(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)
McGillivray is made commissary for the king of Spain
In 1784, McGillivray and the war chiefs of the Creek Nation went down to Mobile, in order to make a treaty34 with the governor of Louisiana, M. Mirau, and the intendant M. Navarre, of whom I have spoken above, and both of whom went also for this purpose to Mobile. It was stipulated in this treaty that the Spanish government would furnish to the Creek Nation arms and munitions as often as it would need them to make war on its enemies. The two Spanish commissioners then offered McGillivray the official title of commissary-general resident for the king of Spain to the Indians, which he accepted with a view to cementing more closely the friendship which was established by the treaty, between the two nations. They offered me at the same time the position of assistant commissary, which I refused, and which I accepted only when the baron de Carondellet came to take over, in the name of the king, the position of governor-general of Louisiana and of the Floridas. I filled this position honorably, and to the satisfaction of the Creeks and of the Spanish government. I shall tell later the reasons which led me to give it up.
When peace had been made with Spain, and the treaty concluded, we returned to the nation; but we had not been there very long when we were forced to declare war on the Anglo-Americans. Here are the causes which brought it on. Two former subordinate chiefs who had been made Mekos,* one of whom was named Tanquim, and the other Falquim which mean the Tame King, and the Fat King being in Georgia, some rich men of that region entertained them in their homes, and intentionally made them drunk so that they could take advantage of their intoxication, believing them to be powerful kings among the savages.
* The Creeks call Mekos old men (elders) responsible, in time of peace, for order at home: this word means king. I shall speak of it at greater length in my second part.
They drew up in writing a donation of extensive territory; and when the intoxication of the two mekos had worn off, the Georgians showed them this written document, while making them believe that it had been dictated by them. The latter protested against such an assertion, saying that they had no right to give, nor even to sell this land; that if the Georgians wanted to have some, they should address themselves to all the chiefs of the nation in assembly; that all that they could do by themselves was useless, and refused to ratify this gift by putting their usual mark to it.
The Americans seeing that they could obtain nothing by promises, resolved to have it by force; they had several armed men come in who threatened the two mekos with death, if they did not comply to the request which was made to them. The latter seeing themselves maltreated and in danger of losing their lives, if they offered resistance, did what was demanded of them; and as soon as they were released, they came to give an account to the chiefs of the Creek Nation of the ill treatment and brutality that the Anglo-Americans in Georgia had made them suffer.
It was in order to prevent them from taking possession of these lands that the nation declared a war on them which cost them dearly, and which worried them extremely.
These lands are situated between the Aukichet and the Aukony rivers, and cover an area of twenty leagues from east to west, and eighty leagues from north to south.
I assembled my warriors, and marched immediately toward their frontier. All my attempts against them were successful, and they no longer dared to come out against us. Since McGillivray was known as the supreme chief, the Americans believed that it was he who was directing the military operations. All that made a great reputation for him; his name was in all the gazettes of the United States; both of us laughed a great deal at the excessive and obsequious praise he received for his great achievements. I recall a passage from a gazette of the time, where it is stated: "With what skill he directs this unfortunate war against us; if it were possible to win him over and have him to act in our interest, we would be fortunate, because the other Indians would no longer dare make war on us; let us try to make peace with him."
The Anglo-Americans were far from believing that it was a Frenchman who was commanding the Creek army, and that McGillivray, who was relying entirely on my devotion and friendship, was spending his time very quietly at home: they learned about that afterwards.
I am going to relate a little anecdote which will reveal how very unwarlike this estimable man was; I shall speak of it only because he used to tell it himself to all his friends, and would laugh at it if he were still living.
