Friday, June 12, 2009

A Mission to a Jackson County Indian Village in 1771

By Dale Cox

Although they would side with the British during the American Revolution, the Native Americans of Jackson County did not immediately like the English when they took control of Florida in 1763. This was clearly demonstrated in 1771 when a party of warriors from Tomatley, a town located near present-day Sneads, attacked an English settlement in what is now southern Mississippi.

Two people were killed and several slaves - a man, a woman and their children - were carried away as prisoners. The slaves were also Native Americans and were taken back to Tomatley by their captors. John Stuart, the British agent for Indian affairs, dispatched a letter to the principal chiefs of the Lower Creeks on January 20, 1772, asking for the return of the surviving prisoners:

A Party of the Tomautley People some time ago carried away a Family of Indians Slaves, who belong to a planter on Pascagaula River, the Man they Killed or Burnt, the Woman is still among them. (Y)ou have no right to keep this Woman and Children. They were poor defenceless Slaves, could not be your Enemies being brought from a Country far to the Westward of the Mississippi, where you never go to War. I wish to Know if you the Chiefs of the Nation suffer such proceedings. There is no honor in taking and Killing a poor Slave the property of your Friends. I hope you will send your Talk that the Woman and Children may be restored to their Master.

Stuart sent his assistant David Taitt to carry the message to the Lower Creek chiefs. Taitt traveled to the primary Creek towns but was unable to obtain a response to Stuart’s demand. Accordingly, he decided to visit Tomatley in person.

He purchased a canoe for this purpose, but this plan greatly alarmed the chiefs of the Lower Creek towns and they pleaded with him not to attempt the journey. In his words, they “desired me not to go down the River in a Canoe as they alledged there was some dangerous Whirlpools in the river which they said would sink the Canoe.”

The chiefs undoubtedly were concerned that the Tomatley warriors would kill Taitt and they continued to present reasons why he should not make his journey. Finally they agreed to send two head warriors to Tomatley, but insisted that Taitt not go in person, “alledging the danger of the River and badness of the people there.”

On May 4, 1772, Taitt gave the two emissaries a letter to James Burgess, the trader at Tomatley, asking for his assistance in freeing the slaves as well as a white woman that was reported to be living in the village. He identified his messengers by name as Chimhuchi and Topahatkee. On the same day he sent a message back to Stuart relaying new information he had obtained about the attacks and the status of the prisoners:

…The Eufalla people say that they have done no wrong as the house they burnt was on their own land but this I shall talk to them about…I intended to come down the River to Tamatley and had prepared a Canoe for that purpose by permission of the Indians here, since they have raised many objections aledging that there is several dangerous whirlpools in the rivers and the people there are a set of runagadoes from every Town in the Nation…I shall send two head men from this Town to Tomatley for the two Slaves which are alive, although the Boy is sold to a Trader there, the Man and Girl they murdered at the place where they took them.

The trader referenced in Taitt’s letter was John Mealy, who lived and operated at trading post at Ocheesee Bluff.

The emissaries sent down the river by Taitt met with success and returned to the upriver towns on May 22nd. They brought with them the slave woman captured on the Pascagoula, but the young boy purchased by John Mealy had already been sent to the populated areas of Georgia. The white woman that Taitt also hoped to retrieve, however, refused to come. She had married a warrior in Tomatley and fled into the woods rather than return with the two messengers.

Note: This article is excerpted from the book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years. It is available in Jackson County at Chipola River Book and Tea in Downtown Marianna or online at http://www.amazon.com/.

4 comments:

patricia said...

I was wondering if you have further information regarding who was James Burgess? Would he be the son of Samuel H Burgess of Calhoun Co., FL who settled on Burgess Creek ca 1838?

Dale said...

Patricia, The James Burgess referenced in this article was a white trader who was living in Darien, Georgia, by the 1750s. He obtained a trader's license and opened trading posts among the Lower Creek Indians of Jackson County, Florida, and Decatur County, Georgia, in around 1763. He maintained two homes, one at Tomatley in Jackson County (near Sneads) and one at Pucknauhitla in Decatur County (today's Bainbridge). He died prior to 1812, so he couldn't have been the son of the man you reference, but may have been an ancestor.

Best,
Dale

patricia said...

I just totally missed the dates else I would have caught that! Guess I was too busy looking at the forest to see the trees.

Thanks for your reply and information!!

Dale said...

It is no problem at all. I'm the world's expert at getting lost in the forest while looking for the woods! There is a good possibility he could be an ancestor of the individual you mention, though, especially if Samuel was from Georgia.