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The conflict between Spain and the United States in its frontier phase seemed at times to reduce itself to a conflict between fur trader and land speculator. The fur trader of the Floridas was no quicker to prepare for the coming struggle than the land jobber of the young republic was to precipitate it. It is not to be understood that in this struggle the government of the United States identified itself with the one or that of Spain with the other. On the contrary, both governments strove to maintain their independence of action, and even on occasion opposed their self-appointed agents; but the latter represented the stage of economic development reached by their respective communities, and their services were indispensable. The governors of Louisiana might write eloquently to their home government about the danger of permitting Englishmen to supply the Indians, and yet in a crisis they always protested that for a few years at any rate nothing must be done to offend Panton. Again, President Washington might hurl his proclamations against speculator O'Fallon and his Yazoo associates, but at the very same time he was appointing speculator Blount governor of the Southwest Territory.
The importance of the land speculator in the history of westward expansion in the United States, and specifically in the conflict with which we are now concerned, can hardly be exaggerated.1 That he created the westward movement no one would pretend, nor does the recognition of his importance involve depreciation of p48 the hunter, trader and Indian fighter. They are both manifestations of the same vital principle of national growth, useless each without the other. There was ample room for both Henderson and Boone, for both Blount and Robertson, in the Mississippi Valley, and neither can be understood without the other. Indeed the folly of opposing the complementary types becomes apparent at once when we observe — as we might expect in a region where specialization existed in only a rudimentary form — that the two types are fused in a single person, as in the case of John Sevier. "Nolachucky Jack" was both a constant harrier of the Indians and an inveterate speculator in frontier lands.
The hunter and fighter, the pioneer of white civilization, was by very definition a transient. He must either march on in pursuit of retreating game, whether it were four-footed or two-footed, or he must change his whole scheme of life and cease to be a pioneer. That the speculator appeared early on the scene is not to be wondered at. A capitalistic society was occupying new lands, and the land speculator merely applied to westward extension the methods of capitalistic organization. The purchase of presents for the Indians, of tools, arms and flatboats for the settlers, the payment of surveyors, the securing of grants from state legislatures — such essential steps in the establishment of a new colony required concerted action and extensive financial resources, and were therefore beyond the power of any individual frontiersman, no matter how brave in conflict or cunning in woodlore he might be. The land speculators, who possessed these resources, were something more than mere real estate agents; or at any rate they were real estate agents cast in a heroic mould. Now they intoxicated a whole Indian tribe, now corrupted a p49 state legislature, now erected a new state when they found none ready to serve their purpose. Although not one of their major projects was successful in the period under consideration, these speculators played a most important part in it, and did something that was much more important than the mere establishment of another colony or two in the already populous Mississippi Valley. They advertised the West and pointed the way not only for later American settlement, but also for the immediate establishment of posts by the jealous Spaniard. They stirred up Western indignation against Spain and Western discontent with the Union, and one of their number, Patrick Henry, very nearly prevented the adoption of the present federal constitution because of his dissatisfaction with the Northern States' attitude towards the development of the Southwest. Finally, it was these speculators who forced the issue of the controversy between their government and Spain, for the success of their speculative schemes depended upon the free use of the Mississippi.
