Atlanta plans 70 feet tall monument to honor a slave catcher!

by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution announced today [9/21/2021] that a 20 feet tall statue of Creek chief Tomochichi has been temporarily erected at Millennium Park at the confluence of Peachtree Street and West Peachtree St.  It will eventually be placed on a 50 feet pedestal, overlooking the new Rodney M. Cook Park in the Vine City area of Atlanta, immediately west of Olympic Plaza and a complex of sports and convention facilities.  The sculpture for the massive piece of bronze is artist Stan Mullens of Athens, GA . . . who grew up in Alexandria, VA.   The statue is well crafted and is a nice artistic addition to Peachtree Street.

The spectacular statue currently overlooks Peachtree Street

Sixteen-acre Rodney Cook Park re-creates the first racially integrated park at the same Vine City location, which was designed by the famous landscape architects,  Olmstead and Son.  It originally was to be called Peace Park. This park will pay tribute to the City of Atlanta being the cradle of the Civil Rights Movement.  This park will include 18 statues of Georgia civil rights leaders and peacemakers, as well as a 110-foot peace column dedicated to civil and human rights.

The  new $34 million park is being funded by several Federal grants, authorized by former President Donald Trump, matched with local funds and private donations, such as a $2.5 million grant from the Arthur M. Blank Foundation (co-founder of Home Depot), the Trust for Public Land and the National Monument Association, headed by Rodney M. Cook, Jr.

Rodney Mims Cook (March 23, 1924 – January 13, 2013) was a Georgia public figure who served for over twenty years as an Atlanta city alderman and member of the Georgia House of Representatives. Cook was one of the first Republican officials elected in Georgia since Reconstruction. He served at-large as an Atlanta alderman and a member of the Georgia House simultaneously for a number of years.  He was one of several enlightened White leaders in Atlanta, who worked with Black leaders to minimize violence during the height of the Civil Rights Movement Era.

However . . . in regard to the early history of Georgia, we have a major problem in this state, because our initial history texts and anthropological orthodoxies were created by outsiders from other parts of the country.  The first History of the State Georgia, was created by Dr. William Bacon Stevens, a newly minted medical doctor from Maine, who moved to Georgia after graduation in 1838.  He decided that he didn’t like medical practice . . . wrote the book then moved back north. 

All of the archaeologists, who worked here in the late 19th century and most of the 20th century, except Robert Wauchope and Antonio Waring, were from other parts of the United States and often tried to force what they unearthed in Georgia into the mold of the Indians, who lived where they grew up or where they were educated . . . New England Ivy League colleges.

Statue of Tomochichi

The Tomochichi statue honors the six years that this leader of a tiny Creek village, next to Savannah, fostered good relations between the Creek Indians and the early settlers Georgia.  That part is true. Much of the text being published in support of the park about Tomochichi is mythology, created by people in Savannah, long after he was dead.

For most of this man’s life, he hunted Native American slaves then switched to being a Runaway African slave catcher, while living along the Savannah River.  I do not understand why in our crazy times, we tear down historic statues of Robert E. Lee, who was opposed to slavery and then create a mythical biography to support erection of a 70 feet tall statue of a slave hunter, slave catcher and real estate scam artist.

Of course, the ultimate metaphor for our crazy times occurred almost a decade ago.  Ignoramuses in the Chattahoochee National Forest Office of the US Forest Service utilized many thousands of tax payer’s dollars to fund the “Maya-Myth-Busting in the Mountains” Program then teamed up with some sophomoric Georgia archaeologists, who knew next to nothing about Creek genetics and linguistics and nothing about the Itza Mayas. 

These fake experts also did not know the meanings of Maya place names in Georgia.  Chattahoochee is the Anglicization of Chata – hawche, which are Maya words, meaning “Carved stone (stela) – Shallow River.   LOL As Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, Bill Torpy, posted article after article in support of their ignorance in the subject . . . without fact-checking anyone he quoted or interviewed . . . I was constantly rolling in the floor laughing.

Comparison of a painting of Tomochichi, made in London, England during 1736 and the new statue.

