Christain Gottleib Priber
In my new book-Doublehead: Last Chickamauga Cherokee Chief, you can read about all of Doublehead's family. This story is about the white genius father-in-law of Doublehead.
Doublehead's first wife was Creat (Drags Blanket) Priber, half German and half Cherokee, who was born between 1735 and 1740 in a Cherokee town at Tellico Plains in Monroe County, Tennessee. Creat Priber was the daughter of Christian Gottlieb Priber (Anglo-German) who was born on March 21, 1697, and Clogittah (Cherokee) who was the daughter of the great Cherokee Chief Moytoy. Clogittah was born between 1705 and 1720 and died about 1790. Clogittah was the aunt of Doublehead; therefore, Creat was Doublehead’s first cousin. Moytoy was the grandfather of both Doublehead and Creat Priber.
Christian Gottlieb Priber, the father-in-law to Doublehead, was such an important figure among the Cherokee, it is necessary to discuss his life and his beliefs that were carried out to some degree by Doublehead and the Chickamauga. Priber believed in a united Indian alliance and attempted to establish a confederacy with the Creek Nation as the Chickamauga eventually succeeded. Doublehead in some degree accomplished his father-in-law’s dream by commanding a strong alliance of Creek warriors during the Chickamauga War. Doublehead’s older brother Red Bird married Susan Priber who was also the daughter of Christian G. Priber.
Christian Gottleib Priber, a Utopian Socialist (Black Robe or Jesuit), was born in Saxony, Germany on March 21, 1697. On June 13, 1735, he petitions London to be allowed to leave the country on the next ship to Georgia in America. He left a wife and four children in Saxony when he was forced to leave the country, they would not go with him. Priber said, “I was married to Christiane Dorothea Hoffman in Zittau, Germany and we had four girls together. She was a portrait painter and very educated woman. Her father was the rector of the Classical College, a senator and noted printer. I had wanted to bring my wife and children with me when I left Germany, but her father wouldn’t allow it.”
Priber arrived in Old Charles Town, South Carolina and applied for land in Amelia Township, stating he was a family of six persons in the province, including a wife, a servant and four small children from Saxony, Germany. On February 27, 1736, he petitions the state of South Carolina for a warrant of survey to buy land. He is a wealthy man who is dressing very well. He was an odd ugly little man who speakes languages fluently including Latin, French, German, English, Greek and Spanish. In December of that same year, he sold all of his worldly goods, clothes, wigs, spatter dashes of fine Holland, shoes, boots, guns, pistols, powder, a silver repeating watch, a sword with a silver gilt hilt, English seeds, beds and a fine chest drawer. He was preparing to go to the Cherokee Nation which he did after being granted the land. He went to the Commissioner of Indian Trade Captain Charles Russell with Henry Spacks, John Pearson and George Chicken and traveled to the Cherokee Nation in 1736 where he took up residence in Great Tellico.
Through his good works and marriage to Cloggitah, Moytoy’s daughter, Priber established himself firmly in the confidence of the Cherokees. In deference in the red men’s taste for stately ceremonial, he had devised an impressive new ritual for the crowning of the emperor and a variety of imposing titles for the other chiefs who constituted the nobles of the court, reserving for himself the title of secretary of state or prime minister.
Priber founded an empire, crowned Moytoy Emperor, and declared himself the prime minister. He declared Moytoy the Emperor and gave high sounding titles to all the chief warriors. He called them the His Majesty’s Red Court. He made himself the Imperial Majesty’s Principle Secretary of State. He signed all letters to the British with this title, which infuriated them. He stated that the Europeans should get out of America or he would throw them out. He continued his task of remaking the world.
Over the next several months, trader James Adair grew to like the man. Adair was then sent south to trade with the Creeks, but asked Priber to continue correspondence with him. Priber agreed, but after the attempts to capture him by the English, he lost trust in Adair and told the Cherokee that Adair was the devil’s clerk and to destroy any letters arriving from him. Over a short period of time, he had become an Indian. The tribe had adopted him as a great beloved man. He learned their language with ease and became their teacher and counselor. Priber was probably one of the smartest men to live among the Cherokee and would be considered genius.
Priber claimed to be a Jesuit acing under orders of his superior in Germany to bring steady industry, an organized government, and civilized living to the Cherokees. He has a strong memory, stronger than anyone Adair has ever met. He learns their language in about a month. When he arrives, the Cherokee are often ambushing the French. They often bring back scalps, booty and prisoners whom they sometimes torture. Many times the Cherokee would adopt captives into the tribe. Many of the French adoptees promoted the French cause when becoming a Cherokee.
