- Guardians of the Valley: Chickasaws in Colonial South Carolina and Georgia
A prolific author of the colonial and revolutionary South, the late Edward Cashin has tackled a subject few would venture to engage: the Lower Chickasaws. This previously neglected band of Chickasaws left their ancestral lands on the upper Tombigbee River in 1723 to settle along the Savannah River, where they remained until the American Revolution. Does Cashin, in looking at a seemingly marginal group of Indians, make a mountain out of a molehill? After all, the Lower Chickasaws could raise only about eighty warriors in 1757, about the same number of gunmen found in a large Creek or Cherokee town. Assessing the Lower Chickasaws’ historical importance, Cashin argues, does not rest in their demographics but in their contributions to the early history of South Carolina and Georgia.
As “guardians” of the Savannah River Valley, the Lower Chickasaws protected the local Anglo-American population and eagerly warred against Britain’s enemies, especially the Spanish in Florida. Equally important, they provided a crucial diplomatic connection to the Upper (western) Chickasaws and other Southeastern Indians. A notable strength of this book is its emphasis on the interconnectedness of eastern and western Chickasaws (including the “Breed Camp” in Creek country). Cashin argues the Lower Chickasaws never left their nation, but instead maintained kinship connections with the villages of the homeland. In addition, they “served as a link on the vital supply line” from Charleston to the Upper Chickasaws, a people often regarded as Britain’s most consistent and powerful ally against French imperial designs in Louisiana (xi). The Lower Chickasaws were therefore not “renegades” banished from their homeland, as South Carolina governor James Glen styled them near mid-century, but instead “respected members of their nation,” expressly invited to live along the banks of the Savannah by an earlier Carolina government (3, 80). Their presence in the region ultimately proved untenable, however. The partitioning of their lands began in the mid-1750s, gained momentum the following decade, and climaxed during the Revolution, when most Lower Chickasaws “quietly slipped away” to their ancestral homeland in a failed attempt to avoid the coming war (135).
The monograph is thoroughly researched, mainly relying on British and colonial records. As such, big personalities dominate, men like Squirrel King (Fanni Mingo), James Oglethorpe, and James Glen, which center the [End Page 103] narrative. Any major criticism of the work will likely stem from expectations. Those looking for penetrating insights into Lower Chickasaw community and culture, for instance, will be disappointed. Cashin instead provides an event-centered history, one that reflects his firm grasp of the political and diplomatic maneuverings of early South Carolina and Georgia. Indeed, the book sometimes reads less an account of the Lower Chickasaws and more a history of the southern colonies, but as Cashin notes in the preface, he places the Savannah River Chickasaws squarely within “the context of changes in colonial South Carolina and Georgia” (xi).
Academics and the general public, including the Chickasaw people of today, should warmly receive this readable narrative. It is noteworthy the legislature of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma bestowed upon Cashin the name “Imanoli Afahena,” which means “One Who Tells an Important Story.” Guardians of the Valley is an important story that adds to the growing body of literature on the Southeastern Indians.