N O T I C E
Permission has been granted to re-publish this article on this web page by G. Erickson, Southern Friend Editorial Board, North Carolina Friends Historical Society on December 17, 2001, along with permission from the author, George H. Cox, Jr. Letters of permission are on file with the Webmaster. The Webmaster extends special thanks and appreciation to the North Carolina Friends Historical Society and George H. Cox, Jr.
This article first appeared in THE SOUTHERN FRIEND, Journal of the North Carolina Friends Historical Society, Volume X, Spring 1988, Number 1.
The Southern Friend is published semiannually in spring and autumn by the North Carolina Friends Historical Society, P.O. Box 8502, Greensboro, NC 27419-0502. Members of the society receive the journal without charge. Single issues and back issues may be purchased by writing to the North Carolina Friends Historical Society.
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The Peace and Social Concerns of
George H. Cox, Jr.
This is the first of three essays about the Wrightsborough Monthly Meeting in colonial Georgia. Each of the three essays addresses an area of the peace and social concerns of early American Friends: relationships with the Indians, war and revolution, and slavery. Reacquainting ourselves with the issues that concerned these southernmost of early Friends is important to understanding the challenges of eighteenth-century American Quakerism and the diversity which contributed to the colonial South. It also provides a useful backdrop to the history of the South once many of the region's more progressive settlers, including many Friends, left for the Midwest at the turn of the nineteenth century.
The Society of Friends benefited from early contact with Native Americans. George Fox traveled in Carolina in 1672 and himself conversed with local Indians.1 John Woolman later undertook a personal ministry among northern Indian tribes.2 Both of these guiding lights of Quakerism believed that Native Americans were spiritually competent and often very enlightened. Yet perhaps the best-informed comments suggesting a Quaker perspective on southeast Indians come from William Bartram, the naturalist son of the disowned Friend John Bartram. He and his father traveled extensively in the Southeast during the eighteenth century.
John and William Bartram and many other early Friends perceived the Indians to be peaceful peoples living idyllic lives in a pristine wilderness.4 These Quaker naturalists like the Quaker ministers Fox and Woolman before them were relative intellectuals, not hard-headed farmers who had to live and work each day along the frontier. Yet it is important to note that the "elite" influence of naturalists and ministers within Quakerism was a positive view of Native Americans.
People who moved to the frontier to liver were motivated by the desire for good land. Land in the Georgia backcountry was rich in wildlife and agricultural potential. Traders and naturalists brought back word of massive forests, plentiful game, navigable rivers, and fertile farm lands. Unfortunately, some of these men and their urban entrepreneur associated did not feel very idealistic about the forests and their Indian inhabitants. The developers' vision of the Georgia Colony was one of investment schemes and great wealth flowing from the rich land, land that belonged to the Creeks and Cherokees.5 All sorts of projects ranging from growing hemp or silk to raising tobacco or herds of horses were being considered by colonial entrepreneurs. The deer hide industry, an early eighteenth-century enterprise, alone promised to make some investors very wealth. People who controlled the land might become rich beyond the wildest expectations of most colonials, but first the indigenous Indian populations would have to be removed from the land.
The Native Americans along the frontier had a long history of relations with the English and other colonial whites. The Creeks had extensive lines of trade across Georgia touching French settlements in the west and Spanish settlements in the south and terminating in the English trading center of Augusta. The Cherokees maintained relations with the English in South Carolina, North Carolina, and Virginia in an uneasy alliance to block intrusions of northern tribes which were friendly with the French. Smaller tribes like Georgia's Euchees and Yamasees were pressed by the shifting populations of the large tribes and the advancing line of English white settlement coming from the east. The frontier was fluid with shifting trade routes and shifting political alliances. There was a great deal of virgin land, but little peace or stability along the Georgia backcountry.6
The Quakers settled in close proximity to the trade, migration and warfare paths of the Indian tribes. The main trade route from the Creek Federation into Augusta formed the southern boundary of the Wrightsborough Township Grant (see map). The northern and western boundaries of Wrightsborough Township were the negotiated lines with the Indian territory. Both the Creeks and the Cherokees held claims to the land where the Friends settled. Each ceded it to the English when their respective claims weakened and their debts to white traders accumulated. Each periodically struck out in warfare against the encroaching whites. The constant pressure of white settlement rarely subsided, even when treaties protecting Indian land claims could be negotiated with the British government.
Small groups of Quakers were on and off the Georgia frontier north and west of Augusta as early as 1751. Their initial settlement in the Georgia colony was difficult because of the unstable relations with the Indians. In the 1750s, the Creeks were legal owners of the land immediately around Augusta and all of the land to the west. The Cherokees had traditional hunting grounds to the north and to the northeast in the South Carolina colony. White settlers tried to buy land directly from the Indians, but these transactions frequently [led] to misunderstandings and hard feelings.
