Southeast’s “doctored” Colonial Era History
Later this week, the results of seven years of research on the South Atlantic Coast Plain will be published. The title of the book is, Fort Caroline, the search for America’s Lost Heritage. It is much more than a book on the ill-fated attempt of French Huguenots to establish a colony in North America. In fact, the project started out as merely being focused on the indigenous peoples of the region . . . then came along many, many surprises.
Spanish explorers and early British colonists encountered a light skinned, red-to-brown haired people on the coast, who spoke Early Medieval Gaelic and called their province Du H’aire, which means “Place of the Irish.” They made Creek-style pottery, but practiced Medieval European agriculture. Yes, the people of Du H’aire were still on the coast of Georgia and South Carolina when Charleston was settled in the 1670s.
Then . . . we discovered that Fort Caroline National Memorial in Jacksonville was a fake. ALL European maps and eyewitness accounts placed Fort Caroline and the first location of St. Augustine on the coast of Georgia. How in the world could such a skew in historical facts taken place.
Then . . . we discovered that the dominant Native American province in the Southeast during the 1500s and up to the mid-1600s was the Kingdom of Apalache. It was located in northeastern Georgia, the exact location where no Spanish conquistadors were allowed to go. French ethnographer, Charles de Rochefort, had written in 1658 about a private expedition into Apalache during 1653. His book is taken very seriously in Europe, but was filled in the “Fantasy and Utopia” bin of Brown University ages ago.
Then . . . we discovered that pioneer anthropologist, Charles C. Jones of Savannah had visited and written about the stone ruins of cities in northern Georgia. However, 20th century archaeologists paid little attention to what he said.
Then . . . we discovered that the French had built a large fort on Bussell Island, TN, in the Tennessee River, southwest of Knoxville. It disappeared about the same time that the British created the Cherokee Tribe. Knowledge of the French presence in the Southern Highlands has been completely left out of the history books.
Then . . . we discovered that in 1773, William Bartram had visited the ruins of Fort Caroline or Fort San Mateo on the South Channel of the Altamaha River in Georgia. He described the visit in his famous book. For 250 years, American historians had ignored the passage until it was rediscovered by POOF researcher, Marilyn Rae.
Yes, it was a much bigger story than the demise of a large French fort in 1565 on the coast of Georgia. The story became a detective mystery in which we peeled away the onion skin layers of faux history to get to the persons, who altered history, and discerned why they altered this history.
Four newcomers, who created today’s history
Col. John Barnwell
The first sudden change in Southeastern history occurred in the 1720s. In 1721, South and North Carolina were separated. South Carolinians thought they had gotten the short end of the stick because the majority of the Atlantic Coast line was in North Carolina. During the 1700s, water transportation was vastly more efficient than land based transportation. Flat coastal plain land was far more conducive to rice and indigo plantations. South Carolina was running out of flat land.
King Charles II created the Colony of Carolina as a means of paying back the eight principal families, who had funded his seizure of power from the English Commonwealth. His charter described the southern boundary of Carolina as being the latitude line that runs through Cape Canaveral, Florida. However, Spain still claimed all the land from Port Royal Sound, SC southward.
England’s victory in the Queen Anne’s War (1701-1713) resulted in Spain only claiming the land south of the Altamaha River in 1721. However, South Carolina planters wanted more land for rice cultivation. In 1721, the official British map of North America specifically noted the ruins of Fort Caroline on the south bank of the Altamaha River. Well, except this same map labeled the Altamaha as the “Coweta or May River.” Coweta was the word used by the French and British for Creek Indians until the mid-1700s. The May River was given its name by Frenchman, Jean Ribault, in 1562.
That same year, the newly arrived governor of South Carolina authorized construction of Fort King George on the north bank of the Altamaha River in present day Darien, GA and another fort at the confluence of the Ohoopee and Altamaha River, where the Spanish had earlier established Mission Santa Isabel de Utinahica.
Col. John Barnwell
An Irishman who had arrived in South Carolina on the eve of the Queen Anne’s War, was placed in charge of the fort’s construction. He immediately published a brief history of South Carolina that stated that “no Spaniard had ever lived north of the St. Marys River and today, their most northerly settlement is a lookout station on the mouth of the St. Johns River.” Barnwell ALSO unilaterally changed the name of the May River to the Altamaha River to negate France’s claim to the region.
