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The Thousand-Mile Journey...without a map - Part 4


By Don and Diane Wells, Eddie Lanham © 2014

After traveling through the wilderness for 19 days, George Washington’s secret agent Col. Marinus Willett finally had reached Andrew McGillivray, known as “The Emperor of the Creeks.” He was the one person with the power to prevent another war between the Creek Indians and Georgia settlers.

About the authors
“The Thousand-Mile Journey . . . without a map” is the collaborative work of Don & Diane Wells and Eddie Lanham.

The Spanish, likewise, were doing their part to keep their Indian allies and toThe Creek Nation was a confederacy; every chief had a say before actions were approved but McGillivray’s command presence swayed the chiefs, allowing him to negotiate with other nations or business partners for the good of the Creek nation.

The Creeks Chiefs decided to go to New York and meet with President George Washington to consider a new treaty. Next, they selected the chiefs to represent their nation.

Col. Marinus Willett was the man in charge of getting them there. Surprisingly one topic not discussed in Willett’s journal was how.

Willett’s mission was clear: Move a large group of Creek Indians across the southeastern United States without attracting attention—especially from Georgia’s political leaders who had their own plans for the Creek’s land.

So, how did Willett secretly move 27 Creek Indian Chiefs and the warriors protecting them though more than 500 miles of wilderness between Georgia and New York without alerting Georgia politicians?

Willett’s return trip, according to his journal, began June 1, 1790 departing from Little Tallassee.

ga territorial map 1783
The simplest way would have been to follow a well-used route, the Upper Creek Trading Path from Little Tallassee to about present day Griffin, Ga. then north from there.
To attract less attention, it seems likely that Willett went back to the Hillabees and Grierson’s Trading Post and then followed the Grierson Trail until they reached the Chattahoochee River.

From there they would have followed the Five-Notch Road north until they reached Buzzards Roost, a Creek village near present day Marietta, Ga. Then it’s likely Willett followed the Sandtown Trail to Stone Mountain where he describes meeting up with the Coweta and Cusseta Chiefs and their party of 11 on June 9, 1790.

From Stone Mountain, the treaty party followed a mostly East/Northeast to Northeast route, arriving at Pickens Plantation on June 14. Another existing trail in that direction was the Peachtree Trail that came from Charleston, S. C. to the Atlanta area. If they followed that trail, they would have had to cross through Cherokee Territory and traveling further east before turning north would have been exposed them to the Georgians.

The remaining Creek Indian chiefs joined them at General Pickens’ Hopewell Plantation a few days after Willett’s party arrived bringing the treaty party to 37 on June 18 as they departed for New York.

Their best route would have been to go Northeast toward Charlotte and connect with the Great Wagon Road, the primary north/south route for commerce and settlers in the colonies.

The road, an old Indian trail—from Philadelphia to Augusta—had been in use since the colonies had been under British rule. Since they planned to stop in Philadelphia, it’s likely Willett followed this road at least as far as Winston-Salem, N. C.

Although not stated, there seems to have been a plan by Willett to introduce the Creek Chiefs to important people in well-established towns as they ventured northward.
From Winston-Salem, the treaty party left the Great Wagon Road and traveled eastward to the Guilford Court House near present day Greensboro, arriving there on June 27. While there, a Mrs. Brown who had been captured by Indians early in her life and rescued by McGillivray visited him.


The Washington Peace Medals
When George Washington became president, he began giving out peace medals to the Indian chiefs with whom he signed treaties.

A picture of the 1789 Peace Medal exists as well as one given to the Seneca Chief Red Jacket in 1792. These medals were a 4.4” by 5.7”

George Fuld and Max Spiegle wrote a description of these medals, which stated, “The first oval Indian peace medals presented by the United State were hand engraved silver productions.” Each medal was carved with the images of (usually) George Washington shaking hands with an Indian in front of a tranquil farmstead on the obverse, and the heraldic eagle from the Great Seal of the United States on the reverse.