Antoine Bonnefoy, captured along the Ohio River in 1741, escaped the next year and managed to find his way to French Fort Toulouse (Montgomery, Alabama). He had been Priber’s second secretary and had desired to go on a hunting party. He kept a journal of his experiences, in which he told how the Cherokee truly felt about the French and English and what influences Priber had on them.
Bonnefoy is amazed that Priber speaks French fluently. Priber tells Bonnefoy and the others with him that he is sorry about their misfortune, but it may prove to be their happiness, and he would explain it to them. Priber tells Bonnefoy to call him Pierre Albert, took him into his cabin and told him what he wished him to understand. Bonnefoy wants to know what this happiness is that he had spoken of earlier. Guillaume Potier and Jean Arlut were prisoners with Bonnefoy. Priber says it will take time and he will tell Bonnefoy and the others later. He did say that he wished for all three of them to join his society. Priber offered to include Bonnefoy in the Republic and Bonnefoy played along.
The English were soon out to get Priber. They were convinced that he was an agent to turn the Cherokee’s against them and favor the French. Priber actually did not attempt to turn the Cherokee against the English, he only taught them the use of weights and measures and how they were getting short changed in trading. He also taught them to play the French against the English to obtain better prices for the goods they traded.
The governments of South Carolina and Georgia are greatly concerned about Christian G. Priber and his government. They were concerned most about him allowing the French and black slaves to live freely and as equals in the kingdom of paradise. British Commander Oglethorpe’s true enemies are the Spanish who control Florida and also the French, so he suspects Priber of being in touch with the Spanish also.
There was another more serious problem with Priber. He was teaching the Cherokees that they must hold on to all their land and never cede another inch to the Europeans. Priber believes in establishing an empire by having peace between all Indians and having them drive the white man back to Europe. Prior to signing a peace agreement with President George Washington, Doublehead had exactly the same beliefs as his father-in-law Priber. Soon there were stories being brought back by the traders and hunters about how the Cherokee would soon drive the English off the continent.
The governor of South Carolina received a letter from Priber which gave him a severe shock. It was an official communication from Great Tellico, capital of the Cherokee Nation and in effect, it informed his Excellency the Governor in a polite but firm manner that the sooner he and his English got out of America the better. Priber said that America belonged to the Indians and the Indians intended to keep it. The letter was signed, “Christian Priber, Prime Minister.”
The South Carolina governor said, “The French envy our American colonies. Their choice of the man Priber as their emissary was genius, although the man was a stranger to the mountains and wilds, as well as to their language, his sagacity has won through and given him the proper place among them. He is slowly forming a red empire and that to the great danger of our southern colonies.” Therefore, the Carolina governor ordered Ludovick Grant to arrest Priber. Grant went into the Town House to see if it could be done, but when he attempted it, Priber laughed at him insolently and indicated the Indians would not permit it. Grant was extremely angry and could hardly control himself from shooting Priber.
The governor of South Carolina in Charles Town then sent messages to Priber trying to draw him away from town to take him, but Priber would not fall for it. The governor then sent South Carolina agent, Colonel Joseph Fox, who actually attempted to seize him. The English Board of Trade offered to pay Fox 402 pounds in 1739 to get Priber. He and his men escaped with their lives only because Priber himself intervened to save him. Fox’s arms were stronger than his mind and seized Priber in the great square of their state house. Fox gave a large oration on the occasion and when finished, a head warrior rose up. He found himself surrounded by thousands of Indians. He immediately stopped and let go of Priber’s arm.
The head warrior told Fox, "stop, the man you intend to enslave has been made a great beloved man, and is now one of our own people. How dare you enter into our Emperor’s Court and seize his prime minister and you being a foreign authority. You cannot even support a charge of guilt against him. The red people know his honesty, we know the secretary’s heart and it would never permit him to tell a lie.”
Priber had told them, “I am a foreigner and owe no allegiance to the British and only traveled through their country in a peaceful manner, paying for anything I got. I feel sorry for the poverty and insecure state of the Cherokees. I have traveled a great way and lived among the Cherokees as brothers. I have tried to preserve our freedoms by opening a water communication between us and New Orleans. My motive was only to do well and bring up sufficient numbers of Frenchmen to teach us the use of gunpowder. I urge the tyrannical design of the English commissioner toward our principle secretary appears to be leveled against him, not because of having done any ill will toward the English, but his crime must be his love for the Cherokee. If that is reckoned to be such a heinous crime in the eyes of the English, they send one of their military men to enslave me. It just further confirms all the honest speeches I have so often spoken.”
