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Choctaw Trade and Coexistence in the Nation
Posted By Judy On In Alabama,Georgia,Mississippi,Native American,Tennessee | No Comments
After the discovery of the new world, trade quickly became the most important interaction between the American natives and the colonists. For the Indians it was an extension and continuation of their inter-tribal practices. Reuben Gold Thwaites, an early nineteenth-century student of the American frontier, stated that “the love of trade was strong among the Indians,” and that they had a complex “system of inter-tribal barter.” This existing trade system allowed the Europeans to quickly establish their own trade with the various tribes along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts.
One of the foremost Indian trading nations was the Choctaw tribe, followed closely by their Chickasaw cousins. Indeed, there is evidence that the Mobilian trading language of the southeastern Indians had strong connections to the Choctaw tongue. It has been suggested that this lingua franca was partially the result of centuries of inter-tribal trading that stretched as far as the Pacific ocean. By the mid-eighteenth century the southeastern Native Americans in particular had developed a growing appetite for manufactured items, especially metals and textiles, and they began cooperating in long-term trading relationships with the Europeans.
These complex relationships involved cultural accommodations that took into account the Indian’s view of trading as more than a mere profit making endeavor. On the European side, traders needed more than an attractive inventory to assure success. They also had to understand native cultural practices, obey them, and develop an affinity with the Indian state of mind. The success of some of them is demonstrated by their marriages into the Indian nations which resulted in mixed-blood children.
Indians offered not only furs, skins, the bounty of the land (and in time the land itself) in barter, but allegiances as well. Competition between European governments for Indian friendship soon became a bartering chip the Native American did not hesitate to use. Among the many references to Indian negotiations in the southeast is that of Governor Perier, the French governor of Louisiana in 1730 who reported that he believed a lack of trade goods helped cause the Natchez uprising and adversely affected Indian policy in general:
…it is charlatanry on the part of those who are in command here [to say) that it is only necessary to know the Indians and to be loved by them to make them do what one wishes. One is certain to be loved by them as long as one gives them what they wish, and in proportion as they feel that we need them they increase and multiply their needs so that the English, and we, are the dupes these Indians who are less dupes than we are."
Later that year Perier wrote about the increasing competition between Great Britain and France for the allegiance of the Southeast Indians, particularly the Choctaw tribe:
“Although they are very bad they make us pay them dearly, especially the Choctaws, who do not cease to murmur although they are the best treated. There is every probability that this nation will be divided unless the English cease their active solicitations…which they express with an infinite number of presents that they give both to the chiefs of these nations and to ordinary warriors, assuring them that they would always sell them their goods more cheaply by half than would the French.”
So it is evident that even in the early eighteenth century French authorities in Louisiana realized these tribes were more than gullible savages whose friendships could be manipulated by sophisticated European will. The tribesmen actively played one white faction against another, driving the price of cooperation higher than it otherwise might be. Trade agreements, not surprisingly, figured prominently in most of the treaties signed between the natives and the white newcomers. (For an example of merchandise used by the French as trade goods, see Chart 1) is also no accident that the Indians used their military strength, along with furs and skins, as a major bargaining chip until after the Creek War when they of necessity shifted more towards land cessions as a medium of trade.
European trade goods also proved to be a mixed blessing for the Indians. While there is little doubt of the utility of tools like hoes, axes, and knives, there is scholarly agreement that the Indians’ use of alcohol had a long term legacy of devastation. The Native Americans placed a premium value upon spirituous liquors, usually in the form of rum, and long before the American Revolution they entered into a lucrative trade with the Europeans in exchange for rum. Whenever the European powers desired to bargain with the Indians they normally offered both liquor and trade goods as an inducement. The noted British trader and writer James Adair commented the destructive power of alcohol:
“In the year 1748 when I1 was at Koosah on my way to the Chikkasah country, I had a conversation…with several…of the Muskohge traders. One of them told me…while he and several others were drinking spirituous liquors with the Indians, one of the warriors having drank to excess, reeled into the fire, and burned himself very much.”
