Tennessee Documentary History
  Multiple Collection Search     View bookbag 
your bookbag has 0 items 

Title:[Letter] 1788 Aug. 3, Nashville, [to] Honorable Alexander McGillivray / James Robertson. [Explanation of a letter] 1859, "Opposition of McGillivray the Great Chief of the Creeks" / A.W. Putnam: a machine-readable transcription of an image
Author:Robertson, James

This work is the property of the Tennessee State Library and Archives, Nashville, Tennessee. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching, and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Date: August 3, 1788
Date: 1859
Extent: 20 p
Summary:This document, entitled "Opposition of McGillivray the Great Chief of the Creeks" is comprised of two parts. The first is a letter written by Colonel James Robertson to Creek chief Alexander McGillivray on August 3, 1788. In that letter, Robertson discussed episodes of violence between the Creeks and/or Cherokees and American settlers and troops. Robertson also offered McGillivray a gun and some land in the Cumberland region. The second part of the document is a detailed explanation of Robertson's letter written by A.W. Putnam in 1859. Putnam provided an analysis of the historical context of the letter as well as his own opinions of the situations at hand at the time the letter was written. Putnam described the hostilities that existed between the Creeks and the American frontier settlers. He painted a portrait of the Creeks and the other tribes of the region as "treacherous and wily and cruel savages" who were working with foreign governments, particularly the Spanish, to undermine American aims. Putnam analyzed the connotation of Robertson's words to McGillivray, by stating that it was both threatening and complementing at the same time. Putnam also related details of the state of the American government at the time, particularly the shift from the initial loose confederacy of states to the current federalist form of government. He discussed how the initial instability, particularly in the South, of the newly formed United States, desires to settle West, and ongoing conflicts with the Spanish complicated relations with the Native American tribes, specifically the Creeks. Putnam also reported his analysis of McGillivray's character. McGillivray is presented as a cunning, influential man who was after his own interests and who was working with the Spanish to thwart American settlement. To Putnam, Robertson's letter presented McGillivray with a compromise--that his financial and political success would be guaranteed as long as he used his influence to encourage American aims in the frontier. As Putnam noted, two years after Robertson's 1788 letter, a treaty was concluded which established secure Indian land boundaries, ceded a large territory of land to the US, and gave McGillivray the rank of Brigadier General and a salary from the government. Thus, the US government was able to allay the Creek Nation.
Collection:Tennessee Historical Society

Page [1]  view page image

[added: Col. [Colonel] A.W. Putnam ][added: McGillivray the great Creek chief]

Nashville August 3 1788

I received your favours [favors] by Messrs [Misters] Hoggatt & Ewing , which have given great satisfaction to the country in general. I transmitted copies to Governor Caswell and have since seen them published in the Kentucky Gazette.

The Indians still continue their incursions in some measure, tho' [though] trifling to what we experienced in the Spring. I imagine it must be Cherokees or some outlying Creeks who are not acquainted with your orders.

Colo. [Colonel] Anthony Bledsoe was killed by a small party about two weeks ago. B

It is reported that the Inhabitants of Holston and the Cherokees are at war; but we have not received any account that may be depended on, — nor whether you and the Georgians are likely to terminate your disputes.

From Mr Hoggatt's account we have expected some of the Creeks in from you; but none have yet arrived. I have provided a gun which Mr Hoggatt thinks will please you. I have caused a Deed for a Lot in Nashville to be recorded in your name, and beg you will let me know whether you will accept of a tract or two of Land in our young country.

Page [2]  view page image

I could say much to you concerning this same country; but am fully sensible you are better able to judge what may take place in a few years, than myself. — In all probability we cannot long remain in our present state and if the British or any commercial nation who may be in possession of the mouth of the mississippi [Mississippi] would furnish us with trade and receive our produce, there cannot be a doubt but the people on the West side of the Apalachian [Appalachian] mountains will open their eyes to their real interests.

I should be very happy to hear from you your sentiments on this matter.

