Saturday, December 24, 2011

Alexander McGillivray and his Creek people

McGillivray & Creeks

         As soon as I hear the name Black Warrior, my heart swells with pride not only because I’m a descent of the noble Creeks, but also because of the beauty, peace, and tranquility of the majestic forest once known as the Black Warrior.  From pre-historic times, the Creek people inhabited the Warrior Mountains which was originally named after the great Creek Chief Tuscaloosa, Black Warrior, who was described in the DeSoto chronicles as being a giant of a man.  Tuscaloosa’s feet would just about touch the ground setting astride a Spaniard’s horse.  In later years, the forest in the northern portion of the Warrior Mountains was named after white politician, William B. Bankhead.

Creek Chief Tuscaloosa and DeSoto

         In order to write about the majesty of the Black Warrior or Tuscaloosa ( Tusca means Warrior,  Loosa means Black), now known as the William B. Bankhead National Forest, one must first explore the historic roots of such a land.  Probably the most powerful group of Indians ever known to exist was the great mound building society of Indians that once inhabited the land that became Alabama.  Their society spread east from the mighty Mississippi River, south to Florida, and north to the Great Lakes.  At least 100 years prior to Hernando De Soto’s expedition into Alabama in 1540, the great society began to break up.  Probably from this society arose the native historic Indians that inhabited the Black Warrior Forest of the Warrior Mountains, the original Alabama Indians collectively called the “Creeks.”

         Historically, the north boundary of the Creek Nation in north Alabama was the High Town Path, but they claimed the south bank of the Tennessee River.  The High Town Path or Ridge Path was a ridge top trail that followed the Continental Divide between the Tennessee River's southern drainage and the drainage of the Coosa River, Warrior River, Sipsey River, and Tombigbee River.  The High Town Path was some 1,000 miles in length and went easterly from the Chickasaw Bluffs (Memphis) on the Mississippi River through Copper Town in Mississippi, to the French Landing (Cotton Gin Port), then the path proceeded to Flat Rock in Franklin County.  The Path then traversed through Turkey Town (Gadsden, Alabama), to High Town (present-day Rome, Georgia), and then to Olde Charles Town, South Carolina.  The High Town Path intersected the Great War Path near Willstown, an Indian village just north of present day Fort Payne, Alabama.  The High Town Path through Lawrence County followed what are now the Ridge Road and Leola Road in the northern portion of William B. Bankhead National Forest.
         The Creeks, Chickasaws, and Cherokees were initially friendly with each other and were members of the Chickamauga Confederacy warring against the Americans who were taking their lands.  Three important leaders emerged as friends and cooperated with the British in their fight against the Americans during their revolution-Doublehead with the Lower Cherokees, James Logan Colbert with the Chickasaws, and Alexander McGillivray with the Upper Creeks.

Creek Chief Alexander McGillivray
Portrait by Archibald Robertson
         Alexander McGillivray was born Hoboi-Hili-Miko (Good Child King) in the Coushatta village of Little Tallassee on the Coosa River, near present-day Montgomery, Alabama.  His father, Lachlan McGillivray, was a Scots-Irish trader who built trading-posts among the Upper Towns of the Muscogee Confederacy, who had traded with French Louisiana.  Alexander's mother, Sehoy Marchand, was the daughter of Sehoy, a mixed-race Creek woman of the prestigious Wind Clan, and of Jean Baptiste Louis DeCourtel Marchand, a French officer at Fort Toulouse near Montgomery, Alabama.  Alexander and his siblings were born into the Wind Clan, as the Muscogee had a matrilineal system.
         Alexander was born on December 15, 1750 (or 1740) and as a child, he briefly lived in Augusta with his father, who owned several large plantations and was a delegate in the colonial assembly. In 1773, he was sent to school in Charleston, South Carolina, where he learned Latin and Greek, and was apprenticed at a counting house in Savannah, Georgia. He returned to Little Tallassee in 1777 where the revolutionary governments of Georgia and South Carolina confiscated the property of his Loyalist father, Lachland McGillivray, who returned to Scotland.  

         According to Carolyn Thomas Foreman (1929), Alexander McGillivray's description is as follows:  "He was of slender build, tall, with a commanding figure, and the immobile face which showed his Indian blood. Possessed of inordinate ambition and ability and a keen intellect, he was soon surrounded by warriors and adventurers...He was a very striking looking man, six feet tall, and erect in carriage. He had remarkably fine, piercing eyes and his forehead must have been very noticeable as all writers in describing him speak of the extraordinary expansion which commenced at his eyes and widened to the top of his head. He is said to have been handsome and to have had long tapering fingers with which he wielded a pen with remarkable rapidity. He was dignified and his manners were polished. He ordinarily dressed in a combination of Indian and American garments but he was provided with uniforms of Great Britain, Spain, and the United States which he wore on proper occasions, being careful not to appear in his American uniform when he was to meet Spaniards.  In his homes he entertained distinguished visitors with lavish hospitality and while he was ambitious and unscrupulous he had many fine traits, the best of which was his kind heart; he was celebrated for his kindness to captives and his last work in behalf of his nation was an effort to secure teachers for them".

