by Richard L. Thornton, Architect & City Planner
Part Two of “How the Creek Migration Legend changed the world.”
Four and half years ago, I had an extraordinary experience. I became the first American in 280 years to see the handwritten eyewitness accounts of the founding of Savannah by Georgia’s Colonial Secretary Thomas Christie. During the 1800’s, several expeditions of Ivy League university scholars had failed to find these documents. The documents also provide detailed descriptions of the varying cultural traditions among the branches of the Creek Confederacy. All along, these precious, handwritten, velum sheets were in a wooden crate in a storage room at Lambeth Palace in London, England.
What particularly interested me were Christie’s descriptions of the activities of the brothers, John and Charles Wesley, who along with George Whitefield, founded the Methodist Church. Family lore was that John Wesley had converted my ancestors at the Creek Mother town of Palachicola to Christianity. Not so . . . it turns out that they were practicing a non-liturgical form of Christianity, long before the British arrived to the South Atlantic Coast . . . probably introduced by French Huguenot survivors of Fort Caroline. My ancestors had told John Wesley . . . “Why are you here? We believe the same things that you do. However, we prefer to worship God in the open air.”
After coming very close to driving the Colony of South Carolina into the ocean in 1715, an alliance of Southeastern indigenous peoples fell apart. 1 The tribal alliance, closest to South Carolina, the Yamasee, was decimated by 1717.
Several Creeks towns in what is now central Georgia fled to the Chattahoochee River to escape the wrath of South Carolina militiamen. 2 The three British trading posts, established in the 1680s at the shoals of the Ocmulgee near Indian Springs; in the heart of the ancient Ocmulgee Mounds near Macon, GA and near the Forks of the Altamaha in south-central Georgia, were piles of ashes.
Even though himself a major collaborator in the attacks on British traders from South Carolina, the leader of the town of Koweta, Bemarin (Emperor Brim) decided to form a new alliance that would be openly an ally of Great Britain. 3, 4 He moved his town southward from near Indian Springs in Butts County, GA to the former location of Oka-mole-ke (Ocmulgee) which is now the Amerson River Park in Central Macon, GA. 5 The Creek Capital would stay at that location till the early 1740’s.
Twentieth century historians assumed that Coweta was always on the Alabama side of the Chattahoochee River near Columbus, GA. It was never there. That was merely a satellite Coweta village. When the Creek capital moved from the Ocmulgee River, it was established where Downtown Columbus is today.
The conference which included representatives from most Creek towns in present day Georgia, southeastern Tennessee and eastern Alabama met in mid-1717 at either at the new location of Koweta or near the ancient mounds on the Ocmulgee Acropolis about seven miles to the south. 6 This event is known today as the Coweta Accords and marks the creation of the modern Creek Confederacy.
Like earlier Creek confederacies, this alliance initially included the Alabamu and Chickasaw. The Chickasaw later dropped out after several disputes with the Coweta Creeks. Also, several Itsate Creek villages in northeast Georgia declined to join, because they would be caught in the crossfire in the ongoing war between the Creek Confederacy and the Cherokee Alliance.* I also strongly suspect that the people in this group villages carried much Spanish and Sephardic Jewish blood. They were the descendants of Spanish-speaking miners and Native American wives. These villages formed a separate, neutral alliance of about a dozen towns and villages that became known as the Elate or Elasi, which means “Foothill People.” 7 Ellijay, GA’s name is the Anglicization of Elasi.
*The Cherokee Tribe did not exist until 1725, when British officials pressured many villages in the Southern Highlands to form a tribal government and chose an “emperor.” The Cherokee Tribe was specifically created by the British in order to block expansion of French colonial territory. Despite what a legion of Cherokee history books and websites tell you today, the Cherokees were NOT one ethnic group, but an artificial assemblage of at least 14 ethnic groups. Throughout the 1700’s, British officials were required to bring with them at least four interpreters so the divisions of the Cherokee “tribe” could communicate with each other. It is ludicrous to use a modern Cherokee dictionary to translate early 18th century Cherokee words.
Later in 1717, leaders of the newly reconstituted Creek Confederacy met at Coweta with Carolina officials to sign a treaty. 8 This was known as the Coweta Resolution. With the exception of the province of Palachicola, which extended eastward to cover what is now Allendale and Barnwell Counties, South Carolina, the eastern boundary of the Creek Confederacy was to be the Savannah River. This new line caused many Creek villages in South Carolina to move westward into what is now eastern Georgia.
At the 1717 Coweta Conference, the new Creek Confederacy acquired what is now Southeast Georgia, which had not been Muskogean territory for several centuries – maybe never. 9 Creeks from other regions began establishing villages and farmsteads in these newly acquired lands. The Uchee provinces along the Ogeechee River were subsequently incorporated into the Creek Confederacy and gradually thereafter lost their separate ethnic identity. 10
Looking for a scapegoat, Emperor Brim blamed the leader of the Istate speaking Creeks in Ocmulgee Bottoms, whose principal town was Ichesi (Ochesee in English). 11 The scapegoat’s name was Chichimako (Dog King in Itza Maya.) 12 Since most of the Dog King’s constituents along the Ocmulgee River moved to the Chattahoochee River, he was in a weak position, politically. The council of the new confederacy banished Dog King from their lands, as punishment for being involved with burning of the trading post fort on the Ocmulgee River. From then on, Dog King went by the name of Tamachichi – an Itza Maya word that means “Trade-Dog” or Itinerate Merchant.
