The secret history of Christianity among the Uchees and Creeks
The Creeks independently evolved monotheistic beliefs without the subjugation and violence of Middle Eastern religions.
“Why are you here? We believe the same things that you do . . . only we prefer to worship outdoors.” This was a statement by my actual ancestors at Palachicola in 1737 to the Rev. John Wesley at the close of his sermon. Although his sermon repeatedly complained about him being forced to preach outdoors, a few years later Wesley would himself be “born again” at Aldersgate in London . . . henceforth becoming known for preaching to the “regular folks” in outdoor services.
On June 1, 2015 the Lambeth Palace Library in London electronically transmitted to me high resolution photographs of the Creek Migration Legends . . . documents that had been lost for 280 years. We had found the documents in a wooden chest on March 29, but I didn’t have the money required to pay a professional archives photographer, using special lighting that would not damage the papers, to make legible copies. Without being asked, Clarence House, the official residence of HRH Prince Charles, kindly offered to pay for the costs in May, but it took awhile for the process to be completed.
I was astounded at the words spoken by Parakusa (High King) Chikili in his speech to the leaders of Savannah on June 7, 1735. He began his speech by stating, “Chikili, said Joani of the West town . . .” He did not use his seemingly more important title, but rather said that he was a high priest of the Creek Religion. You are never told this in the few anthropological texts that even mention Chikili.
Chikili ended his speech with these words: “I, Chikilli, the Joani of the Eldest Town, was chosen to rule after the death of the Emperor Bemarin. I have a strong mouth and so will declare this meeting’s resolution to the rest of the Nation . . . Of course, I am aware that there is One who has made us all. Some have more knowledge and others are great and strong, but eventually, all must become dirt alike.”
The use of the word, joani, for a Creek priest, was further confirmation that the comprehensive description of the indigenous peoples of present day Georgia and western North Carolina by French ethnologist, Charles de Rochefort, in 1658, was very reliable. De Rochefort used the same term for Aparasi (proto-Creek) priests. He also stated that they practiced a monotheistic religion that had evolved from polytheism . . . except they believed God to be female, because only a mother could love her human children despite their many failings.
Aparasi (Apalache in European languages) is the real name of the Creek People. The Spanish mistakenly applied the name to a tribe of South American origin in Northwest Florida. Around 1400 AD the Apalache established a trading town among those people (Lake Jackson Mounds) but the Florida Apalachee did not call themselves that name, until the Spanish told them that was their name.
De Rochefort, who was also a Protestant minister and missionary in the Caribbean Islands, was keenly interested in the religious beliefs of the indigenous peoples of present-day Georgia, South Carolina, western North Carolina, southeastern Tennessee and eastern Alabama. This region was labeled “French Florida” on French maps until after 1763, because it was thoroughly explored by French Protestants between 1561 and 1565. He stated that what culturally defined the Apalache Kingdom (ancestor of Creek Confederacy) was its monotheistic religion. The tribes to the north were animists with very vague concepts of a Creator, while those to the south and west were pagans, who worshiped many idols and practiced human sacrifice. We will talk more about Aparasi religion later in this article.
Dr. Don Yates, a geneticist and historian from Georgia, who now lives in Arizona, has analyzed the word, joani. He has found almost identical root words in ancient Iberia and similar words throughout the Mediterranean Basis, which are the name of a Creator God. Indeed, it is directly related to the English names John, Joan and Joana. They are derived from the Greek Iōannes. Iōannes is from the Hebrew Yehanan, a short form of Yehohanan which is derived from yehōhānān (Yahweh is gracious). What this means in regard to the origins of the peoples, who made up the Creek Confederacy, I am not certain.
There is more archival evidence to back up the existence of a “home grown” monotheistic religion being practiced by the ancestors of the Creeks, prior to the arrival of the Spanish and French. When in late February of 1540, the Hernando de Soto Expedition passed through the frontier of the “Florida Apalache” in present day Southwest Georgia, they immediately noted extreme differences in the new region’s occupants. Whereas the Florida Indians wore grass skirts, those in the Creek Homeland wore brightly colored and ornately patterned woven clothing. The men of this region averaged about a foot higher than the Spanish and wore mustaches and turbans. Female leaders also wore turbans. Their towns were much larger and highly organized with streets, residential blocks and plazas. Their houses were larger and much sturdier built.