An initial 1751 purchase by Friends led to a brief settlement called Quaker Springs, but the frontier area erupted in violence in 1754. The royal legislature in Savannah banned private purchases of Indian lands in 1758.7 It required that whites wait until Indian lands were first ceded to the English government. Settlers could thereafter gain title to desired lands from the royal government.
When James Wright became the royal governor of Georgia in 1760, he made peaceful relations with the Indians a primary goal of his administration. First, he and the Georgia settlers had to weather an Indian war between the Cherokees and the whites of South Carolina; this outbreak lasted from 1760 to 1761. As soon as that conflict ended, he set about systematically pacifying the colony's frontier.
In 1763, Governor Wright confirmed the legal prohibition on the private purchase of Indian lands. Troops of British rangers sent to the war-threatened frontier area in 1759 were withdrawn in 1767. Negotiations proceeded with the Indians for formal cession of lands claimed by the Creek and Cherokees. Two such cessions were agreed to in 1763 and 1773. In 1766, the royal legislature of Georgia passed "An Act for Encouraging Settlers to come into the Province,"8 the single most important act in Wright's development plan for the Georgia backcountry.
It was under the generous terms of the Settlement Act that Wrightsborough was founded. The law provided that any group of forty or more families of protestants of good repute could petition the government of the colony for a township. The award under such a grant would include individual farm allotments plus communal property (for livestock, mills and public buildings), tax forgiveness, a surveyed town, and a public road connecting the new town to the colonial road network.
The North Carolina Friend Joseph Stubbs petitioned for a 12,000-acre tract in 1767. Joseph Maddock and Jonathan Sell also sough communal and personal grants in the same Little River area, and they asked that the area be declared a Quaker Reserve in December of that year. It is from these awards under the Settlement Act that the founding of Wrightsborough, named for the governor, can be traced.
Civil and religious life in Wrightsborough were closely intertwined. No new pioneers could settle within the reserve without the approval of the Friends. With over seventy families settled, the Quakers initially constituted the civil majority in the area as well. Maddock and Sell held public offices as justice of the peace and road commissioner respectively, so initial Quaker control of the Wrightsborough area was virtually complete.
Wrightsborough did not become a monthly meeting until 1773. Joseph Maddock was the recognized leader of the community, and he was considered by many in North Carolina Yearly Meeting to be a very outwardly focused, worldly man. He had been deeply involved with the Herman Husbands/Rachel Wright Affair at Cane Creek (North Carolina) Meeting and was suspected of being a Regulator.9 He denied the charges of worldliness and inclinations toward violence, but officials of the quarterly and yearly meetings were suspicious of him (with good cause as later events would bear out). Yet Maddock's leadership helped steer Wrightsborough through its early settlement efforts.
There was little real meeting of Indian and white cultures in colonial Georgia. White traders from Augusta might actually know certain chiefs or family groups in the Indian country, but the typical white settler lived in an enclave where Indians were sometimes seen but rarely welcomed. A typical reference is found in a 1777 letter written by the Wrightsborough Friend Daniel Williams.
Frontier settlers like Daniel Williams wanted to be secure on their own property within the "English boundaries," but the Indian notion of ownership was not so precise.
The Creeks saw themselves as stewards of the land rather than its owners. They often spoke of sharing parts of the land with white people, but they did not seem committed to staying off ceded lands altogether. This is clear in the ambivalent speech of Emisteseegoe, a Creek head man, made to the royal council at Savannah in 1768.
Elsewhere, the chief refers to the cession of land as "borrowed" and complains of separate negotiations by lower level head men of the Creeks.12 The stewardship of the land was clearly a matter for discussion between brothers, but land title was not clearly understood between the parties. Many misunderstandings related to land ownership occurred in the Wrightsborough area.
When treaties resulted in land cessions to the English government, Indians and whites were wary of each other's honesty and good faith. William Bartram observed an incident near Wrightsborough which exemplifies the lack of confidence between the races.
Finally, the compass was put aside and the chief was promised a quantity of trade goods so that the survey could continue. Such was the give and take of English and Indian oversight of land dealings along the Georgia frontier. It was small wonder that Bartram and other disinterested observers sympathized with the Indians, the more peaceable settlers, and the government officials who tried to mediate land relations across a gulf of cultural differences and distrust.
One focus for white distrust of the local Indians was the issue of horse stealing. A 1772 report on the region commented that "vast number[s] of horses are bred here, but of an indifferent kind; and these savages are the greatest horse stealers yet known; it is impossible to be sure of a horse whenever these fellows come."14 Backwoods settlers, Quaker and non-Quaker alike had to deal with the theft of livestock by neighboring Indians. Yet it is interesting to note the ways in which the Friends' response differed from other pioneer reactions on the Georgia frontier.