Five thousand ells of limbourg, blue and red, half and half
Fifteen hundred blankets of two and a half points
Six hundred three-point blankets
Twelve hundred two-and-a-half-point Bazas blankets
Two thousand six hundred men’s trade shirts, as long in the front as in the back
Four hundred women’s shirts
Five hundred cravats
Two hundred trade guns, thirty caliber Six thousand pounds of powder
Three hundred lengths of scarlet woolen ribbon
One hundred fifty pounds of pure vermilion
Three hundred fifty pounds of red lead
Three hundred pounds of assorted round beads, particularly sky blue
Thirty gross of woodcutters’ knives
Ten thousand gun flints
Ten gross of trade scissors
Twenty gross of worms
Twenty grass of awls
Twenty gross of strike-a-lights
Six hundred number 6 mirrors mounted in leather
Twenty-five gross of combs
Four hundred ells of blue and red Mazamet
Eight hundred ells of sempiterne, blue, red, and plum
Six thousand sewing needles
Eight thousand pounds of flat iron for hatchets, pickaxes, and tomahawks
Fifty pounds of assorted Rennes thread
One hundred fifty assorted brass cauldrons, large and medium, no small
Extracted from Rowland, French Provincial Archives 5:230
Adair goes on to recount how the warrior then launched into a lengthy diatribe “against God” for allowing the injuries to occur and finally renounced him. To the pious Adair this event vividly illustrated how liquor degraded Indian morality. He believed that “The Indians in general do not chuse [sic) to drink any spirits, unless they can quite intoxicate themselves."
The French governor in 1750, Pierre Vaudreuil, recognized the Indians' helplessness in regard to alcohol and blamed the loss of influence with some Alabama bands on the lack of quality merchandise and the liquor such as that offered by the English:
"It is regrettable that some of them are perishing every day because of the illness that is caused them by the trade in liquor, which cannot be suppressed because of the want of merchandise of the qualities [that we have] asked for without being able to obtain them.”
Even at a later time, in the early 1800s, observers wrote of the total intoxication sought by Choctaw Indians with access to liquor. A. C. Ramsey, a Methodist circuit rider, wrote of his family in Mississippi Territory around 1808:
“During this year they were often much annoyed with the Indians. Although no violence was ever attempted by them. But living as they did immediately on the trail leading from the ‘Six Towns’ in the nation to Mobile which was their market, going there sometimes in great crowds, and making it a point generally to camp near the houses of the white settlers, especially on their return home; and bringing great loads of whiskey; and caring but little for anything else in their purchases at market, but powder, lead and whiskey, a good supply of the latter was generally laid in, and conveyed in kegs and as a consequence fighting, scratching, and yelling was generally kept up as long as the whiskey held out. And that greatly to the annoyance and confusion of the whites around and about their campfires at which they would stay for several days and nights. They had a system however, is their drunken sprees. One would remain sober to protect and keep the drunken ones out of the fire, and prevent them from killing each other in their fights, and do police duty in general, whose duty also required him to keep them from interrupting the white people, especially the ladies. Hence Mother was at first considerably alarmed, but was told by the sober sentinels ‘not to be uneasy, they should not hurt her.’ And so it proved no violence or insults [were] allowed to be offered. They alternated in doing guard duty, the one watch today would take his turn drinking tomorrow and one of the drunken ones today would take his place and so on.”
The mid-nineteenth-century Choctaw missionary educator and historian Horatio Cushman agreed that liquor was a major problem for his Indian friends, saying “The itinerant white trader, with his smuggled whiskey, was, and ever will be, the patent instrument in the hands of the devil of demoralization among all Indians….”
That is not to say that the Indians were naive children who were always lured into bad bargains through intemperance. They learned quickly when confronted with
less than honest trade practices and were known at times to turn the tables. Benjamin Hawkins, US Agent to the Creeks, participated in a 1797 council meeting where six traders were judged unfit to continue in the nation and were ordered to leave. They were notified that:
“The Chiefs request the agent to give notice to the parties concerned of their banishment and that their stay in the land will be twenty-four days; that when he sends a written notice to them, he will send the broken days to the head men of the town of their residence, and when the broken days are out they are to commence their journey of banishment….In conformity with the determination of the representatives of the Creeks now convened, a copy of the proceedings was sent this day to Richard Bailey, Francis Lesley, John Sherley, Samuel Lyons and William Lyons with this notice: ….extract from the proceedings of the chiefs of the land now convened in this town, and I give you notice thereof, and this day the broken days are sent to the head men of the Ottasey. If you know wherein [Hawkins] can be of service to you in arranging your affairs for the approaching state of things you will inform me. An order was sent to Robert Killgore to depart from the Creek land in 24 days, not to return.”
A seventh transgressor, Charles Weatherford, was given a reprieve and allowed to remain in consideration of his Indian family, but was sternly warned that should he “misbehave again he is then to be removed without any favour or affection.”