The Real Tamachichi

Tvmvchichi (Tamachichi ~ Tomochichi) was an elderly Creek leader, who befriended General James Edward Oglethorpe at the founding of the town of Savannah in 1733, and subsequently played a major role in the harmonious relations between the Creek Confederacy and the new Colony of Georgia.  Tamachichi means Trade (merchant) -Dog in Totonac, Itza Maya and Itsate Creek.  It is a colloquial term meaning “intenerate merchant.”

A brief description of Tomochichi is a standard fixture of Georgia history texts. However, they provide only a caricature.   Because of the unfamiliarity of most history professors with the Itsate-Creek language, both they and Muskogee Creeks in Oklahoma misinterpret some of our words.  We are able to provide much more information about Tomochichi’s background.

Tamachichi’s heritage was Itsate Creek.  He apparently grew up in the concentration of Itsate towns on the Ocmulgee River near the present-day Ocmulgee National Historical Park.  However, there was another, much larger concentration of Itsate towns in the Georgia Mountains around Brasstown Bald, the Nacoochee Valley, the Upper Hiwassee River Valley and the Upper Little Tennessee River Valley.  It is also possible that he was born there.

He became the king of the Itsate towns on the Ocmulgee in the period around 1700.  Their capital was Ichesi, known to the British as Ochesee. During this period, he cultivated trade and political relations with the Yamasee Alliance in Southeast Georgia.  He also became somewhat involved with the Native American Slave Trade.  He was known to have accompanied whites from South Carolina, who raided Spanish missions and returned with Florida Christian Indian slaves, who were then sold at the slave market in Charleston.

Ichesi was allied with the Yamasee in the Yamasee Rebellion.  Although the Ocmulgee River towns did not suffer catastrophic destruction and condemnation to slavery like the Yamasee towns, they nevertheless, fled to the Chattahoochee River.  Koweta did not take an active part in the rebellion. Formerly located on the Upper Ocmulgee River near Indian Springs, Koweta relocated southward and reoccupied one of the abandoned Itsate town sites, probably that of Okamoleki at present day Averson Park in Macon. 

At the Ocmulgee Accords in 1717, the reconstituted Creek Confederacy selected Koweta as the capital, proclaimed sincere alliance with Great Britain, and among many other things, expelled Tomochichi from the Confederacy.  He was expelled because he ordered the murder of friendly whites living in the vicinity of present-day Macon, GA, plus the burning of a large trading post, erected by the Colony of South Carolina.

At this point, Tomochichi became a king without a province.  He wandered around the Creek provinces that were not members of the new confederacy, until settling at Palachicola. At that time the Palachicolas were a mixed heritage people, consisting of a base population of Uchee, mixed with Apalache-Creeks from Northeast Georgia, Itsate Creeks from Florida – originally Chiapas, Mexico and various remnants of Caribbean immigrants. Palachicola was on the Savannah River about 35 miles north of present-day Downtown Savannah.

Palachicola was an ideal location for Tamachichi to rebuild his wealth as a slave catcher.  Runaway slaves had to cross the Savannah River to make their way to freedom.  However, this new occupation put him at odds with the Creek Confederacy, which gave sanctuary to runaway slaves.  In fact, in the old days,  Georgia African-Americans actually said prayers for the Creeks, who were the only people other than the Spanish, who gave them sanctuary.  The Cherokees up in North Carolina typically sold captured runaways back to white traders or kept them as their own slaves.

During that era,  the Governor of Spanish Florida offered freedom to any African or Native American slave, who settled in Florida.  The only significant condition was that the freedmen had serve in the Florida Colonial Militia and help protect the colony from British raiders and Caribbean pirates. Hundreds, if not several thousand brave African and Native American slaves walked away from South Carolina plantations, often bare footed, crossed the treacherous lands of southeast Georgia and then started a new life for themselves in Florida.  These were the ancestors of the famous Black Seminoles.

The Palachicolas were not members of the Creek Confederacy.  Tomochichi would not have been permitted to live there, if they were.  They were also not members of the Yamasee Confederacy.  The town would have been destroyed and its people, enslaved, during the Yamasee War.

Tamachichi eventually rose to being king of the Palachicolas, but had a falling out with them around 1730. He then relocated southward toward the location of present-day Savannah, GA where he later told Georgia colonial leaders, “the bones of his ancestors were.”  The site of the Savannah Colony was originally selected, because it was uninhabited, but on the site of a former large Indian town and virtually flat.  

