated, and gave the citizens residing in the southern portions of Georgia much trouble by his well directed movements.

After the termination of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States, McGillivray still cherished resentments against the latter, and particularly against Georgia. In 1784, as the representative of the Creek and Seminole Nations, he formed a treaty of alliance with Spain, in which, among other things, it was agreed that the Creeks and Seminoles should defend the cause of the Icing of Spain; that no white person should be admitted into their country without a Spanish permit, &c. Upon his signing the treaty, he was made a Spanish commissary, with the rank and pay of a colonel. The Spaniards knowing that much dissatisfaction existed among the Indians, on account of the treaty at Augusta and the occupation of their territory, employed the most indefatigable exertions to foment discords between them and the Georgians, and McGillivray united with them, endeavouring to prevent any kind of negotiation.

Commissioners had. been appointed to treat with the Southern Indians, one of whom, Andrew Pickens, Esq., addressed a letter to McGillivray, requesting him to meet them at a convenient place to enter into a treaty.

To this invitation he sent a reply, in which he stated that he was surprised that the proposition for a treaty had not been made before; that the Indians had expected, when American independence was confirmed by the peace, measures would be taken to settle the differences between them and the Indians; that the Georgians had pursued a contrary course; that they had sought and obtained the friendship and protection of Spain; that the Indians wanted nothing but justice; their hunting-grounds to be preserved from encroachments, &c. The letter closes with a promise to meet the Commissioners whenever the Indians shall receive notice.

Encouraged by this reply, the Commissioners came to Galphinton, but to their surprise, McGillivray had failed to appear. Chiefs from two towns only, together with sixty warriors, met the Commissioners, with which small number they declined making a treaty; explaining, however, the intended policy of the United States. After the Commissioners departed, the Georgia Commissioners made a treaty with the few Indians present, and laid before the General Assembly a copy of the articles intended to have been proposed by the United States Commissioners, which that body declared to be a violation of the rights of Georgia.

In December, 1787, Dr. James White was appointed by Congress a superintendent of the Creeks, who, upon his arrival at Cusseta, addressed a letter to McGillivray, to which he replied, that he was pleased to learn of the doctor’s appointment for the purpose of inquiring into and settling the differences then subsisting between his nation and the Georgians. The causes of these differences and the discontents of the Creeks he states in the following words :-

“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 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 in a few days, a promise was extorted from them, that on their return to their 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 countrymen to make cession of land, which could be only 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 the State of Georgia.

” 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 remonstrance’s 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 tile 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 meet them in conference at the Oconee, professing a 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 the Commissioners. Lands were again demanded, and the lives of some of our chiefs were required, as well as those of some innocent traders, as a 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 savages 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 bunting-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.”

Dr. White met McGillivray at Cusseta, with a large number of Lower Creeks, when he desired them to ratify the treaties of Augusta, Galphinton, and Shoulder Bone. The chiefs answered ” that their lands were their life and breath, and if they parted. with them, they parted with their blood.”

The two chiefs who granted these lands declared that the Georgians compelled them to do so by threats and the flourish of long knives. A new proposition was made to the superintendent by McGillivray, the substance of which was, “that if Congress could form a government south of Alatamaha, he would be the first to take the oath of allegiance, and in return to Georgia for giving up that claim, he would obtain a grant of the lands on the Oconee. Here the conference ended.

It is due to Georgia to state that she always denied that the delegation of Indians was insufficient to make the grants, and insisted that they had been obtained without threats or violence. The Georgians, however, acknowledged that they had troops present at the treaty of Shoulder Bone, but only to suppress any apparent hostilities; and that they had carried hostages to Augusta for enforcing a compliance with the treaty, a custom sanctioned in all former negotiations with Indians.

The Creeks continued to make incursions upon the frontiers of Georgia. Congress, in 1788, appointed Commissioners to renew negotiations with McGillivray, but he refused to have an interview with them unless the settlers upon the Oconee lands were first removed. About this time Governor Thomas Pinckney, of South Carolina, opened a correspondence with McGillivray, but it resulted as all former efforts. In 1789, the Government of the United States embraced every opportunity to gain the friendship of McGillivray. Commissioners requested hint to meet them with a delegation from the whole of the Creek Nation, at Rock Landing, to settle all difficulties. He agreed to go, and just before the time appointed to meet them, he addressed a letter to William Panton, an extensive Indian merchant, then in high favor with the Spanish Government.

