Encountering a Native People

A Virtual Exploration of the Creek Nation in Georgia


Early Creek Land Before Contact Map (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Prior to 1733, the Creek people occupied a significant portion of what would eventually become Georgia. However, they were pressured to give up more and more of their land as settlers expanded west.

James Oglethorpe and Creek Indians (1834) by Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript LibraryGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Creek Indians established relationships with English settlers long before the arrival of General James Oglethorpe and the founding of the Georgia colony in 1733.

The two groups had been trading in skins and enslaved people since the first colonists arrived in the Carolinas fifty years earlier.

Georgia Boundaries Per Colonial Charter (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

According to Georgia’s charter, the state boundaries stretched north along the Savannah River, south to the Altamaha River, and west to the Pacific Ocean. After the charter was issued, more than 100 settlers under the leadership of James Oglethorpe set sail for the new colony.

Chief Tomochichi (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Tomochichi (1644 - 1739) was mico, or chief, of the Yamacraw people who inhabited the coastal region around what is now Savannah, Georgia, in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. In 1733, Tomochichi allowed James Oglethorpe to establish his royal colony on Yamacraw Bluff in hopes that they would become close trading partners and allies.

Oglethorpe's Interview With Tomo-chi-chi (1895) by W.P. SnyderGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Oglethorpe and Tomochichi eventually became so close that they traveled to England together to meet with representatives of the British government. Tomochichi died in 1739 and was given full military honors at his funeral, with James Oglethorpe serving as a pall bearer.

Early Encounters With Georgia's Creek Nation (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

The South Carolina Assembly's Representation on Indian Relations (1734)Georgia Public Broadcasting

In 1734, the South Carolina Assembly wrote to the king of England about the new colony of Georgia and native groups in the surrounding area.

The Assembly expressed particular concern that Creek, Cherokee, and French forces from the region near Georgia might unify against British colonies in the Carolinas.

The South Carolina Assembly's Representation on Indian Relations 2 (1734)Georgia Public Broadcasting

The Assembly further worried that if the Creeks turned against the British in favor of a French alliance, they could pass along strategic knowledge about English settlements.

Elaborating on the situation, the Assembly conveyed some reassurance in their positive relationship with the Lower Creeks and their faith in James Oglethorpe as a leader.

Mary Musgrove (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

A Colonial Go-Between

Mary Musgrove, also known as Coosaponakeesa, was born in modern-day Alabama to a Creek mother and an English father. Growing up, she spent time in both societies, learning to speak the English and Creek languages fluently. She married English trader John Musgrove in 1717, and their trading post on the Savannah River became an important gathering place for cross-cultural exchanges. Musgrove often served as a translator and interpreter for Tomochichi and James Oglethorpe. In 1737, she and her third husband were granted land by the Lower Creeks that included Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Catherines Islands. Although the British government refused to acknowledge the grant, Musgrove fought for her land rights and eventually was given a sum of money and the deed to St. Catherines Island, where she passed away in 1763.

Oglethorpe and Creek Treaty Legal Document (1739) by Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript LibraryGeorgia Public Broadcasting

One purpose of the Georgia colony was to act as a barrier or buffer between the British colony of Carolina and the Spanish colony of La Florida.

When Oglethorpe received word that the Spanish were trying to undermine his relationship with the Lower Creeks, he sought a formal agreement to prevent hostilities. In August of 1739, the Treaty of Coweta was signed. It clearly outlined which land was available for British colonists to settle and which land belonged to the Lower Creeks.

Settlement of the Atlantic Coast Map (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

The English settled North America's Atlantic coast in three main areas: the upper New England, the Middle Atlantic, and the Southern. These colonial regions were largely prevented from expanding west due to the natural barrier of the Appalachian Mountain range.

The earliest settlements were established in the first decades of the 1600s in Jamestown, Virginia, then later in Plymouth, New England. The first Georgia settlement was established more than a century later.

Georgia Indian Territory Map (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

When the United States Constitution was ratified in 1788, there were only 10 counties in Georgia. Eight were originally created as parishes under colonial rule. Franklin and Washington counties were later created from land ceded by the Creeks and Cherokees.

Today, there are no federally recognized Native American tribes in Georgia. However, some residing tribes are recognized by the state, such as the Lower Muskogee Creeks, headquartered at Tama Tribal Town in Whigham.

Alexander McGillivray (2016)Georgia Public Broadcasting


Alexander McGillivray was born in the mid-eighteenth century to a Scottish trader and a Creek mother. He became comfortable in both societies, where he was recognized as a full member of his mother's wind clan and received a colonial education in Charleston, South Carolina. During the Revolutionary War, McGillivray fought as a colonel in the British army and worked diligently to create alliances between the English and the Creeks. After the war, he used his influence to protect Creek land from being confiscated, especially in the 1784 Treaty of Pensacola.

How Alexander McGillivray Helped Protect Creek Indian Land (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Treaty of New York (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

In 1790, Alexander McGillivray represented the Creek people during negotiations with the newly established United States government.

Treaty of New York, Articles 7 - 9Georgia Public Broadcasting

In the resulting Treaty of New York, Secretary of War Henry Knox and the Creek people pledged peace and lasting friendship while hammering out specific understandings going forward.

Treaty of New York, Articles 10 - 12 (2016) by Georgia Public BroadcastingGeorgia Public Broadcasting

Both sides of the treaty agreed on the jurisdiction of laws for Creeks and Seminoles as well as land boundaries and terms for prisoner exchanges.

Credits: Story

Indian Springs State Park

Georgia Historical Society

Library of Congress

New Georgia Encyclopedia

Julie Ann Sweet. "Will the Real Tomochichi Please Come Forward," American Indian Quarterly Vol. 32, No. 2 (Spring, 2008), pp. 141-177 (37 pages)

The New York Public Library

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.