It has already been observed how the American Revolution not only freed the expansive forces in the South from imperial restraint, but also gave the frontier a further impulse towards the Mississippi. This was due in part to the political decentralization which accompanied the Revolution, facilitated the operations of land speculators, and was in turn strengthened by the tendencies of land speculation; but at the same time that the Revolution destroyed imperial restraint, it raised up a new obstacle to expansion in the Old Southwest. Spain's recovery of British West Florida created a competing frontier on the east bank of the Mississippi in the very region most coveted by land speculators of that day. Actually in possession of p50 Natchez, Spain extended her claim northward to the Tennessee River2 so that it embraced not only most of the Southern Indian villages, but also every one of the sites most desired by speculators of the United States. These were Muscle Shoals on the Tennessee, and Chickasaw Bluffs and Walnut Hills on the Mississippi. Although the extent of the Spanish claim as formulated by Floridablanca was known only in confidential Spanish circles, the land speculators of the Southern States fell to work in 1784 as if they had divined it and were determined to teach the crown of Spain a thing or two in the fixing of boundaries. There is, indeed, reason to believe that the legislature of Georgia sanctioned one of these enterprises, the Muscle Shoals project (1784), because of a report that the Spaniards were occupying that region.3
The expansive energy of the Southwestern frontier expressed itself in two forms at the close of the Revolution: first, in the extension of existing settlements; second, in the projection of new colonies across the wilderness. The area of continuous settlement was extended further into the Creek country by the Georgians through "treaties" (1783, 1785 and 1786) with a handful of those Indians, and into the Cherokee country by similar cessions of land further down the Holston extorted by the new state of Franklin from its helpless neighbors.4 In the interval between the collapse of British power in West Florida and the arrival of the first large supply of Spanish munitions in 1785, these two tribes could offer little resistance to the land-hungry frontiersmen. The Georgia frontier was pushed forward to the Oconee, and the Holston settlements soon p51 advanced down the river of that name to the site of the present Knoxville. Several new "stations" were established on Cumberland River in the first two years of peace; and it was reported by Campo, the Spanish chargé in London, that 8000 immigrants settled in Kentucky alone in 1783.5 The state governments encouraged these new settlements by the creation of counties and the erection of county governments, the incorporation of towns, the appointment of militia officers, and the extension of the state judicial system. In one case, that of North Carolina, the state actually raised a standing "army" of one hundred and fifty men to protect the frontiersmen against the Indians.
Even these concessions, however, failed to satisfy the frontiersmen's ambitions. Already the creation of new states in the Southwest was under discussion. A separatist movement had been on foot in Kentucky since 1782, if not earlier, and it met with some encouragement in Virginia. In 1784 there was a movement in Southwestern Virginia to form that valley into a separate state.6 In December of the same year the state of Franklin7 was erected by the Holston settlers in the region ceded by North Carolina to Congress in June, although the cession act was repealed by the state legislature in November. Particularism and expansionism, religiosity and hatred of the Indians, imitativeness and individualism, all played their part in the complex movement that produced this frontier state; but the dominant interest was in land. A cession of lands south of the French Broad was extorted from the Cherokee by the Franklinites, who also expected to dispose of the vacant lands ceded by North Carolina to Congress and planned to establish a greater state of Franklin by occupying the Muscle Shoals region.
p52 The first and only governor of Franklin, John Sevier, was one of the most interesting men in the Southwest of his day, for he possessed in a high degree the qualities that distinguish the American frontiersman. If we are to trust his diary and the other extant records concerning him, his life was almost completely external and objective.8 Of introspection, emotional self-consciousness, intellectual inquiry there is hardly a trace. A monument erected to him in Knoxville, Tennessee, bears the significant inscription: "Thirty-five battles, thirty-five victories," which, though not altogether accurate, expresses adequately the lifelong Indian fighter, the soldier who recorded in his diary a conversation with Napoleon on a high mountain overlooking the kingdoms of this earth. To complete the picture, however, the inscription should add: "He was an inveterate land speculator, despite many failures." His hold over his fellow-frontiersmen was due in part to their belief that he could lead them triumphantly against the Indians and into the Promised Land, but it was due also to the charm of his free, generous nature, to his overflow of abundant vitality. He had little in common with the negative, repressive, sectarianism that later dominated his community. His feet frequently trod those twin roads to hell, card-playing and dancing. It is recorded that on one occasion he was arrested for drunkenness and disorderly conduct,9 and there are rumors of other irregularities in his private life. He bought, sold and used slaves without compunction, winked at if he did not openly permit the cold-blooded murder of unoffending Indians, intrigued with Spain, and while governor of Tennessee (1796) openly condoned the violation of a federal proclamation. And yet he was an industrious farmer and storekeeper, a p53 churchgoer, careful to provide for the education of his children, foremost in Indian warfare when the settlements were threatened, and always ready to lend a helping hand to his poorer neighbors. His were the virtues of a frontier community.
