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THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF OCMULGEE OLD FIELDS, MACON, GEORGIA
By Carol I. Mason
THE UNIVERSITY OF ALABAMA PRESS Copyright © 2005 The University of Alabama Press
All right reserved.
Chapter One The Historical Setting
The brief thirty-year interval during which the Creek Indians and the Carolinian trading house shared the site at Macon is but one short scene in a long and complex series of events that moved inevitably toward the eventual displacement of the Indians. The principal actors in this scene were the Carolinian settlers and traders, whose dreams for commercial empire and political control in the hinterlands reflected the beginnings of industrialization and economic expansion in the Europe of 1700. Alternately helping and hindering them, the original Indian inhabitants served as both villains and victims in a long series of military forays and exploitative commercial adventures.
English settlement in Carolina was first organized as a result of a royal grant of New World territory to eight proprietors, who were empowered to develop and govern the area much as they saw fit. The vast tract of land granted in 1663 by Charles II originally extended north and south between latitude 36 degrees to 31 degrees and east and west from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific (Salley 1953: 33). Within this province, which included the bulk of the United States between the lines formed by what is now the northernboundary of North Carolina and the southern boundary of Georgia, the Lords Proprietors were responsible for government. They appointed executive officers, established the form of governmental machinery, and attempted to create an ideal social order. Their main interest in the settlement of the province, however, was frankly commercial; profit from colonial trade, from crops, and from traffic in land was their objective (Cheves 1897). Government under the Lords Proprietors continued in Carolina until 1719 when growing discontent with the governmental system produced political agitation that eventually placed the colony under the immediate control of the British crown (McCrady 1897).
By 1670, the earliest permanent settlers in Carolina at the site of Charles Town had a small palisaded city with a precarious foothold on the Atlantic seaboard. Charles Town was unprotected by natural features such as mountains, but it was nevertheless very well situated as far as geography is concerned. The protecting mountains that formed an effective barrier to colonial expansion in the northern part of eastern North America dropped away near Carolina, and the early settlers had an open road into the west and an almost unlimited potential for spread once the way had been made clear through the Indian nations. The Mississippi River was well within their sights as they pushed their trading empire ever westward.
Economically, the Indian trade was the most important factor in the development of the colony although plantations and ranches provided a number of valuable exports. In addition to mixed farming and cattle raising, the colonists attempted to produce other than agricultural products-tar, turpentine, and even raw silk (Carroll 1836: 1: 267). Rice, introduced about 1700, provided an important crop and was for a long time a profitable export (McCrady 1897: 346). Sources on early Carolina history (Carroll 1836; Lawson 1860) seem to indicate that generally the agricultural projects carried on in the early years of settlement and so earnestly encouraged by government officials in London lacked good management. The Lords Proprietors themselves (Salley 1928: 83, 84) and many of the early writers complain that the Carolinians simply did not know the proper arts of farming and raising domestic animals in the Carolina country. Not enough attention was paid to using crops adapted to the climate or in caring properly for the animals that could be successfully raised there (see Klingberg 1956 for examples). Such crops that did prove productive in the climate were not exploited to their fullest extent. In direct contrast, similar complaints cannot in any way be leveled at the Indian trade, which was pursued by many of the colonists with a vigor and determination conspicuous by their absence in other areas of colonial life.
When the first settlements were made in Carolina (see Figure 1), the vast bulk of the southeastern territory was part of extensive Spanish claims in the New World. Both by right of discovery and by right of settlement, the Spanish were able to lay irrefutable legal claim to it (Bolton and Ross 1925; Serrano y Sanz 1912: 81) although they soon discovered that the Carolinians recognized no rights other than those of actual possession and even then were not above disputing them. The coast of Carolina itself had been the site of early Spanish missions and military posts, but by the time the English arrived, actual Spanish occupation was well south of the Savannah River. Ready fuel for the resulting Anglo-Spanish conflict was supplied in Carolina by planters who had emigrated from Barbadoes. These people carried an active hostility toward the Spanish to the North American mainland and provided much of the grass roots anti-Spanish sentiment in Carolina (Cheves 1897: 183). Religious antagonisms also provided yet another source of conflict or, at least, a ready excuse for it. Competition between Spain and England for control of the southeastern territory in North America was simply another fragment of the contest being waged between these two nations on a broad international scale.
Specifically, Carolina's nearest Spanish neighbors in the first years of settlement were the mission and garrison in the territory of Guale, at that time on St. Catherine's Island (Swanton 1922: 90). Other missions were located in peninsular Florida in areas inhabited by the Timucua and Apalachee Indians. The main Spanish stronghold was the presidio at St. Augustine, where the Spanish government maintained a strong garrison. For many years this Spanish fortress remained a threat, sometimes in fact only a psychological one, to the safety of the colony in Carolina.
