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Close to discovering lost bison skin containing Creek writing system

Close to discovering lost bison skin containing Creek writing system

 

If you know a scholar in the United Kingdom or perhaps have relatives and friends there, please pass this “Wanted Poster” below to them.  The UK National Archives will only answer inquiries from British subjects or legal residents of the UK.   This has hampered my search over the past ten years.  However, during the past two years I have been periodically sending the document to “friendly” academicians in the UK and have gotten a some responses in recent months.  Several scholars vaguely remember seeing something matching its description in a book.  The image was either a photograph of the velum or an artist’s copy.  It was labeled an “Unidentified Mesoamerican writing system.” Thus, we are now fairly certain that the velum or an artist’s copy of it, still exists. 

 

The search for the Lost Creek Indian Migration Legend

Note:  If you know the whereabouts of this important artifact or have seen an image of it, please contact Architect Richard L. Thornton at PeopleOfOneFire@aol.com.

 

The Creek Migration Legend describes the journey of a branch of the Creek Indians, called the Kashite People, from the Orizaba Volcano in Mexico to the North Georgia Mountains in the United States between 1300 and 1400 AD.  They were probably fleeing persecution by the Aztecs or some other Mesoamerican civilization, which practiced human sacrifice. Most of the branches of the Creek Indians had been long established in Georgia for hundreds of years, before the Kashite arrived.

The “Legend” actually consists of two documents of international significance, which were created in 1735.   They compose what is essentially, “the Rosetta Stone of North America.”  The first is a vellum, made from a bison calf skin, on which was painted in the red and black characters of the Creek Indian writing system, the Migration Legend. It was the only complete, indigenous writing system of the Americas to have been created outside of Mexico, but was forgotten in the turmoil of the mid-1700s. 

From 1736 until 1783, this document was framed and on the walls of the Georgia Office of the Colonial Office at Westminster.  The vellum may have been returned to General James Edward Oglethorpe after the United States achieved independence. Alternatively, it may be in storage along with other documents that were removed from the Georgia Office.  It remains officially “lost.”

The second document, a verbatim English translation of the vellum, by Georgia Colonial Secretary, Thomas Christie, was presumed lost forever, until 2015.   With the essential help of HRH Prince Charles and the staff at Clarence House, the translation, along with many other priceless documents, was discovered in the archives of Lambath Palace Library.

 

Background

The Colony of Georgia was physically established at Savannah on February 12, 1733. In 1735, Chikili, the High King of the Creek Confederacy led a delegation of Native American leaders to Savannah to offer friendship to Governor James Edward Oglethorpe. The first treaty between the Creek Confederacy and the Province of Georgia was signed on June 7, 1735.

Creek and Uchee Indians, living near Savannah, had nothing but praise to say for the leaders of the new colony. The attitudes of Georgia’s colonial leaders were very different than those of the aristocrats in Charleston. These local indigenous peoples facilitated trade between the mountains and the South Atlantic Coast. The Apalache branch of the Creek Confederacy spoke a language that mixed Itza Maya, Panoan (a Peruvian language) and Muskogean.

Chikili presented a vellum made from the skin of a bison calf. On it was the Apalache writing system, which described the journey of the Kashite branch of the Creek Confederacy from Orizaba Volcano in Mexico to the Georgia Mountains. At the time, the writing system was described as not being pictures, but “peculiar red and black characters that no one had seen before.”  It was a complete writing system that was able to transmit complex thoughts and tenses. The English translation requires eight printed pages.

High King Chikili read the writing on the bison calf vellum as Creek Indian Princess, Kusaponakesa, translated the words into English.  Colonial Secretary Thomas Christie wrote down her English words.  Later in the month, Christie and Kusaponakesa, worked over his minutes from the meeting to make sure that his translation was complete.  Although the vellum was a personal gift to Governor Oglethorpe, he  ordered both the vellum and its translation placed in a sturdy wood crate and shipped to King George II on the next available ship.  The ship departed on July 6, 1735. The translation was printed in several London newspapers, because it was proof that there was a tribe in North America that had a writing system.  

Governor Oglethorpe sent a cover letter to King George, which was reprinted in the newspapers, “The Creek Indians are different that any natives that we have encountered in North America. It is obvious that they are the descendants of a great civilization.  They are as intelligent, or more so, than Englishmen.  They should be treated as equals in all matters.” 

The vellum was soon sent to the Georgia Office of the Colonial Office by King George II, where it hung on the wall until the end of the American Revolution. Presumably, it was initially stored along with other archives of the office, but may have been returned to its owner, General James Oglethorpe, who lived on an estate in Godalming, Surrey.

Several efforts in the early, middle and late1800s by professors from New England universities to find the vellum, formerly in the Colonial Office, and its English translation, were unsuccessful. Researchers gave up hope of finding it after then.

