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How King Cotton destroyed the Creek and Cherokee Nations

How King Cotton destroyed the Creek and Cherokee Nations


You will really despise Andy Jackson, when you learn the true facts of history!  You will also be shocked to learn the critical role that the Creek refugees had in spreading that Southeastern icon, Greek Revival architecture, across the nation.

He was the ultimate American History professor . . . former Director of the National Museum of American History and then Director of the National Park Service.  It was Roger Kennedy, who taught me the real cause of the Red Stick War and the Trail of Tears.

The secret Creek diaspora

In mid-December 2009, I received an email out of the blue from a man I had not seen since 1996.  It was from Roger Kennedy (August 3, 1926 – September 30, 2011).  He asked if I was the same Richard Thornton, who is an architect and formerly lived on the Toms Brook Battlefield in the Shenandoah Valley.  “Aren’t you also a Creek Indian?” I wrote back yes to both questions and that I was astonished that he even remembered me.  How did he find me?

Roger wrote back that of course he remembered me.  Our birthdays were a day apart.  He would never forget visiting my beautiful colonial farm with Jay and Katie (Couric).  Besides . . . the last time I was in his office in 1996, we spent a whole afternoon figuring out a way to deal with the strange politics in Cobb County, GA . . . the X-files Land of Congressmen Newt Gingrich and Bob Barr.  He dodged the question of how he found my email address.

Roger wanted to buy two hours of my time on the telephone.  While doing research for the ultimate book on Greek Revival Architecture, he had stumbled upon an astonishing fact . . . Greek Revival had jumped from West Georgia to East Texas in the 1820s.  This was when West Georgia was being ceded by the Creek Nation and East Texas was part of Mexico.  There was little difference in appearance between the historic districts of LaGrange, GA and Marshall, TX.

The book and 1997 movie, True Women, told the true story of the migration of the surviving half-blood and quarter-blood Creek children of US Indian Agent, Benjamin Hawkins, from Georgia to Texas and Louisiana. What Roger had just discovered, though, was that hundreds of Georgia Creeks moved to eastern Texas rather than Alabama, when all the Creek lands were ceded in Georgia.  They feared for their lives, if they were forced to live near former Alabama Red Sticks.  Almost all future generations of these families concealed their true identities by telling their neighbors that they were the descendants of Gringo men, who had married Mexican senoritas. It was not until the late 20th century that some of these families began to acknowledge their Georgia Creek ancestry.

One of the oldest Greek Revival houses in the United States is the Vann House near Chatsworth, GA.  It was built by mixed-blood Cherokee, James Vann, between 1804 and1805.  The house was an interpretation of plantation near Charleston, SC at which the architect had recently added over-sized columns to a Georgian (Colonial) style mansion.  

No other Cherokee houses were built in this style, but Benjamin Hawkins’ children built several houses in this style.  Affluent mixed-blood Creeks in Georgia interpreted their houses as “Creek Modern” architecture and emulated the style as a statement of cultural identity.  They built this same style in East Texas and soon their white neighbors were copying the “new” style of architecture.  Southern Greek Revival then spread EASTWARD into Louisiana and Mississippi.

What particularly puzzled Roger, though, was that the Creek immigrants into the Mexican state of Tejas y Coahuila were treated differently than Gringo immigrants. They were not required to be Roman Catholics and were treated by Mexican officials as “relatives of existing Mexican citizens.”

I told Roger that about 5,000 Upper Creeks, Apalachicola Creeks and Alabamas had left what is now Alabama and Northwest Georgia at the close of the French and Indian War and supposedly settled in the new Spanish provinces of Louisiana and Texas.  No one had ever figured out what had happened to them.  We did.  They adopted Spanish last names and assimilated.

We finally figured out that most of the people, who called themselves Tejanos in Texas and western Louisiana were actually the descendants of Alabama Creeks, who immigrated there in 1764.  This would explain why the Georgia Creeks and two bands of Tennessee Cherokees were able to settle in East Texas with no strings attached.

Roger told me that he had a lot more research for me to do after Christmas holidays, if I was interested. At around 8:30 AM on the Monday after my telephone conversation with Roger, two deputies showed up at my door with an eviction notice, stating that I and my property had to be out of my house in three days (Christmas Eve).   I showed them the FannieMAE paperwork, stating that I was approved for a mitigation loan and would close in mid-January, but that didn’t matter.  The powers that be wanted me homeless and dead.   I quickly was in a life or death struggle to survive and forgot Roger’s request for more assistance.