The differences between the Spanish and English settlement systems in North America are very instructive for understanding the eventual outcome of their competition as well as appreciating the effects of these two separate systems on the Indians. Primarily, the Spanish system was based on the mission, which operated as a center for the permanent settlement and pacification of the Indians. Spanish subjects did not colonize old Florida to any great extent, and principal contact with the Indians was through priest and soldier. The major aim of the Spanish in the settlement of the Indians was to facilitate religious conversion and instruction in agriculture through the creation of permanent villages. Besides attempting to develop a truly sedentary population, the mission system was exploitative in that labor and produce were frequently required of certain groups in order to support St. Augustine.
The English system was solely exploitative in that the Indians functioned only as a means to an end, the obtaining and maintaining of a profitable trade. Attempts at conversion, pacification, and settlement of the Indians were foreign to this system, which in certain instances required unrest and warfare to keep it functioning at optimum. The market for slaves in the West Indies and in Carolina provided still another dimension to the English trade, particularly in the post-1690 period, by regarding the Indians themselves as actual and potential commodities. The English also used the various Indian nations as buffers to protect a colony unprotected by virtue of geographical position and as military allies in playing out the local version of competitive European power politics.
The first gambits in the long and sometimes dangerous game of profitably manipulating the Indian tribes were made by Henry Woodward, "first settler in Carolina" and its "first interpreter and Indian agent" (Crane 1956: 6). Woodward established peaceful relations with several important Indian groups and opened the lucrative inland trade with the Westo in 1674 (Cheves 1897). The relationship of the colony with this tribe was the main concern of the Indian policy of Charles Town during the first years of colonization, and Woodward's establishment of trade agreements with them was a major coup as far as the safety of the entire colony was concerned. Even during early Spanish efforts to missionize peoples of the coast, the Westo had been infamous among other Indians as a fierce and powerful tribe which raided them with impunity and terrorized most of the groups living along the Atlantic seaboard. Trade relationships assured immediate protection from this menace, but the presence of such a potentially hostile group on the very flanks of Charles Town was a deterrent to expansion and had the effect of preventing any serious westward movement of either settlers or traders.
The alliance with the Westo continued from 1674 to 1680 and proved to be of primary importance to the young colony in permitting a period of peaceful growth unhindered by any major Indian wars. The main troubles between the Carolinians and their neighbors occurred in minor skirmishes along the frontiers of the settlement where the Indians and the English colonists were both competing for the same land (Salley 1928: 55). Crane (1956: 17) credits this minor border warfare with the origins of the important and profitable Carolina slave trade, which had the doubtful virtue of clearing away the competition and producing a profit at the same time. Throughout the early period of settlement, impetus was given the slave trade by Carolinian encouragement of raids for slaves into nearby Guale. All of their various Indian allies-Westo, Lower Creeks, Cherokee-participated consecutively in these raids on the luckless peoples of Spanish territory to the south.
In the beginning, trade with the inland tribes was a proprietary monopoly; and the ordinary citizen, merchant, and planter could not trade with any Indians outside those in the immediate vicinity of Charles Town (McCrady 1897: 177; Salley 1928: 60). These individuals, denied the lucrative trade in the interior, seem to have been instrumental in causing a war with the Westo, the first really serious Indian threat to the Charles Town settlement. "Wars brought slaves, and slaves commanded profits in the West Indies" (Crane 1956: 19), and even the proprietors themselves blamed the eagerness for Indian slaves as the principal reason for the opening of war with the Westo (Salley 1928: 258). After the defeat of the Westo, the Savannah Indians replaced them as a buffer tribe, but the Savannah-unlike the Westo-did not hinder the westward expansion of the Indian trade. The inception of the Westo War broke the Lords Proprietors' grip on the inland trade, and they never again were able to monopolize it.
With the Westo out of the way, English trade began to spread westward, seeking first to re-establish trade relationships with the Lower Creeks. These people had been first reached by the Carolinians at about the same time that they opened negotiations with the Westo, and apparently the Westo War had interrupted any contact that had been taking place (see Chapter 7). After the war, the Lower Creek towns can be definitely located in the middle valley of the Chattahoochee River. Here they had been approached by the Spanish, whose mission towns and garrisons in the Apalachee country were within reach of the Creek towns by following the banks of the Chattahoochee River into Florida. The Spanish were making plans for establishing at least one small mission among the towns up the river, but these plans were disrupted by the interference of English trade. In 1685 Henry Woodward had reached the Chattahoochee River towns with promises of plentiful English trade goods and was wooing the Indians again into the circle of Carolina influenced tribes (Bolton 1925; Bolton and Ross 1925).