Myself and the Inhabitants of this country return you our most [added: grateful] thank ful[added: s] for your very polite treatment of Messrs [Misters] Hoggatt & Ewing , and shall always be happy to render you any service in our power.

I hope you will honor me with a correspondence, & shall do myself the pleasure of writing by every opportunity.

I am Sir,
with the greatest esteem
Your most obt [obedient],
James Robertson
Honorable Alexander McGillivray

Page [3]  view page image

[added: 2] The foregoing letter contains matter of much variety and deep historical interest. It is bound in the first volume of the letters and correspondence of Genl [General] James Robertson : It is in the handwriting of that master-Clerk and amanuensis Andrew Ewing , — Genl [General] Robertson being but a very indifferent scholar and pensman.

The design to offer some remarks upon its various paragraphs and facts:

And first, we notice that it is in reply to communications; recd [received] by the hands of two prominent citizens of the Cumberland District , Messrs [Misters] Hoggatt and Ewing .

These gentlemen had gone on an important mission to the Creek nation early in the spring of this year, and bore with them a joint letter from Col [Colonel] Bledsoe & Col [Colonel] Robertson to Genl [General] McGillivray , the distinguished Creek Chief.

The reasons and objects of this step were various. The Indians had recently killed or taken away captive a number of persons from these settlements, and among others had cruelly murdered Peyton , the son of Col [Colonel] Robertson . In his letter to McGillivray in regards to this affliction, Col. [Colonel]

Page [4]  view page image

Robertson gave vent to the grief of a bereaved father, — but wisely refrained from threats of vengeance

The spirit which would have sought revenge for such personal wrong, was held in check by a high sense of duty and patriotic regard for the well-being and safety of the community in which he occupied so prominent a place.

But it was important to learn the particular causes for these outrages committed in violation of professions of peace & friendship And when it was discovered that these murders and depredations were committed by the Creeks who lived at a great distance & on the other side of the Tennessee river — a nation claiming none of the land on this side of that river, and with whose territories the people of Cumberland did not intermeddle, strong suspicions arose in the minds of the whites that there must be [added: some] deep and dangerous murder plot, — some evil and foreign influence at work, to bring this mischief upon innocent heads.

The leading men here were not wholly ignorant of the intrigues and policy of nations who had laid claim to this rich valley region, and were jealous of each

Page [5]  view page image

other and alike [added: jealous] of the powers and consequences of American government upon the rivers leading into the Gulf .

The settlers on the Cumberland and in Kentucky , were placed in great straits not only 'betwixt two', but many perplexities; treacherous and wily and cruel savages on all sides, and the insidious and crafty machinations of agents of foreign governments tampering with these savages and with their fellow citizens. They conceived then of none of [added: the] modern facilities of intercourse and business across those mountains over which they had clambered with so much difficulty & peril; and very wisely looked to the great natural canal and its tributary waters as their to bear their produce to any available and profitable market; and that whatsoever power had its controlling & strong hand upon the great artery could and would control the circulation of the young and growing commerce of these vast western regions: Every act affecting the free and uninterrupted flow of these important life-streams, startled the youthful but giant freemen upon their borders. And if there was a momentary cessation or occasional irregularity in the pulsation of the great American heart, and consequent disordered motions in the limbs & extremities, — so that the State of North Carolina

Page [6]  view page image

hesitated and refused for a time to adopt the Constitution and become one of the glorious Union: — though all saw — and acknowledges that the old Confederacy was but a rickety and imbecile form of Government; and that something far better framed & compacted was needed not only for common weal, but to preserve the liberties and independence so laboriously and dearly obtained; — and in all these views, — even in the rejection of the new and admirable form of government under which all the States have been so highly prospered, and their number more than double, their population increased seven fold and their commerce and business a thousand fold: — we say that though the two delegates or representatives from the three counties of the Cumberland District concurred in these sentiments and in their own exclusion from the Union, — it was not that they or any of them entertained anti-republican opinions or were alienated from their republican brethren on the Eastern side of the mountains. If they were to be detached from the great family of free states, they looked to such popular government for themselves & their posterity, and that to a separate organization they would only resort from dire necessity, and with the sincere hope that a truce and way

Page [7]  view page image

[added: 4] would ere long appear for a happy and more solid Union, and better guarantee for mutual and general advantage.