I induced him one day to come to my camp to witness some operations of the army; while he was there, we had a rather hot skirmish with the Anglo-Americans, before the town of Augusta. I was with Colonel Brown, who was commanding an English detachment which was joined by the savages that I had under my command. It was this same Brown who some time previously had been ill-treated by the Americans, who after stripping all his clothes from his body soaked him from head to foot in a large barrel of tar and then rolled him in feathers; they drove him out in that condition, in which he had to remain for several days, fearing to jeopardize the safety of his friends, if he sought shelter in their homes. This event almost cost him his life, and it was in order to avenge himself for this treatment, that he placed himself at the head of the Royalists. From the start of the battle, McGillivray hid in the bushes, where he remained until nightfall. Winter was approaching, and it was beginning to be cold. As we usually fought naked and painted our bodies with different colors, he was obliged, upon coming to the camp, to assume this attire, so that he was extremely cold, and he could not protect himself from it until the fight was over; for then he left his hiding place and went courageously on the battlefield and stripped a dead Anglo-American of his clothes and covered himself with his cloak. He rejoined me three days later, and told me that he did not like to witness such affairs, that he would never find himself in such a situation again. Indeed, he returned home immediately. Since then we have often laughed together at his terror, and at the cloak of the Anglo-American.
When one has as much administrative knowledge and as noble a heart as Alexander McGillivray had, one does not need military abilities to be a great man.
If I still had the sweet satisfaction of counting him among the number of my friends, I would find in him a zealous protector in the service of the French government, and all the absurdities which are spread about concerning me, in order to lower me in its opinion, would disappear before the language of truth.
When I arrived in the Creek Nation, the savages were in the habit of waging war against each other, and consequently made the attempts of their enemies against them easier. I proposed in a grand war council of the nation to strike at the root of this evil, and to form a general alliance between the different savage nations of that part of the continent. With this object in view, I pointed out to all the assembled chiefs the unbounded ambition of the Anglo-Americans, who were encroaching each day on the lands of the Creeks, and who would soon be in a position to crush them, if the savages continued to wage war against each other. I told them that all the red men ought to unite as brothers against the white men their common enemy. The assembly was quite sensible of the truth of my remarks, and sent immediately, to all the neighboring tribes, the order to the chiefs to meet three months later at an appointed place on the frontier of the Creek Nation, to hold a council. It was in 1785 that this meeting took place: it was decided there that each great chief would inform the subordinate chiefs of the nations which bordered upon them, of the league, which had just been assented to, by inviting them to take part in it. During that same year, all the savage tribes of North America leagued together, and the following year, they sent chiefs to the grand council of the Creeks, which was the center of the league, in order to receive instructions relative to how they must conduct themselves during the year.
This union often made the Americans tremble, for they had experienced more than once how fatal the enmity of the Creek Nation could be to them, and had often been defeated by these savages. One can recall that twelve or fifteen years ago, the Americans stated in their newspapers that they could no longer hold out against the savages who were making continual raids into their territory. At this time, the name alone of McGillivray made them tremble; consequently, they put a price on his head several times; but it was not easy to go into his country and carry him off. They knew that the esteem and reputation he enjoyed among the savages were based on the confidence they had in him. They resolved to destroy their confidence in him; and here are the means they used to succeed in doing it.
In 1790, Washington, president of the United States, sent two American colonels to call on McGillivray to invite him to go to New York. I was away at the time of the arrival of these ambassadors; McGillivray sent a savage immediately to inform me that he was getting ready to accede to the wishes of General Washington. I was at Pantsakola, engaged in having distributed among the savages gifts that the king of Spain usually gives them every year. I answered McGillivray by the same courier, requesting him not to leave before my return, giving him to understand that it was necessary that I talk with him about the reasons for his trip. He was quite sensible of the fairness of my request, and had decided to wait for me, when a man by the name of Yocornel, an American by birth, and his interpreter of the savage tongue, warned the two envoys that if they waited for the return of the tastanegy, the brother-in-law of McGillivray, their trip would be useless; that the latter (tastanegy) would not let him leave. They profited by this advice, and urged McGillivray so much under different pretexts that they induced him to set out with twenty-eight subordinate chiefs three days before my arrival.