This letter is too long to be inserted in this sketch, but some extracts from it will enable the reader to form an idea of the character and talents of the writer.

“Galphin, whom I sent to the Rock Landing with a talk, declining the treaty of June last, returned about a fortnight since, and I find that they are resolved upon making a treaty. In order to accommodate us, the Commissioners are complaisant enough to postpone it till the 15th of next month, and one of them, the late Chief-Justice Osborne, remains all the time at Rock Landing. Pickens returned for the Cherokee treaty; but in this I took measures to disappoint him, for those chiefs would not meet. In this do you not see my cause of triumph, in bringing these conquerors of the Old, and masters of the New World, as they call themselves, to bend and supplicate for peace, at the feet of a people whom, shortly before, they despised and marked out for destruction”

“Thy people being all at home, and the grand ceremony of kindling the new fire being just over, I deem it the fittest time to meet these Commissioners, and have accordingly made the broken days, of which nine are left, to set out in. In conducting the business of the treaty, I will, as you observe, confine it to the fixing our limits and the acknowledgment of the independence of my nation. This I deem very necessary, as the Americans pretend to a territorial claim and sovereignty over us, in virtue of the late peace made with England. This being settled, will, in a great measure, be doing away with any cause of future quarrel between us. You well know how customary it is in all treaties with the- Indians to agree to a commercial one also; it being absolutely necessary, as it more firmly attaches them to friendships formed. * * * * However, in this instance I will agree to none, as you have a prospect of being able, by the favor of the Spanish Government, to supply this trade on as moderate terms as the Georgians can do. * * If I find that the Commissioners insist upon stipulations that will clash with those of Spain, I shall not hesitate to cut short the negotiation. * * * But at the same time I must insist upon an equal resolution in our friends, the Spaniards, to afford to us their decided support.

” Now let me talk a little upon my private affairs. I wish I could lay my band on that last letter, to send you, and a very curious, and, to you, not an uninteresting Carolina newspaper, just received; but they are both swallowed up in a multitude of papers. You know how it is with me in the paper way. The Commissioners of the United States say, it would give them great pleasure to have a private conversation previous to our entering into the business of the treaty; as it would tend to make it go on agreeably, and with more ease. I need not interpret this paragraph to you, when you already know that I have, for some time past, been endeavoring to recover my house and lands, with my family estate, which, to your knowledge, is more than ¬£30,000 sterling, the offer of which is now, I expect, to be pressed upon me. And there has, since I saw you last, arisen considerable conflict in my mind, in revolving these matters over. Here am I, an absolute heavy tax upon you, for years, and, in fact, not only for my private support, but for all the extra expenses of this department; and although, my dear sir, I know that I can still depend upon your generosity and in your friendship, that you overlook the heavy expense that I put you to, yet you well know how hurtful it is to the feeling heart to be beholden to subsist on the bounty of private friendship. Thus situated, I ask-I wish you to give me your opinion. On the one hand, I am offered the restoration of my property, of more than one hundred thousand dollars, at the least valuation; and on the other, not wherewithal to pay an interpreter. And I find that letters are still addressed to me, as agent for his Catholic Majesty, when I have some time ago renounced the pittance that was allowed, as being a consideration disgraceful to my station. If they want my services, why is not a regular establishment made, as was done by the English, with a competent salary affixed, and allowance for two interpreters, one among the Upper and one among the Lower towns, for hitherto, I have had to maintain them myself. Or shall I have recourse to my American estate to maintain them and myself? I wish you to advise me what I had best do.

“Although I have no solid ground to hope for a complete adjustment of our dispute with the Americans, I am resolved to go, if it is only to wipe off the suggestion made to me by our friends, that I am actuated by unjust motives and an unreasonable prejudice against the Americans, as the ground of hostility against them. But if they, on the other hand, should find a body of people approaching their mines, would not they say, What business have you here? Do you know that there are grounds from which we draw the chief source of our conveniences and happiness, and we cannot suffer you to participate in, or deprive us of them? And should these encroachers refuse to withdraw, would they not commence and support an inveterate hostility, until they should expel them?

“The fellow, Remain, whom Madame Villar writes of, was a great liar. He came here from the Choctaws with a quantity of silver ware and a few goods, and wanted Nick White to join him in purchasing negroes, to carry and sell in New-Orleans. After roving about for some time, he had a difference with Milfort,1 who threatened to send him in irons to New-Orleans, which terrified him, apparently, and he went off to the Creek Town, Chehaw, and from thence either to Detroit or to the States.

