The conquest of the colonial southwest was of momentous consequence in the history of this nation, for the rescue of vast areas of the hinterland helped in part to prepare the way for the independence of the British colonies. Yet to the Indian tribes along the southern frontier the westward advance of the Anglo-American population spelled disaster. If the French had been able to hold their interior forts, the downfall of the Indian would have been long delayed. In the 1750's, however, the French found themselves challenged all along the southern colonial frontier by an aggressive English trading advance. While the ensuing French and Indian War was a historical drama filled with tragic interest, it is also a period of no little obscurity on the western frontiers of the southern colonies.
Indian affairs were extremely important matters in colonial times; and large portions of provincial legislative journals and official communications are devoted to problems relating to the tribesmen. Yet close examination of the manuscripts and the printed sources concerning the southern frontier of the 1750's discloses much confusion and conflict in Indian diplomacy. Until the time of the outbreak of the French and Indian War, the control of Indian politics was in the hands of the various provincial governments--an unsatisfactory arrangement because of intercolonial rivalry in Indian affairs and in the fur trade.
Edmond Atkin, a member of the South Carolina Governor's Council and a merchant with long experience in the Indian trade, was aware of this situation. He had a scheme to place all Indian affairs under two imperial superintendents, one for the North and another for the South. Although this plan was not original with Atkin, his comprehensive report of 1755 and his plan were primarily responsible for his being elevated to the post of southern Indian superintendent in 1756. He faced the responsibilities of his new position with courage and determination and was loyal to his mother country, but died realizing that his work was not successful.
Atkin's writings, however, help to enlighten a whole period in American history that is in man respects unreclaimed. He tells the story of the "Vagabond Horse Pedlars" in their avid search for profits among the remoter tribes of the lower Mississippi Valley. Those hardy, rude men, traders and hunters, who ranged the southern wilderness beyond the frontiers of the colonies, formed a connecting link between civilization and barbarism. Atkin's descriptions of the Indian tribes, with their painted war sticks and fluttering trophies, throw light on a shadowy epoch that passed quickly from the American scene. His design for the superintendency system should be recognized as nothing less than a scheme to extend British imperial authority over an untamed wilderness in face of the rivalry of another major colonial power. Moreover . . .