An old warrior then stood up and said to Fox, “You should go to your superiors and tell them the Cherokee are desirous of continuing a peaceful union with the English as freemen and equals. We hope to receive no further uneasiness from them, for consulting their own interests, their reason dictated. Send no more bad papers to our country on any account and do not reckon us to be so base as to allow you to take any of our friends out of our presence and into slavery.” After the warrior spoke, Priber insisted on providing Fox an escort for he feared for his safety after riling the Indians up to such an extent. The Cherokee then allowed Fox and his men to leave, but Fox was afraid of being killed; therefore, the Cherokee guards escorted him far away from the Nation before leaving Fox, who safely returned to South Carolina.
Over the years, Priber adopted some of the very things that he had taught against. He soon owned a black slave. He thought back on the things he had accomplished and the things he wanted to accomplish. He had a town set up at the foot of the mountains for a place of refuge for criminals, debtors, and slaves. Priber had been working on getting the Cherokee National Capital moved from Great Tellico closer to the French. He had been working on convincing Moytoy to move the capital to Coosawattee because it is situated on what he feels is better land. Coosawattee is in Creek territory, but Priber justifies this by saying the land belonged to the Cherokees before the Creeks.
After seven years of living with the Cherokees and convincing them to set up an alliance with the Creeks, Priber was making his way to Mobile to unite the Creeks with the Cherokees in his Republic. During the trip to Mobile, Priber was accompanied with a few hand-picked Cherokees. They traveled by land to the great river of the Muskogee (Coosa) and there took canoes. He was joyous on the occasion and could hardly contain himself. The empire was about to expand into a powerful force with this unification. He wanted to unite all the southern tribes of Indians including the Chickasaw, Creek, Yuchi, Shawnee, Choctaw, and western Mississippi Indians into a Republic as a model to be set up in Europe at a later date.
The English had tried many tricks on Priber to get him out of the way and to put a stop to his empire building. It took them six years to lure him far enough away from his headquarters so that they could ambush and kill him which would end his republic of paradise. Priber landed one evening at Tallapoose Town at nightfall. His black slave jumped from the canoe into the river to make his escape and the English traders shot him dead. Priber was seized by English traders among the Creeks, convinced the Creeks of his dangerousness, and took him to Georgia, where he was imprisoned for the remainder of his life. The traders bound him and carried him to Fort Augusta where Captain Kent was in command. Kent apologized to Priber for the traders rough treatment and then sent him on to Fort Frederica in Georgia.
Oglethorpe was informed that Christian Priber was captured in route to Fort Toulouse. Oglethorpe was told that Priber was a monster, teaching the Indians the grossest of immoralities. He is surprised to find Priber to be a polished gentleman in his manners and of a rare courage. Priber tells Oglethorpe he is Jesuit acting under orders of his superior to introduce habits of steady industry, civilized arts, and a regular form of government among all the southern tribes, with a view to the ultimate founding of an independent Indian state. Oglethorpe knows that the English all refuse to believe Priber is a Jesuit, but he also knows their reputation for scholarship, devotion and courage. It appears to Oglethorpe that Priber has all those characteristics.
Oglethorpe’s first impression of Priber was that of an Indian. He came in wearing only a shirt and flap as the Cherokee’s wore. His hair was cut off except for a small patch of hair on the crown. He could have passed for an Indian, except the man was very educated and highly intelligent. Priber even had tattooed his face in the manner of the Cherokees. The man was polite and gentlemanly in bearing. Oglethorpe is fascinated with this odd little man.
Priber tells Oglethorpe, “All I am is a poor Jesuit Priest acting under orders from my superior. He asked me to introduce habits of industry, art and a regular form of government to these poor people. Before leaving Germany, I served as a government counselor of the Supreme Court in Zittau, Germany in 1732. I traveled over 500 miles by mountain trails to reach the Cherokees. I taught the Indians the use of weights and measures. I tried to help them not be taken advantage of in trade by the Europeans and that is what I am guilty of. I also helped them learn the use of gunpowder and iron works. The Europeans want to exploit the Indians for their own greed.” Oglethorpe knew that Priber would still be a free man if what he taught the Indians had not interfered with the greed of the English.
