Life is stranger than fiction. Almost exactly ten years ago then HRH Charles Windsor, Prince of Wales, received a humorous letter from me, asking for his help in finding precious documents, which had been shipped to his ancestor, King George II, from Savannah, Georgia on July 6, 1735. Since then numerous delegations of professors from Ivy League colleges and the Smithsonian Institute had tried to find these documents, but to no avail. Most people in Georgia didn’t seem to know that the documents had ever existed.
HRH was especially amused by the fact that I seemed to be one of the few Americans, who were aware that the British Royal Family didn’t speak Elizabethan English. I started the letter by stating that if he ever got tired of the Royal business, he should become an architect and urban designer. Charles’ great loves are architecture, urban planning, real estate development, history and archaeology.
I finished the letter by including a highly pejorative editorial against me during mid-2012 in the Journal of the American Institute of Archeology by Oxford University professor, Dr. Ramon Sarró. Sarró, who is Social Anthropologist from South Africa and who knows nothing about Mesoamerican Cultures, finished his editorial with “Thornton is obviously nothing, but an ignorant peon.” I commented at the end of my letter to HRH that the surprise ending of America Unearthed proved who the real ignoramus was.
Normally, such letters from a nobody in the former colonies would have never reached the Prince’s eyes, but key staff members at Clarence House had seen me on the premier of “America Unearthed,” when it was broadcast in the United Kingdom. You will never guess what Prince Charles did next!
by Richard L. Thornton, Architect and City Planner
Savannah – 1734
On June 7, 1735 the leaders of the Creek Indian Confederacy traveled to the new colonial town of Savannah to meet with Governor James Edward Oglethorpe and leading citizens. The purpose was first to establish diplomatic and trade relations, but also to convince Oglethorpe that they were not primitive savages as they were viewed by most the British officials in older colonies to the north. The Creeks were aware that the English excluded women from political activities. The Creeks did not. The delegation intentionally brought along their wives, female political leaders AND designated Mary Musgrove, literally a Creek princess, to be the official translator.
Their high king, Henemako Chikili presented Oglethorpe with a bison vellum, on which was written in the Apalache writing system, the early history of the Creek people. The text of the vellum was read by Chikili and translated into English by Kuseponakesa (Mary Musgrove), a Creek noblewoman married to a British colonist. Georgia colonial secretary, Thomas Christie, wrote down the translation in shorthand. Afterword Christie and Mary Musgrove worked together to produce a complete, accurate translation of the entire meeting.
Kvsepvnakesa (Creek spelling) means “Little Coosa Girl.” She was no from Coweta as all references state, but from the Upper Creek capital. She was the equivalent of a Miss America . . . called a nasty term of Trade Girl by whites. The prettiest, brightest girls in age group were chosen in town-wide elections to receive extensive training in Native American languages, European languages, geography, history diplomatic skills, math and (for lack of a better term) how to please men. They then were intentionally matched with important traders or for the exceptional girls – European leaders. The wife of U. S. Indian agent for the Southeast, Benjamin Hawkins, was a “Trade Girl.” So was a sister of Creek Mekko, William McIntosh. William’s first cousin was the governor of Georgia!
Oglethorpe immediately realized that he had witnessed something extraordinary. He wrote a letter to King George II stating that the Creek Indians were distinctly different from any other tribe ever encountered by the British in North America. Oglethorpe directed Christie to place the bison vellum and his translation on the next ship headed to London. The documents created quite a stir in London and were given extensive coverage in the American Gazetteer newspaper. The vellum hung on the wall of the Colonial Office at Westminster for many decades. The location of the translation that brought meaning to the vellum was soon lost.
Throughout the 1800s, several delegations of prominent scholars from the Smithsonian Institute, plus major American universities in New England and the Mid-Atlantic states sailed across the Atlantic in vain search for the lost Migration Legend of the Creek People. By the time that archaeology was becoming a true profession in the United States, the Migration Legend had become almost forgotten.
“The chances of rediscovering the original English translation of the Migration Legend of the Creek People are therefore almost as slim as those of recovering the lost books of Livy’s History.”
