Creek

The Creek Indians moved into present-day Alabama and Georgia from the west. They are known today as members of the Muskogee Nation, a highly organized, unified community that counts about 40,000 members. During the colonial period, however, an individual Creek’s identity was rooted in his or her particular town. Prolonged exposure to Europeans forced the Creek (the name is probably of English origin) to reshape their identity in order to effectively resist the cultural and territorial effects of colonization. The Creek numbered about 15,000 in 1685, when serious English colonization was just beginning. The tribe’s population initially dropped dramatically as a result of disease. Over time, however, an increasing number of Native Americans began to consider themselves Creeks, and, in 1790, after a century of interacting with the English, their population had recovered to approximately the same level as it had been 100 years earlier. The Creek spoke variants of the Muskogean language, some of which were mutually unintelligible. By the time they met the English, the Creek peoples had also divided into Lower Towns and Upper Towns. The Lower Towns were located on the Chattahoochee, Ocmulgee, and Flint rivers, and the Upper Towns were on the Coosa, Tallapoosa, and Alabama rivers. In the colonial period, the Upper Towns preferred trading with the Spanish and French, while the Lower Towns dealt primarily with the English, first out of Charles Town and later out of the fledgling colony of Georgia. In addition, following a division in their society, Creek towns were classified as red or white. This determined the towns’ responsibilities in warfare: red for war, white for peace. Each Creek town (or talwa) was fiercely independent, so the confederacy remained relatively loose throughout the colonial period. Creek kin groups, or clans, were matrilineal (clan identity passed through the mother) and matrilocal (husbands moved near their mothers-in-law). Town councils advised the leaders (micos) on political, social, and military matters. Micos could not act independently of their counselors, though they did conduct diplomacy between Creeks and foreigners, and they controlled access to surplus food in the town’s granary. The Spanish under Hernando de Soto moved through Creek country, leaving the Creek to deal with the devastating effects of European-introduced disease. Creek interaction with the English lasted longer and was more complex. Since the English did not move into Creek country in large numbers until the middle of the eighteenth century, most Creek interaction with the English took the form of trade. From the founding of South Carolina in 1670, Creeks gradually came to depend on English trade goods. Trade with the English had benefits but also serious consequences. The trade between the Creek towns and the English consisted of a wide range of items. Cloth, deerskins, firearms, alcohol, and Native American slaves were most common. Creek men extended their hunting season and expanded their hunting territory in an effort to satisfy English demands for deerskins. Creek men, sometimes accompanied by English traders and other allied Native Americans, terrorized the missions of Spanish Florida as they raided for slaves in the opening decade of the eighteenth century. Creek women incorporated English manufactured goods into their homes, changing Creek domestic life. Creeks also held African slaves, and this reshaped Creek notions of property and power. Creek relations with the English were for the most part peaceful, mainly because Creeks did not want to cut off their access to trade goods, and because the English posed little threat to the Creeks’ relationship with the Spanish. The Creek did participate in the opening phase of the Yamasee War (1715 1717) by killing the English traders living in their towns, but they did not, on the whole, endorse the policy of removing the English entirely. The founding of Georgia in 1733 as a buffer between Spanish and English America brought the Creek and English even closer together. In fact, the loose construction of Creek identity led to an increasing number of biracial leaders. In 1739, the Creek and English signed the Treaty of Coweta, which drew a line between Creek and English territory. The imaginary line failed to stop white encroachment, however. The Creek struggled to maintain cultural and political autonomy and to retain as much of their land base as they could. They grew to respect British colonial officials but despise Anglo-American settlers. Still, the Creek remained basically neutral during the American Revolution. In the aftermath of the conflict, Creeks faced a new and deadly threat: an aggressive, expansionist American republic. Their response was increasing centralization in government. They also continued to lose land, and were forcibly removed to Indian Territory in the 1830s, after decades of bitter conflict with white settlers. Matthew Jennings See also: Native American-European Conflict; Native American-European Relations; Native Americans. Bibliography Braund, Kathryn Holland. Deerskins and Duffels: Creek Indian Trade with Anglo-America, 1685 1815. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993. Green, Michael D. The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982. Juricek, John T. Colonial Georgia and the Creeks: Anglo-Indian Diplomacy on the Southern Frontier, 1733-1763. Gainesville: University of Florida Press, 2010. McIntosh, Kenneth W. “Creek (Muskogee).” In Encyclopedia of North American Indians, edited by Frederick E. Hoxie. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1996. Deep Creek Waterfalls & Tubing, Great Smoky Mountains Sols Creek Falls About the Mark West Creek

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