I was so certain that I would not live through the month of February 2010 that I sent an email to an ex girlfriend (now-married) with photos of the views from my campsite in the Smoky Mountains, so authorities would know where to find my body.  Ironically, Julie was with me when I met with Roger the last time in Washington, DC.

The rise of King Cotton

The cotton gin was invented by New England mechanic, Eli Whitney, while he was living on the Greene Plantation at Cumberland Island, Georgia.  The widow of General Nathanial Greene had specifically asked Whitney to design a machine, which would make cotton production profitable.  He created a working machine in 1793 and applied for a patent in 1794.   However, almost immediately, other mechanics began creating copycat gins without paying royalties.  So Whitney saw little income from his invention.

Cotton production exploded during the next two decades, but initially almost all the cotton was grown on the South Atlantic Coast, because it was assumed that the plant could not grow within the interior and Spain owned most of what is now the Gulf Coast of the United States.  The planters grew exceedingly wealthy on the labor of African-American slaves.

After the Creek Confederacy ceded its lands between the Ocmulgee and Oconee River in 1805, Georgia planters became aware that cotton would thrive in the bottom lands of Southern rivers.  However, the Creek lands had been sold by the State of Georgia in relatively small tracts, suitable for yeoman farmers.   In order to become wealthy, planters needed large tracts of suitable land, where they could work many more slaves.

One of the preliminary maps prepared for “Greek Revival America” by Roger Kennedy

The nefarious acts of General Andrew Jackson

By March 2010, I was in a cabin next to Fontana Lake in the Tuskeegee Community.  It had been a hide out for Olympic Games Bomber, Eric Rudolph.  Black-clad men were trying to break in the cabin at night, but at least I had electricity and a telephone.  Even though the phone was listed in the owner’s name, Roger somehow found me again and put me to work.

In the intervening months, Roger had discovered some intriguing details of Andrew Jackson’s military campaign during the Redstick War of 1813 -1814.   Upon being appointed commander of one of the three armies assigned to invade Alabama and crush the Red Stick Creeks, Jackson immediately hired out of his own pocket FOUR agronomy professors.  He also requested that a Army engineering officer be assigned to his staff to prepare topographic maps.  

United States forces were being beaten badly by the Red Sticks until Jackson’s army was almost doubled by the addition of a brigade composed of Cherokees, Creeks and Choctaws . . . commanded by a Georgia Creek mikko, Brig. Gen. William McIntosh.  McIntosh was closely related to one of the leaders of the Red Sticks, William Weatherford.

The Native Americans were promised that they could live in their current lands forever, if they volunteered to fight their Creek and Seminole brothers.  However, while these volunteers were risking their lives for the United States, the engineer was going about their lands taking elevations and drawing maps, while the agronomists were taking soil samples.

Several weeks before the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 17, 1814, Jackson summoned the agronomists and engineering officer to his camp and instructed them to prepare a map of all Creek and Cherokee lands suitable for the cultivation of cotton.  A few weeks prior to the formal surrender of the Redsticks in August 1814, Jackson instructed the Army engineer to prepare a map of the territories to be ceded by the Creek Confederacy as “punishment for allowing the Red Sticks to rebel.”   The only difference between the “Cotton Map” and the “Treaty Map” was that lands belonging to the Cherokees and the Muskogee-speaking Creeks were redacted.

Most of the 23,000,000 acres of land was to be ceded to the United States. Most of these tracts were occupied by branches of the Creek Confederacy, who had remained loyal to the United States, both in the American Revolution and the War of 1812.  They were Itsate (Hitchiti) Creeks, Apalachicola Creeks and Uchees.  In fact, until after the American Revolution, more Georgia residents spoke Itsate than they did English.  Once the Creek Confederacy came under the domination of a Tory mixed blood,   Alexander McGillivray, it became the consistent policy of the Creek leaderships to cede non-Muskogee speaking lands, if all possible.  

What Roger Kennedy discovered was that the agronomists, employed by Jackson, knew that cotton would grow anywhere in the Lower Southeast that was under an elevation of 1000 feet above sea level. That elevation determined the northern boundaries of the land that the Creeks were forced to cede.  The prime cotton-growing lands were in river flood plains.  Jackson wanted to know where these were located so he could tip off his political allies. 