Some traders also became involved in adulterous relationships with some of the more vulnerable females. At times they were caught and punished. James Adair mentions that the Muscogee Indians often cut off the ears of adulterers and that “among these Indians, the trading people’s cars are often in danger by the sharpness of this law….The Muskohge lately clipt off the ears of two white men for supposed adultery.”
By the time of the American Revolution the white trader had become a ubiquitous feature in Indian country. Even in areas suffering economic decline the Indian trader usually found success and profit. The noted botanist and traveler William Bartram commented while on a trip to Mobile in 1776:
“The city of Mobile is situated on the ascent of a rising bank, extending near half a mile back on the level plain above; it has beer near a mile in length, though now chiefly in ruins, many houses vacant and mouldering to earth; yet there are a few good buildings inhabited by French gentlemen, English, Scotch and Irish, and emigrants from the northern British colonies. Messrs. Swanson and M’Gillivray, who have the management of the Indian trade carried on with the Chickasaws, Choctaws, Upper and Lower Creeks, &c. have made here very extraordinary improvements in buildings.”
The Mobile area, interestingly, was used by France, Spain, Great Britain, and the United States as a foothold from which to manipulate Indian alliances, especially that of the Choctaw and Creek tribes. The city’s strategic location at the terminus of the Tombigbee and Alabama River system made it a natural depot for Indian trade. There is no doubt that the United States’ effort to maintain southern Indian factories suffered severely from Spanish control of Mobile in the early 1800s.
Bartram also writes extensively of the Mobile traders in the Creek nation, admitting that “the company of traders was my only security, as the Indians never attack the traders on the road….” It was only by their presence that he could widely and safely travel the southeastern wilds. The Indian acceptance and protection of traders’ pack trains strongly indicates the importance of trade to them. Bartram’s descriptions of the woods-wise trading parties are among the most colorful to be found in the literature of the period and indicate that they traveled through Indian country openly and with impunity.
“I found the manner of these traders’ traveling. They seldom decamp until the sun is high and hot; each one having a whip made of the toughest cow-skin, they start all at once, the horses having ranged themselves in regular Indian file, the veteran in the van, and the younger in the rear; then the chief drives with the crack of his whip, and a whoop or shriek, which rings through the forests and plains, speaks in Indian, commanding them to proceed, which is repeated by all the company, when we start at once, keeping up a brisk and constant trot, which is incessantly urged and continued as the miserable creatures are able to move forward; and then come to camp, though frequently in the middle of the afternoon, which is the pleasantest time of the day for traveling; and every horse has a bell on, which being stopped when we start in the morning with a twist of grass or leaves, soon shakes out, and they are never stopped again during the day. The constant ringing and clattering of the bells, smacking of the whips, whooping and too frequent cursing these miserable quadrupeds, cause an incessant uproar and confusion, inexpressibly disagreeable.”
Bartram also in 1777 briefly visited Manchac in the lower Mississippi River region. He reported large, commodious warehouses constructed there by the Indian trading house of Swanson & Co. to hold trade goods. He quite obviously was impressed by the extensive British trade operation in the Gulf region and saw signs of it nearly everywhere he traveled.
One of the most provocative questions from this period is how were white traders able to co-exist safely within the Indian towns and villages, while white settlers along the frontier of Indian country often feared Indian attack. This may indicate that the tribes either were quite selective in choosing their white victims or that they naturally protected their frontiers against all comers. Since the Southeastern tribes all overlapped territorially, this border warfare could as easily have been the result of normal territorial imperatives as of reactions to white transgressions.
By the beginning of the nineteenth century there were scores of white traders conducting business within the nations. At the same time many other white men, often retired traders, disgruntled royalists who had sought respite from the turmoil of the American Revolution, or Indian-white mixed bloods from other tribes took up residence among the Indians in Mississippi Territory. Some lived in Indian country all year long; others cultivated plantations there but often traveled back and forth to Mobile or other white centers of commerce.
Although this study basically focuses on the white countrymen found in Choctaw country and their mixed blood offspring, it is important to include some of the Creek countrymen because some of them and their families are later found in Choctaw and Chickasaw country. Thus we have Choctaw countrymen marrying Chickasaw and Creek as easily as members of their own adopted nation. An example of this is the Brashears family line which includes Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Scotch-Irish, French, and British bloodlines.
Interestingly, most of these countrymen were considered to be of exceptional merit among the tribesmen. George S. Gaines in his Reminiscences states that “Indeed there were but few white men among the Choctaws of bad character, and they were despised by the Indians.”