A heavy silver wire border was soldered about the edge to strengthen the disc, and either a loop or hole was added at the top to suspend the medal on a thong. To the Indians, the bigger the better the medal as it brought them prestige. Fuld and Spiegle stated in their article that they believed the 1790 medals presented to the Creek chiefs would have been identical to the one made in 1789.

On July 6, the treaty party arrived in Richmond where they remained for three days. Willett stated; “They were treated with the greatest of attention… by the governor, council, judges and others of distinction.”

On July 9, they arrived at Fredericksburg, where again they were greeted and entertained by the leaders of the town.  
On July 17, the party set out for Philadelphia. They were met by a messenger from Washington who directed the party to halt at Gray’s ferry, the southernmost of the three ferries that crossed the Schuylkill River to Philadelphia.

On July 18, Willett and the Creek Indian Chiefs were taken into Philadelphia and shown the many important sites of Philadelphia. The treaty party was visited by many important groups, and were treated to a public dining and many events of honor.

The treaty party departed for New York on July 20 and arrived across the river from New York the next day. A sloop was sent to the west side of the river and Willett and the Creek Indians were transported across the channel to the city.

Again, Willett reported: “They were greeted with great splendor, conducted up Wall Street with much pomp and parade and escorted to the president.” The Creek Indians remained in New York for about one month. They were treated royally throughout their stay, given many gifts and made welcome by all who they encountered.

The Treaty of New York was read and interpreted to the Creek Indian Chiefs in the presence of George Washington and other members of Washington’s staff. It was signed by the 24 Creek Indian Chiefs on August 8, 1790 along with Henry Knox, Secretary of War, for the U.S. government.

Each chief was given a silver peace metal that could be worn around his neck and McGillivray was given a special silver watch with engraving about the treaty event. That watch appeared on a Pawn Stars TV program in 2012. The owner decided not to sell it.

Secret Articles in the Treaty
The treaty established relationships between the U.S. and the Creek Nation, established boundaries, trade agreements, policies for removal of people who trespass on Creek lands, and more.

But, hidden from public view, were a number of secret articles of benefit to McGillivray, the Creek Chiefs and others. The United States agreed to pay select Creek Chiefs a $100 yearly stipend.

McGillivray, who was only getting $50 a month from the Spanish government, was commissioned a Brigadier General with annual pay of $1,200. This new salary and position was to ensure he ended his relationship with the Spanish.

One other secret article stated that the United States would agree to “Educate and clothe such of the Creek youth as shall be agreed upon, not exceeding four in number at any one time."  

David Tate (Taitt), McGillivray's nephew and British Indian agent David Taitt's son, was the first Creek student selected for the federally subsidized education. He was soon followed by others of McGillivray's kinsmen. Tate's nephew and McGillivray's grand-nephew David Moniac, graduating in 1822, was the last to benefit and became Alabama's first West Point cadet.

Unknown to Willett or the U.S. government McGillivray, throughout his journey north to New York City, while he was in New York City and on his subsequent journey back home, was in contact with the Spanish government officials. He assured them by letters that he was taking care of their interests. In fact, he met with some Spanish officials who had traveled to New York City to speak to him in person about their concerns of the Treaty of New York.

Alexander McGillivray was unscrupulous in his dealings with the British, Spanish and U.S. governments. He signed loyalty and treaty agreements with them all, receiving monetary and other benefits for himself and the Creek Nation but honored none of the treaties unless it was to his benefit.

He played them all against each other but remained true to his native people

Coming next month . . .
Taking the Creek Indian Chiefs back home.  The U.S. Government had brought the Creek Chiefs and their warriors to New York City and President George Washington considered it his responsibility to get the Creek Chiefs back home safely. Henry Knox, Secretary of War, appointed Major Caleb Scott to accompany the 39 member treaty party back to their homelands.

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