- Historic Sites
The Chief Of State And The Chief
In the snarled disputes over the Yazoo land claims in 1790 George Washington and an educated Creek chieftain turned out to be the diplomatic kingpins
October 1975 | Volume 26, Issue 6
But Alexander McGillivray knew better than anyone that the stalemate could not last indefinitely. The suggestion is unmistakable that he did not know which power on his borders held the key to Creek happiness and order. He had dreams of an Indian confederacy including both southern and northern tribes to hold back the Americans from further encroachments, plans the Spanish were encouraging. Yet he still showed visitors a pair of golden epaulets given to him by Washington, whom he described as “my political and adopted father.” In his uncertainty he saw all the signs of ‘crumbling authority. His dilemma was made the more excruciating by his shattered health. Had it not been for that, he might yet have recovered his position.
In January, 1793, he decided to visit a friend at Pensacola. By the time he arrived, he was very ill. At eleven o’clock on the evening of February 17, 1793, Alexander McGillivray died, a despondent and afflicted man. He was buried in the sands of Pensacola, far from the Coosa and his beloved Hickory Ground.
The strange, brilliant enigma, the greatest diplomat produced by the native American tribes, was dead. In faraway England the London Gentleman’s, Magazine noted his passing in space usually reserved for the obituaries of lords and dignitaries of state. President Washington learned of his death from a traveller in Baltimore, and when he returned to Mount Vernon, he wrote to Knox that “advice had been received and generally believed that our friend McGillivray was dead.” Two generations later that statement moved a Georgia historian to declare: “When we remember … how chary Washington was of praise, and how few and chosen were the men to whom he ever applied the sympathetic phrase of friend, this simple spontaneous testimonial … goes to the heart and arrests the mind by its high value and touching significance.”
The Creeks recognized their loss but were unable to replace Alexander McGillivray. Plans for an Indian alliance among the southern tribes crumbled, Spain’s position was weakened even more, and Indian affairs regressed to a more primitive level. In time both the Creeks and the Spaniards would succumb to the westward expansion of the United States. Within two years the Spanish recognized the American claim to the Yazoo lands. The Creeks resisted until 1814, when their power was broken at Horseshoe Bend on the Tallapoosa River, not far from where Marinus Wille met McGillivray, and the last traces of the Indian past vanished into plowed furrow and pine woodland.