I was afraid of his weakness, and I had gathered together four thousand warriors to go to meet him on his return to the frontier, but I did not carry out this plan. My fears were well founded; McGillivray had made a treaty with General Washington by which he ceded to the latter a part of the lands to the east of the Aukony River, precisely the same lands that the Georgians had wanted to secure for themselves by main force from the two mekos of whom I have already spoken, and for which we waged a terrible war against these Anglo-Americans.
This treaty was very displeasing to the savage chiefs and they refused to accede to it. Their refusal prevented the Americans from taking these lands. It is only since my return to France that they have dared to take possession of them; which was not difficult for them because I had forbidden my savages to make war upon them during my absence, which I did not think would be so long.
He had, furthermore, accepted, in the service of the Americans, the rank of general that the president had given him through gratitude. Although he loved me a great deal, he feared me even more when he knew he had committed an act of weakness so that, on his return, which was fully six months later, he was very embarrassed and hesitant about telling me what he and the president of the United States had done. He was at that time accompanied by an American officer, by the name of Souanne, who, I believe, is at present in Paris, and about whom I shall say a word presently. He began by showing me the gifts that the president sent me, along with the order to give me a commission as general if I cared to have it. I sent everything back thanking General Washington for the offer that he was kind enough to make me; and pointing out to him that I could not be in the service of the Americans, and of the Spaniards and of the Indians at the same time, and that I was satisfied with the latter and with the title of commissary of the king of Spain.
Some time later, an officer arrived who was sent by Washington, and instructed to deliver to McGillivray the salary, which went with his rank of general; and, in addition, a thousand piasters for me, although I had not accepted the commission that he had offered me. All of it was in piasters loaded on horses, and arranged in such a way that while going through the town of Okfoski one of the sacks broke open right in the center of the town at the place where the savages were. The officer knowing full well the effects that it would have upon them, did not fail to tell them that all this money was for McGillivray.
This perfidy, that might be expected indeed of the Anglo-Americans, almost cost McGillivray his life; for the savages, very ill disposed toward him because of the treaty he had made with Washington, and the rank he had accepted, flew into a great rage, and spread word throughout the nation that their supreme chief was a traitor, and several chiefs assembled to go kill him. I was warned of it in sufficient time to save his life by promising the chiefs that I was going to inquire into the affair. I made him send his commission back to Washington, as I had sent mine back; but the savages were no less angry with him, because of the treaty, and, in a second meeting that they held, they would have certainly killed him if I had not made him go to a house that he had in Mobile until the minds became calmer. Sometime later, he went to Pantsakola, where he died in Panton's home, as I have previously stated, and without having been able to have his treaty ratified by the chiefs of the savages.
General Washington, upon appointing McGillivray general in the service of the United States, had at the same time made him a present of a pair of very handsome epaulets, which he said had been sent to him by the French court and delivered by the Marquis de Lafayette.
McGillivray gave them to me shortly before his death; they are the ones that I brought back to France, and which I used for a long time in Paris. As they were very long and of a shape different from those worn at that time, I exchanged them in order to have some which were more modern, such as they are worn today.
I have said that on his return from New York, McGillivray was accompanied by an American captain by the name of Souanne. The reader will not be displeased if I go into some details about this man, and about the motive which induced Washington to send him to the Creek Nation.
General Washington knew very well that the treaty he had just made with McGillivray could be carried out only if the chiefs of the nation and the old men were to ratify it. He sent Captain Souanne to wait for this ratification, and to do all that he could to persuade them to give it. He remained six months without obtaining anything; he used to come very often to my house; we would go hunting together, be away sometimes for an entire week. I often had the opportunity to notice how much this Mr. Souanne desired to own good lands: every time that we traveled across any of them, he would beg me to give them to him. His observations in this connection often made both of us laugh. He would have been much less dubious of a gift coming from me than of one given him by McGillivray; for since he was not lacking in intelligence, he had easily perceived the authority that I had over the savages, and the confidence that they had in me. He returned to New York at the end of six months, having obtained neither the lands he requested of me, nor the ratification that he was waiting to obtain. The Americans, seeing that they could not get possession of these lands, decided to try to sell them; and this is what they did to accomplish it.