Easily the most prominent countryman and one of the most esteemed among the Choctaws for his good character was the trader Isaac Pitchlynn, the father of John Pitchlynn, the Choctaw interpreter. Most accounts have him dying when his son was yet a boy. But an extant deposition signed by him proves his existence in 1805. Although Cushman, Claiborne and Gaines all call John Pitchlynn a white man abandoned in Indian country by a British trader, there is a probability that the common source of this report is Gaines’ Reminiscences. Since Gaines wrote this account at a very advanced age he may have confused the story of John Pitchlynn with that of Pitchlynn’s father. John’s marriage to the mixed-blood Sophia Folsom, daughter of countryman and trader, Ebeneezer Folsom, resulted in a large family of Choctaw mixed bloods of high reputation. The best known of his sons is Peter P. Pitchlynn who after Removal to Indian Territory in the 1830s went on to become a leading chief and representative for his tribe in Washington, D.C.
John first appears in records as the interpreter for the Choctaw nation at the Treaty of Hopewell during the winter of 1785-86. He died in 1835. If he was born in 1756 as has been claimed, he would have been thirty at Hopewell and around seventy-nine at his death.
In a letter from the commissioners at Hopewell, they stated:
“We have appointed John Pitchlynn our interpreter of the Choctaw tongue. We have told him that we did not know whether Congress would annex any salary to such an appointment: he is a very honest, sober young man, and has lived twelve years in the nation and is much respected by the chiefs as an interpreter.”
Easily as venerable was Benjamin James, a transplanted Virginian involved in Indian trade in 1771 when the British officer Bernard Romans stayed overnight at his home in Choctaw country. James shows up on several censuses taken by the Spaniards after they had retaken West Florida during the American Revolution. James was an interpreter and go-between for the Spanish officials at Mobile who frequented the Choctaw factory at St. Stephens in the early 1800s.
One of the early non-British countrymen was Louis Durant who introduced a small herd of cattle into the western Choctaw nation at the headwaters of the Yazoo River. A French Canadian, he entered the area with the Leflore brothers around 1770. He sired at least three Choctaw mixed-blood sons named Pierre, Charles and Louis, as well as daughters Margaret and Syllan. Cushman reports that Durant, his sons, and sons-in-law fought “under their renowned chief, Pushamataha, as allies of the Americans in the Creek War of 1812.” There appear well over fifty Durants on the land claims records and censuses of Choctaws during the time of removal, making this family easily as prolific as the famed LeFlores who were their contemporaries.
Another noted countryman, Nathaniel Folsom, was the eldest of three brothers. Cushman quotes Nathaniel’s own words in 1823 to the missionary Cyrus Byington regarding his background; he first discussed his family’s journey into Indian country around the time of the American Revolution:
“I was born in North Carolina, Rowan County, May 17, 1756. My father was born in Massachusetts or Connecticut. My mother was born in New Jersey. My parents moved to Georgia, and there my father sent me to school about six months, during which time I learned to read and write. My mother taught me to read and spell at home. My father had a great desire to go to Mississippi to get money; they said money grew on bushes! We got off and came into the Choctaw Nation. The whole family came; we hired an Indian pilot who led us through the Nation to Pearl River, where we met three of our neighbors who were returning on account of sickness. This alarmed my father, who then determined to return to North Carolina. We came back into the nation to Mr. Welch’, on Bok Tuklo (Two Creeks), the father of Mr. Nail.
The Folsom’s migration from the Carolinas into the mainly Tory populated Natchez District might indicate the family’s political orientation during the days preceding the American revolt against Great Britain. Nathaniel continued his story with an account of his own rebellion against his father:
At this time I was about 19 years of age. [circa 1775) At that place we parted. My father knocked me down. I arose and told him I would quit him, and did so by walking straight off before his face. I do not remember what I did, but I always thought I was not at fault. My parents then moved into the Chickasaw Nation. I entered into partnership with Mr. Welch, and could do many things for him. In the Chickasaw Nation my brother Israel ran away from my father and came to me. He died at the age of 18 near where Mr. Juzon now lives. He was a good young man. My parents moved again to Fort St. Stephens. My brother Ebeneezer visited me several times; he also sent me word to come and move him up into the Nation. I did so. He lived with me two years. Still he wanted to go to Mississippi, and wished I would raise a guard and send him there. I did so. Brother Edmund and two sisters went with him, and there my father died, on Cole's Creek, Mississippi. I really believe my mother was a pious woman.