Understandably, the Spanish garrison in Apalachee reacted to Woodward's invasion as a hostile act by the English in what was unquestionably Spanish territory. From Florida the Spanish soldiers marched up to stop his activities and punish the towns that had welcomed him. In September of 1685, the Spanish commander Matheos burned Woodward's stockade but failed to capture any of the elusive Englishmen. In December of the same year, Matheos returned to find the English once again entrenched among the Lower Creeks and carrying on an active trade in deerskins. Again he was unable to catch the traders, but he secured the submission of eight of the Lower Creek towns and burned those of Coweta, Kasita, Taskigi, and Kolomi. By 1689 a small Spanish fort was built and garrisoned near Coweta to prevent the return of the English and keep the Indians subdued. Apparently these disciplinary actions plus the lure of the trade that Woodward promised them were enough to uproot the Creeks from their Chattahoochee Valley towns and draw them closer to Carolina (Bolton 1925). By 1690 a group of them had left the Chattahoochee Valley and built new towns eastward on the upper Ocmulgee River, known then as Ochese Creek. The evidence for this movement from the Chattahoochee to the Ocmulgee is documented in Spanish sources and provides the earliest permissible date for the construction of the town and trading house near Macon.
For many years the Ochese Creek center was the most important of the Carolinian commercial outposts. Primarily, of course, it served as a trade station for the Creek towns in the immediate area. Secondarily, it was the jumping off place for the expansion of the trade ever westward until the Carolinian traders were knocking at the very gates of the French claim in Louisiana. The Ochese Creek settlements also functioned as the base for campaigns against the failing might of Spain, once such a formidable threat to Carolina (Boyd 1953: 469). In 1702, a Spanish punitive force was sent from Apalachee against the English and was met and decisively defeated by a force of Lower Creeks led by the traders stationed in the Creek towns (Bolton and Ross 1925: 58). The Indians from the Macon site and their trader may have been part of this expedition along with the traders from Coweta and elsewhere along the river. In 1704, Moore's famous raid into the Apalachee country departed from the Ocmulgee area with many of the Ochese Creek Indians in his following. Even though St. Augustine remained as a potential threat, the decimation of the Florida tribes and the eventual withdrawal of the mission chains spelled the end of real Spanish competition from Florida. The Carolina trade empire was permitted an unopposed spread westward.
The focus of Carolinian expansion switched toward Louisiana, and the first decade of the eighteenth century is filled with the intrigue and the counter intrigue directed at the winning over of French allied Indian tribes and the eventual conquest of Louisiana. The Carolinians managed to re-open an old feud between the Choctaw and the Chickasaw, and in 1711 made an expedition to destroy the Choctaw nation, "the bulwark of Louisiana" (Crane 1956: 95). The Lower Creeks were enlisted in this enterprise and marched with their English allies to scatter the Choctaw (Salley 1941: 48). Peace in Europe after Queen Anne's War stopped open military action and left the Carolinians to encroach upon the French in subtler ways. The center of frontier intrigue had moved beyond the old Ochese Creek settlements and was focused upon the borders of the French claims in the west. Concentration upon Louisiana apparently made the Carolinians neglect their own backyard; and consumed with dreams of empire, they did not see the enemy at the door until he was almost in and upon them.
Among the nearby Lower Creeks and particularly among the neighboring Yamassee, the expansion of the English settlers into Indian lands, the accumulation of huge debts owed the English by the Indians, and the many abuses of the Indians by the traders (see below) formed an insupportable burden to the native peoples, whose demands for redress of grievances went for the most part unanswered. Finally, conditions became such that a general uprising occurred in several parts of the frontier. In April of 1715, on Good Friday, the Yamassees rose and attacked the Carolinians, killing the traders in their midst and looting the storehouses (Carroll 1836: 2: 145). At the same time, the Lower Creek did likewise, burning and looting the trading houses in their towns (Klingberg 1956: 159). The following Yamassee War, generally credited as being the result of Lower Creek intrigue, wiped out the Indian trade for the time being and ruined the vast network of alliances and trade relationships established by the Carolinians during the years since their arrival. Unfortunately for the Indians, the Yamassee War failed of its objectives, and within two years an uneasy peace fell over the frontier. By the end of two years, the Creeks sought peace, re-established themselves as an important segment of the English trade, and were drawn once again within the Carolina sphere of influence. The most important event of the Yamassee War as far as the Ochese Creek settlements are concerned is that it removed the Creeks from the Ocmulgee River area and caused them to retreat westward away from possible Carolinian reprisals. By the end of 1716, they had returned to their old lands along the Chattahoochee River and left the Ocmulgee River entirely empty of Indian settlements. Never after this movement was the upper Ocmulgee River area inhabited by Indians. Thus two historically documented events, the movement to the Ocmulgee by 1690 and the Yamassee War of 1715, serve to bracket in time the Creek town and trading house at Ocmulgee National Monument and provide this segment of the Creek archaeological sequence with absolute dates.
Excerpted from THE ARCHAEOLOGY OF OCMULGEE OLD FIELDS, MACON, GEORGIA by Carol I. Mason Copyright © 2005 by The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission.
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