None of these Western communities realized its dream of statehood at this time. The North Atlantic States were loath to increase the political power of the South and West. North Carolina opposed the Franklinites, and Virginia, while more compliant in the case of the Kentuckians, moved slowly. Circumstances soon arose that gave a new direction to Western particularism, but in order to understand those circumstances we must first give our attention to the schemes of land speculators in the Southwest in the years 1784 and 1785.
The second manifestation of expansive energy in the Southwest was the projection of new colonies. In these enterprises the land speculators played a prominent part, for Muscle Shoals, Chickasaw Bluffs, Walnut Hills and Natchez offered a tempting field for speculative endeavor. Immigration into the Mississippi Valley was assuming such proportions that property-owners in the Atlantic States were alarmed, those in the Western settlements elated, Spanish statesmen disturbed and neutral observers dumbfounded. Peace seemed assured by the crushing defeat inflicted on the hostile Indians in the Revolutionary War, prosperity by the free navigation of the Mississippi, permitted to the Americans by Spain during the war, granted by England in the treaty of peace, and still undisturbed at the beginning of 1784. Above all, no Spanish counterclaim p54 to the territory in question had ever been publicly asserted. Spain had made no protest against the treaty with England which fixed the southern boundary of the United States at the thirty-first parallel. It is not surprising that under these circumstances many new colonies were projected, or that when at length Spain closed the Mississippi and challenged the boundary claim of the United States the projectors of these colonies refused to relinquish tamely their dreams of profit and empire.
One of the first and most persistently prosecuted of these plans, and one of the last to be realized, was that of James Robertson and other North Carolinians to establish a settlement at Chickasaw Bluffs.10 Since this site lay within the hunting grounds of the Chickasaw Indians, with whom Robertson and the other Cumberland settlers were on excellent terms, success seemed more than likely; but the Spanish treaty with the Chickasaw at Mobile in June, 1784, the menace of war and the remoteness of Chickasaw Bluffs prevented the plan from being carried into effect. The chief importance of the project is that its discovery called the attention of the Spanish government to this spot, increased its alarm at the territorial ambitions of the frontiersmen, and finally in 1795 led the governor of Louisiana to establish a fort there.
Another of the colonies projected during this period was one at Muscle Shoals.11 Both because of the number of prominent persons in the South engaged in the enterprise and because of the events connected with the long and persistent attempt to establish the colony, the Muscle Shoals venture is one of singular importance in the history of the Old Southwest. Three future governors were members of the original company: p55 Richard Caswell of North Carolina, William Blount of the Southwest Territory, and John Sevier of Franklin and Tennessee. Others engaged were Joseph Martin, agent of Patrick Henry and of the state of Virginia, General Griffith Rutherford, and Wade Hampton of South Carolina. In the first phase, William Blount was the head of the company, corresponding with his frontier associates, who secured the Cherokee title to the site of the proposed colony, and visiting Georgia, where he persuaded the legislature to provide (February, 1784) for the settlement of the Shoals district and the organization of a county government there. The "district of Tenasee," as it was called, including all the land lying between the Tennessee River and the southern boundary of the present state of Tennessee, was erected into a county called Houston, and all the offices were filled with members of the company and their relatives.
Everything was apparently ready for an exodus from the older Holston settlements to Muscle Shoals when in August, 1784, the progress of the enterprise was halted by the separatist movement which resulted in the establishment of the state of Franklin. This movement was at first opposed by Sevier, for it diverted attention from the speculative project; but, finding the separatist tendency too powerful to resist, he put himself at its head and was elected governor of the infant state. Once in the saddle, he returned to his favorite scheme with the force of the new government behind him. This later phase of the project will be discussed in another place.
