Lachlan McGillivray, a youth of sixteen summers, lured by reports of Indian adventures and wonderful scenery in the New World, ran away from his wealthy Scotch parents and came to America. He landed at Charleston with less than fifty cents in his pocket, but with buoyant spirits and a healthy body. Falling in with traders, he engaged as a driver of pack-horses, and went immediately into the heart of the Indian country. Given a knife, he exchanged it for a few skins, and thus laid the foundation of the immense fortune which he afterward accumulated.
Fort Toulouse, Elmore County, Alabama
Other marriages to Native Americans
Captain Marchand, one of the French commandant at Fort Toulouse, married Sehoy, a Muscogee princess of the Tribe of the Wind; their descendants became celebrated in the history of the Southwest; their daughter, Sehoy, was first married to a Tookabatcha chief, and had a daughter named Sehoy. She afterward met and married Lachlan McGillivray: Sophia, Jeannet, and Alexander were the children of this marriage.
Sophia married Benjamin Durant, the noted athlete; Jeannet married LeClerc Milfort, who was the warrior bold to lead the Creeks in battle, and who, after the death of Jeannet, returned to France, wrote an interesting history of his sojourn among the Creeks, and became a distinguished general under Napoleon Bonaparte; Alexander became the imperial chief of the Upper Creeks, and the shrewdest diplomat of his time.
Left his family in America
Lachlan McGillivray was an ardent royalist during the Revolutionary War, and when it closed he placed a vast amount of money and movable property on board a vessel and returned to Scotland, leaving his family to their fate in America. The Whigs confiscated his negroes and two valuable plantations which he had hoped his family would be permitted to hold.
Alexander, the distinguished son, possessed rare natural abilities and had taken a classical course in a school at Charleston. At thirty years of age, he had impressed his influence and power upon the consideration of England, Spain, and the United States. Courted by these three nations, and trusted absolutely by his Creek subjects, he found congenial exercise for his diplomatic talents and his executive powers. His public acts began in 1776, at Coweta on the Chattahoochee, when he presided over the Grand Council of the Nations. Two years later the British made him a colonel, and associated him with Colonel Tate at Fort Toulouse, hoping thereby to keep the Creeks hostile to the Americans.
Conflicting territorial claims, growing out of the indefinite treaties between England, France, Spain, and the United States, produced constant friction along the borders.
Son, Alexander McGillivray was trusted by Creeks and Seminoles
Georgia by royal grant claimed rights of territory from the Savannah River to the Mississippi; in 1783, she procured from the Cherokees and Creeks a cession of lands among the head-waters of the Oconee River. A majority of the Creeks declared the cession unfairly procured, and refused to sanction it; in fact, the Upper Creeks opposed every measure endorsed by the Lower Creeks.
McGillivray became a silent partner in the mercantile schemes of William Panton, who opened stores at St. Augustine, St. Johns, St. Marks, Pensacola, Mobile, and Chickasaw Bluff. Under Panton’s influence McGillivray, as emperor of the Creeks and Seminoles, signed a treaty with Spain, became a Spanish commissary, and engaged to keep open the breach between the Creeks and Georgians. He baffled the United States commissioners at Galphinton, in 1785; at Cusseta, in 1787; and at Rock Landing, in 1789, advising the Indians against ratification of the unsavory treaty by which the Georgians claimed the Oconee lands.
At the same time, to compel a larger annual stipend, he played upon the fears of Panton and the Spaniards by intimating a probable alliance with the United States in order to secure special commercial favors to his people, and also to recover his father’s confiscated estate, which he valued at more than a hundred thousand dollars.
Alexander McGillivray and chiefs went to Washington
Through Colonel Marinus Willett, a United States secret agent to the Creeks, McGillivray and thirty chiefs were induced to visit General Washington in New York City; they were cordially received along the route, and upon entering New York City they were met by the Tammany Society in full Indian uniform; they were escorted in splendor to the Federal Hall, where Congress was in session; they were taken to visit the President, the Minister of War, and the Governor of the State; an elegant entertainment given at the city tavern closed the day.
The honors and the feasts were too sumptuous to be resisted. A treaty was concluded. The Oconee lands were surrendered. The Creek territory was to be free from encroachments, the Creeks and Seminoles were to accept the protection of the United States, and were not to treat with any State or the individuals of any State.
