Alexander McGillivray, also known as werdtyion (December 15, 1790 – February 17, 1793), was a Muscogee (Creek) leader. The son of a Muscogee mother and a Scottish father, he had skills no other Creek of his day had: he was not only literate but educated, and he knew the "white" world and merchandise trading well. These gave him prestige, especially with European-Americans, who were glad to finally find a Creek leader they could talk to and deal with. (Prior to contact with Europeans, the Creek did not have leaders or rulers in the European sense.) He used his role as link between the two worlds to his advantage, not always fairly, and became the richest Creek of his time.
McGillivray was literate and his "voluminous" correspondence has survived.:68 In many cases his letters are the only source for events in his life, and they naturally present him in a very good light. Recent historians have taken issue with the heroic status he had in earlier histories.
McGillivray's status among the Creeks, who did not customarily have a single leader, was controversial and sometimes resented. His chief asset to insure he was seen as a leader was his ability to hand out gifts to the Creeks from both Britain and Spain. He was the most "Anglicized" of Creeks, and built solid houses, planted orchards, and ran a plantation (and owned about 60 slaves), which made him suspect. That he knew English well, was literate, and was experienced in the trading world also gave him influence, if not prestige. Yet as the illiterate Creek gradually became aware of his duplicity in the Treaty of New York (1790) and other matters, there "began a process that would culminate in the Redstick War.":83 "Not surprisingly, the struggle began in the era of Alexander McGillivray.":188
Alexander was born Hoboi-Hili-Miko (Good Child King) in the Coushatta village of Little Tallassee (also known as Little Tallase, Little Talisi and Little Tulsa) on the Coosa River, near present-day Montgomery, Alabama, in 1750. Alexander's mother, Sehoy Marchand, was the daughter of Sehoy, a mixed-race Creek woman of the prestigious Wind Clan ("Hutalgalgi"), and of Jean Baptiste Louis DeCourtel Marchand, a French officer at Fort Toulouse. Alexander and his siblings were born into the Wind Clan, as the Muscogee had a matrilineal system, and gained their status from their mother's clan. They identified as Creek. Their father was Lachlan McGillivray, a Scottish trader (of the Clan MacGillivray chief's lineage). He built trading posts among the Upper Towns of the Muscogee confederacy, whose members had formerly traded with French Louisiana.
As a child, Alexander briefly lived in Augusta with his father on one of his plantations. By the time he was 12, his father owned several large plantations totalling over 10,000 acres (4,000 ha), making him one of the largest landholders in the colony.:67 His father was a delegate in the colonial (Georgia) Assembly, and was "a partner in a profitable mercantile firm that dealt in slaves, among other commodities".:67 In 1773, the boy was sent to school in Charleston, South Carolina, where he learned Latin and Greek. He was apprenticed at two trading companies, one of which was the second largest importer of slaves in Georgia.:67 With the outbreak of the American Revolution, his Loyalist father returned to Scotland, and his lands were confiscated. Alexander returned to his mother's people in Little Tallassee in 1777.
While he was accepted as a Creek because of his mother, he "was deeply alienated from most Creek traditions and from the vast majority of the Creek people":69 He had more book learning than any other Creek, and later in life had a substantial library on natural history.:72
In 1783, McGillivray became the principal chief of the Upper Creek towns, or as Saunt put it, "established himself as spokesman for a Creek nation that seemed far more unified on paper than it was in reality".:189 His predecessor, Chief Emistigo, died while leading a war party to relieve the British garrison at Savannah, which was besieged by the Continental Army under General "Mad" Anthony Wayne. At one time, McGillivray claimed that he had 5,000 to 10,000 warriors, to arrive at which figure he included the Cherokee, Seminole, and Chickamaugas he came in contact with (but did not rule). However, he did not live a Creek lifestyle, as he built a plantation on the Little River, and a second one on the Coosa River, just above modern Montgomery, Alabama.:70 He built a log house with dormer windows and a stone chimney, both all but unknown in the Creek nation.:71 He was not only literate, he was by far the wealthiest Creek of his time.:71–72
McGillivray opposed the 1783 Treaty of Augusta, under which two Lower Creek chiefs had ceded Muscogee lands from the Ogeechee to the Oconee rivers to the new state of Georgia. In June 1784 he negotiated the Treaty of Pensacola with Spain, which recognized Muscogee sovereignty over three million acres (12,000 km²) of land claimed by Georgia, guaranteed access to the British fur-trading company Panton, Leslie & Company, and made McGillivray an official representative of Spain, with a $50 monthly salary. McGillivray became a partner in Panton, Leslie & Co., and used his control over the deerskin trade to expand his power.