There was a variety of influences at work; — conflicting feelings and interests so conflicting as must ever move an intelligent and independent people. There were the strong ties arising from birth, education, association, — all strengthened by a participation in the recent struggle for general independence. . It was hard to sever these: But it must be noticed that from neither the State or Confederated Government had the inhabitants on this side of the mountains received aid or protection; — what they had gained and accomplished, was through their own toil and suffering. And They were separated at that time from their friends and compatriots by mountain barriers little less formidable, and rendering the connection little less distant and difficult, than the broad atlantic [Atlantic] spread out between the States and the mother country from which they had recently obtained an acknowledgment of independence

The very character of late and prominent events, and the condition of affairs and exigencies of the

Page [8]  view page image

times forced the question of self-reliance and independence upon the people: But they were in no haste to divide it, — they cherished no such desire: they loved their fellow citizens of the States or 'settlements,' and the liberties they had gained, and the institutions they had adopted, none the less [nonetheless], because they were 'over the hills and far away,' — and they were reluctant to take a part in diplomacy, craft and intrigue: But as others sought to play the game with them, and for them, as a stake, in which they were to be won or lost, — it became the part of wisdom & duty for the party so deeply interested to use some policy like wise [likewise]. [added: 6th May 1783 [unclear: Mallory ]]

The language used by Genl [General] Robertson is complimentary to the intelligence and foresight of the great King of the Creek nation : "You are better able to judge what may take place in a few years, than myself."

Now this was 'dust skilfully [skillfully] thrown' by Genl [General] Robertson into the eyes of this wily chief [added: and his advisers]. Genl [General] Robertson knew that such a communication would be seen by other eyes and that the wishes and the necessities of the people West of the Appalachian mountains were for the opening [added: the] navigation of the Mississippi : As they were threatened and tempted by officers and emissaries of foreign governments, — and were so situated that of necessity

Page [9]  view page image

they had to consult, negotiate, decide and act without the authority or sanction of an established government: for, as to the supervision and case of the State of N. [North] Carolina so far as they had knowledge of either, they were unreliable or vexatious, — and so continued "to the end of the chapter" — when the State of Tennessee became one of the Union. The good 'old North State' had a multitude of cares and toils at home or within her old & organized settlements, — and could not extend her strong arm across the mountains to defend these 'children in the woods,' — but rather left threw [through] to the perils to which they had exposed themselves — "to perils in the wilderness, to perils in robbers,' to perils of foreigners — 'to perils of their own country men [countrymen]."

We should bear in mind that virtually there was at this period no American Confederacy, no American Union, — but, what this very Indian Chief called "an Interregnum." The old Confederacy was dissolving and without power, and the present form of United States government was adopted by but eleven States: That North Carolina had refused to adopt the Constitution:

She was then not in the Union, — and the State of Franklin in East Tennessee , and the Government of the Judges of the Cumberland were ordained in great measure, from necessity, and designed to secure & promote the rights and interests of the people.

On the 17th Sep. [September][added: 1788] our present form of U.S. [United States] Government was agreed upon in Convention, —

Page [10]  view page image

but not [added: only] made known and submitted to the States for ratification by Resolution of 28th : — And on that same 17th Sep. [September] the Fourth Constitution at Danville Ky. [Kentucky] had resolved unanimously in favor of separation from Virginia , and again to ask admission into the Union: And yet there were so many obstacles thrown in the way of her attainment of this distinction, that the question was seriously discussed whether it would not be for the interest of her people to unite with others upon the western waters in the formation of a separate government.

