The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove

The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove

The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove

The Life and Times of Mary Musgrove

Synopsis

The story of Mary Musgrove (1700-1764), a Creek Indian-English woman struggling for success in colonial society, is an improbable one.

As a literate Christian, entrepreneur, and wife of an Anglican clergyman, Mary was one of a small number of "mixed blood" Indians to achieve a position of prominence among English colonists. Born to a Creek mother and an English father, Mary's bicultural heritage prepared her for an eventful adulthood spent in the rough and tumble world of Colonial Georgia Indian affairs.

Active in diplomacy, trade, and politics--affairs typically dominated by men--Mary worked as an interpreter between the Creek Indians and the colonists--although some argue that she did so for her own gains, altering translations to sway transactions in her favor. Widowed twice in the prime of her life, Mary and her successive husbands claimed vast tracts of land in Georgia (illegally, as British officials would have it) by virtue of her Indian heritage, thereby souring her relationship with the colony's governing officials and severely straining the colony's relationship with the Creek Indians.

Using Mary's life as a narrative thread, Steven Hahn explores the connected histories of the Creek Indians and the colonies of South Carolina and Georgia. He demonstrates how the fluidity of race and gender relations on the southern frontier eventually succumbed to more rigid hierarchies that supported the region's emerging plantation system.

Excerpt

On the banks of the Savannah River there was once an inconspicuous patch of earth that jealously guarded many secrets of the past. Located four miles upstream from the Georgia city of that name, this tranquil place merely a decade ago was covered with jungle-thick brush interspersed among wise, old live oak trees dripping with Spanish moss—timeless symbols of the Southern Lowcountry. Somehow, through more than two centuries of urban development, this area remained undisturbed by the modern city that came to surround it. But, the ways of progress demand that tranquil places must eventually become useful in some way. By the mid-1990s the Georgia Port Authority, which manages the busy international port of Savannah, had begun hatching plans to ease its growing pains by developing this land. As I write, construction on the new Container Berth 8 is underway, and a fresh coat of pavement now covers that once-tranquil spot of ground. As you read, the retail giants Target and ikea will be using that area as a temporary resting place for iPods and ready-to-assemble shelving units.

Before construction began, however, the Georgia Port Authority (in compliance with historic preservation laws) hired a team of archaeologists to examine the site. Preliminary investigations conducted in the mid1990s turned up physical evidence that suggested the presence of earlier settlements, both colonial and prehistoric. Not everyone was prepared, however, for the secrets this spot of ground would reveal in the summer of 2002, when a backhoe began to strip away the eighteen inches of topsoil that blanketed the site. in the exposed subsoil archaeologists found various stains—features—that suggested the presence of past dwellings and refuse pits. Shoveling and sifting through ancient soil, the archaeologists salvaged artifacts that collectively weighed over one ton and, in many cases . . .

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