Albert Samuel Gatschet, 1881
Ethnologist – Smithsonian Institute
To His Royal Majesty, King George II
In the new Province of Georgia we have befriended a Native People unlike any ever encountered by Great Britain in North America. They are obviously the descendants of an ancient and great civilization. They are equal in intelligence, perhaps superior to, that of Englishmen. They should be treated as equals in all matters, especially commerce. By colonists they are called the Creek Indians, but they call themselves the Apalachee, Palachee or Coweta. Within this tribe are many provinces with their own names and traditions, as described in the chest, herein contained.
James Edward Oglethorpe
Supervising Trustee, Georgia Board of Trustees
Dear Mr. Thornton:
Who is this Mary Musgrove? We have never heard of her. She is definitely not a citizen of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Her translation is all wrong. We are tired of white people like her trying to change our history. Please don’t send us your trash. The Muskogee-Creek People are not interested.
Muscogee Creek Nation Archives Committee (Oklahoma) – June 12, 2015
Editorial Comment: My mother’s family has a cultural memory of attending a sermon by the Rev. John Wesley in 1737 at the Creek town of Palachicola. Three of my direct ancestors were Creek makos (mekkos in Oklahoma Creek) who signed the 1773 Treaty of Augusta in the presence of William Bartram. I know the names of all of my Creek grandparents back to 1752. Very few Oklahoma Creeks know the names of any of their ancestors before 1895.
Oh my gosh!
During the past seven years of searching for the Lost Creek Migration Legend, I had become very frustrated in dealing with English history professors and archivists within the British government. Only two professors responded. Employees within the United Kingdom National Archives generally didn’t respond to emails or letters. If they did, I received a cooker-cutter statement saying that they only provided services to British subjects and citizens of the Commonwealth Nations. Even employees of the General James Edward Oglethorpe Museum in Godalming, Surrey, wouldn’t respond. If by slim chance, someone at Clarence House (Charles’s official residence) read my letter to Prince Charles, I expected a polite but brief rejection in about a year.
About a month after I wrote Prince Charles, I was shocked to receive an official email, complete with the Royal Coat of Arms, from Dr. Grahame Davies, Assistant Private Secretary for HRH Prince Charles. Davies is a Welsh historian and poet.
Dear Mr. Thornton,
HRH Prince Charles thoroughly enjoyed reading your letter. He has asked me to work with you until we can find those colonial documents that you attempting to locate. It may take some time, but generally all documents sent personally to a royal sovereign in the 1700s have been retained. He also wanted you to understand that all original documents must remain in the possession of the British government. We can provide you archival quality photographic copies, however.
Big surprise! There was not ONE migration legend, but many. King George II’s archives described a large chest filled with reports by Thomas Christie and James Oglethorpe, describing the cultural traditions and architecture of ALL branches of the Creek Confederacy. Christie and Oglethorpe had traveled throughout Georgia to meet and interview Creek leaders. The purpose of this archival treasure trove was to convince King George II that the Creeks were an offspring of Mexican civilization, not North American savages. No one in academia or the Georgia Historical Society was aware of this.
Davies told me that he unfortunately could not afford to spend any more time on this research project, because his primary duty was Public Relations Officer for Clarence House and Their Royal Highnesses. He gave me the name of the archivist at UK National Archives, responsible for maintaining the records of King George II’s archives. I emailed that person, specifically mentioning Dr. Grahame’s name. I received a curt response a week later that person only communicated with British subjects and citizens of Commonwealth Nations.
I wrote back Dr. Davies that Clarence House had accomplished more in a few months than all the American academicians in the past 278 years, but the man, who he sent me to in UK National Archives refused to communicate with me. Either Dr. Davies or Prince Charles personally called that official and confirmed that he was to assist me. I received a very apologetic email the next morning. He gave me the links for computer records of archives received from the British North American colonies.
Over the following 14 months, I intermittently searched that section of the UK National Archives online for any document that might be either the Migration Legend or the bison vellum. I eventually found an obscure entry about a collection of colonial papers, which included something about the Creek Indians and was dated June 7, 1735. This could well be the Migration Legend. The papers were kept in Lambeth Palace . . . the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury!