The conduct of some of the Eastern States served greatly to urge this question upon these people. There, measures were proposed to discourage emigration to the West. Even such a Statesman as Governeur [Governor] Morris expressed decided opposition to sowing [sewing] seed from home on the broad lands west of the mountains, which would, in time, grow into such a population as to control the parent States: and one scheme or proposal was so to fix and settle the ratio of representation in Congress that the old States could, in all coming time, enjoy the political ascendency [ascendancy].

Therefore we find a willingness to yield for a series of years, or to sacrifice entirely, (as Some construed the sentiment,) — the navigation of the Mississippi — and especially if thereby the commercial interests of the Eastern or sea-board States, could be promoted. (A)

If we consider all the elements then in commotion, all the intrigues on foot, all the influences at work, all the threats — fears, all the interests at stake, all the difficulties

Page [11]  view page image

[added: 8] [added: (difficulties)] oppressing; all the embarrassments and dangers seemingly accumulating, — how many and how varied were all these, and with what artifice and ingenuity they were urged upon the se Western people, — we can only be surprised that the Alleghanies were not made the permanent [added: Western] limit to the old confederated States, — at least for a time

Consider for a moment a few passages in the Speech or Report [added: of Mr Monroe ] to the Virginia Convention which ratified the Federal Constitution; made

"There was a time — when even Virginia in some measure abandoned the Mississippi by authorising [authorizing] its cession to the Court of Spain . The southern States were overrun & in possession of the enemy. The government of S. [South] Carolina and Georgia prostrate, and opposition there at an end. N. [North] Carolina made but a feeble resistance; and Virginia herself was greatly harrassed [harassed] by the enemy in force at that time in the heart of the country, and by impressments for her own and the defence [defense] of the Southern States. In addition to this, the finances were in a deplorable condition, if not totally exhausted; and France , our ally seemed anxious for peace; and as the means of bringing the war to a more happy and speedy conclusion, the object of their cession was the hopes of uniting Spain in it with all her forces:"

Fortunately for us — Spain was too intrigueing [intriguing], too avaricious, too diplomatic: She desired more than the control of the mouth of the Mississippi , — and truly, so did these American settlers; and wakeful and crafty as were the
Spaniards ,

Page [12]  view page image

[added: 9] Spaniards , — the americans [Americans] neither 'slumbered nor slept,' — until they were in full and undisputed possession, not only of the river in its entire length, with all its tributaries and all the invaluable lands through which they flow. 'This boundless continent is ours."

Mr Monroe further says, "The Northern States were inclined to yield the navigation; that it was their interest to prevent an augmentation of the Southern influence and power; — and they would relinquish that river in order to depress the Western country, and prevent the Southern interest from preponderating."

Such a sentiment was quite prevalent in the New England States. The immense territory northwest of the ohio river [Ohio River] , had been Southern property, yielded up for new States, and the prevailing idea was, that the intercourse and interests of its future inhabitants would be chiefly with the Southern people — going with their business down these great natural highways to the Gulf and the Atlantic .

No one at that day foresaw the construction of Rail Roads [Railroads] — which now afford facilities of travel and business over and through the mountains to all the Eastern Atlantic shore, surpassing the many rivers flowing to the Southern Atlantic coasts. By these there is created and sustained a sympathy — a prejudice, and interest tending more to the East [added: #] than to the South:[added: #] from whence also most of the settlers came:

And we object not to such preferences, only desiring to extend, multiply, invigorate and cultivate there, by the construction of like lines

Page [13]  view page image

[added: 10] lines for intercourse and business, connecting with all the South, with all the West, with all the East, — and that business & travel may forever brighten these ban
'Bands of iron and hooks of steel.'
Col. [Colonel] Robertson resorts to very customary means of gaining favor in his negotiations with this powerful chieftain and crafty politician:

"I have provided a gun, which Mr. Hoggatt thinks will please you":

This was not, in every respect, an empty compliment; a good rifle, at that day, was an article of value and highly prized by chiefs and followers.

" I have also caused a Deed for a Lot in Nashville to be recorded in your name, — and beg you will let me know whether you will accept of a tract or two of land in our young country!"