The Spaniards noticed many large, wooden statues of humans and animals in the plazas and near temples. They asked the locals if these were statues of their gods. Their spokesmen responded, “No, these are mere statues of famous ancestors. We worship a single, invisible God.
Let’s get real about the current situation in anthropology. Most Caucasian anthropology professors in the United States are atheists, agnostics or occult. That is why the books they wrote on the Creek people in the late 19th and 20th century said little about our spirituality. If mentioned at all, our beliefs were “dumbed down” to children’s bedtime stories such as “the Uncle Remus Tales” or other folklore. I strongly suspect that one of the principal reasons that Ivy League professors concealed the book by Charles de Rochefort was that it presented the ancestors of the Creeks as being very civilized and practicing a sophisticated, monotheistic religion.
Religious beliefs DO affect which students are allowed to excel or graduate in certain disciplines in which the correct answer is not a mathematical number . . . even in public universities. My Sumatran girlfriend, Julie Soh, was blocked for seven years from performing her Masters Degree recital by the Music Department head at Georgia State University, because the professor was an avid New Ager and Julie was a Methodist Christian. We met in a Sunday School class! Meanwhile, the occult students in that department were given grades high above their abilities. It was only after a group of Christian and Jewish music students jointly marched into the GSU President’s office and got the occult department head fired, that Julie was able to graduate. She made an A on her recital.
My own experience? During my Sophomore year at Georgia Tech, an Architecture professor, who was a Satanist, turned in an F as my grade, when the faculty design jury had awarded me an A-. He also raised the grades of occult students in our class, considerably above what was awarded by the design jury. This deceptive act meant that I would be kicked out of architecture school. However, a sympathetic Sephardic Jewish professor from Greece, Ike Saporta, slipped me the actual grades awarded by the six-member jury. I took them up to Dean of Students, Jim Dull. Dean Dull was a Christian and deacon at Peachtree Christian Church. It was the first time in Georgia Tech’s history that a Dean of Students changed a grade given by a professor. Dean Dull and I remained lifetime friends. Georgia Tech eventually got rid of the bad prof . . . but it took quite a few more complaints from students to do it.
Description of Aparasi Beliefs and Practices
Charles de Rochefort stated that the ancestors of the Apalachete (Aparasi) brought with them many gods and goddesses from Mexico and Peru, but they soon forgot most of those gods and did away with human sacrifice. As commoners and former slaves, they had often been the victims of such practices.
This latter statement is not quite true. The Creeks’ ancestors did not sacrifice their gods and later the Master of Life. However, as late as 1754, the Creeks continued to ritually kill some war captives. Six Cherokee conjurers, captured during the Coweta army’s triumphant campaign through western North Carolina during the autumn of that year, were burned at the stake on the banks of the Chattahoochee River back in Georgia because they were “devil worshipers.” The hundreds of other captured Cherokees were not killed, but traded for ransom.
Apparently, the Invisible Sun Goddess, Amana, was the aboriginal religion of the Lower Southeast and dates back farther that the Hebrew concept of El as the single Creator God. Amana is associated with the 2-3,000-year-old oval mounds in Georgia. Perhaps she was introduced by the Uchee. The primary deities during what anthropologists call the Early and Middle Mississippian Periods were the Sun God, the Invisible Sun Goddess, Moon God, Wind (Winged Serpent) God, Good & Bad Twins, Sky God and Corn Goddess. What anthropologists call the “Late Mississippian” or Lamar Culture marks the supremacy of an Invisible Sun Goddess over a vast territory that spanned from southwest Virginia to the Atlantic Coast to southwestern Georgia. Suddenly, around 1375 AD all new principal mounds were oval again and oriented to the Summer Solstice.
