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American Historical Review -
“Hahn’s book is good ethnohistory. . . . His study should attract considerable debate among anthropologists.”—Gary Clayton Anderson, American Historical Review
Drawing on archaeological evidence and often-neglected Spanish source material, The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670–1763 explores the political history of the Creek Indians of Georgia and Alabama and the emergence of the Creek Nation during the colonial era in the American Southeast. In part a study of Creek foreign relations, this book examines the creation and application of the “neutrality” policy—defined here as the Coweta Resolution of 1718—for which the Creeks have long been famous, in an era marked by ...
Drawing on archaeological evidence and often-neglected Spanish source material, The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670–1763 explores the political history of the Creek Indians of Georgia and Alabama and the emergence of the Creek Nation during the colonial era in the American Southeast. In part a study of Creek foreign relations, this book examines the creation and application of the “neutrality” policy—defined here as the Coweta Resolution of 1718—for which the Creeks have long been famous, in an era marked by the imperial struggle for the American South.
Also a study of the culture of internal Creek politics, this work shows the persistence of a “traditional” kinship-based political system in which town and clan affiliation remained supremely important. These traditions, coupled with political intrusions by the region’s three European powers, promoted the spread of Creek factionalism and mitigated the development of a regional Creek Confederacy. But while traditions endured, the struggle to maintain territorial integrity against Britain also promoted political innovation. In this context the territorially defined Creek Nation emerged as a legal concept in the era of the French and Indian War, as imperial policies of an earlier era gave way to the territorial politics that marked the beginning of a new one.
“This beautifully written book draws on the archeological evidence and uses the frequently neglected Spanish source material. . . . It is a truly important document on the history of the Creeks.”—Rodney M. Peck, The Chesopiean
— Rodney M. Peck
“The Invention of the Creek Nation is a scholarly piece of work augmented by archaeological evidence and a wealth of primary sources. . . . [It] is a valuable source of information not only for historical and political students of the Creek and Native American studies, but also for the general historian interested in relations within the colonial era of the American Southeast between 1670 and 1763.”—Dewi I. Ball, Southern Historian
— Dewi I. Ball
“Hahn provides a fresh look at Creek leaders in the eighteenth century. . . . The book does an excellent job placing the exercise of Creek political power in the context of matrilineal descent, clan membership, and town affiliation. Creek interaction with European powers in the colonial era cannot really be understood in any other way.”—Gerald F. Schroedl, Alabama Review
— Gerald F. Schroedl
“With fine-grained use of Spanish, English, and French sources, Hahn writes a compelling, page-turner narrative largely organized around a succession of Creek political personalities. . . . Hahn’s strong suit is his look at Creek international relations and how international relations led to the invention of the Creek nation.”—Robbie Ethridge, Journal of American History
— Robbie Ethridge
“This work takes Creek history to a whole new level.”—Michael P. Morris, Journal of Southern History
— Michael P. Morris
“This fascinating account of the early political history of the Creeks (Muscogee) is heavy reading. . . . This book contains extensive notes, bibliographical sources, maps, and an index. I recommend it for research collections on Native American Studies in tribal colleges and universities and highly recommend it for any Muscogee researching his/her roots.”—Betty J. Mason, Tribal College Journal of American Indian Higher Education
— Betty J. Mason
“Hahn’s book is good ethnohistory. . . . His study should attract considerable debate among anthropologists.”—Gary Clayton Anderson, American Historical Review
— Clayton Anderson
"Specialists in southeastern Indian history will welcome this highly detailed investigation of Creek politics and appreciate its extensive Spanish citations and exhaustive bibliography."—Wendy St. Jean, The Historian
— Wendy St. Jean
"Stephen C. Hahn's The Invention of the Creek Nation does more than offer an updated history of Creeks' development into a cohesive political entity; it also suggests new interpretations about the process and its results."—Julie Anne Sweet, South Carolina Historical Magazine
— Julie Anne Sweet
"The idea of the 'Creek Confederacy' is entrenched and powerful, and Steven C. Hahn's new book on the Creeks is an important refashioning of the confederacy-nation dilemma. The Invention of the Creek Nation does more than breathe new life into a stale scholarly debate, however. Hahn labors to present Creek politics as the Creeks themselves experienced them. . . . The best history writing allows the people making history to speak for themselves, and Hahn's attentiveness to Creek concerns pays off handsomely."—Matthew H. Jennings, Journal of Colonialism and Colonial History
— Matthew H. Jennings
In times of calamity, it has been said, any rumoris believable. Calamitous indeed were the rumors circulating among the Creek Indians in the final year of the Great War for Empire, Britain and France's climactic struggle for supremacy on the American continent. Unsubstantiated reports indicated that British troops were gathering for a great assault on the French towns of New Orleans and Mobile, "with a view, from thence, to attempt the extirpation of the Creeks." Others feared the English had not been entirely forthcoming about their true war aims, causing one experienced Creek headman to surmise that "the white people intend to take all their lands." The arrival of British troops at the Spanish post of Pensacola, Florida, scared others into believing that "the English were to surround the Indians and punish them," the ultimate goal being "to make them tame." So startling was the rumor of the French defeat in the north that the Creeks sent a party to Canada just "to see if it was true."
