Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670-1763

Academic journal article South Carolina Historical Magazine

The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670-1763

Article excerpt

The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670-1763. By Steven C. Hahn. Indians of the Southeast. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. Pp. xii, 338; $59.95, cloth.)

Steven C. Hahn's The Invention of the Creek Nation does more than offer an updated history of Creeks' development into a cohesive political entity; it also suggests new interpretations about the process and its results. Specifically, Hahn demonstrates how the Creeks employed a policy of neutrality in a place where multiple European and Indian empires competed for power and how that policy evolved throughout what he calls "the South's Imperial Era." In the end, Hahn argues that this period "did not witness the rise of a monolithic Creek Confederacy. But it saw the invention of an entirely new, ambiguous political concept-the territory-based Creek Nation-which both Creeks and Europeans worked to define and control" (p. 8).

Hahn focuses his "political history of the Creek Indians" (p. 3) on the town of Coweta and traces its creation and traditions by analyzing migration myths and the earlier Mississippian culture. After its establishment, which likely corresponded with South Carolina's founding in 1670, Creeks became actively involved in trade and diplomacy with neighboring Spanish and English outposts. Several groups relocated to the Ochese Creek region in reaction to intolerable treatment by their Spanish business partners, a move that prompted war with Spanish Florida for almost twenty years. English officials backed Indian efforts, but in return, they expected unconditional support in their own objective to eliminate all other European powers from the Southeast. By 1715 the Creeks had had enough of English exploitation, such as compulsory military service and heavy debt, and took part in the Yamassee War as "an exercise in international diplomacy" (p. 120) in order to explore other options. They continued to play the English and the Spanish off of each other to strike the best deal, and at a Creek conference in March 1718, leading headmen agreed to the Coweta Resolution, which formalized the notion of neutrality.

Agreement on a foreign policy was easier than implementation, however, and Brims, the chief of Coweta, faced the challenge of balancing the interests of all parties without offending any. Not all Indians or Europeans accepted the idea of neutrality, leading to internal struggles among Creeks and to international intrigues among traders and agents. Despite these disputes, the Indians were able to maintain their "triple-nation diplomacy," which "forced the three European empires to recognize Creek sovereignty" and allowed the Creeks "to make alliances with whomever they chose" (p. 148). The founding of Georgia in 1733 compelled the Creeks to reassess and renew their neutral stance, and the subsequent Treaty of Commerce and Friendship defined their territory for the first time and brought them a step closer to unity. They maintained connections with all European powers, however, and played a typically ambiguous role in the War of Jenkins's Ear. In the wake of that conflict, British settlers began to move into the backcountry and occupy Indian lands protected by treaty. …

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