Both the Jewish and Creek religions evolved from polytheism . . . Jewish monotheism is much younger than your preacher and certain politicians would have you believe. Statues of the mother/fertility goddess, Asherah, are commonly found in Jewish homes, dating from the time of Jesus Christ. At that time Judaism was a man’s religion, while women were little more than chattel in Jewish society, who could not even enter the hearts of the Temple and synagogues. Adoration of Asherah was the women’s religion.
Jesus was a revolutionary, who broke all the rules by carrying conversations with women and even having them as close friends. Biblical scholars have discovered ancient copies of the Torah, which portray Asherah as the “wife of God.” There are even passages in the modern Torah and Christian Bible in which transcribers forgot to leave out references to them being a “husband and wife” team. Because so many Jewish women were converting to Christianity, reforms were made to incorporate them into their traditional religion. This is when modern Judaism began taking form.
Archaeologists have discovered that just a few centuries before Jesus, many Jews were polytheistic and had statues of multiple gods in their homes. Thus, the Torah, as it exists today represents the ideals of Jewish scribes, living in exile in Mesopotamia, not actually what was going on in 500 BC!
Like the ancient Hebrew God, YHWH, Amana the Sun goddess lived atop a high mountain, except that the mountain was in Mexico, not Mount Sinai, Mount Zion or Jerusalem. However, Aparasi believed that Amana was the only god for all peoples and the creator of the universe. The sun was merely the ultimate symbol of Amana’s love for mankind, not the goddess herself. The Hebrews and the Jews, until after the Diaspora, conceived YHWH as their national god.
Basic beliefs and practices of the ancestors of the Creeks were:
- There was one god for all peoples and she created the universe.
- She loved all humans and wanted them to live happy, loving lives.
- There were two souls . . . one for the individual and one that was shared with believers. The individual soul would go to a place of eternal happiness, if they lived righteous lives. Evil souls would wander the earth for eternity, lost and without love. The communal soul was shared by all in a community and stayed at the site where people lived or had lived.
- Human and animal sacrifices were considered an abomination by Amana. No human or animal blood could be shed within one Creek mile (2.1 English miles) of a temple, shrine or sacred place.
- The only sacrifice permitted was assigned to the Apalachete elite. They were required to make fine, brightly colored clothing, which was placed on the altars of temples then distributed by the priests to the commoners. The Apalachete elite and commoners were different ethnic groups. The elite spoke a language, which mixed Panoan from Peru with Itza Maya from Mexico. The commoners spoke several languages that included Itzate (Hitchiti), Chickasaw, Kaushete (Cusata), Mvskoke (Muskogee), Uchee, Koasati, Apalachicola, Kansa, Otasee, and Southern Shawnee.
- Men and women were equal in all things. Too much male or female influence on a community would produce discord and unhappiness.
- Each day, if possible, humans should bathe in fast moving water, to wash away the sins of the previous day.
- Prior to entering the temple, a shrine or sacred space, each person must publicly announce their sins and forgive those, who sinned against them.
- Women should bathe twice a day in clean water during menstruation or immediately after birthing.
- During the third trimester of pregnancy and menstruation, women normally did no regular domestic chores such as cooking meals and working in the fields. Instead, they lived with other women in a special district of the town, while relatives fed their families. It was during these periods that women typically made pottery and wove cloth. Interestingly enough, the Samaritans of Israel today still maintain this custom, as do some other Jewish sects.
- Amana lived on a mountaintop in Mexico, but would occasionally appear at mountaintop temples or on large man-made temple mounds in North America.
- The Painted Buntings and Monarch Butterflies were the messengers of Amana, since they migrated back and forth from the Southeast and Mexico. Each autumn the Apalachete people would climb up to mountaintop or hilltop temples to submit their prayers to the semi-domesticated Painted Buntings, living in the temples. When the birds migrated south to Mexico, they would carry the prayers to the Sun Goddess.
De Rochefort did not mention the Yamacutah Shrine. The primary source of information on this sacred shrine in Jackson County, GA (NE Metro Atlanta) comes from late 18th century Georgia newspapers and two surveyors, Jordan Clark and Jacob Bankston, who traveled to nearby Athens, GA in 1785 to lay out Franklin College . . . which later became the University of Georgia. It was an oval shrine that had a long axis of 450 feet, defined by boulders and pits. Within the oval were several carved stone monuments, engraved with an unknown language, plus a stone statue of a man looking up into the sky on top of a low dome-shaped mound.