“A copy of this letter you can send to the ***** Miro, as I intended the former one.

“I expect our treaty will be over by the middle of September. If we return safe, expect a visit early in October from,

“Dear sir, yours most truly, “ALEXANDER McGILLIVRAY.
“To WILLIAM PANTON, Pensacola.”

On the 20th of Sept., 1789, Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, David Humphreys, Cyrus Griffin, Commissioners associated with Gen. Pickens, arrived at the Rock Landing on the Oconee, on the western bank of which McGillivray, with 2,000 warriors, had been encamped for more than a week. The arrival of the Commissioners was communicated to McGillivray, and at the time appointed, they attended to the ceremony of the black drink, and were conducted to the great square of the encampment by all the kings, chiefs, and warriors.

After a talk by the Commissioners, a copy of the draft of a treaty was presented to them, after which McGillivray and his chiefs had a private council, and the next day the Commissioners were informed by him that the treaty proposed was not satisfactory, and that the Indians were resolved to return home. Efforts were made to induce him to remain; but he refused to do so, broke up his encampment, and retired to the Ocmulgee, from whence he addressed the Commissioners a letter, in which he stated “that his retreat was entirely owing to the want of food for the horses of the Indians; that, finding that a restitution of territory and hunting-grounds was not the basis of a treaty, he resolved to return to his nation, deferring the matter in full peace until next spring.”

When Washington heard of this result, at first he felt a disposition to wage war against the Creeks; but upon ascertaining that such a war would cost an immense sum, he abandoned this idea, and determined, if possible, to induce McGillivray to visit him, believing that a negotiation in this way might be effected.

Accordingly, he dispatched Col. Marinus Willett as a secret agent to the Creeks, and to return, if possible, with McGillivray to the Seat of Government. Col. Willett left New York, arrived in Charleston, and after a few days, set out for the residence of Gen. Pickens. Obtaining from this gentleman an Indian guide, he started upon his mission, and, after a fatiguing journey, he met McGillivray, to whom he delivered the letters of Washington. He spent several days with him, and then met the chiefs, to whom he announced his mission, and requested McGillivray, and such chiefs as might be selected, to accompany him to New York, where Washington would make a treaty with them “as strong as the hills, and lasting as the rivers.” In an hour after this council, Col. Willett was informed that the Indians had agreed that McGillivray and other chiefs should accompany him to New York.

On the 1st of June, 1790, Col. McGillivray, with his nephew and two servants, with Col. Willett, departed for the seat of the Federal Government. Afterwards they were joined by the Tallase King, Chinnobe, and twenty-six warriors.

When the company arrived at Guilford Court House, in North Carolina, Mrs. Brown, whose husband had a few years before been killed by the Creeks, and herself and children carried to their nation, and whose ransom had been effected by McGillivray, and to whose support he had contributed for more than a year, learning his arrival, rushed through the crowd assembled to see the Great Chief, and with tears expressed to him her gratitude for the preservation of her life and that of her children. In the different places through which they passed, the cavalcade was treated with much attention. When they reached New York, the Tammany Society received them, and escorted them to the house of Washington, by whom they were entertained with much pomp and ceremony.

Learning that McGillivray was willing to make a treaty, Hon. Henry Knox was appointed to negotiate with him, and the treaty was concluded.

There was, however, a secret treaty between McGillivray and Washington, which has recently come to light. It provided that, after two years from date, the commerce of the Creek Nation should be carried on through the ports of the United States, and, in the meantime, through the present channels; that the chiefs of the Ocfuskees, Tookabatchas, Tallases, Cowetas, Cussetas, and the Seminole Nation, should be paid annually by the United States one hundred dollars each, and be furnished with handsome medals; that Alexander McGillivray should be constituted agent of the United States, with the rank of brigadier general, and the pay of twelve hundred dollars per annum, that the United States should feed, clothe, and educate Creek youth at the North, not exceeding four at one time.2

In 1791, McGillivray began to lose his popularity among the Creeks. William Augustus Bowles denounced McGillivray as a traitor. Aided by his emissaries, Bowles persuaded many of the Creeks to believe that he had sold them first to the Spanish Government, and afterwards to the Federal Government. His situation became embarrassing. The Spanish Government was displeased with him, the Indians were dissatisfied with the treaty at New York, and the Federal Government called upon him to observe the articles of the treaty.

