- Reviewed by
John T. Juricek's Colonial Georgia and the Creeks represents the latest addition to recent scholarly works about the eighteenth-century Creeks. As the author states plainly in his introduction, "The main focus of this study is Anglo-Creek diplomacy" (p.1). He explains that most diplomatic discussions involved land but that "the two sides differed profoundly over what they thought they were negotiating about. Creek chiefs thought their differences with Georgia leaders involved land ownership; Georgia leaders thought the overriding issue was territorial sovereignty" (p.10). This fundamental disparity resulted in numerous misunderstandings and complicated Anglo-Creek relations throughout this time period. Juricek does [End Page 119] his best to sort out the confusion by using the work of his former graduate students Steven Hahn and Doris Fisher as well as his own edited volumes of Georgia treaties to provide the most detailed examination of the political documents involving the British and the Creeks to date.
The first man in charge of negotiations was the founder of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, and, fortunately for him, the Creeks were receptive to his overtures for trade and granted him the land necessary to establish his colony after several weeks of lengthy deliberations. Although these initial discussions bolstered Oglethorpe's reputation along with those of his mixed-blood interpreter Mary Musgrove and the Yamacraw Creek headman Tomochichi, they set the stage for future disagreements. Oglethorpe extended the British claim south toward Spanish Florida and pressed for additional land cessions as well as military assistance from neighboring Indians, but in the end, he pushed too far on both fronts, inciting war with Spain and damaging his relationship with the Creeks.
Oglethorpe's departure in 1743, ten years after he arrived in Georgia, created a void in diplomatic leadership. About the same time, Mary Musgrove (now Bosomworth) petitioned for formal recognition of the land given to her by her Creek relatives. This controversy "dominates the story of Georgia's Indian relations for more than a decade" because it revealed the discrepancy between British and Creek definitions of ownership and strained Anglo-Creek relations almost to the breaking point (p.126). The situation deteriorated further because of the ineptitude of Governor John Reynolds (1754-57) but improved greatly when Governor Henry Ellis (1757-60) assuaged the Creeks through skillful diplomacy, compromised with the Bosomworths, and maintained peace despite the blunders made by the newly appointed superintendent of Indian affairs for the southern colonies, Edmond Atkin, during his mission to the Creeks. The Cherokee War of 1760 put additional stress on their unstable relationship since the Creeks considered joining the hostilities but instead chose to maintain their longstanding neutrality. The [End Page 120] final blow to Creek autonomy, however, came with the conclusion of the French and Indian War which shifted the balance of power to the victorious British, who believed that they now controlled the continent.
Juricek presents a methodical and comprehensive overview of Anglo-Creek diplomacy and therefore satisfies his main objective. His extensive endnotes provide an extra layer of analysis and evidence for the assertions made in the main text. Perhaps the strongest positive of the book is also its greatest negative: the volume of detail. Juricek walks the reader through every nuance of every treaty or encounter, explaining exactly what it meant at the time and how either or both sides misinterpreted it. The thoroughness of his research cannot be denied, but it can cause an uninitiated reader to become frustrated or to get lost among the complicated political imbroglios. Nevertheless, that same thoroughness makes this book essential if tedious reading for anyone interested in early Georgia and Creek history.
Julie Anne Sweet is an associate professor of history at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where she teaches American colonial history. She is the author of William Stephens: Georgia's Forgotten Founder (2010) and Negotiating for Georgia: British-Creek Relations in the Trustee Era, 1733-1752 (2005) as well as numerous articles...