In 1767, a group of settlers from the Little River area complained to Governor Wright that Creek Indians had stolen horses and fled westward into the Indian Territory.15 Five local settlers pursued the thieves, but were driven away from the Indians' camp when a watchdog gave the alarm at their presence. The next day, a larger party of thirteen armed settlers returned to the site of the Indian camp, and finding it deserted, burned it to the ground. The Governor was very concerned with this turn of events, especially the settlers' retaliatory raid, and immediately dispatched a message to the Creek chiefs. After recounting the details of the incident he comments:
In 1769, the Wrightsborough Quakers suffered similar losses to backwoods thieves. A number of horses were taken from their settlement, and the Quaker farmers went after their livestock. When they caught up with the Indians, the Quakers could not secure the return of their animals. And yet the action taken was different than that taken by the previous expedition.
The Quakers recognized that the Indians who were stealing from them were individual criminals rather representatives of hostile Indian tribes. They confronted the local chiefs with their complaints rather than trying to take back the horses or extract revenge. When their direct efforts failed, the Quakers asked the government to take steps to have their livestock returned.
The Friends were no less upset at the loss of their horses than were the other settlers. In fact, the loss of the livestock threatened to keep them from bringing in the crops which stood between them and starvation. But they did not let such incidents provoke them to vigilante violence.
The Indians acknowledged this reasonable attitude toward them. A Creek leader specifically mentioned them in a statement to the British government.
The Governor also appreciated the role that the Quaker were playing in the backcountry. First, he took action against the offending white men. He offered to pay a reward for "stray livestock," and he directed his magistrates to try to discourage settlers from reacting to incursions with violence. He also acknowledged that thefts took place on both sides and promised the Creeks that he would bring white criminals to justice.
Governor Wright was simultaneously promoting the Settlement Act as a positive means of reducing the threat of fighting for land and livestock along the frontier. He had to find settlers who would leave the nearby Indians alone or who would deal fairly with them when contact occurred. He hoped to entice peaceful settlers into formally surveyed townships where safety and respect for boundaries would be easier to maintain.
The boundary disputes, thefts, and other local irritations disrupted the Wrightsborough settlement effort. Yet a more serious problem arose when actual warfare threatened to break out between Indian tribes and the English government. It was one thing to cling to peaceful solutions for isolated incidents. It was quite another matter to stay nonviolent when organized attacks on the community could be expected. Dealing with the Indians who considered themselves to be at war was a real challenge for the Georgia Quakers.
Even in the 1767 incident involving settlers from Little River, the fear of organized Indian raids is apparent. After reporting on their loss of livestock to the Creeks, the Little River settlers tell the royal government in Savannah of their preparations for reprisals by the Indians.
The Quakers continued to withdraw from the frontier when organized violence broke out as they had done in the earlier period of the Cherokee War. In 1774, the Cherokee again struck south into the Georgia Colony.
In time, the Friends were more established, and many were reluctant to abandon their prosperous homes and settlement. After all, there was a constant danger that local disputes or regional conflicts could engulf the area in war. They had to have some security beyond the governor's vigilant negotiations.
The fear of Indian attack apparently led the Wrightborough Friends to consider "policy protection" for their settlement. The 1771 Tax Act of the colony includes payment of a scout "to be raised for the protection of the Settlement of Wrightsborough and parts adjacent from the Insults of Stragling Indians."22 Yet it is clear that this step was taken with profound ambivalence. In fact, a member of the religious society, John Money (perhaps Mooney), took the job,, and he was condemned on religious accounts as a result.23 More generally, the religious leaders of the community would not allow men in the meeting to serve in the colonial militia. They consistently disciplined members who were found to be training with the local self-defense forces or who were found to have taken the law into their own hands.24 However, it seems to be the case that the community cooperated in the construction of a fort at Wrightsborough, an act which straddles the line between peaceable living and warlike acts. Clearly, the Friends at Wrightsborough were not of a clear and single mind regarding how they should respond to the threat of Indian attack.
It is very difficult to look back two hundred years in time and make judgments about these Friends. They were practical as well as religious people. When it came to the Indians, they suffered insecurities and ambivalencies as often as they enjoyed strength of purpose and clarity of insight. Clearly, we cannot project our views of racial tolerance and enlightened action back in time upon them. Yet they seem to have enjoyed a measure of their own light regarding the nearby Indians. They worked for a legal solutions in the presence of a frontier vigilante ethos. They withdrew from violence rather than wantonly engage in it. They refused to blame the tribes and the Indian leaders for the isolated criminal acts of brigands. Moreover, they kept seeking an enlightened course of action in the face of the horrors of violent crime and frontier war. Some rewards were forthcoming from an appreciative royal administration, but the rewards were not so extravagant that their tolerant motives should be questioned. After all, they were the people who the Creek chief hoped would come and settle "near the boundary line."
George Fox is the Clerk of the Ogeechee Friends Monthly Meeting (Southeastern Yearly Meeting) in Statesboro, Georgia. He is also Associate Professor of Political Science at Georgia Southern College. Martha Franklin Daily assisted with the research for this project, and Crystal Glisson drew the period map showing the Wrightsborough Township.
1 The Journal of George Fox (London:
J.M. Dent and Sons, Ltd., 1924): 300.
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