This location was considered the most sacred site of the Apalachete Creeks, Itsate Creeks, Uchee and Chickasaw, but was little known to the Muskogee Creeks along the Chattahoochee River. It commemorated a man, who appeared out of nowhere then taught the Georgia Creeks advanced math, surveying, a writing system and knowledge of the universe. One day, he disappeared into the sky at the spot, where the shrine was constructed.
The last worship service at the shrine was on November 24, 1787. A dense cloud of volcanic ash and smoke blocked out most of the sun’s light for several days. Even though the shrine was by then in the territory of Georgia, over 3,000 Creek men, women and children traveled to the shrine to pray to the Sun Goddess. Several of my ancestors were at that prayer service, even though by then, they were officially Methodist Christians. The Northeast Georgia Creeks thought that Amana was angry because the Muskogee Creeks over on the Chattahoochee River had given away the lands of other branches of the Creeks in Northeast and East Central Georgia. They prayed that the sun goddess again return the sunlight.
To many, the Yamacutah story seems far-fetched, if not delusional. However, there ARE some facts, which suggests that the Creeks did have contacts with extraterrestrials. French and English explorers were astounded that unlike all other indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Creeks were aware that the Earth was but one of the planets in the solar system and that there were millions of other stars in a vast university. These same Europeans, though, were amused that the Creeks believed that there were millions of other planets with intelligent beings living on them. Alone among indigenous peoples in the Americas, the Creeks had a 10-based numerical system with a zero. Twenty-based counting systems were the norm in the Americas. William Bartram wrote that the mathematical knowledge of Creek land surveyors in Northeast Georgia, where Yamacutah is located, vastly exceeded that of English land surveyors. In fact, the English land surveyors didn’t understand how the Creek surveying equipment worked! How could the Creeks possibly know advanced trigonometry unless they had pre-Columbian contacts with people or beings that did?
European Christianity comes to the Apalachete
Like all French, English, Spanish, Dutch and German maps during the Colonial Period, Charles de Rochefort placed Fort Caroline, the ill-fated French Huguenot colony, on the south bank of the Altamaha River in Georgia. He stated that ten of the French colonists were away from the fort, when it was massacred by the Spanish in October 1565. Six of the men were able to make their way up the Altamaha River to the Oconee River then traveled northward to the capital of the Kingdom of Apalache, which had been visited a year earlier by Lt. La Roche Ferrière. They were given asylum by the High King of Apalache, if they agreed to marry Apalache women. After they got a closer look at the beautiful Apalache women, that was no problem.
After learning the Apalache language, the Frenchmen became highly respected advisors to the High King. Eventually, he converted to French Protestant Christianity. That was really not much of a problem either since there was nothing in Christianity that conflicted particularly with his traditional beliefs. Christianity was a more detailed guideline for living a happy, spiritual life as desired by the Sun Goddess. The Frenchmen apparently didn’t object to God being a woman.
Most of the Apalachete elite soon also converted to the French Protestant version Christianity, but most of the commoners did not. This caused the Apalache Kingdom to unravel. The commoners returned to their traditional religions, while the sun goddess priests ceased to maintain their temples. By the time, that Richard Briggstock visited Apalache in 1653, the High King had lost his political authority outside the Province of Apalache. Elsewhere, he was viewed primarily as a regional religious leader, who settled differences between former provinces of his realm. Nevertheless, the High King still had over 7,000 soldiers at his command within two days walk from the capital.
The Apalachete set up a covert trade with the new Spanish colony of Santa Elena (Port Royal Sound, SC) around 1570. The Europeans traded European metal items for gold and precious stones. Most likely, the participants were the teenage and French Catholic survivors of Fort Caroline, who had been placed in Santa Elena. Most traders were only allowed to enter the southern edge of the Georgia Mountains. Those who attempted to reach the mountainside town of Copal (probably Track Rock Gap) were killed. Some traders were allowed to enter Copal in order to obtain diamonds.