I sent a conventional letter to Lambeth Palace. I eventually received a curt email, stating that their staff only worked with Communicants of the Anglican Communion and British subjects. Again, either Dr. Davies or Prince Charles had to contact them in order for them to be cooperative. The Anglican Church official, who contacted me, stated that all church archives were in the Lambeth Palace Library, which was quasi-independent and associated with the UK National Archives. When I tried to contact the Library via email, there was a notice that the library was under renovation and that the staff was not answering general inquiries from the public.
I contacted the Lambeth Palace Library after it was reopened. No one responded. I contacted the staff at Lambeth Palace, No one responded, I didn’t want to bother Dr. Davies because Prince Charles was swept up in a public relations firestorm . . . that undoubtedly Dr. Davies was to extinguish. Above is an excerpt from the Guardian online newspaper during the period, when I tried to communicate with the Lambeth Palace Library.
I then contacted the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and asked if they could send a message to Lambeth Palace that would persuade them to answer their mail. Several of the staff at the Diocese offices were very interested in Georgia history. One had recently worked at Lambeth Palace. He said that he would telephone them to make sure that a human had gotten the message. Within an hour, I received an email from the Lambeth Palace Library. I had filled out the Lambeth Palace Library form with the catalogue number of the box from Savannah. No one had bothered to respond to it, since it was from the United States from someone, who was not an Anglican Communicant.
Rachel Cosgrave, Senior Archivist at Lambeth Palace, was able to find the box with the vast treasure trove of Georgia colonial papers in them. On April 29, 2015, she emailed me with the astounding news. Indeed, they were the documents, written by Thomas Christie and James Oglethorpe that had been missing for 280 years.
Bottom of cover letter by Thomas Christie
I though it would be a simple matter of running the documents through a photocopier. Nope, regulations for 280 old government documents required that special non-destructive photographic techniques be used. That was going to run me over $1700, which I didn’t have.
I thanked her and told her that I didn’t have the money, but would look around for donors. I then emailed Dr. Davies to tell him that we had found the documents, but I would have to wait until I had enough money to pay for the special archival photography. Apparently, Prince Charles picked up the tab.
The next day Rachel Cosgrave emailed me that the copying costs were being covered by someone in England and that he was retaining the best archival photographer in the world. In return, I was asked to sign a legal agreement in which I would never sell the archival photographs and provide copies to three institutions of national importance in the United States. We agreed on the Library of Congress, Georgia Historical Society and Muscogee-Creek Nation.
The documents were then turned over to Steph Eeles, Reprographics Officer at Lambeth Palace. During the month of May they were carefully photographed with a high resolution digital camera that would not damage the paper or ink.
The digital images were transmitted to me on June 1, 2015. On that date, I became the first American (and Native American) to view the Creek Migration Legend in 280 years. It is actually the Migration Legend of the Kaushete Creeks, who migrated from the slopes of the Orizaba Volcano in southern Veracruz State, Mexico to the Upper Tennessee River Valley and northwest Georgia. There is no known migration legend for the branches of the Creeks, who spoke the Muskogee language.
Interestingly enough, Chikili began his speech to the leaders of Savannah by introducing himself as the Joani of the West Town, not High King of the Creek Confederacy. In Eastern Creek, a joani was a high priest. It is not a word in Oklahoma Creek.
The Muscogee-Creek Nation refused their copy for the reasons stated above. The federally-recognized Poarch Creek Band of Alabama requested and received their copy. Of course, I hold the original copy here in the Nacoochee Valley, which was the location of the original capital of the Apalache Confederacy – forerunner of the Creek Confederacy.
The Georgia Historical Society has refused their copy three times because their staff historians say that the Creek Migration Legend no longer exists. The Tama Creek Tribe of Georgia and the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe of Florida requested and received copies instead.
The Library of Congress stated that I would have to get history departments from three nationally-recognized universities to validate the documents. My friends at the National Park Service requested and received their copy.
The public may view both the transcripts and perfect copies of the original manuscript by Thomas Christie and Mary Musgrove at Ocmulgee National Historical Park Museum.
And now . . . the Creek People of Alabama, Georgia and Florida honor our friends across the Atlantic and King Charles III of the United Kingdom, Royal Patron of the Creek People.