There was formed in Philadelphia and in Virginia a company called The Yazau Company which offered for sale all lands known as Yazau Lands, whose name it later changed to Sciotot Lands. It published a brochure in which it offered considerable benefits to the buyers of these lands; and in order to give itself some semblance of truth, it had taken care to announce that McGillivray had interest in this sale as a stockholder; which displeased him a great deal. He disapproved very much of the fact that the Americans had taken the liberty to use his name in order to deceive in this way the public. This was one of the reasons which determined him to return his commission as general to President Washington, to whom he complained bitterly about the self-styled company with which his name was associated. I owe it to McGillivray's memory to declare that he never took any part in all that which was rumored about the Sciotot Lands, and even less part in such a preposterous company, since he would have been able to sell all those lands for the benefit of the Creek Nation without the Americans having any part in the sale.*
* Everybody knows how much rumor was caused, at different times, in Paris and in several other French cities by the sale of the Sciotot Lands.
I know that there is at present in Paris a Mr. Souanne, extremely well received by the Anglo-American ambassadors. Since I have not had the opportunity to meet him, I do not know if it is about him that I am speaking; I would need only a moment to recognize him; and, if it is really he, he must remember the circumstances of which I have just spoken.
When the nation was at peace, I took advantage of it to satisfy the desire I had to know the neighboring nations, as well as the various regions of the North American continent. I took along some warriors with me for this purpose, to guide me on my journeys as well as for my personal safety. Here is a journey I made shortly before coming back to France.
I went to visit the Iroquois, the Hurons, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Niagara Falls; all of which makes a distance of 500 leagues. I proceeded as far as Lake Superior, two hundred leagues from Niagara Falls; I came back by way of the Lake of the Woods in the Illinois territory, a distance of three hundred and fifty leagues. From this territory, I followed the right bank of the Mississippi to return to New Orleans; which makes a distance of five hundred leagues, and from New Orleans to the Creek Nation, two hundred leagues; which makes a total of seventeen hundred and fifty leagues for the entire journey. Then I visited the Vincennes post, which belongs today to the Americans, who have changed its name to Vincent; it is situated on the Owabache River, which flows into the Ohio, which itself flows into the Mississippi near New Madrid, where the Acadians are now, as I have previously said. The inhabitants are French Creoles, who have married Indian women of the Owabaches and of the Miames tribes. They have planted vineyards whose wine is worthless. I went likewise into the country of the Ozages and I came back through beautiful prairies to the Ecors-a-Margot near the River of the Wolves on the banks of which lives a part of the Cat Nation or Owabenaki.
Twelve years ago I had one of the latter savages hanged for murdering an American colonel and his son.
When I was traveling in this manner with my warriors, we lived most often by hunting. When we needed to restock our supplies, I would have my detachment pitch camp, and one part of it would go hunting, while the other prepared the fires needed for cooking the raw meat. I do now know why it is believed that these savages eat uncooked meat. I can affirm that they eat it more thoroughly cooked than in any country in Europe. The only difference there is with regard to this is that they often eat it without bread; but this is the result of circumstances rather than their natural taste. When their meat is cooked they like very much to dip it in bear grease or oil. They often have some of this grease with them; they put it in bamboo canes that they prepare to hold it.
I found on the banks of the Ohio, or Belle Riviere, a kind of vegetable, whose root and leaves are similar to those of the carrot; it is a rather subtle poison. One day I came upon seven of those men who are called in that country "Coureurs de bois," because they have no habitation, and because they are continually in the forests; there were six of them who had just died from eating some of this carrot, and the seventh, who was still living, was racked with pain, although he declared that he had hardly tasted it. I had him carried to the place where we were encamped, and there I wanted to make him take some bear oil, but he could not swallow any of it; he was near death, when it occurred to me to extract some juice of the plantain and to make him take it. He had no sooner drunk this liquid when he felt relief. I made him take some of it several times and in a very few days he had completely recovered. He returned to the Vincennes post to announce the death of his companions.