Nathaniel Folsom then described how he entered into Indian trade as a livelihood:
I traded a long time in the Nation, sometimes taking up three or four thousand dollars’ worth of goods. I followed trading about thirty years. I lived principally at Bok Tuklo, fifteen miles this side of Juzon’s (i.e. north). There was a great town of about four hundred Indians. The French King lived there. I learned the Choctaw language very slow. I was never perfect in the language. But after 10 years I could do any business with the Choctaws….I have been the father of twenty-four children, fourteen of whom are still living.”
According to Cushman, Nathaniel Folsom died October 9, 1833, in his 78th year, a year after he had removed to Indian Territory and a decade after he had written this short account of his life.
This rare and detailed biographical sketch is a window to the past with its richness of description and its historical detail. Although it is the anecdotal evidence of only a single family it reminds us, among other things, of the high birth and death rates on the frontier. Nearly half of Folsom’s children died before he did, but the surviving fourteen constituted a large family by any standard. His sketch also illustrates the degree of mobility of early American families, spanning the areas of New England, the mid-Atlantic, the deep South, the Natchez frontier, and even Indian country. The fact that the Folsoms met three neighbors returning to Georgia because of sickness, probably yellow fever, at Natchez indicates how settlers often followed friends into an area, and the father’s references of how-”money grew on bushes” hints at communications between those emigres already in Mississippi and those left back home, urging them to come share in the bounty of the frontier.
The nomadic nature of frontiersmen also emerges as we follow the family in the space of a few years from Georgia to the Chickasaw Nation to the Tombigbee River settlements, and finally to Natchez, its original destination. One also notes that some travelers in the Nations felt it necessary to travel under escort, while the traders, ever valuable to the Indians, lived in quiet peace and harmony next to a major Indian settlement. The account also identifies the home of the French King, probably Franchimastubbee, as Bok Tuklo.
The 1818 Melish map of Alabama shows a Bogue Toogooloo [Tuklo?] entering from the west the Tombigbee River about fifty miles north of Fort St. Stephens (see Figure 1). This creek, identified as Bogue Toogoo on the 1819 Melish map of Mississippi, parallels an Indian trading path from the Lower Yazoo town (in present-day Kemper County). If this is the Bok Tuklo Folsom wrote of, then he was scarcely more than a day’s journey away from his parents when they resided at St. Stephens, an easy and relatively safe trip for his brother, Ebeneezer, to make in those times.
The Favre family probably has some of the deepest roots in Choctaw country of any studied. Simon Favre is identified as an Indian interpreter as early as 1754 in the French period, and as commissary for the trading firm of Morans & Company out of Mobile in their dealings with the Choctaw tribe. He acted as Choctaw interpreter in 1763 during the changeover from French to British rule in Mobile. He maintained a plantation on the Mobile river and owned land in the city proper. Although only few of his namesakes made claims for land after Dancing Rabbit Creek, the surname is still in existence among both Choctaw and white residents of the Alabama and Mississippi areas today.
Similarly, the Juzan family shows up early in the region’s history with Pierre Juzan, Sr. being included with the French force which, along with a Choctaw support group, attacked the Chickasaw tribe at the famous battle of Ackia. A Peter W. Juzan is listed in 1781 as an Indian commissary for the Spaniards in Mobile; his daughter married Adam Hollinger who lived among the mixed-blood settlements in the Tensaw district north of Mobile.
The most renown of the Choctaw mixed-blood families is that of the LeFlores. The French-Canadian patriarchs, Major Louis LeFlore and his brother Michael, first settled in Mobile after the French and Indian War of 1763 when their nation’s presence had been ousted from the continent. Living later in Choctaw country in present-day Neshoba County, Louis soon moved to the upper Yazoo River area and married the two mixed-blood daughters of John Cravat, another Frenchman who had earlier moved into the Choctaw nation. The LeFlores’ history is well known because of the prominence of Greenwood, a one-fourth Choctaw son of Louis, who became the Chief of the Choctaw Nation prior to removal, a prominent state legislator in Mississippi, and a self-made millionaire.
Other mixed blood stories are less dramatic. Some became farmers and herdsmen of the forest, marrying and merging lifestyles and cultures pragmatically and spiritually with their Indian mates. Seldom needing to choose between being Indian or white this largely unheralded group of mixed bloods received cultural input from both worlds and silently awaited a day when their acculturated thought would merge with that of their better known kinsmen to produce a less-Indian and more-white tribal culture.
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