The third of the projected colonies lay on the Mississippi. This was Bourbon County, erected by the state of Georgia in 1785, and including, besides Natchez itself, which was at the time garrisoned by Spanish troops, p56 all the territory on the Mississippi between the thirty-first parallel and the mouth of the Yazoo River.12 This curious episode is typical of the situation in the whole Southwest at that time, and reveals some of its complexities. There were three claimants to the territory in which Bourbon County was erected: Georgia, Spain and the United States. Though actually in possession of the district, which Bernardo de Gálvez had conquered during the Revolution, Spain had made no protest against its cession by England to the United States in 1783. Gardoqui, however, was on his way from Spain to New York to take up the matter with Congress. His coming had long been expected, his object was easy to guess, and it was precisely while he was in Havana (February, 1785), waiting for a ship to take him to New York, that the Georgia legislature granted the request of persons from Natchez and erected that district into a county of the state of Georgia under the name of Bourbon.13
Four commissioners were appointed to proceed to Natchez and organize the county government. Two of them made their way down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers, and the other two travelled overland through the Indian country, where they tried to reëstablish the former commerce between Augusta and the towns of the Chickasaw and Choctaw. Although the Georgia legislature had strictly ordered the commissioners not to commit any act of hostility against Spain, it was persistently rumored that they were planning the use of force, and that George Rogers Clark was to lead an army of 2500 Kentuckians to rout the Spaniards out of Natchez.
The enterprise was an utter failure. The first of the commissioners to arrive in Natchez exceeded his powers, p57 violated the pacific instructions given him by the Georgia legislature, abruptly demanded the surrender of the district by the Spanish commander, and threatened violence when he was refused. The people of the district, many of whom were British Loyalists, showed no enthusiasm for the rule of revolutionary Georgia. This was especially true of the wealthier planters. When Governor Miró was first informed of the commissioners' arrival in Natchez, he played for time, afraid to deal with them as summarily as he wished; but later, on the receipt of orders from his energetic chief, Captain-General Gálvez, now Viceroy of New Spain, and of assurances that the people of Natchez would not aid the Georgians, he expelled the commissioners from the district. In the meantime Gardoqui had arrived in New York, and had protested to Congress against the proceedings of the commissioners, Congress, itself a claimant to the district, was not disposed to prejudice the negotiation with Gardoqui for the benefit of its rival, the state of Georgia. Since not even Georgia's delegates in Congress could deny that the Bourbon County commissioners had violated their instructions, the affair ended to the entire satisfaction of Gardoqui and the complete discomfiture of the Georgians.14
Yet the affair was ominous for Spain. The union of land speculators and fur traders of Georgia and the Carolinas with the frontiersmen of Kentucky and North Carolina was a formidable one, and there was nothing to prevent its being formed again on more definite and more aggressive terms and with a better chance of success. Such a menace Spain might of course resist by strengthening her military defences, as Miró did on this occasion, but such measures were very costly. The extraordinary expenses occasioned by the Bourbon p58 County episode were about $50,000,15 which was not a small sum for a province already burdensome to a none too prosperous government. As the frontier conflict became more acute, the expense of bolstering up the military defences of Louisiana became greater and greater, until finally, at a critical period in Spain's international relations and in her finances, the burden became intolerable.
Although not one of these projected colonies was established at any time in our period, and although on the contrary Spain anticipated the speculators and their frontier agents by establishing forts first in the Yazoo district (1791) and then at Chickasaw Bluffs (1795), the projects produced results of the very first importance in the history of the Spanish-American conflict. That the enterprises were not mere paper prospectuses was shown by the fact that agents were actually on the site of the intended settlements in 1784‑85, making surveys, marking trees, and preparing for colonization, and that the commissioners of Bourbon County presented themselves in Natchez with the evident — though unaccountable — expectation of taking over the government from the Spanish commandant. The resolute opposition of Spain to these designs, the expulsion of the Georgia commissioners from Natchez, the Indian attacks on the speculators at Chickasaw Bluffs and Muscle Shoals, enraged the frontiersmen and led Thomas Green, one of the Bourbon County commissioners, to warn his fellow-countrymen that if they did not look about them a few "incrochen tyrents," namely the Spaniards, would soon be in possession of all the choicest places in the New World.16
p59 In the face of the unexpected obstacle of determined and effective Spanish resistance, the frontiersmen and speculators changed their tactics and began to take Spain into account. Some of them intrigued with Spain, some against Spain, and some, such as John Sevier and George Rogers Clark, did both. It was the intrigue against Spain, the planning of a devastating invasion of Louisiana and the Floridas, that appealed most powerfully to the imagination of the frontiersmen. Sevier, Clark, Green, Sullivan, O'Fallon — these and many other names are associated with designs of expelling the "haughty and indolent Spaniard" from the mouth of the Mississippi and establishing in his place the beneficent rule of the long-haired frontiersman. Reports of these hostile designs soon reached the Spanish court, and, as we shall see, were influential in determining Floridablanca to adopt as a defensive measure against frontier hostility an intrigue with the frontiersmen themselves.
