The Complexities of U.S.-Indian Relations
Digital History ID 239
In December 1817, President James Monroe authorized General Andrew Jackson to lead a punitive expedition against the Seminole Indians in Florida, who used the Spanish colony as a jumping off point for raids on settlements in Georgia. The Seminoles actually consisted of several groups, including Muskogee-speaking Creek Indians, Mikawuki-speakers, and fugitive slaves.
Jackson was assisted in his Florida expedition by a Creek people from southwestern Georgia known as the Chehaws. While Chechaw men had fought in Florida, the Georgia state militia killed Chechaw villagers--an act condemned by Jackson in the following letter. Acting on reports of attacks on white settlers by other Creeks, the state militia, under Captain Obed Wright, attacked and burned a Chehaw village, killing at least seven Indians. Captain Wright was eventually imprisoned for this attack, but later escaped and disappeared. This fascinating document underscores the complexity of relations between whites and Indians, the state and federal governments, and state militia and national army authorities.
I have this moment received by express the letter of Genl. Glascock...detailing the base, cowardly and inhuman attack on the old women and men of the Chehaw Villages, whilst the warriors of that village was with me fighting the battles of our country against the common enemy, and at a time too when undoubted testimony had been obtained and was in my possession...of their innocence of the charge of killing Leigh & other Georgians at Cedar Creek.
That a Governor of a State should assume the right to make war against an Indian tribe in perfect peace with and under the protection of the United States, is assuming a responsibility, that I trust you will be able to excuse to the government of the United States, to which you have to answer, and through which I had so recently passed, promising the aged that remained at home my protection and taking the warriors with me on the campaign is as unaccountable as strange. But it is still more strange that there could exist within the U. States as cowardly monster in human shape, that could violate the sanctity of a flag when borne by any person, but more particularly when in the hands of a superannuated Indian chief worn down with age. Such base cowardice and murderous conduct as this man's action affords has not its parallel in history, and shall meet with its merited punishment.
You Sir as Governor of a State within my Military Division have no right to give a military order whilst I am in the field, and this being an open and violent infringement of the treaty with the Creek Indians[,] Capt. Wright must be prosecuted and punished for this outrageous murder, & I have ordered him to be arrested and confined in irons until the pleasure of the President of the United States is known upon the subject. If he has left Hartford before my order reaches him, I call upon you as Governor of Georgia to aid in carrying into effect my orders for his arrest and confinement, which I trust will be afforded, and Capt. Wright brought to condign punishment for this unprecedented murder.... This act will to the last ages fix a stain upon the character of Georgia.
Source: Gilder Lehrman Institute
Additional information: Andrew Jackson to Governor William Rabun of Georgia
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