- Around 1585, the High King of Apalache began allowing Jewish refugees to settle in the underpopulated northern edge of his kingdom (SW Virginia, NE Tennessee, western North Carolina, higher Georgia Mountains). The tree ring dates for mining timbers in that region run from 1585 to 1615).
- Around 1600, Spanish officials in St. Augustine heard reports of a band of over 100 Caucasian horsemen patrolling the southern boundary of the Apalache Kingdom. This band probably became the Bohurans, a ferocious,
- In 1622, the High King of Apalache allowed about 150 colonists from England to settle in Northeast Georgia. They had originally planned to settle near Jamestown, but arrived just as there was a smallpox epidemic and war with the Powhatan Confederacy. All single adults were required to marry Apalache spouses. The High King allowed the colonists to build an Anglican chapel in their community. Charles de Rochefort did not provide any geographical information, which enables one to pinpoint the colony’s location.
- In 1646, Governor Benito Ruíz de Salazar Vallecilla of La Florida was allowed by the Apalache to build a fortified trading post and small mission in the Nacoochee Valley. He ordered the construction of a pack mule road from St. Augustine to the Nacoochee Valley, which was later extended to the Tennessee River . . . now being called the Unicoi Trail. Apparently, there were already Spanish-speaking gold miners in the region, but they were most likely mixed-blood descendants of Sephardic Jewish men and Apalache women.
- 1653 – Richard Briggstock visited the Spanish trading post and mission in the Nacoochee Valley, then went on to the Franklin, NC area, where he visited with Spanish-speaking gem miners. He stated that some mixed-blood Apalache converted to Catholicism, but most stayed loyal to a religion that mixed the traditional Apalache monotheism with French Protestantism.
- 1693 – Governor James Moore encountered several Jewish miners in what is now Cherokee County, NC. Later that year, he led a company of Redcoat Dragoons to the Nacoochee, where they observed many Spanish gold-miners smelting gold ore. The year 1693, was the last year that the capital of the Apalache was shown to be in the Nacoochee Valley.
How the founding of Georgia affected Creek religion and politics
The Creeks were hostile to the planters in South Carolina because they owned Native American slaves, many of whom were Creeks and Uchees from the Creek Nation. However, Georgia’s colonial leaders forbade slavery for its first 20 years and never allowed Native American slaves. This fact, in addition to the genuine affection between James Edward Oglethorpe and several Creek leaders resulted in several decades of warm relationships between the two peoples. Each considered the other business partners and military allies.
Both the Creek and British leaders encouraged intermarriage between their peoples as the best way to insure long term good relations. As a result, there were situations such as the fact that Creek chief William McIntosh was the first cousin of Governor George Troup during the period when the Creeks ceded their last lands in Georgia.
More importantly for the focus of this article, there were many mixed blood families on the original Georgia frontier. Augusta, GA was founded in 1746 as a community where Creeks and Uchees would “feel at home.” Virtually all the traders based in Augusta, GA took Creek, Chickasaw or Uchee wives as a means of cementing good relations with their Indian customers. It was also not unusual for English and Scottish widows to marry Creek men because they were better providers on the frontier and more skilled at farming. The result was a large percentage of mixed blood families becoming Christians, not because of the efforts of missionaries, but because of positive relations with Christians.
- That fact had a profound effect on the future of the Creek People. Some of the most prominent Creek families in Oklahoma originated as Uchee, Apalachete or Itsate Creeks along the Savannah River. These include the Barnard, Berry, Beaver, Berryhill, Perry, Perrryman, Roberts, Sizemore and Williams Families. Tiger Bone, the famous leader of the Creek Lighthorse during the Antebellum Period was descended from Savannah River Uchee. The Christian Creeks of eastern Georgia were pro-American, while the leaders of the faction that would become the Red Sticks were often descended from intermarriage with the French and Spanish . . . or else were Upper Creek fullbloods. This set the stage for many decades of open hostility in Oklahoma.