Until 1814, Georgia and South Carolina planters assumed that the lands of the Cherokee Nation were unsuitable for large scale cotton plantations.  The fertile valleys of the Coosa, Etowah, Oostanaula, Conasauga and Coosawattee Rivers were surrounded by rugged mountains.  The army engineer discovered that these valleys actually ran from 500 feet to 800 feet in elevation.  That discovery became the death warrant for the new Cherokee Nation in Georgia.

After the Red Stick War, McIntosh and former Georgia Governor David Mitchell worked out a deal where they became wealthy from skimming off the payments made to the Creeks by the Federal government.  McIntosh was never Principal Chief of the Creeks, but until 1821, he manipulated those around him so that he functioned as one . . . continually giving away more and more land to Georgia for cotton plantations.  

McIntosh’s treachery climaxed in the illegal Treaty of Indian Springs in 1825. Without the approval of elected Creek leaders, he and his cronies sold all remaining Creek lands in Georgia, but kept one square mile reserves for themselves.  These tracts, they planned to sell off at a great profit, once property values appreciated.  The McIntosh Reserve included four secret gold mines. They were started seven years BEFORE gold was officially discovered in Georgia. 

Affluent mixed-blood Creek families began moving to East Texas after the 1825 treaty.  They established cotton plantations, even though slavery was illegal in Mexico  Apparently, McIntosh planned to move his clan to East Texas as soon as all profits had been maximized in West Georgia. 

William McIntosh never had a chance to move to Texas.  He and two of his son-in-laws were brutally executed in April 1825.  Surviving members of the McIntosh Family did not join their kin in East Texas, but rather moved to the section of the Creek lands in Oklahoma, which were suitable for cotton cultivation.  There they soon became wealthy from establishing plantations, worked by African American slaves.

Original William McIntosh house near Carrollton, GA. It was repaired in the 1830s then burned completely in the 1970s.

King Cotton goes after the Cherokees

There is no doubt that Andrew Jackson and his cronies planned to deport the Cherokees, when he recruited a company of 100 Cherokee men to fight the Red Stick Creeks. He was a man, who felt no compunction about lying to Native Americans, when there was money to be made.

A favorite theme of the Cherokees is that they lost their lands in Georgia because of the discovery of gold.  This is a myth.

As pointed out in an earlier article in POOF, non-Cherokees lived in the section of the new Cherokee Nation, where the gold belt ran.  They sold most of these lands to white land speculators then moved to the Creek Nation . . . seven years before gold was “discovered” in the Nacoochee Valley.  In the remainder of the portion of the Gold Belt in the Cherokee Nation, one only sees Creek, Chickasaw or Arawak geographical place names.

The ethnic Cherokees were concentrated in the fertile river valleys of Northwest Georgia, northeast Alabama and Southeast Tennessee.  These were lands that were well suited for the development of large plantations.  The Etowah River in Bartow and Floyd Counties, Georgia is lined with beautiful antebellum plantation houses, built right after the Cherokees were booted out.  Rome, GA quickly boomed as a cotton warehousing and distribution center after the Cherokees were marched away.

King Cotton’s attacks continued on those Cherokees, who chose to follow the Creeks into East Texas.  In 1806 a band of Cherokee from the Arkansas area of the Louisiana Territory, settled a village along the Red River. That same year, an intertribal delegation, including Cherokee, petitioned the Spanish officials at Nacogdoches for permission to settle there, which was granted.

Cherokee immigration into Texas increased between 1812 and 1819. The Bowl, a former Chickamauga Cherokee chief, led many Cherokee families into Texas in 1820. They initially settled near present-day Dallas, but were forced by Comanche raids to move east into what is now Rusk County, Texas. By 1822, an estimated 800 Cherokee lived in Texas.

When Texas became part of the new Republic of Mexico, Cherokees petitioned the new Mexican authorities for formal land grants but were denied. In 1830, an estimated 800 Cherokee still lived in three to seven settlements in Texas. Cherokees tried to remain neutral in the Texas War for Independence. This turned out to be a mistake.  Creeks, transplanted from West Georgia, played a major role in the fighting and furnished some officers.

There was a big difference between the Cherokee settlers and the far more numerous Creeks.  The Creeks were established on conventional farmsteads and plantations.  They were intermarrying with their white neighbors. The Cherokees wished to live on communal reserves and remain distinct from the main population.

