The Creek War, 1813-1814

The Creeks are a collection of mostly, but not entirely, Muscogee-speaking peoples who are indigenous to present-day Georgia, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. Before European contact, their ancestors were part of a regional network of mound-building chiefdoms known as the Mississippian world. This autochthonous world-system was shattered in the century-and-a-half after Hernando de Soto first made contact in 1539. Demographic collapse due to virgin soil epidemics was significant, but even more devastating was the emergence of indigenous militaristic slaving societies driven by commercial interests emanating from the British colony of Carolina. The region’s incorporation into expanding colonial market economies, especially those tied to a growing plantation complex that rapaciously exhausted labor and territory on the frontier, caused an unprecedented era of internecine warfare. In the wake of such cataclysms, the Muscogee peoples transformed themselves by adopting non-Muscogean refugees and coalescing into a tribal confederacy. In a process similar to the formations of the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee and others, by the 18th century the Creek Confederacy was formed and recognized as a sovereign nation by the multiple European colonial agents and settlers throughout the Southeast.

The Creek Confederacy was a loose alliance of a number of otherwise autonomous villages clustered around river valleys. There were two main clusters: the Lower Creeks were closer to colonial core regions in the east (along the Apalachicola River watershed), while the Upper Creeks were further beyond the frontier in the west (along the Alabama, Coosa, and Tallapoosa River valleys). After the Revolutionary War, American settlers greedily coveted the agricultural fecundity of the Mississippi Territory, especially after the innovations of the market revolution and the expansion of a domestic slave trade of African Americans. Presidents Washington through Jefferson planned to incorporate this country and its aboriginal inhabitants through a “civilizing mission” that would ultimately break up collective land tenures and open millions of acres for real estate development. Many Creeks of mixed heritage, especially those throughout the Lower Creek area, were relatively more open towards partial assimilation and accommodation, while others, especially those traditionalists amongst the Upper Creeks, were steadfastly non-adoptive and suspicious of American colonial ambitions. As tensions between assimilative and nativist Creek elements grew sharper, the conflict eventually turned into a vicious civil war.

In 1811, a Shawnee war leader from the Northwest Territory named Tecumseh embarked upon a six-month and three-thousand-mile-long quest to raise a pan-Indian confederacy on behalf of his brother Tenskwatawa, who had prophesized a spiritual and strategic revitalization of Indigenity all across North America. They planned to unite Native polities from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico in an indigenous alliance against American settler-colonialism. Tecumseh’s message was especially well received by the Upper Creeks, and after a series of tremendous earthquakes in December 1811, many more Native peoples in the region were swept up into this political revolution cum religious movement. From 1812 into 1813, the “Redsticks,” as these insurrectionists were known, specifically targeted only those Creek factions that were allied to the Americans. However, after the War of 1812 broke out with Great Britain and the massacre at Fort Mimms, the United States became fully embroiled, sending three armies comprised of federal soldiers and state volunteers to invade Creek country. General Andrew Jackson commanded one of the armies that ruthlessly extinguished the Redstick uprising in a total war campaign that culminated in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. By the end of the conflict, at least 48 villages and towns in Upper Creek country were completely destroyed, and at least 15 percent of the total prewar population of Creeks had died. In August 1814, the war officially ended as General Jackson forced the Creeks to relinquish 22 million acres of their territory, nearly half of Creek country, with the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Many survivors of the Creek War sought refuge in northern Florida with their Muscogee brethren, the Seminoles, and carried on the fight with the First Seminole War in 1817. Otherwise, the majority of those remaining in Creek country were finally removed during the 1830s after Andrew Jackson became President. Besides the Poarch Creeks who are the descendants of those resilient Creeks who survived the war and removal and still live in southern Alabama, the rest of the Muscogee nation lives in Oklahoma.