Barnwell’s map of what is now the Georgia Coast, left us with a mythical Indian tribe. He listed the Indians north of the St. Marys as good ole God-fearing, English fish-and-chips loving Creek Indians. The Creeks were, of course, British allies. He listed the Indians south of the St. Marys River as a tribe known as the popish Timucua. Of course, by then the region was uninhabited. During the Queen Anne’s War, Barnwell had led a Yamassee Indian army that had exterminated the few remaining indigenous people in the region. Those not killed were sold into slavery at a Charleston market.
There was never any tribe that called itself the Timucua. It was a name contrived by the Spanish to label an administrative district. Yet today, Florida anthropologists have labeled a vast territory in the northern part of the state as occupied by “Timucuan Indians” who lived there for thousands of years. The truth is something else.
Let me tell you one dirty little secret from the book. Florida anthropologists don’t have a clue what most of the individual “Timucuan” provinces called themselves. The names you see in Wikipedia and archaeology books like Timucua, Agua Dulce, Mocama and Utina are all labels contrived by either the Spanish or late 20th century anthropologists. In fact, according to Col. Barnwell and William Bartram, the real Utina lived in Georgia and were the core group of the Yamasee Indians. However, that fact would necessarily put Fort Caroline in Georgia. Now THAT is going to create a mess in academia.
Within a few years, the British Crown was using Barnwell’s doctored history as factual evidence that Great Britain owned the land north of the St. Marys River. However, long time residents of the Georgia and South Carolina coasts continued to insist that both the French and the Spanish established colonies in their environs. They knew where the old forts and missions were located.
During the Civil War the Georgia Coast was virtually depopulated. Virtually no “long time” families continued to live on the Georgia Coast afterward. For example, my French Huguenot ancestors, the Morels, once owned Ossabaw, St. Catherines and Wassau Islands in Georgia. The family scattered across the United States during Reconstruction. Thus, when Florida newcomers began claiming that Fort Caroline was in Florida, there was no one left on the Georgia Coast to contradict them.
Col. George Chicken
In 1725, South Carolina dispatched Colonel George Chicken to the Southern Appalachians to obtain Native American assistance in the colony’s struggles with France for control of North America. Chicken was newly arrived from England and had little knowledge of the major indigenous ethnic groups in the Southeast. Most, except the Shawnees, were friendly with both France and Great Britain, but personally liked the French better, because they treated the Natives with more respect. There was a big problem, though. French-allied Shawnees occupied the French Broad and Swannanoa River Valleys in North Carolina. Maps as late as 1721, show the “Charakeys” only occupying towns in the extreme northeastern tip of Tennessee and in the extreme northwestern tip of South Carolina.
If you read Wikipedia and other doctored versions of Southeastern history, you will be told that Chicken came to visit the towns of an existing Cherokee tribe and that he was seeking help in the ongoing war with the Creeks. This is the typical caca de toro that North Carolina and Qualla “historians” have flooded contemporary texts with. Look at the Wikipedia articles on Tanasi and Chota, if you don’t believe me.
If one reads the actual archives of the period, particularly from Col. Barnwell, you see that the emerging Creek Confederacy was the biggest trading partner with South Carolina. Barnwell established trading posts on the frontier to expand trade with the Creeks. There was no war going on. However, the Creeks refused to attack the French. There was also that French fort in east Tennessee and another one, just built at the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers in Alabama. France had already explored, mapped and claimed all of Alabama, eastern Tennessee, western North Carolina and northwestern Georgia.
Colonel Chicken brought together leaders of at least 14 Native provinces in the Southern Highlands at a town where Franklin, NC is now located. He urged them to form a single tribe, elect a “king” and become allies of Great Britain against France. He promised them munitions and trade goods if they did. Eventually, the South Carolinians selected a “king” for the Cherokees. That is the beginning of the Cherokee tribe.
In 1726, Chicken wrote a booklet about his experiences in the Appalachians. In it, he created the myth of an ancient Cherokee tribe that spoke one language and had always lived in the same location. European logic was that if the new Cherokee tribe had declared itself to be a vassal of the British king then Great Britain could claim their lands. At the time, the members of the new tribe spoke many languages and dialects, plus practiced differing cultural traditions. The map of the “Cherokee Nation” that accompanied Chicken’s book labeled the Unaka Mountains, south of the Little Tennessee River in North Carolina and Tennessee, as “The Enemy Mountains.” What does that tell you?