Sam Houston had lived with a Cherokee woman while in Arkansas.  He became friends with Cherokee Chief Bowl and tried to sign a formal treaty with his people. The Texas Senate refused to ratify it.  Roger Kennedy discovered that Bowl’s reservation was some of the best cotton land in Texas.  It still is today.

Tensions escalated rapidly after Mirabeau Buonoparte Lamar replaced Houston as President of Texas.  Lamar had grown up on a plantation near Macon, GA and formerly owned a newspaper in Columbus, GA.  He had openly called for the extermination of all Native Americans. 

Some Cherokees took part in a abortive rebellion by Tejanos (Spanish-speaking Texans) in 1838.  As stated earlier, Roger Kennedy thought that many of these Tejanos were actually Hispanized Roman Catholic Creeks from Alabama.  Then a band of Cherokees massacred 18 members of an extended family from Talladega, AL.  They had arrived in 1837. The Creeks had lost their lands in Talladega County in 1836.  There is a very strong possibility that these settlers were mixed-blood Creeks, but Texans considered them whites, when avenging the massacre.

In the Texas Cherokee War of 1839, most of the Texas Cherokees were either killed or driven out of Texas.  Chief Bowl was one of those killed.  As soon as the Cherokees were gone, their lands were surveyed out into cotton plantations.


And now you know!   

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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.



    An area of interest & occasional research. A side note. I am one of several involved in YDNA project of Overton. turns out that clan 1 (mine) & Clan 3, both with sizable amounts Native ancestry, have no genetic relationship to Clan 2. Clan 2 are the “prestige” clan from Va & are Anglo-Saxons. Of interest here are Judge John & his brother General Thomas Overton. They basically “created” Andrew Jackson as a viable political figure. They actually called themselves a “junta”. Introduced him to Rachel, tutored him. Sam Houston was another of them, but had to leave Tenn,to exile in ark, then Texas. after his wife of 2 days fled back to her family. There is a recent book of letters from the Judge advising A Jackson as president. This is the Memphis & Nashville Tenn Overtons.
    The early Overtons into East Texas were clan 1. & maintain a tradition of fighting under Menawa in the Red Stick War & some headed west to East Texas, some “passed” for white & stayed in central alabama for a while. I have a gggaunt Fredonia Overton in that Texas area. The (AAron) Overton Place etc in Dallas & Fort Worth are clan 1 they were adamant in Indian ancestry even in early 1840s there.
    Anyone wanting Overton data, I have access to a 55,000 Overtons database.
    History is rarely what the “system” wants us to know.


    A separate point. According a book on Women in America & inventions, (I think “Mothers of Invention” ) After Rev. War Gen Nathaniel Greene moved to GA. His wife as dowry or inheritance had funds of her own. She set up a workshop & acquired samples of the equipment that was being use to delint cotton. an out of work mechanic came thru area, needing a job. She hired him & put him in her workshop with sample & tools. Eventually he did developed the cotton (eni) gin. that was Whitney of course.


    I grew up in Oklahoma. The southeastern part of the state is referred to as “Little Dixie” because how much it, more than the rest of the state, adopted the Southern cotton farming agriculture and culture. While displaced Southerners ended up there after the Civil War, the “Southerness” of the area first started with the arrival in the 1830’s of the Southeastern tribes, who brought with then their own version of the cotton plantation system.


    My own family history illustrates the impact the cotton gin had on the southern economy. My 4 X great grandfather Miller was on the 1794 Hancock County, Georgia tax list. In 1812 he was taxed on 164 acres (if I read the tax table correctly) on Island Creek. He had no slaves. In the 1820 census he had, I believe, three slaves. His family likely lived in a house similar to the McIntosh home pictured above. He died in late 1823. Between 1824 and 1827 my 3 X great grandfather, his older brother and younger sister moved to Crawford County, Georgia. According to Wikipedia, Crawford County was formed from lands ceded by the Creeks in the 1821 Treaty of Indian Springs. When he died in 1860 in Taylor County, my great great great grandfather Miller owned over 600 acres of land and had 21 slaves. His older brother was even bigger. That was all made possible by the cotton gin as well as all the misery and death. Andrew Jackson’s plotting of cotton growing land reminds me of the stories of Vice President Cheney poring over Iraqi oil field maps prior to the 2003 invasion.

    • That’s incredible . . . going from 164 acres to 600 acres. Yes . . . I can see the Jackson – Cheney connection. Thank you!


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