On May 30, 1743, according to the South Carolina Gazette excerpt in Charles Town, Oglethorpe has written letter from Fort Frederica in Georgia to South Carolina acting governor William Bulletin: “The Creek Indians finally brought Mr. Priber here as a prisoner. It is a very unusual nature, he is a small ugly man, but he speaks nearly all languages flowing, particularly English, Dutch, French, Latin and all types of Indian languages. He speaks very blasphemous against all religions, but particularly against the Protestants. He is guilty of building a city at the foot of the mountains for all criminals, debtors, and slaves to live.”
After Priber is captured, a treaty is signed in Charles Town with the Cherokee. The Cherokee agree to trade only with the English, to return run-away slaves, and expel non-English whites from their territory. In return, the English sent them large amounts of guns, ammunition, and red paint. After Priber’s abduction, the warriors at Great Tellico kept up a hostile attitude against the English for many years.
Oglethorpe still suspects that Priber was consorting with the French and the Spanish. The governor tells Oglethorpe that he is not to be kept in the same place as a felon, he is a foreigner and must be treated with honor. He was not placed in a common prison with other felons, but kept in a military fort, because he was a foreigner. Oglethorpe writes the governor of South Carolina saying, “Priber is an odd man who proposed to establish the “kingdom of paradise” in the Cherokee Nation. I am impressed with the writings of Priber and they are the finest ever written about the Cherokee.” His manuscripts, a book he was writing, and a Cherokee alphabet, were destroyed by the English government at Fort Frederica. Oglethorpe was impressed that Priber spoke Cherokee, Creek and some other Indian languages.
Oglethorpe states, “Priber’s book speaks of all kinds of licentiousness. It is extremely wicked. It is very methodical and full of learned quotations. In his book he brags on all his triumphs and glories, thinking highly of himself. He speaks profanely against all religions, especially anything other than Catholicism. He believes the English have printed his book and taken credit for his society and that it is being practiced in all of Europe. He says his nation would have become a Utopia if his government had survived, but it would have spelled the end to the colonization dreams of England and the English have never allowed any one to stand in their way when bent on opening up a new country. He tells how he had studied law at the University of Erfurt where he published his inaugural dissertation in October 1722 on The Use of the Study of Roman Law and the Ignorance of the Law in the Public Life of Germany.”
Priber enjoyed considerable freedoms in his prison barracks. He entertained the intelligentsia of Frederica. His best friends were Doctor Frederick Holtzendorff from Brandenburg and Lutheran pastor Johann Ulrich Drietzler. He helps Drietzler translate the Lord’s Prayer and some Bible verses into the Cherokee language. His cell in the barracks served for some time as a literary salon. Oglethorpe has allowed Priber to collect quite a library in his cell, but his papers are confiscated and destroyed. Priber does not know of this destruction. Oglethorpe later allows Priber’s wives and children to come to Fort Frederica and live with him until his death.
On March 22, 1743, there was a fire in the powder magazine which was near the barracks. Priber was in his cell reading when his guards ran and unlocked his door and yelled for him to make his escape before the magazine exploded. The guards then ran. If the magazine exploded, shells would rain down everywhere and probably knock the barracks down. The magazine exploded, but did not do much damage and the guards soon returned. They found him squatting in the middle of the room with both hands covering the top of his head.
“You ignorant old fool,” one of the guards yelled. “You could have been killed. Why didn’t you run?” Priber said, “I’ve learned when in imminent danger that is the best position to get in.”
The guards know the man is extremely intelligent, but having no common sense. They call him the educated fool. He often plays the devil’s advocate with the soldiers stationed in the barracks. He speaks profanely of all religions, especially the Protestants. He has come to believe that his manuscripts were stolen by the English and is now being used back in Europe as a model for all of the world’s governments. His guards learn to respect the strange little man in their midst. They are amazed at his memory. He can remember every soldiers name after only hearing it once.
He came down with a fever in 1744 and died. Some historians say Priber died in 1751. Christian Gottleib Priber rests in an unmarked grave in Frederica, Georgia today. Other historians indicate he was buried on Saint Simon’s Island off the coast of Georgia.
When missionaries begin to arrive, they are surprised at how much the Cherokees already know about the Bible. Priber had taught them all of the Bible stories and the missionaries found the Cherokees the easiest tribe to convert because of this.
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