(This was transcribed by the Alabama Historical Society and printed in 1901 in their magazine as follows)
THE MISSION OF FRANCIS SCOTT KEY TO
ALABAMA IN 1833
By Thomas Chalmers McCorvey, Tuscaloosa.
Near the close of the year 1833, Francis Scott Key, the famous author of our national anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner,” came to Tuscaloosa, then the capital of Alabama, charged with the management of one of the most critical complications in the political history of the State.
While his fame was born amidst scenes of war1—”the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air”—his mission to Alabama, as events proved, was one of peace. He came commissioned by the iron-willed Andrew Jackson, then president of the United States, to represent the Federal government in the matters at issue with the State of Alabama, growing out of the conflict between State and Federal authority in the territory lying within the borders of Alabama which had been ceded to the United States by the Creek Indians in the Treaty of Cusseta, in 1832.
The success with which his mission was crowned in averting the collision that at one time seemed inevitable is proof that with his talents as a poet and a jurist were combined those of the diplomat and the statesman.
To understand why – a glance back in history
To understand properly the chain of events which led to the coming of Mr. Key to Alabama requires a glance backward into the territorial history of the commonwealth. The memorable campaign of Andrew Jackson against the Creek Indians in the Mississippi (afterwards Alabama) Territory, which culminated in the battle of Tohopeka, in the horseshoe bend of the Tallapoosa river, March 27, 1814, left unexpectedly to the people of the future State a serious political problem.
Treaty created an Indian Nation within Alabama
The treaty which Jackson forced the chiefs, deputies and warriors of the Creek nation to conclude with him, August 9, 1814, at Fort Jackson—on the site of old Fort Toulouse, between the Coosa and Tallapoosa rivers, about four miles above the junction of these rivers—continued and confirmed virtually an imperium in imperio, an Indian nation within what was afterwards to be the State of Alabama.
Map of land ceded by Fort Jackson
By the terms of that treaty the Creeks, while yielding their claims to all other lands in the Mississippi Territory, were confirmed in the possession of their hereditary fields and forests east of the Coosa and north of a line drawn southeastward from Wetumpka to a point on the Chattahoochee river below Eufaula2—except that the right of the United States to establish military posts and trading houses, to open roads and navigate the waters within the guaranteed territory was acknowledged.
Thus a map of the Alabama Territory, or of the State of Alabama prior to the final cession by the Treaty of Cusseta in 1832, would show all that part of the State which is embraced in the present counties of Barbour (in part), Bullock (in part), Russell, Macon, Lee, Tallapoosa, Elmore (in part), Chambers, Coosa, Randolph, Clay, Tallapoosa, Cleburne, and Calhoun, as the domain of an Indian nationality. The existence of this Indian nation within the territorial limits indicated was formally acknowledged and virtually guaranteed by the United States in article 8 of the treaty of Fort Jackson, which says that “a permanent peace shall ensue from these presents, forever, between the Creek nation and the United States.”
Provision would have circumscribed the Creek territory in Alabama
With the subsequent cessions by the Creeks of their lands lying within the State of Georgia, this sketch, of course, has nothing to do; but there was an unsuccessful attempt to pare down their territory within the State of Alabama by the pseudo treaty of Indian Springs, concluded February 12, 1825, and ratified March 7, 1825. This treaty was negotiated by Duncan G. Campbell and James Meriwether, as commissioners on the part of the United States, and was signed by William McIntosh, head chief of the Cowetans, and fifty other chiefs of the Creek towns.
In this treaty, besides ceding to the United States all their remaining lands lying within the boundaries of the State of Georgia, the Creeks, “those of Tokaubatchee excepted,” also ceded the lands “lying north and west of a line to be run from the first principal falls upon the Chattahouchie river, above Cowetan town, to Ockfuskee Old Town, upon the Tallapoosa, thence to the falls of the Coosaw river, at or near a place called the Hickory Ground.”3 The carrying out of this provision would have circumscribed the Creek territory in Alabama to a small part of the domain guaranteed by the treaty of Fort Jackson; but troubles arose among the Creeks which led to the abrogation of the Indian Springs treaty.
It would be foreign to the purpose of this paper to give any account of these troubles, in which William McIntosh lost his life; and, in this connection, it will only state how the treaty was set aside. The treaty of Washington, concluded January 24, 1826, and ratified April 22, 1826, between James Barbour, secretary of war, and the chiefs and head men of the Creek nation, after reciting in its preamble the protests of a great majority of the chiefs and warriors against the execution of the treaty of Indian Springs and the fact that it had been signed on their part by persons having no sufficient authority to form treaties or make cessions, declares, in the first article, “the treaty made at Indian Springs to be null and void to every intent and purpose whatsoever.”
While the treaty of Washington, in subsequent articles, provided for a modification of the cessions of lands within the State of Georgia, it left unimpaired the Creek domain in eastern Alabama, as it had existed prior to the treaty of Indian Springs.
Final treaty was made
But the Saxon greed for land—which first manifested itself in historic times when the followers of Hengist and Horsa began, in 449, the appropriation of the fairest fields of Kent, and which has gone on gathering under the dominion of that race the continents and the islands of the sea until to-day we see it lapping back upon the Asiatic coasts in our struggle for the possession of the Philippine Islands and in the threatened partition of China—was not to permit the proud Maskoki to remain long upon this last foothold of his ancestral domain.
