McGillivray of the Creeks

McGillivray of the Creeks

McGillivray of the Creeks

McGillivray of the Creeks

Excerpt

North America has produced no more extraordinary Indian leader than Alexander McGillivray. Born and reared in the Creek Nation but educated at Charleston and Savannah, he knew the ways of his tribesmen and understood the methods of the whites. Thus doubly equipped, he was the natural choice of the Creeks for the direction of their tribal affairs in the critical decade following the American Revolution.

From the Indian standpoint all American history can be reduced to terms of defending their lands against Caucasian encroachment. For McGillivray even this problem was multiple. The Creeks were virtually surrounded. He had to deal with the frontiersmen of Georgia, with the Cumberland settlers in Tennessee, with the American land speculators, with the Spaniards of Louisiana and the Floridas, and with English intrigues and expeditions. Against these forces he pitted his diplomatic talents.

How well McGillivray did his work is attested by many historians. "The most gifted and remarkable man that ever was born upon the soil of Alabama" is the pronouncement of the foremost historian of that state. Theodore Roosevelt remarked that it was McGillivray's "consummate craft" and "cool and masterly diplomacy" which enabled the Creeks "for a generation to hold their own better than any other native race against the restless Americans." A Georgian writer ranked him "by all odds the foremost man of Indian blood and raising that Anglo-America has ever seen; one who was universally allowed and felt in his day to be the very soul of the Creek nation, which was almost absolutely swayed by his genius and will."

Despite his recognized importance most of the source materials on McGillivray's career have remained inaccessible. The primary purpose of this study, launched some eight or nine years ago, has been to assemble and make conveniently available the essential documents descriptive of the man and his work. As the project developed, the broad significance of his correspondence became increasingly apparent. His letters recount the struggle for the Old Southwest in the period after the Revolutionary War. They depict the trials of the United States in the first years of national existence. They reveal a vigorous Spanish frontier policy, long after Spain had supposedly passed into her dotage as a colonial power. Above all, they voice the Indian...

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