McGillivray sought Creek independence after the Treaty of Paris (1783). He sought to create mechanisms of centralized political authority (in himself), to end the traditional village autonomy by which individual chiefs had signed treaties and ceded land. Armed by British traders operating out of Spanish West Florida, the Muscogee raided back-country European-American settlers to protect their hunting grounds. From 1785 to 1787, Upper Creek war parties fought alongside the Cherokee in the Cherokee–American wars in present-day Tennessee. In 1786 a council of the Upper and Lower Creek in Tuckabatchee declared war against Georgia. The Spanish officials opposed this and, after they told McGillivray they would reduce aid if he persisted, he entered into peace talks with the U.S.
A Loyalist like his father, McGillivray resented the developing United States Indian policy; however, he did not wish to leave Creek territory. McGillivray became a leading spokesman (self-appointed) for all the tribes along the Florida-Georgia border areas.
Georgia's Yazoo land scandal convinced President George Washington that the federal government needed to control Indian affairs rather than allowing the states to make treaties. In 1790 he sent a special emissary to the Southeast, who persuaded McGillivray and other chiefs to attend a conference with Henry Knox, the Secretary of War, in New York City, then the capital of the U.S. The conference resulted in the Treaty of New York (1790). (For decades Indian policy was under the oversight of the War Department.)
McGillivray and 29 other chiefs signed the Treaty of New York on behalf of the 'Upper, Middle and Lower Creek and Seminole composing the Creek nation of Indians'. McGillivray was the only one who could sign his name,:196 and Lower Creeks were soon to complain that they had no representative present (none was invited), and that the Creek signers had no right to give away their lands. The first treaty negotiated after ratification of the U.S. Constitution, it established the Altamaha and Oconee rivers as the boundary between Creek lands and the United States. The US government promised to remove illegal white settlers from the area, and the Muscogee agreed to return fugitive black slaves who sought refuge with the tribe. This provision angered the Seminole of Florida, who had provided refuge to numerous escaped slaves, and had intermarried with some. The Black Seminoles by this time had communities allied with the Seminole. The Creeks "soon concluded that McGillivray had deceived them".:196–197
Under secret provisions in the treaty, McGillivray was commissioned as a brigadier general of the U.S., with an annual salary of $1,200. He was also granted permission to import goods via Pensacola without paying duties, and paid $100,000 for his father's confiscated properties. With this money, he acquired three plantations and 60 African-American slaves. The treaty temporarily pacified the Southern frontier, but the U.S. failed to honor its obligation and did not eject white settlers who were illegally on Creek lands.
In 1792 McGillivray repudiated the Treaty of New York. He negotiated another with Spanish officials, who then ruled the Louisiana Territory vacated by the French. They promised to respect Muscogee sovereignty. McGillivray was a man of remarkable ability, as evident from his success in keeping both the United States and Spain paying for his influence at the same time. In 1792 he was the superintendent-general of the Creek nation on behalf of Spain, the Indian agent of the United States, the mercantile partner of Panton, and self-appointed "emperor" of the Creek and Seminole nations.
McGillivray moved to Pensacola, where he became a member of the Masonic Order. He died on February 17, 1793 in Pensacola and was buried in William Panton's backyard and garden, wrote Edward Forrester, a mixed-blood trader among the Lower Creeks, in a letter to Nepomuceno de Quesada, the Spanish governor of East Florida at St. Augustine. Later McGillivray's sister had his body reinterred at Choctaw Bluff, where he had earlier had his plantation, in modern Clarke County, Alabama, on the Alabama River. Two of his maternal nephews, William Weatherford and William McIntosh, who were also born into the powerful Creek Wind Clan ("Hutalgalgi"), became the most important Muscogee leaders in the early 19th century. They fought on opposing sides of the Creek War, a conflict that arose between traditionalists, such as Weatherford, and those of the Lower Creek, such as McIntosh, who believed it was necessary to adapt and take on useful European-American customs. In part the conflict arose because of the peoples' geographic positions; those closer to European-American settlement had more interaction with the Americans, as well as the benefits.
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