Oh . . . the French fort on the Tennessee River disappeared from French maps, immediately after Chicken created the Cherokee Nation.
William Bacon Stephens
Stephens grew up in Maine. Immediately, after graduating from medical school in 1838, he moved to Savannah, GA. He obviously didn’t like the practice of medicine, because the next year he began writing a book on the history of Georgia and studying for the Episcopal ministry. He published his “History of Georgia” shortly before moving permanently to Philadelphia to become the priest of a large church there. Stephens disliked the French in Quebec and the Spanish in general. The theme of his book is the triumph of Anglo-Saxon Protestants over a savage wilderness.
Several parts of Stephens’ book were bitterly challenged by long time families in Georgia, including my French Huguenot ancestors on Ossabaw Island. Stephens claimed that all French and Spanish colonial activities had occurred below the St. Marys River in what was now the State of Florida. He stated that the Cherokees had once occupied all the state and had built all the mounds. He labeled the Creeks as pro-French savages, who had entered the state in the 1700s from Florida and Alabama at the behest of the French and Spanish kings.
This first Georgia history book was bitterly challenged by many “long time” Georgia families, but endorsed by friends of Stephens in New England universities. It was also endorsed by the Georgia Historical Society, which had been founded by Stephens and a hardware store owner in Savannah, newly arrived from New York. Until the late 20th century, Stephens perception of Native American history was taught as facts in Georgia schools.
George R. Fairbanks
Fairbanks arrived in St. Augustine, FL from New York about the same time that Stephens was heading to Philadelphia. He was a real estate speculator, entrepreneur and quickly became a big time slave owner. Not too long after his arrival in St. Augustine, he wrote a history of St. Augustine that literally created the myth that Ponce de Leon landed there in search of the Fountain of Youth. He also elaborated on the early Spanish presence in St. Augustine that created the myth, now universally viewed as fact that the first St. Augustine was at St. Augustine Bay.
Fairbanks then bought large tracts of land on Amelia Island, FL next to the Georgia border. This location became the town of Fernandino. At the time, the ONLY deep water port on Florida’s Atlantic Coast was at Fernandino’s port. You see at this time, ocean-going sailing ships could not enter the St. Johns River. Since, Florida had been essentially seized by the United States in 1821, private contractors had dredged the mouth down from a 6 inch to 2 feet depth to a 4 feet to 6 six feet depth. The famous mid-18th century explorer, James Adair, wrote that in his time, Creek Indians traveling down the Atlantic Coast, would have to get out of their dug-out canoes and walk their canoes IN THE St. Johns River for about half a mile, before being able to paddle in the river again.
At the same time, US Senator David Yulee began promotion of a railroad that would connect Port Fernandino with the Gulf Coast. As a youth, Yulee’s Moroccan (Sephardic) Jewish parents had moved from the island of St. Thomas in the Caribbean Basin to northeastern Florida to exploit its forest resources. The Yulee family purchased 50,000 acres in what is now Jacksonville to create a “New Jerusalem.”
Yulee and his friend George Fairbanks, promoted a project in which the Army Corps of Engineers would dredge the St. Johns River deep enough for ocean going vessels. Yulee pushed the act through Congress, not telling his cohorts that his family owned most of the land that bordered where the Corps of Engineers would be dredging. Some things never change. Yulee left the Senate in 1851 to reap the benefits of his term in the Senate. Work began on the St. Johns River mouth around 1853, but was not completed until just before the Civil War.
Meanwhile, Fairbanks was working on his “History of Florida.” Modeled after the St. Augustine book, he promoted the Spanish history of St. Augustine and then created the myth of Fort Caroline in Jacksonville to promote the French history of Jacksonville. If was Fairbanks, who stated as a fact that Fort Caroline was located on St. Johns Bluff. A century later, Congress obligingly designated St. Johns Bluff as the location as Fort Caroline National Monument in 1950. Not one 16th century French or Spanish artifact . . . not one hint of a colonial era building . . . has ever been found at that location. However, in 1965, the Department of the Interior obligingly listed the location on the National Register of Historic Places.
The 240 pages of Fort Caroline, the Search for America’s Lost Heritage contains dozens of rare maps and eyewitness accounts from 1527 to 1780. The real history of the Southeast is going to blow your mind.
The truth is out there somewhere!
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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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