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Events of 1791, Alexander McGillivray

During the year 1791 there was but little hostility on the part of the Indians, a calm before the coming storm.

Toward the whites they showed even some degree of friendliness, bringing occasionally to the settlement venison and furs, which they gave in exchange for powder and lead, blankets, calico, tomahawks and beads.

In explanation of this it may be said that for some time past an especial effort had been put forth by President Washington, Governor Blount, General Robertson and others in authority to bring all Indian wars to a close.

Alexander McGillivray, Chief of the Creeks, and a queer combination of Indian craftiness and Spanish treachery, had been invited to New York, then the seat of government, for the purpose of negotiating a treaty of peace.

On this mission he was accompanied by twenty-eight of his head chiefs and principal warriors. All "arrived, painted and plumed, with silver bands on their arms and rings in their noses, with blankets and breech-clouts, moccasins and leggins, and tinkling ornaments." It is said by the writers of that time that they were indeed the cynosure of every eye.

During a stay of several weeks they were wined, dined and otherwise feted by the Knickerbockers, all of which they received with a characteristic grunt, which might have meant much or little of appreciation.

The result of this festivity was a treaty with the Creek nation which restored to them a large tract of wilderness land previously held by them, but subsequently claimed by the whites. By a private article of the treaty, the terms of which were kept secret from the other warriors, McGillivray received from the Government the sum of a hundred thousand dollars. This amount had been demanded by the chief in return for an alleged destruction of personal property by the colonial militia.

Following the return of McGillivray and his band from New York, Governor Blount had made a visit to all parts of the territory, including the Cumberland settlement, holding talks with the members of the various tribes, assuring them of friendship and urging upon them a proposal of peace.

The Chickasaws on the west, with Piomingo the mountain leader at their head, had long been the friends of the whites. By reason of the recently ratified treaty of New York it was hoped that the Creeks would henceforth bear them the same relation. But there remained yet something to be done in order that they might bring to terms the Cherokees, the warlike mountaineers on the south and east.

Early in the year, through the medium of friendly members of the tribe, Governor Blount made known to the Cherokee chiefs, Hanging Maw and Little Turkey, his desire for a peace talk. These chiefs were the leaders respectively of the northern and southern factions of their tribe. The place of meeting proposed by Governor Blount was White's Fort, the location of which was the present site of Knoxville. Straightway certain Indian traders and other opponents of peace, those who profited by the arts of war, set going a movement to defeat this conference. They secretly hinted to the credulous savages that it was a scheme on the part of the whites to assemble the warriors of the nation on the banks of the Tennessee, that the latter might be treacherously fallen upon and slain.

Governor Blount, believing the traders to be responsible for this wilfully false report, revoked their license and ordered them from the nation. This action only aided the cause of the opposition party, who now asserted that the traders were being driven out because of their friendship for the Indians. To overcome the evil influence of these mischief makers it was deemed necessary to send an official representative of the Territory to the Cherokee nation.

General James Robertson, because of his well-known tact and long experience in dealing with the Indians, was the only person considered for this important but delicate mission.

On receipt of his commission from Governor Blount he began at once a journey on horseback from Nashville to Chota, the capital and beloved city of the Cherokees. This village was beautifully nestled among the foothills of the Chilhowee Mountains in Monroe County, east of Madisonville. Near this spot, according to popular belief, DeSoto and his army had camped many years before. Among the Cherokees Chota was a city of refuge, probably the only one of its kind upon the continent. When once within its sacred precincts the offender, regardless of the magnitude of the crime, was free from all punishment or personal vengeance, so long as he remained therein. It is related that here an English trader, in more modern times, took refuge and found safety after having slain in cold blood a Cherokee warrior. Remaining in the village for some time he desired to return to his post nearby, but was warned that he would certainly perish if he attempted to escape.

General Robertson was heartily received by Hanging Maw, Little Turkey and their respective warriors, many of whom he had met on former occasions. After spending some days with them he succeeded in allaying their suspicions and in arranging for the council at White's Fort, as previously planned. This meeting resulted in the "Treaty of Holston," otherwise known as Blount's Treaty. It was signed July 2 and ratified by the Senate of the United States November 9 following. By its terms the Cherokees, in consideration of the delivery of certain valuable goods and an annual payment of $1,000, released to the whites a large section of the central portion of East Tennessee, to which tract the Indians had previously laid claim. There was also a tacit understanding that there should be no further attacks by the Cherokees on the Cumberland settlement. However, as we shall later see, this part of the agreement was soon broken. Because of peaceful conditions existent at the beginning of this year there was a general expansion of the bounds of the settlement. A number of new stations were established in Sumner County.

In the early spring Maj. James White built a fort three miles northeast of Gallatin on a trace which is now the Scottsville turnpike. The traditional site of this fort is near a big spring in the front lot of the property formerly owned by the late John T. Carter, but now owned by Erskine Turner.

Colonel Saunders built a fort on the west side of Desha's Creek two and a half miles east of White's Station. It was located in the northeast corner of the farm now owned by Robert Green, and near the residence of Alex. Simmons. Capt. Joseph Wilson located three miles southeast of Gallatin on a tract of land formerly owned by the heirs of Darnell, but now by Thomas Reed. This was called the Walnutfield Station.

During this year also Jacob Zigler built a fort a mile and a half north of Cairo on the western branch of Bledsoe Creek, in what is now the Second Civil District of Sumner County. The site of this station was formerly the property of James Charlton. It is now owned by the heirs of William McKamie.

Scarcely had Colonel Saunders completed his fort on Desha's Creek and moved his family thereto when the Indians appeared and lying in wait, shot and killed his two young sons, who had ventured upon the outside.

Soon thereafter James Dickinson was killed while passing from Saunders to Whites' Station. In the month of June John Thompson was surprised and shot while hoeing in his cornfield a few miles south of Nashville. Later in the summer a band of Creeks killed a Mr. Miller, his wife and four or five children over on Rolling Fork of the Cumberland.

A census of Mero District taken this year shows a population of seven thousand and forty-two. One thousand of these were males capable of bearing arms. The population of the Indian tribes surrounding the Territory at that time is variously estimated at from twenty-five to fifty thousand.

Early History of Middle Tennessee

Early History of Middle Tennessee, BY Edward Albright, Copyright, 1908, Brandon Printing Company, Nashville, Tennessee, 1909

 

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