But if calamitous times make it possible to believe what cannot be proven, the Creeks were wise enough to know that rumors often contain a seed of truth. By the summer of 1763 word had begun to spread among the Creeks that Britain, France, and Spain had finally settled on a peace agreement,penned on February 10, 1763, in Paris. There the victorious British forced France and Spain to cede their North American possessions to King George, potentially leaving the Creeks exposed to British encirclement. Sensing that rumor had turned to prophesy, many Creeks responded to this news with horror and indignation. "We have advice from Augusta," reported the South Carolina Gazette on June 4, 1763, "that the Creeks have been informed the French and Spaniards are to evacuate all they possess on this side of the river Mississippi, and do not seem to relish the news; that they declare they will not suffer them to depart." The Creeks insisted, the report continued, "that in case the French and Spaniards should be taken from them, we have noe right to possess the lands that were never given to us, and they will oppose all our attempt that way."
Although the Creeks could do little more than watch as British troops marched into the fortresses that had once belonged to the Catholic monarchies, they resisted the transfer of power in various direct and indirect ways. At the former Spanish posts of St. Augustine and Pensacola, Creek chiefs haggled with British officers to fix precise boundaries between British and Creek lands. Eager to vent their frustrations against all outsiders, Creek warriors began killing an occasional Choctaw and Cherokee to punish those two nations for what the Creeks perceived as their support for the British. Creek warriors also murdered several British traders as the transfer of power was taking place, as if to demonstrate to British officials that they would not succumb easily to British encroachment. The Treaty of Paris may have concluded the war between the European powers, but it did little to pacify the Creeks, who were quickly earning a reputation as the "least friendly" Indian nation in the entire Southeast. "Never," it was observed, had the Creeks been "so audacious as lately."
To bring the Creeks and their Indian neighbors to more peaceful terms, the newly appointed superintendent of Indian Affairs, John Stuart, invited the Indians and the governors of the southern British colonies to a grand "congress," scheduled to take place in November 1763 at Augusta, Georgia. At Augusta, Stuart succeeded in convincing representatives of the five Southern Indian nations-the Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Catawbas-to sign a peace treaty, commonly known as the Treaty of Augusta. In an attempt to pacify the land-hungry British, the Creeks agreed to cede a portion of their hunting grounds to the colony of Georgia, foreshadowing the infamous Removal of the 1830s.
Hailed in the colonies as a stroke of diplomatic genius, the Treaty of Augusta nevertheless exposed the problems-as they were understood in the colonies-inherent in conducting Indian affairs. The main problem was that the headmen who signed the treaty on behalf of the "upper and lower Creek nation" may have had no authority to cede the nation's land. As a Chickasaw headman warned British officials, "Nothing done here will be confirmed by the absent [Creek] leaders, in comparison of whom the present chiefs are inconsiderable." Many important chiefs, it was argued, had absented themselves in protest, thereby calling into question the legality of the land cession and the nature of Creek political leadership, if not the very definition of the "Creek Nation."
In this book I tell the political history of the Creek Indians, the native inhabitants of the region of the Chattahoochee, Coosa, and Tallapoosa Rivers, which span the present-day states of Georgia and Alabama. The time frame chosen for this study-1670 to 1763-reflects my belief that the period beginning with the establishment of Charles Town, South Carolina, and ending with the Treaty of Paris should be considered a distinct epoch in Creek political history; it is identified here as the South's Imperial Era. With the rise of English and, later, French colonies to challenge the long-established Spanish colony of Florida, the American South became a theater of imperial struggle. The Creeks' territory abutted the lands claimed by each of the three European powers, and at times the Creeks found themselves thrust onto center stage and forced to improvise new political strategies and institutions to meet new challenges.