This great Indian chief was had commingled in his veins, the blood of the Scotchman [Scotsman] , the Frenchman and the Spaniard with the noble blood of the 'Wind family' or 'Wild-Wind' — the aristocratic family of the Creek Nation : the spirit of the Indian and Spaniard seemed to predominate.

With all his haughty pride, he could be conciliated: he could be won by kindness and by [unclear: doncears ]. Rich and powerful as he was or was supposed to be, Col [Colonel] Robertson thought that he would not be insulted by offering him an interest here.

Page [14]  view page image

[added: 11] To our mind Col. [Colonel] Robertson seems to say; — "Mr Indian, this is a new settlement, — now a mere 'Lodge in the Wilderness,' — "a young country," but we are a great people; and we intend to make this a great town, — and highly to improve the lands around; — and We will give you a lot and a tract or two of land here, if you will command your rascally hunters to remain at home and not cross The Tennessee to steal our cattle, to kill our people, to disturb us in our possessions and operations;' — and we doubt not if this Indian chieftain had ever seen proper to visit Nashville in the life-time of Col. [Colonel] Robertson , a lot could have been pointed out as the one deeded to him, — and so, had he expressed a desire for "a tract or two of land in this young country," he would have been complimented by such presents.

There was perhaps a cooert [coert] meaning, a significant intimation in this proposition It was like saying — 'We know your opposition to our settlements on the Cumberland ; We know your intimacy with the Spaniards who wish to draw [added: or drive] us away, — offering lands upon the Mississippi free of cost, exempt from taxation, and the navigation of the river without obstruction: We know you keep the Creeks , the Cherokees and other savages at enmity with us here and on the Holston : But now, Mr Indian, — Be it known unto you and to all our enemies, that we are here in possession, the owners of town lots and

Page [15]  view page image

[added: 12] [added: and] all of these broad lands, — and we can give you a Deed — the only sure title, to a fee simple here. We would be pleased to be at peace with all the tribes; you can exert much influence upon their predatory and warlike spirit, and if it may be any inducement, you can say so, and what we have offered, shall be given: We know how readily your friends, the Spaniards , conclude their professions of friendship with the compliment, — "may you live a thousand years!" — Will you have a lot in our town a tract of two of land in our young country?"

These compliments did not cost much and the lands were then very cheap.

We do not find any such titles to this 'Big Indian' for property here; nor can we assert that the offers had any certain influence to pacify this warrior or others, — other measures were soon adopted, — other and larger grants were soon to be made to him and his sub-chiefs, which should withdraw them from the influence of the English , the French and the Spanish regents, and establish peace.

These measures and compensations & their results may be discovered in the brief sketch of the life and character [added: of this King of the Creek Nation ] with which we shall conclude this article.

Alexander McGillivray was indeed a man of superior mind, of good education, of commanding influence, of unquestioned bravery & of peculiar tact in diplomacy.

Page [16]  view page image

His father or grandfather was a Scotchman , his mother a Creek of the Wind Tribe , — but there were marked traces of the Castilian and of the Gaul , — so that he was some [added: at] times called a Spaniard , a Frenchman , an Englishman , — and yet always an Indian of the half blood.

He was educated in Charleston , and at an early age assumed the position at Indian councils to which his talents, his appearance and his influential tribe [added: family] entitled him; and throughout the War for American Independence he was devoted to the measures of England .

At the close of that war, he entered into close alliance with the Spanish authorities of Florida and Louisiana : In that treaty he represented the Creeks and Seminoles , & engaged to use all his influence and artifice with the Chickasaws , Cherokees and Choctaws against the people of the United States : This alliance was formed in 1784, and he assigned as his excuse or justification, that the Whigs of the Revolution had confiscated his estates and committed many offensive acts against his family connections; and in compliance with his engagements he exerted himself, and most successfully too, to keep the Indians in an unfriendly state of excitement and enmity against the Americans .