In November, he made frequent visits to New Orleans, Mobile, and Pensacola, and, before he returned to the nation, he succeeded in having Bowles captured, and sent to Madrid.

At this time, the Government of the United States began to lose confidence in him. Many believed that he was acting secretly against the American interest. It was proved that the King of Spain had made him Superintendent-General of the Creeks, with a salary of two thousand dollars per annum, and that this amount was afterwards increased with fifteen hundred dollars. He was at this time, with a salary of thirty-five hundred dollars, the agent of the United States; the agent of Spain, with a salary of twelve hundred dollars; the co-partner of Panton, and the emperor of the Creek and Seminole Nations.

During the summer and fall of 1792, General McGillivray secretly caused large meetings to be held over the Creek and Cherokee Nations, at which he appeared to be only a visitor, while Panton and Captain Oliver, in speeches, forbid the running of the line between them and the Georgians, in the name of the King of Spain, and decreed that no American trader should enter the nation. Governor Carondelet was also active in endeavoring to defeat the provisions of the New York treaty. He sent to the Creek Nation a large body of bloody Shawnees, armed and equipped, who took up their abode at Souvanoga, upon the Tallapoosa. McGillivray moved his negroes to Little River, gave up his house to Captain Oliver, whom he had so well established in the affections of his people. The Spaniards not only had in view the prevention of the advancement of the Americans on the east, but determined to oppose the settlements upon the Mississippi; to effect all of which, they attempted to unite the four nations of Indians on their side. They strengthened all their forts, and authorized Captain John Linder, of Tensaw, and other active partisans, to raise volunteers. Carondelet gave Richard Finnelsol and Joseph Durque passports, to go through the Spanish posts, to the Cherokee Nation, as emissaries, to incite those Indians to make war upon the Cumberland people. There was, suddenly, great excitement produced over the whole Indian country. One chief declared, at Willstown, that he had taken the lives of three hundred Americans, but that now he intended to drink his fill of blood. During all this time, McGillivray, and the federal authorities at Rock Landing, were engaged in fruitless correspondence, and everything conspired to defeat the hopes of Washington.

McGillivray’s career was, however, drawing to a close. He had been in bad health for several years, and on the 17th , of February, 1793, he departed this life, leaving considerable property. He was interred with Masonic honors, in the city of Pensacola. His death produced deep sorrow and regret among the Indians. The great chieftain, who had so long been their pride, and who had elevated their nation, and sustained it in its trials, now lay buried in the sands of the Seminoles.

General McGillivray was six feet high, spare made, and remarkably erect in person and carriage. His eyes were large, dark, and piercing. His forehead was so peculiarly shaped, that the old Indian countrymen often spoke of it: it commenced expanding at his eyes, and widened considerably at the top of his head. It was a bold and lofty forehead. His fingers were long and tapering, and he wielded a pen with the greatest rapidity. His face was handsome, and indicative of quick thought and much sagacity. Unless interested in conversation, he was disposed to be taciturn, but, even then, was polite and respectful. When a British colonel, he dressed in the British uniform; and when in the Spanish service, he wore the military dress of that country. When Washington appointed him a brigadier-general, he sometimes wore the uniform of the American army, but never when in the presence of the Spaniards. His usual dress was a mixture of the Indian and American garb. He always traveled with two servants, David Francis, a half-breed, and Paro, a negro, who saved the lives of over a hundred royalists, in 1781. He had good houses at the Hickory Ground, and at Little Tallase, where he entertained, free of charge, distinguished government agents, and persons traveling through his extensive dominions.

Footnotes

  1. A French officer who lived in the nation. 

  2. Mr. Pickett says that among a file of papers placed in his hands, he found the Secret Treaty, written upon sheep-skin, and signed by Washington, Knox, McGillivray, and the chiefs. 



MLA Source Citation:

White, George. Historical Collections of Georgia: Containing the Most Interesting Facts, Traditions, Biographical Sketches, Anecdotes, Etc., Relating to Its History and Antiquities, from Its First Settlement to the Present Time; Compiled from Original Records and Official Documents; Illustrated by Nearly One Hundred Engravings. Pudney & Russell. 1855. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 27 November 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/biography-of-general-alexander-mcgillivray.htm - Last updated on Oct 13th, 2014


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