There is found in the Ohio River a turtle without a shell, whose skin is as soft as linen; its flesh is very tender and has an excellent flavor. There is also a large quantity of excellent fish in this river. I discovered in its vicinity rather extensive coal and lead mines; the savages make use of the latter.
I often made these same journeys during the twenty years that I lived among the savages; and although I made them only for my personal satisfaction, and not with the intention of giving an account of them to the public, I was nonetheless in a position to become acquainted with the character of the nations that I visited, the products of their lands, the manner of living on good terms with them, and of winning their confidenceósomething not easy to do.
I had been nearly twenty years in the Creek Nation, when, at the beginning of the French Revolution, Spain declared war on France. I became acquainted with this revolution, through the gazettes of the United States; but the accounts they gave of it were so varied and so contradictory that I could not be sure of anything. When I was informed of Spain's declaration of war, I feared that if the war were to spread as far as the colonies, I might be obliged, in my capacity of commissary of the king of Spain, to give him some assistance against the French. In order not to be driven to this extremity, and not to betray the confidence of the king of Spain, I tendered my resignation to the Spanish government setting forth to it that being a Frenchman made it impossible for me to remain in its service. I requested it, at the same time, to have forwarded to me a passport so that I could go to England, fearing a refusal if I had asked for one to France. I also asked for a certificate which would attest to the loyalty of my conduct toward the Spanish government. I waited for these papers for eighteen months; they were finally sent to me by the governor of Louisiana, the baron de Carondelet. The following is a copy of the letter that he wrote me for this purpose.
"New Orleans, January 14, 1795.
"I received, sir, the various letters that you addressed to me, etc.... consequently, I am sending you the passport that you requested of me, as well as a certificate which sets forth your services in detail and with which I hope you will be pleased. Although it is no longer as easy as formerly to recompense and to favor the persons who are of service to His Majesty, I have arranged to have you receive three hundred piasters as a gratuity for your voyage which I hope will be a very pleasant one. Be careful not to be encountered by some corsair who, taking you for an emigre, might ill-treat you.
"I have the honor of being very sincerely, sir, your very humble and very obedient servant,
"Le baron de Carondelet
"P.S. If I did not answer your previous letters, it was because I knew that you were away from ."
My passport, my commission of chief of the savages, and the certificate, are deposited in Paris in the offices of the minister of foreign affairs.
During the interval between the time when I had made the request for my passport and when I had obtained it, I had prepared a memorandum of the advantages which could follow for France, from having Louisiana ceded to her by the Spaniards, who were deriving little benefit from it, because they are not loved by the Indians. I offered the alliance of the Creeks, the most powerful savage nation of North America, and which, by reason of this fact, impelled the alliance of all the other tribes. I asked France for only a few men and no money, and I assured success.
When I had completed my report, I had a ship fitted out at my expense, at a cost of 18,500 francs, and on which I went to Philadelphia to see the French ambassador, Citizen Fauchet, today prefect of War. I informed him of the reason for my trip; he liked my plans and gave me the assurance that they would be acceptable to the French government.
He urged me strongly to go to France, gave me a passport, and offered me my passage at the government's expense on a vessel which was ready to set sail for Bordeaux. I accepted the passage he offered me, but I did not want the cost to be borne by the government; I therefore paid for it. I considered such a sacrifice very small, if it were to work out to the interest of my native land. It was indeed small in comparison with those I had just made through my desire to serve her; since I was voluntarily giving up a position as commissioner of the king of Spain, which brought me in an income of 3,500 piasters a year, which I did not even have the time to spend; and the position of great war chief of a nation whose esteem and confidence I had been able to merit, and which was disposed to do anything for me. In truth, I did not leave it without making it acquainted with my plans, and without assuring it that I would return when I had obtained a French alliance favorable to it.