Discovery of the Migration Legend’s translation

After the broadcast of a one hour program in North America and the UK about Richard Thornton’s discovery of a lost civilization in the mountains of the State of Georgia, he gained considerable credibility in the world of academia. Clarence House sent him a brief congratulatory note.  Thornton audaciously responded by sending a detailed personal letter directly to HRH Prince Charles, which asked for his help in finding the Lost Migration Legend.  The Prince of Wales has always been extremely interested in historic architecture, archaeology, history and urban planning.  Thornton is a Historic Preservation Architect and Urban Planner of partial Creek and Uchee Indian ancestry.

HRH Prince Charles directed his Assistant Private Secretary, the famous Welsh poet, Dr. Grahame Davies, to search for the lost documents. His staff determined that a box of documents about the culture of the Creek Indians in Georgia, which included the English translation of the Creek Migration Legend, was given to the Archbishop of Canterbury by King George II.  The King had instructed the Church of England to create a Bible in the Creek writing system and language.  This never happened, because Archbishop Wake died a few months after the arrival of the documents.

At this point, Thornton was hampered because of a policy that UK National Archives staff will only communicate with British subjects or residents of the UK.  His only option was working online. After two years of searching online in the vast inventory list of documents stored by the UK National archives, Thornton happened to notice a new announcement that its staff had finished cataloguing for the first time the contents of the library at Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Several more days of searching through the hundreds of thousands of archives there revealed a box containing items from the Province of Georgia and dated either June 7, 1735 or July 6, 1735. The contents’ description mentioned that the documents included a description of the political structure of the Creek Indians and their history. This could well be the Migration Legend, but it made no mention of a political meeting.

Thornton tried unsuccessfully to contact both employees at Lambeth Palace and the Church of England for several months, but could get no response.   He then contacted the Archdiocese Office of the Episcopal Church of the United States in Atlanta, Georgia.  Being Georgians, the Episcopal Church historians immediately recognized the extreme historical significance of the Lost Migration Legend.

The archbishop telephoned Lambeth Palace and requested its staff’s cooperation with Thornton. In a matter of minutes, Thornton received emails from several employees at the Lambath Palace Library, offering to assist his efforts.  It took about four weeks for the staff to locate the 285 year old wooden box, where the Georgia Colonial archives were located.

The Chief Archivist at Lambath Palace opened the box on April 29, 2015 and immediately sent an email to Richard Thornton, stating that the English translation of the Migration Legend had been found after being lost for 285 years, but the bison vellum was not in this box.  The vellum would have been far too large to fit in the crate. However, more good news was that several more documents were included in the box, which contained invaluable information on the cultural practices and vocabulary of the members of the Creek Confederacy during the early 1700s. They included migration legends of branches of the Confederacy, other than the Kaushi-te.  The branches of the Creek Indian Confederacy came from many parts of the Americas.

The Church of England maintains archives that extend back to the sixth century. However, it does not have the vast staff of curators like the British Museum.  The staff at the Lambeth Palace Library have done additional research since the discovery of the box.   They think that bison vellum was either given back to General Oglethorpe in 1783 or remains in the vast holdings of the Colonial Office.

Therefore, if the bison vellum is to be found, independent researchers will have to spend considerable time going through the holdings of the Oglethorpe Museum in Godalming, UK National Archives and Colonial Office.  Nevertheless, it may be mounted on a wall somewhere in a museum or a private residence . . .  in plain sight, but of unknown importance to its owners.

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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.

21 Comments

  1. syblcranford@gmail.com'

    Absolutely the most wonderful discovery in a long time Richard. Totally awesome History of the Creek writing system.
    I sure hope the British continue this search and find the Bison skin it is written on. Wonderful blog today Sir.
    Thanks for all your hard and continued work Richard.

    Reply
  2. pres@gloriafarley.com'

    Richard,

    I have been chasing the item myself. Looks like you have some good leads. Glad to hear this.

    Reply
  3. Wmpfantz@aol.com'

    The Kassites from ancient Babylonia have left evidence of their visit to the US around 1000 BCE

    Reply
  4. markveale@hotmail.com'

    Richard, Another Great article of History. I found this interesting of the shape of this stone Platform built by the Purépecha people of Western Mexico (1200 BC?)…where some of the Apalacha (corn people?) Kingdom people wondered from. The “sphinx” form of Egypt from this photo angle and the “shin /Shen? symbol” ( “ring and the bar” symbol) as well included in the stone structure seems to be implied? Is This symbol found anywhere in the mountains of the South? would help connect the dots as it started in Para (Caral,Peru) in 3000 BC….then Spain (Tar-shi-sh) the “circles in circle” “Pi” 3.14 city of Spain found by ground radar technology…then used by the Akadian (2600-2100 BC Amorite/Hittite) people of Northern Iraq…and then by the Egyptians. This “ring and bar” symbol might be one of the symbols used by the so called (by the Greeks) ” Atlantis civilians people”:
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tarascan_state#/media/File:Mexico.Mich.Tzintzuntzan.01.jpg