If it would at first appear that these circumstances led to the swift demise of the Creeks, scholars have long recognized that, to the contrary, the Creeks fared rather well in the early eighteenth century. Writing in 1928, the influential historian Verner Crane dubbed the Creeks the "custodians of the wilderness balance of power in the South," in recognition of the Creeks' policy of "neutrality," which enabled them to play the British off against the Spanish and French. While most scholars concur that the policy of "neutrality" was the centerpiece of Creek foreign policy, few have sought to understand precisely how and when the Creeks put this policy into practice or how neutrality became enshrined as a Creek tradition. Furthermore, because of the decentralized nature of political power among the Creeks, we cannot be sure if the Creeks consciously pursued neutrality as a policy, or if it came about accidentally as the de facto result of various Creek political factions acting in their own interests.
In an attempt to answer such lingering questions, I have consulted not only the paper trails of the respective British colonies but also the underutilized archives of Spanish Florida and, to a lesser extent, French Louisiana, in an attempt to "triangulate" Creek diplomatic activity. I will demonstrate that the Creeks, reeling from the effects of the Yamasee War of 1715, first formally articulated this policy of neutrality in 1718 in the Creek town of Coweta. Over time the "Coweta Resolution," as I have called it here, became the political wisdom of much of the Creek Nation, acquiring the sanctity of tradition among later generations.
By demonstrating the evolution of Creek "neutrality" policy in this way, I hope the reader will gain a better appreciation of Creek perspectives on European colonialism. The Creeks believed that their political autonomy was best preserved in the context of imperial competition and feared the arrival of a day when one of the European powers would gain the upper hand. Therefore, from the Creek perspective the Treaty of Paris of 1763 was a radical shift in the political dynamics of the region that brought to an abrupt end a style of politics that had been two generations in the making. Little wonder, then, that the Creeks recoiled in horror upon learning the articles of the Peace of Paris and behaved in a manner befitting their reputation as the "least friendly" Indians.
The subject under scrutiny here-politics-may at first glance appear to be an uncomfortable fit in an ethnohistorical study. As defined by James Axtell, ethnohistory is best thought of as "the use of historical and ethnological methods and materials to gain knowledge of the nature and causes of change in a culture defined by ethnological concepts and categories." Succinctly put, ethnohistorical studies utilize culture as the central category of analysis, with great attention paid to the patterns of meanings, values, and norms shared by a society and the symbolic expression and transmission thereof. Political history, in contrast, tilts toward a more chronological, event-driven approach, and emphasizes questions of realpolitik rather than questions of cultural change. The goal of this work is to apply the insights of ethnohistory to some of the more traditional concerns of political history and to embed Creek political action in the broader context of Creek culture. In the end I hope the reader will discern new Creek perspectives on familiar events and gain insight into the culturally specific political motives of the Creeks and their leaders.
Increasingly, historians have come to recognize the benefits of what might be dubbed "ethnopolitical" history. Three general points of emphasis are discernable as products of the ethnopolitical approach as it pertains to Native Americans. The first is the importance of kinship as the basis of Native American political concepts and practices. Kinship not only served as the bond among Native Americans but applied more abstractly to their relationship with Europeans. The Creeks incorporated Europeans into their social and political circles when necessary, subjecting them to rules of reciprocity, giving the Native Americans leverage over traders and colonial governors alike. The second major point emphasized in such works is that broad tribal distinctions such as "Creek," "Ojibwe," or "Sioux" fail to capture the political complexity of loosely organized tribal peoples. For this reason scholars have rightly begun to turn their attention to smaller political units, discovering in the process that local political concerns and loyalties often superseded loyalties to an imagined "tribe." Third, ethnopolitical histories tend to examine in greater detail the roles of individual Indian leaders, who had motives, desires, and goals that sometimes placed them at odds with their own people. Thus, Indian leaders emerge not simply as stock representatives of their tribe or victims of grand historical processes but as complex characters forced to make difficult decisions in a morally ambiguous world.
In this light Creek peoples are better understood not as a nation in the modern sense but as an extended family united by bonds of clan affiliation, marriage, and ritually prescribed friendships. "Creek politics," then, might be considered something of a misnomer, because I devote much attention to smaller political units and networks, the concerns of which often superseded the concerns of the broader "Creek Nation." Where possible, I discuss the political careers of individual Creek leaders to demonstrate the various ways those in positions of authority chose to respond to pressures exerted by the colonists and their peers back home.
