Published on December 30, 2010 by John
Born August 15, 1754, Granville (now Warren) County
Died June 6, 1816, Crawford County, Georgia
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Colonel Hawkins is dead!
The cry was heard throughout Georgia, and deeply saddened the state. Generally recognized as the Creek Indian “agent,” Benjamin Hawkins also held the title of General Superintendent of all tribes south of the Ohio River. During the course of his 21 years in these positions he would oversee the longest period of peace with the Creek, only to watch his lifetime of work destroyed by a faction of this Indian Nation known as the “Red Sticks” during the War of 1812.
At the start of the American Revolution, Benjamin Hawkins was a student at College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). Apt at multiple languages he was selected by George Washington to act as staff interpreter because of the large French contingent serving in the Continental Army at the time before becoming an international procurement officer for Washington.
The story of Benjamin Hawkins relationship with the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians goes back to just after the Revolution, when America was working on solidifying its hold on the new nation. Threats not only from abroad, but internally as well, forced the fledgling nation to negotiate treaties with the tribes on the western frontier.
At the time Hawkins was U. S. Representative from the state of North Carolina joined other well known Southeastern American leaders in negotiating a major treaty with the Creek and Cherokee at the South Carolina city of Hopewell. Tensions between settlers and both tribes had been rising following the land cessions of 1782-1783.
Following that treaty John Siever formed the state of Franklin from land previously claimed by North Carolina but never ceded by the Indian tribes. Siever, known as Nolichucky Jack to his friends, was as brutal to the Cherokee and Creek as they were to him, but Siever knew to frame his attacks as responses to incursion or wrongs.
The states involved sent Hawkins, Andrew Pickens (South Carolina), Joseph Martin (Georgia) and Lachlin McIntosh (Continental representative, Georgia) to negotiate a treaty to end the fighting. Signed in November, 1785, A Treaty With the Cherokee (the technical name of the Treaty of Hopewell) created the first rift between the Cherokee Nation and the Chickamauga Cherokee that would not end until the Chickamauga went West following the Revolt of the Young Chiefs.
While the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaws quickly agreed to the terms, the Creek held out until George Washington got involved and signed the “Treaty of New York” with Alexander MacGillivrey in 1790. Washington depended on advice from his friend Hawkins during the negotiations.
Although closely involved with the Indian Nations on our western border while U. S. Senator, it was after the completion of his term in 1795 that Colonel Hawkins begin his career as United States Agent to the Creek Nation. He was Superintendent for all Indians south of the Ohio, but his main area of responsibility included almost all of the land now considered to be south and west Georgia and eastern Alabama. Recently, much of this frontier in Georgia had been embroiled in a war between settlers and Indians, so the job bore a great responsibility.
From his Agency on the Flint River, where he maintained a large plantation and raised pigs he became friends with the Creek Chiefs and took a Creek woman as a common-law wife. He mechanically churned milk by the barrel, which impressed the chiefs. His benevolence with the food he raised save whole villages from time to time. It is said that his brand was so widely respected that he never lost a pig or cow.
Hawkins’ education gave him something a majority of Georgians did not have — the ability to read and write. His letters include some of the best existing descriptions of the Creek Indian culture. From 1795 until 1803 the Creek Indian Agent also maintained the “Hawkins manuscripts,” a diary of sorts detailing day to day life and his dealings with the Creek. The 11-volume set is in the Georgia State Historical Society. The first volume was published as “Sketches of the Creek Country.” James Mooney used Hawkins work extensively in various volumes.
As the U. S. Agent Hawkins oversaw the longest era of peace with the Creek Confederacy. Only during the so-called Creek Wars (1812-1814), when a faction of the Creek known as the “Red Sticks” broke from the Nation did relations suffer. Hawkins foresaw the coming of the war and urged the Creek leaders to reject Tecumseh, a Shawnee warrior who tried to unite many Nations against the United States.
While other tribes in the Southeast rejected the incendiary remarks of Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet, they found friends in the Creek Nation. It was at Tuckabatchee, the capital of the Creek Nation, that Tecumseh laid out his plan on the last day of September 1811. For 10 days the Shawnee chief sent the message “Today is the day I will speak,” then, late in the day another message would arrive saying that it was too late. It is generally assumed that this ruse was to get Hawkins to leave. However, when Tecumseh did speak on September 30th Hawkins was there. The Indian Agent would later write that Tecumseh spoke thinly veiled words of war.
Whether it was the words of Tecumseh, or the words of the British agents who roamed the Creek Nation, or dissidents within the tribe it is not known who to blame for the conflict, however, by May, 1812, a civil war existed in the nation. To calm the settlers, Hawkins personally delivered the Red Sticks that attacked and murdered a frontier family living near Duck River. However, Hawkins’ action did little to soothe neither these squatters nor travelers on the Federal Highway through the Creek Nation.
Over the next year Hawkins worked diligently to prevent the war, however, the Red Sticks were well aware of the deterioration in British-American relations and that Britain won some early victories in the War of 1812. They were also aware that both Georgia and Tennessee had massed an army of irregulars to protect their western frontier. During the summer of 1813 the Red Sticks and these irregulars met at Burnt Corn Creek, after the whites had ransacked a Creek village, killing women and children. The Creek faction attacked and destroyed Fort Mims in retaliation.
In less than a year Andrew Jackson would reduce the Red Sticks from a mighty force to a few warriors. Then he told Benjamin Hawkins to call a meeting of all the Chiefs at Fort Jackson on August 1, 1814. It was clear to Hawkins that Jackson intended to take retribution not only from the Red Sticks, but the entire Creek Nation. An aging Hawkins sat in the council, as Jackson demanded the surrender of more than 2 million acres of land from the Creek Chiefs, not just the Red Sticks. There was nothing Hawkins could do.
Two years after the signing of the treaty, Benjamin Hawkins died at the site known as Old Agency. On his deathbed he married the Creek woman who had been his common-law wife.