Creek Delegation in Fredericksburg J-102

Historical Marker Text
In July 1790 a delegation of Creek Indians from Georgia, headed by Muskogee leader Alexander McGillivray, made their temporary headquarters nearby on their way to New York City. President George Washington invited them to treaty negotiations to resolve territorial disputes and develop further formal relations. While in Fredericksburg, the delegation visited with Washington’s family at Kenmore and viewed Ferry Farm, his boyhood home. The group continued north to discuss and sign the 1790 Treaty of New York, the first treaty with a sovereign Indian nation negotiated by the new federal government under the Constitution. The treaty established boundaries and also contained secret articles for promoting trade. [2005]


Extended Research
The Creek Indians have a long and painful history with American settlers and in particular the Georgians. At the establishment of the colony of Georgia in 1733, the Creeks and Georgia settlers traded and got along with relative smoothness. Before the Creeks agreed to give their permission for Georgia to be settled, they initiated an agreement of regulated and regular trade. General James Oglethorpe was the primary negotiator with the Creeks and they came to a fair arrangement, which was made into a law and passed by the crown in April 1735. This arrangement also stated that the two parties would keep the peace as well (Green, Politics, 23). With the coming of the
Spanish-American War Georgia felt the pressure of being a buffer state to Spanish Florida and decided to cement its Anglo-Creek relations further, before the French or Spanish could create alliances. From these negotiations the Treaty of Coweta was born, and it was a monumental victory for the British and Georgians to have this alliance fixed.

As the typical Anglo-Indian story goes, the white men wanted and needed more land to support their expansionist lifestyles, so they took more land from the Indians. The Creeks were frustrated and angered by the termination of their territory agreement that was included in the Treaty of Coweta (Green, Politics, 26). With several disputes and subsequent land cessions, the Creeks were taken advantage of little by little, and thus their land was squandered as well (Green, Politics, 30).

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The Creeks remained relatively inactive and did not take clear sides in the American Revolution (Green, Politics, 32). There were factions that supported both sides. Alexander McGillivray was a leader of a pro-British faction. He was the Assistant British commissary until 1779, when he became commissary for the Upper Creeks. He originated from the Koasati of the Wind clan and was a native of Little Tallassee on the Coosa River. He could not convince the entirety of the Creeks to join the British side, so he instead organized and aided “unofficial warfare against American targets” (Green, Politics, 33). Overall, the Creeks who did fight against the Americans did little catastrophic damage.

After the Revolutionary War ended, Alexander McGillivray held a position of relative power and increased his power as the years progressed. Between 1783 and 1793 he gained in popularity and outsiders began calling him “dictator of the Creeks.” This is clearly an exaggeration, because Indian politics don’t include dictators or any law that the majority must follow the wishes of its leaders. It was safe to say the McGillivray was influential in the Creek Tribal decisions. McGillivray’s hope was to centralize Creek government and build protective alliances against the United States. He wanted to keep the Creeks as an independent nation and also to protect their land specifically from the encroaching American settlers.

Among other actions, McGillivray accepted the invitation of President George Washington to travel to New York, the capital at the time, in hopes of the Creeks and Americans making an official peace treaty. The United States governmental officials, having just completed the Constitution, could now afford to raise government funds to defend Georgia from the Creeks. It was President George Washington who insisted upon making peace with the Creeks and that the United States must begin a better practice of Indian diplomacy (Green, Creeks, 44). Washington sent Marinus Willett as a special envoy to ask McGillivray and the Creeks to join them for treaty making. This process was also aided by the former commissioner and at the time U.S. Senator Benjamin Hawkins (Caughey 40).

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Willet and McGillivray traveled together with an entourage of twenty-six chiefs and warriors. They traveled by horse and wagon. On the journey to New York the delegation of Creek Indians stopped in several locations to visit prominent Americans and take rest stops. They visited Guilford Courthouse, North Carolina, Richmond and Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Philadelphia. In regards to the Fredericksburg visit to Ferry Farm, there is little record of exactly what the Delegation did during their stay. It is said that they met with Washington’s sister, Betty Lewis, at her house, Kenmore. They also were introduced to Washington’s old home and his mother, Mary Ball Washington (Caughey43).

The Treaty of New York, signed on August 7, 1790, guaranteed peace and gave back agreed-upon territorial lands to the Creeks. The majority of this summer had been dedicated to negotiations between the Creeks and Washington, as well as his Secretary of War, Henry Knox (Edmunds 55). Also at this meeting the Creeks signed the 1790 Trade and Intercourse Act, which guaranteed them United States protection, as well as included a secret clause that gave McGillivray permission to import goods through American ports.

The Treaty of New York was generally a good deal for the Creeks. It provided them with stable trading rights and, most importantly, a guarantee to their lands. The trading rights gave the Creeks more leverage with the Spanish, who now had steeper competition for trading. In return, they did have to give up some of the lands previously settled by Georgia squatters and a tract of land that used to be hunting grounds before the Georgians killed and ran away all the wild animals (Green, Politics, 33).

The Creek Indians’ story does not end there… but the Historical Marker and their history related to Fredericksburg does. Please seek further information in the resources below. Their story is a complex and enthralling one.

Photo Credits
Muskogee History, “McGillivray,” (accessed April 10, 2008).

George Washington University, “Treaty of New York,” http://www.gwu.edu/~ffcp/exhibit/p9/p9_6med.jpg (accessed April 10, 2008).

For Further Reference
Caughey, John Walton. McGillivray of the Creeks. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1938.

Corkran, David H. The Creek Frontier, 1540-1783. Norman, OK: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1967.

Debo, Angie. The Road to Disappearance. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press, 1941.

Edmunds, R. David. American Indian Leaders: Studies in Diversity. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1980.

Green, Michael D. The Creeks. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1990.

—— The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.

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