- In 1734, Protestant refugees from the Salzburg region of Austria settled a few miles north of Savannah. They established good relations with the Uchee villages nearby. It is claimed that most of these Uchee became Christians.
- In 1735, John Wesley was initially appointed missionary to the Creek Indians, while his brother, Charles, was appointed, agent to all Indian tribes in Georgia. However, both proved inept for their assigned jobs, so James Oglethorpe soon found them jobs that kept them in or near Savannah. The Creeks did not respond well to the formal liturgy of the Church of England, while Charles was condescending in his relations with Presbyterian, Lutheran and Jewish congregations. With nothing to do, Charles Wesley, began writing some of the most famous Christian hymns of all time in Savannah. “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” was composed in Savannah. A century later, James Lord Pierpoint would compose “Jingle Bells” in that same Savannah neighborhood.
- My mother’s family had a tradition that they became Christians as a result of John Wesley’s preaching. This may be the case, but is unlikely. There is no evidence that the Wesley brothers converted a single Creek or Uchee. Most of the Palachicola Creeks and Uchees moved up the Savannah River to the region between Augusta and present-day Elberton after a smallpox epidemic in 1752. It is true that her family were some of the earliest Methodists in Elbert County. However, the formation of the Methodist Church as a separate denomination occurred several decades after the Wesley Brothers were in Georgia.
- In 1735, the Moravians began construction of a school for Creek children on a large mound at Irene Island. Mary Musgrove built a thriving trading post nearby. The Creeks liked the Moravians, but the Moravians could not get along with each other. They lived in a tightly packed commune, which created constant romantic dramas among the single and married adults. Very few Creeks became Moravians, because the Moravians were preoccupied with squabbles over who slept with whom.
Late 1700s and early 1800s
Christian Creek families were not inclined to move farther west in Georgia, when their lands were ceded by the Muskogee-Creek leaders. They were primarily Itsate, Apalachete and Uchee, whose Native tongues were different than Muskogee. Very few were Muskogee Creeks and they had family ties with their white neighbors. In fact, until the 1790s, more people in Georgia spoke Itsate (Hitchiti) than either English or Muskogee. It is well documented that Itsate Creek villages in Northeast Georgia invited white families to live amongst them after the American Revolution. Having white neighbors was the best possible protection from raids by hostile Upper Creeks and Chickamauga Cherokees. Most intentionally intermarried with their white neighbors and they “stayed put” after tribal owned lands were ceded.
On the other hand, when missionaries sought to convert Creeks in Alabama and southwest Georgia to Christianity, they did not experience much success. The 24 million acres, forcibly ceded to the United States in the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814, caused a lingering hatred of all things white among the western Creeks. First of all, the Creeks were not ignorant, pagan savages as the naïve public believed. They did not conjure demons from fires and springs like the Cherokees, but had an ancient monotheistic religion. Most of the missionaries were so ignorant of the people, whom they were trying to convert that they didn’t know this.
The Creek Nation in present day Oklahoma became a land of haves and have-nots. The Christian, usually mixed blood, families prospered on their farms and plantations. . . living little different than white families. Any attempts to absorb Anglo-American culture by the Redstick villages that were deported to the Indian Territory were often met with brutal repression by traditional leaders. Families were whipped, driven out of their homes or even killed for becoming Christians.
It took many years for Christian missionaries to have a significant impact on the Oklahoma Creeks. They were most receptive to denominations with little liturgy, like the Methodists and Baptists. When the Methodists became more liturgical, Native American Methodist Churches were formed. Many of the long-established churches in rural areas of the Creek Nation are now dying. Only the very elderly attend. Younger families either attend more dynamic congregations with mixed membership or else have dropped out of Christianity altogether. What the future holds in anyone’s guess.
Latest posts by Richard Thornton (see all)
- The Judaculla Rock – Curry Family Connection - May 19, 2019
- Nebraska Native gathering invites folks from the Southeast - May 17, 2019
- How to subscribe to the new Apalache Research website - May 17, 2019
- Introducing . . . The Americas Revealed website - May 14, 2019
- The linguistic ties between Europe and the Americas that we can’t explain - May 13, 2019