It is not necessary here to give the facts or methods of negotiations that led to the final treaty with the Creeks; but to give only some of its provisions and to indicate the important political complications which grew out of its ratification.
The preliminary negotiations were conducted at Cusseta, in the present county of Chambers; but it was concluded in Washington between Lewis Cass, thereto specially authorized by the president of the United States, and the representatives of the Creek tribe of Indians, March 24, 1832, and it was ratified April 4, 1832.
Creek tribe of Indians cede to the United States all their lands east of he Mississippi river
Its first article provided that “the Creek tribe of Indians cede to the United States all their lands east of he Mississippi river.” But there were important conditions attached. While ample provision was made for the removal of the Creeks to the lands which were granted them west of the Mississippi and the desire of the government was expressed that they should emigrate to their new homes, it was expressly provided that the Indians should not be compelled to go, but they should be free to go or stay as they pleased.
Fifth Article, purpose of Francis Scott Key’s visit
The condition in the treaty that gave rise to that conflict of authority between the State and Federal governments, which led to the sending of Mr. Key to Alabama, was embraced in the fifth article.4
It provided for the removal of all white intruders from the ceded territory until the government surveys were completed and the various allotments made to the ninety principal chiefs and the heads of Creek families—excepting, however, from the immediate execution of this provision those white persons who had made their own improvements.
These last mentioned were allowed to remain until their crops were gathered. As soon, however, as it was understood that the land had passed by treaty to the United States, not only did the white intruders refuse to leave, but there was a rush for first choice of lands, not unlike that which we have witnessed in recent years in the settlement of Oklahoma. There were something like twenty-five thousand men, women and children of the intruders, and under the provisions of the treaty, as interpreted by the authorities at Washington, these were to be removed by the strong arm of military force.
Rush of white settlers began before formal assertion of State authority
This rush of settlers began before the formal assertion of State authority over the ceded territory. The Montgomery Gazette of August 31, 1832, tells of the earliest conflict between the intruders and Federal authority. Certain former residents of Pike and other southeastern counties of the State found it to their interest to move into the Indian territory and build a village on the banks of the Chattahoochee which they named Irwinton.5
When Mr. Crawford, the United States marshal for the southern district of Alabama, reached the spot he notified the settlers that they had acted in violation of the instructions he had received from Washington, and he requested them to leave peaceably. This they refused to do, and threatened him with violence.
A short time afterward a detachment of Federal soldiers under command of a lieutenant was marched to Irwinton from Fort Mitchell6 and the village was burned. When the news of the burning reached the authorities of Pike county, a warrant was issued for the arrest of the lieutenant in command; but when the deputy sheriff attempted to execute the warrant, he was pierced by a Federal bayonet, so that his life was despaired of. Thus ended the matter for the time.
1The Star Spangled Banner” was partly composed while Mr. Key was detained on board a British vessel from which he witnessed the bombardment of Fort McHenry, the chief defense of Baltimore (September 12, 1814)—the inspiration of the poem being the sight at dawn, on the day after the bombardment, of the flag still waving over the defenders of the fort.
2The western and southern boundaries of the Creek possessions which fell within what was afterward the State of Alabama, were thus indicated in the first article of the Treaty of Fort Jackson: “Beginning at a point on the eastern bank of the Coosa river where the south boundary line of the Cherokee nation crosses the same; running thence down the said Coosa river with its eastern bank, according to its various meanders, to a point one mile, above the mouth of Cedar creek, at Fort Williams, thence east two miles, thence south two miles, thence west to the eastern bank of the said Coosa river, thence down the eastern bank thereof, according to its various meanders, to a point opposite the upper end of the great falls, (called by the natives Woetumpka), thence east from a true meridian line to a point due north of the Ofucskee, thence south by a like meridian line to the mouth of the Ofucskee, on the south side of the Tallapoosa river, thence up the same, according to its various meanders, to a point where a direct course will cross the same, at a distance of ten miles from the mouth thereof, thence a direct line to the mouth of Summochico creek, which empties into the Chattahouchie river on the east side thereof below the Eufala town.”—This “old creek boundary line” is shown Or Smith’s Geological Map of Alabama(1894), as well as in earlier publications and maps.
3 This “New Creek Boundary Line” is shown on a small wall map of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama,published by A. Finley, Philadelphia, 1826—during the interval between the ratification of the Indian Springs Treaty and its abrogation by the Treaty of Washington. A copy of this map is in the library of Dr. W. S. Wyman, of the University of Alabama.
4Brewer’s Alabama, p. 50, note.
‘The following is the full text of article 5: “All intruders upon the country hereby ceded shall be removed therefrom, in the same manner as intruders may be removed by law from other public land, until the country is surveyed and selections made; excepting, however, from this provision those white persons who have made their own improvements and not expelled the Creeks from theirs. Such persons may remain until their crops are gathered. After the country is surveyed and the selections made this article shall not operate upon the part of it not included in such selections. But intruders shall, in the manner before described, be removed from these selections for the term of five years from the ratification of this treaty, or until the same are conveyed to white persons.”
5Now Eufaula. It was first named in honor of Gen. William Irwin, of Henry county, and was incorporated as Irwinton in 1837; but its name was changed to Eufaula in 1843.
6 In what is now Russell county, Alabama, on the western bank of the Chattahoochee river, about ten miles below Columbus, Georgia.
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