The evolution of the Creeks' ambiguous political organization, which scholars deem the "Creek Confederacy," is a recurring theme in this discussion. I explore the longstanding scholarly debate over the timing of the Confederacy's emergence, which has yet fully to be resolved. Was the Creek Confederacy an ancient political arrangement that "coalesced" by the turn of the eighteenth century, as many notable historians and anthropologists have argued? Or did the Confederacy emerge slowly over the course of the eighteenth century in response to the European presence in the Southeast? Is "confederacy" even an appropriate term, or did the Creeks' political organization consist of a series of shifting alliances of kin groups for which we have no good descriptive language?
The use of the term "confederacy" in reference to the Creeks began in the late eighteenth century with the publication of several important accounts of the southern Indians. Among the most important of these works was James Adair's History of the American Indians, published in 1775, and William Bartram's Travels, first published in 1791, both of which assumed the existence of the "Muskogee" or "Creek Confederacy." Adair, who lived among the Indians for more than thirty years, believed that the Muskogee Confederacy became powerful due to an "artful policy" of incorporating the remnants of other tribes. William Bartram, who made several excursions through Creek country in the 1770s, habitually referred to the Creeks as a confederacy, while also noting their linguistic and ethnic heterogeneity.
Like Adair and Bartram, historians and anthropologists working in the twentieth century described the Creeks as a multi-ethnic confederacy but generally neglected to subject its formation to rigorous historical scrutiny. John Swanton, the eminent anthropologist who wrote extensively on the Creeks in the early part of the twentieth century, viewed Creek history through the lens of the "ethnographic present," a method of observation many anthropologists have used to analyze the "savage" cultures that persisted well into the twentieth century. Though useful for analyzing the cultural practices of small-scale societies, the ethnographic present fails to place these cultures in an historical framework. Swanton's voluminous works, which remain classics in the field of ethnography, nevertheless insufficiently question the Confederacy's purported emergence.
Among the first to consider the Creek Confederacy from an historical standpoint was the foremost scholar of the southern frontier, Verner Crane. In an influential 1913 article, Crane argued that the Confederacy arose around the time of the Yamasee War of 1715. In support of his thesis Crane noted that Carolina traders and government officials began to refer to their Indian allies then living on the Ocmulgee River as the "Ochese Creek Indians," which they then shortened to "Creek Indians" by the time of the Yamasee War. When the "Creek Indians" returned to their old homes on the Chattahoochee in 1716, Carolina officials continued to use the "Creek" moniker and began applying it to the linguistically and culturally similar peoples living farther west, on the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. The name stuck, and Carolina, and later Georgia, officials would continue to refer to the Creeks as a single nation composed of two distinct divisions: the Lower Creeks, who lived on the Chattahoochee River, and the Upper Creeks, who lived on the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers.
While scholars continue to describe the Creeks as a confederacy that emerged some time during the "long" eighteenth century, most have rightly become somewhat uncomfortable assigning a specific date to its emergence. Moreover, scholars justifiably tend to use equivocal modifiers that raise doubts about the existence of a confederacy, if not the very utility of the term. Ironically, the first scholar to study the Creeks, Albert Gatschet, recommended in 1884 abandoning the term "confederacy" in favor of "war-confederacy," "war league," or "symmachy." Subsequent scholars have generally refused to adopt Gatschet's equally vague terminology but have nevertheless stressed the decentralized nature of the Confederacy. Kathryn Braund, for example, labels the Confederacy "an anomaly of unity and division," and further qualifies it as "loosely structured" and "ill-defined." In a similar vein, Michael Green describes the Confederacy as a "loosely organized alliance of independent and autonomous tribes" that gradually "evolved into a nation." Likewise, scholars who have most recently written about the Creeks describe the Confederacy variously as "loose," a "loose defensive and offensive alliance," "shifting and diverse," "emerging," or "not a perfect confederation" but one that was "subject to frequent disunity."
Excerpted from The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670-1733 by Steven C. Hahn Copyright © 2004 by University of Nebraska Press. Excerpted by permission.
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|Series editors' introduction|
|Introduction : the question of the "Creek confederacy"||1|
|3||A new world order||81|
|4||The challenge of triple-nation diplomacy||121|
|5||Oglethorpe's friends - and enemies||149|
|7||The intention of the Creek nation||229|
|Epilogue : the legacy of the imperial era||271|