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tzintzuntzan_(Mesoamerican_site)#/media/File:Modeltztztz.JPG

    http://www.bing.com/images/search?view=detailV2&ccid=JDkxuIpa&id=4F6CBEF1CDCB03F21E137427C967CA097F2B3143&thid=OIP.JDkxuIpaDhwMbblkATpPswEsDI&q=caral&simid=608011300230073715&selectedIndex=8&ajaxhist=0

    Reply
    • Apalache means From Water Descendants of

      They may just be descended from Atlantis . . .if there was an Atlantis

      Reply
      • markveale@hotmail.com'

        Richard, It has always been a mystery of how the Native people were able to cultivate so many wild plants into table foods compared to all the other areas of the world? I most certainly think that there were some survivors of an ancient civilization. “Tarshish” of the Torah was just one of their cities and it is noted as being more ancient than “Tyre” of Lebanon. The first major city of the world might have been in Para (Peru) and those ancients seafaring people ( Para-ku-sis) were most likely lead by the Nephilim people (Giant red haired people) at one time. Some skulls in Peru have a 25% larger volume than a normal human skull.

        Reply
  5. pres@gloriafarley.com'

    For anyone who does search in the British archives, know this: There were two paintings made by the Trustees of Georgia in connection to the Indians’ visit to England. These were displayed in the Georgia colonial office, along with the vellum document. This one shows the Trustees and Indians meeting in Westminster;
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Tomo-chi-chi_and_other_Yamacraws_Native_Americans.jpg
    When the the Trustees turned the Georgia colony over to the Crown, the painting was given to one of the Trustees, the Earl of Shaftesbury. This painting was sold to a DuPont heir and now resides in the Winterhur Museum in Delaware

    This painting of Tomochichi and his great-nephew was reproduced in newspapers of the day, but its current location is not known;
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bulletin_(1901)_(19801833743).jpg

    I have always felt that if someone finds the Tomochichi portrait, they will find what happened to the vellum document. When the Trustees shutdown their work, they disposed of their physical assets. I would think the records of theses transactions might include what happened to the paintings and the vellum document. These records are supposed to be in the National Archive.

    Another approach that can be taken is to find contacts in the art world. The artist who created the paintings was a Dutch painter, William Verelst. The Dutch painters who worked in England at the time had a big influence on the English art scene. Surely there are lists of the known works of these artists and where they now are. The Tomochichi portrait may be known of, but its historical importance is not.

    Reply
    • pres@gloriafarley.com'

      I forgot to mention this. The eagle in the Tomochichi portrait was a real bird. It was taken to England as a demonstration of own Tomochichi’s royal lineage. So when Tomochichi met King George, it was a meeting of peers.

      Reply
    • pres@gloriafarley.com'

      Another approach would be to find out whether copies of London newspapers of the day still exist. The Indians’ visit was quite the nine-day-wonder. Their daily activities were reported in the newspapers. I would think that after such a fuss, the arrival of the vellum document would be reported. It at least would be interesting to know the details of the visit.

      Reply
      • We found the original copy of the handwritten translation in April 2015. The bison vellum was mounted on the wall of the Georgia Office until 1784.

        Reply
        • pres@gloriafarley.com'

          The fact that the vellum was still in Westminster until 1784 would seem to indicate that it went somewhere else than to one of the Trustees. The Trustees turned the colony over to the crown in the 1750’s. I doubt any of the original Trustees were alive in 1784.

          Reply
          • One was! None other than General James Edward Oglethorpe. He was the first British subject to entertain the newly appointed United States ambassador to the Court of St. James, John Adams. They became close friends until Oglethorpe’s death.

      • pres@gloriafarley.com'

        Richard, I had another idea. The sale of the mural to the DuPonts was part of a larger sale of antiques. Surely the art dealer handling the sale would have to research and document the provenance (chain of ownership) of the mural to satisfy potential buyers that the piece was what it was claimed to be and was worth the asking price. Could this have included documentation about the Shaftburys getting the mural from the Trustees? Could these documents help to indicate where to look for similar documents for the portrait and the vellum?

        I always assumed that the 4th Earl, the one who was a Trustee, got the mural immediately when then colony was turned over to the crown. But if the vellum stayed in Westminster until 1784, then maybe the mural did not go the the Shaftburys until then.

        If you can develop contacts in England, you need to find one with connections to the posh crowd. Contacting the present Shaftburys and getting their cooperation might give us access to family records that would help us better understand the history of the family getting and selling the mural, which could lead us to what happened to the portrait and vellum once they left Westminster.

        In the past I did have some communications with the Winterhur museum. But I did not ask about provenance documentation. I will contact them again and see if I can find out anything.

        Reply
        • How about this offer of assistance with connections to a posh crowd . . . Kensington Palace

          Reply
          • pres@gloriafarley.com'

            You rock Richard!!!

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