A more immediate result of the frontier advance and the speculative enterprises of 1784‑85 was the outbreak of war between the Georgians and the Creek Indians. This was primarily a fur traders' war. In every one of the schemes that we have discussed the speculators seem to have been almost as much interested in fur trading as in colonization. The Georgia commissioners, both on their way to Natchez and after their expulsion from it, made strenuous efforts to reconquer for Georgia the trade of the Choctaw and Chickasaw. Sevier's letters to the Chickasaw are full of allusions to the trade that would be provided them by the projected colony at Muscle Shoals. The Cumberland settlers p60 were trying to divert the Southern fur trade from Mobile and Pensacola to Nashville, and their projected post at Chickasaw Bluffs was probably a part of their plan.17
As one might expect, the half-breed chief Alexander McGillivray and his partner William Panton lost no time in launching a counter-offensive against their rebel cousins in Georgia and the Carolinas. McGillivray had made the American frontier menace the text of a letter to Miró in 1784. In 1785 he was one of the first to warn the governor of the Bourbon County project. In July of the same year he protested to the Spanish government, in the name of the Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw nations, against the encroachments of the Americans, specifying the recent creation of counties within the Indian's hunting grounds and demanding the restoration of the boundaries of 1772 — that is, the evacuation of a large part of Georgia, of most of the Holston settlements, of all those on the Cumberland River, and of half of Kentucky.18
In July, 1785, Congress appointed commissioners to negotiate treaties of friendship, commerce and limits with the Southern tribes.19 In November the commissioners arrived in Georgia, where they attempted to treat with the Creek Indians, but were baulked by the opposition of the state of Georgia and McGillivray. Both of the latter apparently preferred to fight it out. More successful elsewhere, the commissioners negotiated treaties with the Cherokee, Chickasaw and Choctaw in the winter of 1785‑86. The significance of the most important of these treaties, the one with the Cherokee, will be discussed in another place.
The unwillingness of the Creek to compromise their dispute with Georgia was no doubt increased by the p61 fact that through William Panton's concession from the Spanish government they had received in the summer of 1785 their first large supply of munitions since the outbreak of the war between Spain and England. In April of the following year, without awaiting the court's reply to his protest against American encroachments, McGillivray let loose his warriors upon the Georgia frontier and upon Cumberland.20 It was only after the decision had been made and the warriors had set out on the war-path that he informed Miró of the accomplished fact, styled the war a defensive one on the part of the Indians and demanded Spain's aid. It is significant that the war began with the murder and expulsion of Georgia traders among the Creek; and if any doubt remained that this was a fur traders' war, it would be set at rest by a letter written by William Panton two years later in which he said: ". . . Our house expended by the struggle we had with the Georgia merchants in the years 1784, 1785 and the beginning of 1786 before we obtained their expulsion from the Indian nation, no less a sum than thirty thousand dollars. . . ."21
Contrary to the general impression, this was not willed or ordered by the Spanish government or any of its officials. On the contrary, it came as a shock even to Miró and placed him in a most embarrassing position, for he suspected that not all the fault was on the side of the Georgians. Though he granted McGillivray's request for munitions, he directed that they be delivered with the utmost secrecy and on the understanding that they were to be used for defensive purposes only.22 He further urged McGillivray to make peace with the Americans as soon as possible. His action was ultimately approved by the court, which, with every appearance p62 of sincerity, enjoined upon Miró and all the frontier officials a pacific policy.23 The Spanish government never, either at this time or at any other, authorized the Indians to begin hostilities against the Americans, and while Miró remained in Louisiana he complied faithfully with the orders of his government, even to the detriment of Spain's interests among the Indians.24
Thus the activity of American speculators and frontiersmen forced the first public indication of Spain's territorial claims east of the Mississippi, precipitated an Indian war, compelled the definition of Spain's Indian policy, and prepared the way for frontier intrigues both with and against Spain. By bringing out in high relief the conflict of interest between Spaniard and American and by sharpening their mutual antagonism, this activity showed that the interests of peace required an early adjustment by treaty of the points at issue between the two countries.
p227 1 A. Henderson, "The Creative Forces in Westward Expansion," in AHR, XX, 86, and "Richard Henderson," in Tenn. Hist. Mag., II, 155.