         During the American Revolution, Alexander McGillivray was commissioned as a colonel in the British army. He brokered a British Indian alliance with Doublehead of the Lower Cherokees, James Logan Colbert of the Chickasaws, and other Chickamauga leaders.  Colonel Alexander McGillivray was a skillful diplomat and a great military strategist, but he rarely participated in battle.  At one time, McGillivray wielded great power commanding from 5,000 to 10,000 Creek warriors that became a major faction in the Chickamauga Confederacy.

         In 1783, Colonel Alexander McGillivray became the principal chief of the Upper Creek towns. His predecessor, Chief Emistigo, died while leading a war-party to relieve the British garrison at Savannah, which was besieged by the American Continental Army under General Mad Anthony Wayne.    Chief Alexander McGillivray died on February 17, 1793, and was buried in Pensacola, Florida at his friend William Panton's home, trading posts, and warehouses.  Panton, a powerful Scots-Irish trader of both British and Spanish goods, was a loving and dear friend of McGillivray, and he provide a place in his beautiful garden for McGillivray's last resting place.  After his death, Alexander's nephew William (Red Eagle) Weatherford would emerge as an important leader among the Creeks, and he would eventually surrender to Andrew Jackson after the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

         After the death of James Logan Colbert on January 7, 1784, the Scots-Irish father of some important Chickasaw chiefs, the Chickasaws agreed to terms of peace with the United States Government.  As the Chickasaw people allied themselves with the United States and began helping the Americans who were pressuring the Creeks from the east and taking their lands, conflicts arose between the tribes.  Beginning in 1786, McGillivray commanded the Creeks to start making raids into the Chickasaw Nation, because the Chickasaw supported the United States Government efforts to force the Creeks from their homelands.    

         Even though the High Town Path was considered the Creek’s northern boundary in Lawrence County, they used trails crossing the Moulton and Tennessee Valleys in route to their buffalo hunting grounds near the French Lick (Nashville, Tennessee).  Probably the only historic battle between the Creeks and Chickasaws to take place in Lawrence County was the Battle of Indian Tomb Hollow.  The story about the Creek-Chickasaw battle which occurred in the 1780’s, some 7 miles south of Moulton, was published in the Moulton Democrat newspaper on November 7, 14, and 21, 1856.

         After the death of Alexander McGillivray, a temporary peace was established between the Creeks and Chickasaws in 1798; however, in 1814, peace between the Creeks, Chickasaws, and Cherokees was soon forgotten when the United States Government demanded the Chickasaws and Cherokees take up arms against the hostile red stick Creeks.  Upon the death of Doublehead on August 9,1807, the Creek Nation lost a friend and the support of the Lower Cherokees.  Eventually, the Chickasaws and Cherokees would help Andrew Jackson defeat the Creeks at Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814.  As a result of Indian assistance, the once powerful Creek Nation fell to Andrew Jackson’s forces.  The Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814 relinquished thousands of acres of Creek Indian claims south of the High Town Path.  After Jackson’s defeat of the Creeks, the land of the Black Warrior (Bankhead Forest) was opened for settlement.  In 1815, Richard McMahan became the first documented white settler in the area near the present day Town of Haleyville.

         Only through intermarriage with white trappers, traders, and settlers, the Creek Indian blood of the Black Warrior was to remain in north Alabama’s Creek Indian descendants.  Presently, the Creek Indian blood still flows in the mixed-blood people of north Alabama.  As mysterious as the blending of a great mound building society from which the powerful Alabama Creek Nation arose, so was the vanishing of the Creeks of the Black Warrior.  However, the Creek blood line became evident in the early settlers of the forest who testified of their Creek Indian ancestry.

John Ridge

         As John Ridge, a great Cherokee leader, wrote 1835, “Our blood, if not destroyed, will win its course in beings of fair complexion, who will read their ancestors became civilized under frowns of misfortune, and the causes of their enemies,” so lives the remnants of the mighty Creeks of the Warrior Mountains.


  1. Creek Chief Alexander McGillivray, 1st cousin 8 x's removed.

  2. Emperor of the Creeks/Chief Alexander McGillivray is our Great 5x Uncle. He's the brother of our Great 5x Grandmother, Sophia McGillivray Durant. Proud of our Native American heritage in our country's history.