The settlers upon the Cumberland had no knowledge of any such engagements between him and the Spaniards , — perhaps could not have credited the statement, had it been made: for at this time they were receiving many professions of friendship, many profess

Page [17]  view page image

[added: 14] [added: g] liberality from the Spanish authorities

But in letters and documents which have since come to light, we discover that this powerful chief was intent upon promoting the wishes [added: aims] of the Spanish government, — to break up the settlements on the Cumberland or to induce the people to seek the protection of the Spaniards rather than longer to rely upon any support or benefits from States of government East of the mountains.

In a letter which he addressed to Col. [Colonel] Pickens in Septr. [September] 1785, he makes a remark about the "settlements on the Cumberland , & that, people there would do well to show a regard to the rights of others, and avoid further aggressions'

The acknowledgement [acknowledgment] has been made by American Historians that McGillivray was always artful and skillful enough to defeat our State and national governments in negotiations with the Indians, — until he attained his private ends, — full indemnity for his alledged [alleged] losses.

In further proof of his spirit, we quote the following remark from a long letter written by him in Septr. [Septermber] 1788, to Panton , a Spanish merchant whom he had made a man of immense wealth by priviliged [privileged] dealings among the Indians: It will be noticed that this letter is only a month later in date than the one written to McGillivray , at [the the] beginning of our communication:

Speaking of proposed treaties for peace and

Page [18]  view page image

boundaries, he says, "Experience has proved that such matters are only to be attained by the longest fire and point of sword, — particularly with Americans ." And in this same letter he speaks boastingly of "an attack made by "a party of Cherokees on a body of the Franklin troops,' — in which he rejoices that the latter were completely routed, — and that this being "The first check they ever got in that country, the drooping spirits of the Cherokees were thereby revived."

This, no doubt, is alluded to in that paragraph of Col [Colonel] Robertson's letter where he says, "It is reported that the inhabitants of Holston and the Cherokees are at war."

In another letter to Panton — Augt. [August] 1789, — he says, "I have in a letter to Gov. [Governor] Mero , approved his policy of settling Americans on the west side of the Mississippi — and I truly wish it was in compass of our power to drive them all from the Cumberland and Ohio , to seek the new asylum — out of our way!"

These words tell the secret of the many depredations of the Creeks upon the white settlements on the Cumberland : The Creeks had no settlements and claimed no territory upon that river or between the Cumberland and the Tennessee , so that it could not be truly alledged that these settlements encroached upon the land of that Nation

At this date Commissioners were appointed by the U.S. [United States] Govt. [Government] to negotiate with McGillivray , and they proposed to pay him for his confiscated property about $100,000. This pleased him.

Page [19]  view page image

[added: 16] And he was induced to promise to make a visit to New York and Philadelphia to see President Washington

In compliance with this promise, he did, in Augt. [August] 1790, visit the President, and a Treaty was concluded; — a treaty of peace, for the protection of the Indians, establishing boundaries, — and making a cession of large territory: an amunity of $1,500 per annum was granted to the Creek nation .

McGillivray was tickled also with a feather in his cap; he received the Rank of Brigadier General and the yearly pay of $1,200.

Thus this Indian Chief became one of the American Generals, (and the friend of the United States[added: ?], and these wars were at an end for many years) — and the intrigues of the English , the French and Spanish were spoiled.

The young American Eagle was perched upon the mountain heights, his Keen eye surveyed this great continent, his broad, strong and growing wings spread out from the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans; he is "monarch of all the surveys;" 'This vast continent is ours;' —

'May his shadow never be less.' 'May his eye never see any more wars within our borders, never any reduction of our limits, never any separation or alienation of one portion from another:

May we indeed 'live a thousand years' a United, happy, prosperous people, — "whose God is the Lord!" —

A.W.P. [Putnam]1859

Opposition of McGillivray ,
the great Chief of the Creeks ,
to the settlements on the Cumberland ,
his character, & Col [Colonel] Robertson's
correspondence with him.[added: Sec. [Secretary] Haywood — pp. [pages] 338-39 —]

A product of DLPS
To comment or inquire about content, contact UTK Special Collections
To report errors, contact UTK Special Collections