Tamachichi moved his band to Yamacraw Bluff a few months before Oglethorpe’s colonists arrived.  He then sold most of the area around his village, but not his village site, to the Georgia Board of Trustees.  He then cut a deal with the Creek Confederacy.  If they would let him and his band back in the Creek Confederacy then the Creeks could lay claim to the remainder of the Georgia coast and made income from selling those lands to the British.  Neither Tamachichi nor the Creek leadership realized that the British Crown eventually planned to expand the Savannah Colony all the way to North Carolina and the Mississippi River.  Tamachichi also agreed to cease being a slave-catcher.   Slavery was to be illegal in Georgia anyway.

Tamachichi did genuinely become close friends with James Oglethorpe and several other colonial leaders in Georgia.  From 1733 until his death, he lived an honest life.   He along with Chikili,  High King of the Creek Confederacy, helped maintain healthy, mutually beneficial relations between the the British government and Native American peoples.   One of the policies, mutually supported by both Creek and British leaders, was the intermarriage of their peoples.  People, who were related by blood or marriage were much less likely to devolve petty squabbles into bloody warfare.  Tamachichi also encouraged his people to become educated and to learn English.   The Creeks dropped their old writing system and adopted the Roman alphabet, used by the British.

The Tomochichi Monument in Savannah

When Tomochichi died in 1739 at age 97, he supposedly requested that he be buried among his British friends. Oglethorpe was one of the pall bearers when the coffin was brought down the river from Yamacraw Village.  Tamachichi was buried in Wright Square in Savannah along with a salute of cannon and musket fire. The general then ordered that a pyramid of stones be erected over the grave in the Indian tradition.  It is not clear where Oglethorpe observed stacks of stones over royal Creek burials, but it was not in Georgia’s coastal plain.  There are practically no stones near the surface in that region. 

In 1883, the civic leaders of Savannah were looking for a way to honor William W. Gordon, who pioneered the building of Georgia’s first railroad, the Central of Georgia. The pyramid of stones, marking the remains of Tamachichi, was flattened to make way for a handsome monument to “a brave man, a faithful and devoted officer, and to the first president of the Central of Georgia Railroad Company.”  His grand-daughter, Juliette Gordon Low,  founded the Girl Scouts of America.

The daughter-in-law of W. W. Gordon was Nellie Gordon, who decided that one of the first projects of the fledgling Colonial Dames chapter in Savannah was to place some sort of memorial in the square to take the place of the stones that had been removed from the grave of Tamachichi,  who had been such a friend to the first settlers of Savannah.

Nellie wrote to the Stone Mountain Company near Atlanta and asked them the price of a large boulder of Georgia granite that could serve as a monument. The company replied that they had the perfect thing—a huge granite boulder– and they would be delighted to send it as a gift to such a worthy cause.  Furthermore, since General Gordon had been a president of the railroad, there would be no shipping charges.

 Nellie replied politely and thanked the Stone Mountain Company for their generous offer, but explained that the Colonial Dames wanted this to be their own contribution to the community so would the company please send a bill.

The bill arrived shortly afterwards and was for the sum of one dollar, “payable on the Day of Judgment.” Nellie wrote back and explained that she and “the other ladies would be entirely too busy attending to their own affairs on that momentous day.”  She enclosed a dollar bill to settle the debt.

The monument was dedicated on April 21, 1899. A bronze tablet encircled with Cherokee roses and arrowheads states “In memory of Tomochichi – the Mico of the Yamacraws – the companion of Oglethorpe – and the friend and ally of the Colony of Georgia.

3 Comments

  1. I found this article to be particularly interesting as I have been a student of early GA history now for almost fifty years and had never heard of most of this. Too bad that this information does not find it’s way into GA history. So much of our history is made up by people who had never read any primary documentation of the colony.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. How do we correct these wrong doings? There is such a rich and enlightening history in this part of the world. And it is all covered up by darkness. So many honest soles their accomplishments never told. Thank you Richard for bringing light to those honest soles. I suppose making visits to historical sites like Trackrock on Easter Sunday brings light and respect to those who brought us our culture. God bless you Richard.

    Liked by 1 person

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