I arrived therefore in Paris with the recommendations of the ambassador Fauchet, on July 27, 1795. I presented myself to Citizen Cambaceres, today one of the consuls, and at that time president of the Committee of Public Safety. He received me with friendliness, and sent me to Citizen Treilhard, at that time secretary, who informed me that they could not accede to my request, because at this very time they were negotiating a peace treaty with Spain, and that I must wait until this treaty was made in order that the government might be able to know itself what decision it would have to make. In the year 4, that is to say, about six months later, Citizen Charles Lacroix, at that time foreign minister, introduced me to the Directoire which accepted my plans, and ordered the minister of marine and the foreign minister to concern themselves with the means of obtaining the retrocession of Louisiana from the court of Spain. When I was confident of the success of my plan, I expressed to the government my desire to go back to America, because I had no means of making a living in France.
The Directoire replied that it was necessary that I remain in France until the time when the government could carry out the plans that I had proposed; and to enable me to stay there, it passed a decree on March 26, 1796, by which it conferred upon me the rank of brigadier-general and gave me the pay of this rank, to be enjoyed both in France and in the colonies. I have this decree in my possession; I enjoyed the benefit of its provisions until September 23, 1800.
For seven years, I have been waiting, with all the confidence that the French government should inspire for the fulfilment of promises which were made to me in its name. As long as I knew that it was unavoidably prevented from carrying them out, I made no complaints to it; but today when it is preparing to take possession of Louisiana, and is putting into execution the plan that I submitted to it, and for which alone I came to France, I should believe that I was neglecting the interests of my country, and those of the savages on whose behalf I came, and my honor even, if I did not now recall to the government the promises it made me. I have too much confidence in its fairness not to believe that it will be good enough to brush aside, for this moment, my enemies who are even more its own enemies, in order to allow my complaints to come before it.
I must say, with all the frankness of my soul, that if the oblivion into which I seem to have fallen at present, hurt only my personal interests, I would pay very little attention to it; but I am too well acquainted with the nature of my enemies, not to know how far they carry their designs. I have already told how much the Anglo-Americans feared the Creek Nation; I have also said that their unbounded ambition desired nothing less than establishing their rule over all the American continent, and driving from it all the European powers which have colonies there. Now is the time to point out how much they influenced the war situation of Santo Domingo and of Guadeloupe, since, while their warships were cruising more tenaciously in the American seas than those of the English, President Adams was keeping a consul at Cape Haitien, whom Toussaint would certainly not have tolerated, if a plan of independence for this colony had not been agreed upon by this general and the president. There can be no doubt that their ambition makes them consider the West Indies as a dependency of their continent. The aid that these colonies are obliged to request of them, in case of war, confirms them of this idea; as a matter of fact, in the last war, Santo Domingo and the other French islands obtained from the United States their means of subsistence and other help they needed, and which they could not get from the mother country. It is therefore necessary, as I have already said, that a European power establish on the North American continent a military force, which will inspire respect more by its natural situation and its relations with the various American tribes, than by the number of its soldiers. The cession of Louisiana can give this position to France. The Anglo-Americans know the importance of it to such an extent that there is no sacrifice that they are not prepared to make to prevent it; and if they cannot prevent it, they seek to decrease at least the advantage of it by preventing a man, already known and loved by the savages and who could obtain immediately their support for France, from appearing among these tribes. The Americans know perfectly well that if the French government were to place me in a position to carry out the plans that I presented to it, their schemes of aggrandizement would vanish immediately, and the Creek Nation, that they are undertaking to civilize, would become Medusa's head for them. Therefore, they are doing everything they can in order to ruin my reputation in the eyes of the government. They portray me as a man of no account and without means; they declare that I have no influence over the minds of the savages; that I am not their leader at all; that they are, at present, under the authority of general Bowls, who, as I have said, is very careful not to leave the Simonolays, and who is no more the general of the Creeks than Mandrin could say that he was the general of the French when he was on the frontier of Savoy. Moreover, however relentless they may be in discrediting me, I shall give them no less credit for it by recognizing that in this way they are trying to serve their country. The French government must not believe them, and, relative to this, I am relying entirely on its foresight and on its justice.
End of the FIRST PART
to the SECOND PART