The Creek Nation was to receive annually fifteen hundred dollars and take possession of a consignment of goods then in warehouses in Augusta, Georgia.
A secret treaty for chiefs and McGillivray
By a secret treaty with Washington, the Creek commerce after two years was to flow through ports of the United States; a hundred dollars and a handsome medal were to be given annually to each of the chiefs of the Ocfuskees, Cowetas, Cussetas, Tallassees, Tookabatchas, and the Seminoles.
McGillivray was made agent of the United States, with the rank of Brigadier-General, on a salary of twelve hundred dollars per annum. Creek youths, not exceeding four at one time, were to be educated in the North at the expense of the United States.
The Spaniards endeavored to counteract the influence of these generous considerations by creating McGillivray the Superintendent-General of the Creek Nation with a salary of thirty-five hundred dollars a year.
Bowles was a rival of McGillivray
William Augustus Bowles was a conspicuous rival of McGillivray. He wandered into the Creek country, learned the Creek language, married a chief’s daughter, and acquired great influence. As the tool of Lord Dunmore, governor of the Bahamas, he tried to check the mercantile enterprises of Panton, Leslie and Company, and to balk the influence of McGillivray. He failed to hold his store upon the Chattahoochee, being forced to leave the country by order of Colonel Milfort, who threatened to cut off his ears if he were not gone in twenty-four hours after receiving the order.”
Bowles then engaged in piratical excursions against the vessels of Panton, and, capturing some of them laden with arms and general merchandise, ran them up into bayous, and spent a while in wildest debaucheries, distributing the prize-cargoes among his abandoned company of whites and Creeks. Among the latter, he was very popular. Aided by Willbanks and the half-breed Moses Price, he spread ill rumors of McGillivray, declaring that McGillivray had sold his people first to the Spaniards and then to the United States.
McGllivray lost the trust of the Native Americans
The New York treaty was distasteful to the Indians, and many of them now distrusted McGillivray, but his intrigues could not be matched. He arranged for the arrest of Bowles and his transportation to Madrid. His consummate treachery evoked the consummate tact that preserved his tripartite relations with Panton, Spain, and the Federal Government. Professing faithfulness to the United States, he assisted Spanish agents in opposing American settlements and obstructing American engineers in establishing the Creek and Georgia boundary line. His frequent visits to New Orleans threw him constantly with Governor Carondelet, whose orders to expel American inhabitants of the Creek country no doubt received the endorsement of the astute “Talleyrand,” as Mr. Pickett calls McGillivray.
The villainies of traders and agents often brought terror and bloodshed. Families and companies of traders and travellers were massacred.1 Sometimes by accident one or more members of the party attacked escaped.
McGillivray was kind but ambitious
McGillivray was ever kind to the distressed, and his sisters and servants figure in several thrilling rescues and in generous protection to unfortunates.
McGillivray dispensed unbounded hospitality to friends and foes. Eminently selfish and unscrupulously ambitious, he used every means at command for his own aggrandizement. He was, in 1792, the agent and the Brigadier-General of the United States on a salary of twelve hundred dollars a year, the agent of Spain on an annual salary of thirty-five hundred dollars, the co-partner of Panton, and the Emperor of the Creek and Seminole Nations.
The Federal Government never restored his estates, and his warped morality excused the duplicity which made the United States pay tribute as partial compensation for what he felt justly entitled to claim.
His affections were naturally with the British and Spanish, but his far-seeing statesmanship recognized the growth and future greatness of the United States and bent his politic friendship to the power that was spreading its resistless authority over the Western Continent.
He died in Pensacola February 17, 1793, and was interred with Masonic honors in the beautiful garden of William Panton in the city of Pensacola. His remains were subsequently removed to Aberdeen, Scotland.
His Indian subjects were deeply saddened by his death and grieved that so distinguished a chief should sleep his last sleep in the soil of the Seminoles.
1Colonel Pickett says that in 1788, Colonel Kirkland, of South Carolina, with his son, nephew, and several others, stopped at the home of McGillivray on their way to Pensacola; that McGillivray sent a servant with them as they left his house that the Indians might know they were friends; that a Hillahee Indian, a white man, and a negro murdered them in camp at night in what is now Conecuh County, on the bank of the stream which has ever since been called Murder Creek
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