When banished, Tamachichi relocated to the Lower Chattahoochee River and lived for awhile among the Apalachicola. 13 Apparently, they were not at this time part of the new Koweta Confederacy. He then moved to Palachicola on the Savannah River. Perhaps this move was mandated when the Apalachicola towns on the Chattahoochee River joined the Coweta Creek Confederacy. There was also a rumor at the time that he had run into difficulties with the French Marine garrison at Fort Toulouse – now located in Alabama.
Dog King next moved to an old Creek town, Palachicola, on the South Carolina side of the Lower Savannah River. 14 Dog King traced his ancestry to that town, when it was located where Downtown Savannah, GA sits today. Palachicola is better known to academicians by its Spanish name of Chicora or its French name of Chiquola. Somewhere along the line South Carolina academicians adopted the myth that Chicora was near Georgetown, SC.
Dog King became a trader and slave catcher. It is likely that he was involved in at least some trading activities, while living on the Ocmulgee River, but little is known about his life before 1717. Palachicola was in a ideal location to intercept escaped African slaves, headed for Spanish Florida. Dog King changed his name to Tamachichi, which is Itza Maya for “Trade Dog.” 15 Perhaps this is a colloquial word for a middleman trader.
He eventually became so prosperous that he was elected to be the mikko or leader of Palachicola. 16 By this time, Tamachichi was in his 70s or 80s and so eventually passed his leadership role on to another man.
Founding of the Province of Georgia
In late 1732, Tamachichi heard that a new British colony was planned at the mouth of the Savannah River. There were no Native American villages at this location or nearby. He led about 40 men, women and children to a village site that he named Yamakora.* It was about 16 miles inland from the Atlantic Ocean. 17 The British wrote down the word as Yamacraw. Delusional 20th century American academicians imagined a Yamacraw Tribe occupying the mouth of the Savannah River. It was merely a band of transplants from many branches of the Creek Confederacy, never numbering more than around 50 persons.
*Yamakora is an Apalache-Creek word from Northeast Georgia. It means “People from the Province of Yamapo in Mexico,” “People from Mobile Bay, Alabama” or “People who speak the Mobilian Trade Jargon.” Think about all those legions of Dixie anthropology professors, who never knew this, while writing their dissertations or professional papers on “the Yamacraw”!
Tamachichi later told James Oglethorpe that his ancestors were buried in two mounds near the waterfront, where the Savannah Convention Center is now located. His ancestors had first migrated from Yucatan to a large lake in southern Florida. They then lived in a swampy land with many reeds, before settling at the mouth of the Savannah River. Tamachichi’s people were building a village at about the same time that the ships, carrying the first Georgia colonists, were departing from England.
That’s right! Tamachichi pulled a real estate scam on the Trustees of the Province of Georgia. He sold them land that his little band had just occupied. The Creeks had abandoned the location over a century earlier because of European plagues and pirates. However, they remembered when boat load of Frenchmen, led by a “red-haired captain” had visited Palachicora in the 1560’s. That man’s name was René de Laudonniėre, commander of Fort Caroline!
In February 1733, James Edward Oglethorpe and a small delegation arrived at Yamacraw Bluff. 18 He was probably extremely surprised to see a Native village, since the site was originally selected because South Carolina officials said it was uninhabited. Nevertheless, Oglethorpe and Tamachichi got along well. Tamachichi stated that even though this was his ancestral land, he was willing to share it with the British . . . with the stipulations that his village remained on the outskirts of Savannah and that the first “emperor’s” tomb (mound) remain unmolested.
Tamachichi accepted the amount of British gold sovereigns offered for his land (not beads and trinkets) and work began on the building of Savannah. In the process, Oglethorpe and Tamachichi became close friends. This genuine friendship was something that none of the other Creek leaders expected to happen.
More good fortune soon came the way of Tamachichi in 1733. His arch-enemy, Emperor Brim, died shortly after the founding of Savannah. 19 The National Council elected Chikili as the High King. Chikili had formerly been the War King of the Palachicola. He was also a joana (High Priest ) of the Creek’s monotheistic religion. Tamachichi was immediately invited to join the Creek Confederacy and annex his little village’s land to that of the confederacy.
Trip to England
James Edward Oglethorpe was not only a brave soldier and humanitarian, but also a brilliant city planner. He personally prepared the plans for Savannah. The city produced by his design is now considered an example of outstanding city planning throughout the world. 20
In early 1734, James Oglethorpe invited Tamachichi and his immediate family to accompany him on a voyage to England. 21 While there, the Creeks were received warmly by King George II, the Georgia Board of Trustees, members of Parliament and the Archbishop of Canterbury, William Wake.
In late April 1734, the Creek delegation visited Lambeth Palace, the official home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. 22 Tamachichi was invited by the archbishop to visit his massive library, which today contains books and artifacts going back to the 600s AD. Tamachichi was so impressed by these books that he asked Wake in a letter probably penned by Thomas Christie, to send teachers to Savannah so that the children in his village would be able to read these books just like Christians could.
Wake wrote a letter to Colonial Secretary Thomas Christie about this matter. 23 The letter was sent along on the ship carrying the Creek delegation and Oglethorpe back to Savannah. Christie had been contributing to an endowment fund for the church. Wake asked about the value of the endowment and inquired if it could be used to hire missionaries for the Creek Indians. History was about to take an unexpected turn.
Note: All references will be published at the end of the series.