George Strother Gaines

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George Strother Gaines (1 May 1784 – 21 January 1873) had an influential role in the early history of Alabama and Mississippi. During his long and varied career he was a federal trade agent for the region's Indian tribes, explored the country west of the Mississippi River and supervised the removal of Choctaw Indians. He also served as a state senator, banker, and railroad lobbyist.

Gaines was born in North Carolina on 1 May 1784, the 11th of 13 children of Captain James Gaines and Elizabeth Strother Gaines. His father had served in the Revolutionary War and both parents came from prominent Virginia families. His older brother, Edmund Pendleton Gaines rose to the rank of major general in the U.S. Army. Not long after George's birth, the family moved to Gallatin, Tennessee.

In 1804 Gaines was appointed to work for the federal government as an assistant Indian factor at the Choctaw Trading House in St. Stephens, Mississippi Territory (now in Alabama). Indian factors coordinated trading practices and served as personal contacts between the government and the tribes. St. Stephens was a small settlement on the banks of the Tombigbee River.

In 1806 the senior Indian factor, Joseph Chambers, resigned and Gaines replaced him. In this position he earned the respect of Indians and the settlers. As tensions grew between settlers and Indian tribes over land, Gaines was able to maintain a degree of calm in the region. After the Fort Mims massacre in 1813 by a faction of the Creek Indians, Gaines convinced the Choctaws and Chickasaws to help defend the lower Tombigbee River valley. He outfitted Choctaw volunteers to fight against the Creeks during the Creek War of 1813-1814.

Gaines resigned his position at the Choctaw Trading House in 1818 to join the Tombeckbee Bank in St. Stephens, now the temporary capital of the new Alabama Territory. Financial difficulties made worse by the Panic of 1819, forced Gaines to resign in 1822. He moved to Demopolis and purchased the Choctaw Trading House from the federal government. Gaines assumed responsibility for its operation, and continued trading with the Choctaws.

Gaines also served as the president of the Mobile, Alabama, branch bank from 1833 to 1846. Gaines negotiated the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek between the United States and the Choctaw people, acquiring their lands in Alabama and Mississippi. At the request of the Choctaw tribe, Gaines led an expedition to scout the prospective Choctaw lands in the Indian territory, before the Choctaws reluctantly agreed to emigrate there. Gaines was charged with spending too much money on moving the Choctaw, although in comparison he accomplished the task in a relatively humane fashion. He is buried at State Line, Mississippi.

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Further reading[edit]

  • Pate, James P. (Editor), The Reminiscences of George Strother Gaines: Pioneer and Statesman of Early Alabama and Mississippi, 1805-1843. Tuscaloosa: The University of Alabama Press, 1998.
  • Leftwich, George J. Colonel George Strother Gaines and other Pioneers in Mississippi Territory. Publications of the Mississippi Historical Society 1904:442-56.
  • DeRosier, Arthur H. The Removal of the Choctaw Indians, Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1970.