Richard Thornton | May 9, 2017 | 23
A very wise observation by the people of Palachicola
(Featured Image) Although this early 19th century engraving shows the Creeks at Palachicola wearing Midwestern headdresses instead of turbans and longshirts, it does accurately show them to be over a foot taller than John Wesley. In his twenties (before his spiritual rebirth) John Wesley was an arrogant bantam rooster (a more vulgar word would be appropriate). He deeply resented being much shorter than the “savages” and also their practice of making intelligent observations, which challenged his rigid belief in an autocratic society.
In early April 2015, a box containing the Lost Creek Migration Legends was identified in Lambeth Palace after their location was unknown for 285 years. The box contained much more than the legends. It also contained correspondence between the leaders of the Church of England and the leaders of the newly founded Province of Georgia.
The Church of England graciously offered to photograph the contents of this box, using state of the art graphics technology. The copies were sent to me about a month later.
As soon as I began reading the documents, it became clear that the arrival of the Migration Legends in England played a pivotal role in American history. They started a chain of events, which resulted in the Great Awakening and the formation of the Methodist Church . . . which in turn played a major role in the creation of a culture in the United States, distinctly more egalitarian than those of the British Isles. On the eve of the American Civil War, over half of all United States citizens, who attended church, were Methodists.
The People of One Fire’s readership has quadrupled since September 2015, when we published a series on the earliest days of the Colony of Georgia. If you would like to read it, you can go to: The Creek Migration Legend In American History.
No matter your opinions on royalty . . . the fact is that had not HRH Prince Charles assigned his press secretary, Dr. Grahame Davies, to help me find the Lost Migration Legends . . . they would undoubtedly still be lost today. Never forget that! Dr. Davies is a highly respected Welsh historian and poet.
The sermon at Palachicola
As a result of the Creek Migration Legends, John and Charles Wesley were sent to the two year old Province of Georgia by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel to be missionaries to the Creek and Uchee Indians. James Oglethorpe designated John the chief missionary and Charles, the Indian Agent. That turned out to be a disaster. Neither brother made any effort to learn the Creek language and religion or even document the Creek writing system. Archbishop of Canterbury, William Wake, planned to publish a Bible in the Creek writing system. Actually, John Wesley even tried to avoid contact with Creeks living in a village adjacent to Savannah, but did play a major role in establishing a school for Creek and Uchee children on Irene Island, just north of Savannah. That location is now part of the Port of Savannah.
It was Georgia Colonial Secretary Thomas Christie, who assembled much information about the ancient history of the members of the Creek Confederacy. He knew that they had originated in several ancient civilizations of the Americas and then migrated to Southeastern North America. By the time the United States came into being, 50 years of chronic warfare and European plagues had erased much of the Creek’s cultural memory.
Charles Wesley, as Indian agent, made one trip into the interior. He visited the village of Tugaloo on the headwaters of the Savannah River in Northeast Georgia. He came back disgusted . . . describing it as a squalid, primitive hamlet on the east side of the Tugaloo River, occupied by no more than about a hundred Uchees. His report did not even mention the Cherokees. That’s how we know that Tugaloo was not “the ancient and great capital of the Cherokee Nation . . . the Cherokees’ first town” as proclaimed by historical markers and Cherokee History publications.
Afterward, Charles Wesley had nothing good to say about the Indians or the Scottish and German colonists in Georgia. He was soon shipped back to England on the pretense of carrying important messages to Parliament.
John Wesley made one trip to a major Creek town. It was called Palachicola by the British and located about 35 miles north of Savannah. Its Creek name was Aparachicora and it had originally been located where Downtown Savannah is today. It is the fabled Chicora of Spanish legend and Chicola of the memoirs of Captain René de Laudonnière.
Out of extreme respect for James Oglethorpe, the townspeople assembled and listened politely to Wesley’s “High Church” sermon. At the end, the town Joana or High Priest came forward and addressed Wesley:
“Brother John . . . why are you here? We believe the same things that you do. You say that we must worship in a building, but we prefer to worship in the open air. Do you worship the Master of Life or do you worship your church?“
H’m-m-m . . . could we not ask that same question today?
Within a year, John Wesley returned to England in disgrace. He wrote of his experience in Georgia, “I went to America to convert the Indians; but, oh, who shall convert me?” In 1838, he had a “born again” experience at a house on Aldersgate Street in London. Suddenly, his beliefs simplified and his message became sincere.
Derisively labeled “Methodists” by High Church theologians, George Whitfield, the Wesley Brothers and their colleagues continued to consider themselves members of the Church of England, but were often barred from preaching in Anglican churches. They began preaching in the open as Wesley had attempted at Palachicola. This brought in the working people and poor of England by the droves, particularly in Wales, where Dr. Grahame Davies is from. Members of the British Methodist Church played a key role in the early elimination of human slavery in the British Empire. The British Methodist Church also pressured for many social and economic reforms in the
There really was no such thing as a “Methodist Church” until after John Wesley died. The American Revolution accelerated the formation of the denomination because as of 1783, the Church of England was no longer the state church of the former British colonies. The open air preaching of Methodist circuit riders particularly appealed to Southeastern Native Americans. A disproportionate percentage of Choctaws, Chickasaws, Creeks, Seminoles and Cherokees are still Methodists. Within a hundred years after the sermon at Palachicola, the Methodist Church had become the largest Christian denomination in North America.
The situation stayed that way until the Civil Rights Era of the late 20th century. Long before any other Protestant denomination, the General Assembly of United Methodist Church adopted two policies that highly irritated white Southerners. The assembly endorsed the use of Native American languages, hymnals and dances in worship services . . . even included Creek and Cherokee songs in their new hymnal. The body also announced that people of all races were welcomed in their churches.
Millions of white Southerners left the United Methodist Church to join denominations or independent churches, which attempted to maintain segregation for another three decades. In Oklahoma and Florida mixed white-Native American congregations split apart over the issue of singing hymns in Native languages . . . and later over the assignment of Native American ministers to predominantly white congregations.
And yet . . . history lasts much longer than a few decades. In the long run, people will probably have a different perspective on these events as we now do on John Wesley’s disastrous sermon at Palachicola. The Creek leaders of Palachicola were right all along.
Do you serve the Master of Life or do you worship yourself, your church, your tribe or your political group?
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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history.Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.
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