3 S. R. N. Ca., XVII, 13‑14, 15‑16.
4 A. S. P., I. A., I, 17; Georgia Hist. Soc., Collections, V, part 2, No. 2, 205‑14, 215, 220‑21; Knox Papers (MSS., Massachusetts Hist. Soc.), vol. XVIII, fols. 46, 54, 108; Georgia Records (MSS., LC), Council Correspondence, Gov. Elbert to Elijah Clarke, June 9, 1785, and passim; S. R. N. Ca., XXII, 649‑650; ib., XVIII.696‑700; Calendar Virginia State Papers, IV.37.
6 F. J. Turner, "State Making in the Revolutionary Era," in AHR, I, 70, 251; Calendar Virginia State Papers, IV, 45‑46; L. P. Summers, History of Southwest Virginia, 264‑66, 399; Papers of the Continental Congress (MSS., LC) 48, 297, Chas. Cumming to the President of Congress.
7 S. C. Williams, The Lost State of Franklin, is the latest and best account of this subject.
9 S. R. N. Ca., XXII, 699‑700.
10 AI, PC, l. 3, Miró to Gálvez, Dec. 10, 1785, No. 258, enclosing copy of letter from L. Chacheret; S. R. N. Ca., XX, 731.
p228 11 A full discussion of this subject, with references, will be found in my article, "The Muscle Shoals Speculation," in MVHR, Dec., 1926.
12 E. C. Burnett, ed., "Papers relating to Bourbon County, Georgia," in AHR, XV, 66 et seq.; AI, 86‑6‑15, Zéspedes to Sonora, Dec. 24, 1786, No. 13 reservada, and enclosures, show the efforts of the Bourbon County promoters to interest Sevier.
13 AHN, E, l. 3893, Gardoqui to Floridablanca, Havana, Feb. 23, 1785; Burnett, op. cit., 68‑71.
14 AI, PC, l. 2352, Miró to Bouligny, Nov. 10, 1785, No. 99; ib., l. 104, Gardoqui to Miró, Oct. 21, 1785.
15 This appears from statistics given by C. H. Cunningham in MVHR, VI.391‑97.
16 Burnett, op. cit., 334‑35.
17 Ib., 336; AI, PC, l. 200, McGillivray to Miró, July 25, 1787; ib., Ben James to Mather and Strother, July 23, 1787; ib., l. 11, Bouligny to Miró, Oct. 4, 1785, No. 68; ib., l. 37, O'Neill to Miró, July 18, 1787; S. R. N. Ca., XXII, 719‑21.
18 AI, PC, l. 1446, McGillivray to (Miró), Jan. 1, 1784, Spanish translation, enclosed in Carondelet to Las Casas, Aug. 23, 1792, No. 43 res.; Burnett, op. cit., 299‑303; AI, PC, l. 2352, McGillivray to Miró, July 10, 1785, Spanish translation.
20 AI, PC, l. 199, McGillivray to O'Neill, March 28, 1786, announcing the immediate beginning of the campaign.
21 Ib., l. 203, Panton to Miró and Navarro, Jan. 28, 1788; cf. Zéspedes to Sonora, June 12, 1786, No. 7 res.
22 AI, 86‑6‑15, Miró to Sonora, June 28, 1786, No. 136, res. de preferencia, and enclosures; ib., PC, l. 4, Miró to O'Neill, June 20, 1786, muy res. By Sept. 18, 1786, O'Neill had given the Creek 3750 pounds powder and 7400 pounds of ball; ib., l. 37, O'Neill to Miró, Sept. 18, 1786.
23 Ib., l. 176‑2, Sonora to the Governor of Louisiana, Nov. 12, 1786; ib., l. 1394, Valdés to the Governor of Louisiana, July 31, 1787, copy; ib., l. 1375, Sonora to Gálvez, May 8, 1786.
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