Chapter I: The Five Civilised Tribes - The Red/Black Link From Slavery
William S. Willis stated in 1971 that "Virtually nothing has been done
comparing the plight of Negroes and Indians since the now out-of-date
Almon W. Lauber, "Indian Slavery in Colonial Times within the Present
Limits of the United
States" (Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1913)."(1). If it was true for
and blacks generally,-it
was even more so regarding red men and the Blues singers
in particular. What is more, the picture is not much different today.
also says that "North of Mexico, the Colonial Southeast was the
only place where
Indians, Whites, and Negroes met in large numbers."(2). This area of the
had the largest and most concentrated population of blacks
in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, and continues
to do so today.
The southeastern states were also the home of the Five Civilized Tribes.
Murray tells us that the five tribes are "The Cherokees, Choctaws,
Chickasaws, Creeks and Seminoles."(3). It is fairly obvious that two
masses of 'racially inferior' people, according to the white man, living
in the same states are bound
to interact and even
inter-marry. There are many references to these tribes, by
Blues singers, as we shall see later; especially the Cherokees.
The latter are described as "a large and powerful tribe who, at the
time of European contact, lived in the region of the southern Allegheny
and Great Smoky Mountains and
adjacent areas of Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia,
Tennessee, and Alabama."(4). Later on, the Cherokees also inhabited
parts of Arkansas and Texas, thus covering all the main sources for the
Blues with the exceptions of Mississippi and Louisiana. Spanish
explorer, Hernando de Soto, first
came across these people in 1540 in "...eastern Tennessee, and adjoining
parts of Georgia and Carolina (sic)."(5). In the same year de Soto also
met the Chickasaw "... in the
region of what is today
Choctaw were found in the same state, "At the time of
European contact they lived in the central and southern areas of what is
now Mississippi."(7). In the late eighteenth century some of the Choctaw
moved into Louisiana and Arkansas. (see Ch. III). The Creeks were in
Georgia and Alabama until removal (see Ch. III) as were the Seminoles
until, in an effort to "...escape retribution or annihilation."
from the whites, they "... drifted into Spanish Florida,"(8). It was in
and steamy swamplands of the latter that the U.S.
Government experienced their
battle (the Seminole Wars) in extricating the Seminoles and
removing them to the new Indian Territory in what was later to become
of Oklahoma. Florida, too, was a source, although a minor one, of the
The Five Civilized Tribes of the southeastern states, we are told, were
so called because they "settled down" quickly to white/European ways of
Or put another way, offered little resistance, compared
to the Plains Indians,
to the white man's plundering of their
lands, homes, and food supplies. The Seminoles, presumably being a
blatant exception! Murray tells us that the Five Tribes "... adapted
promptly to new conditions in the early nineteenth century, becoming
efficient farmers, producing their own newspaper - even owning black
slaves."(9). I will be returning to the latter phenomenon, shortly.
There is an illustration
showing seven Cherokee headmen "during a 1730 visit to London"
(10), with knee-breeches, jackets and shirts, the caption
says "By the Revolution Cherokees knew European ways"(11). Also, a
state of 'civilization' was "a state that the Southern nations - the
Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks - were at last beginning
to approach."(12). But not yet the Seminoles!
When the U.S. Government, headed by John Quincy Adams, (c.1827)
attempted to have the
southeastern tribes removed by 'peaceful persuasion', these tribes,
not unreasonably, argued "... an unshakeable attachment to
their ancestral homes." (13). They also strongly objected to the
removal suggestions as "...each group
- Cherokees, Chickasaws,
Choctaws, Creeks, and, to extent the Seminoles in Florida -
had made remarkable strides in agriculture, handicrafts, and
self-government." (14). They improved their talents for breeding
livestock, spinning cotton and milling flour. One of their number,
"a quarter-breed Cherokee", whose Anglicised
name was George Guess and a
genius by any standards "...invented a written alphabet that many Cherokees
learned enthusiastically." (15). Guest' Indian name was Sequoyah,
after whom the giant redwood trees were named. All these tribes, at
one time or another, owned black slaves.
Debo says the Indians, and "especially the Cherokees and Choctaws,
began to adopt the white man's institutions"(16). And "... some of
their leaders began to operate plantations worked by Negro
slaves."(17). Another report informs us that "By the early 19th
century there were many prosperous, privately owned Cherokee
plantations. It is reported that in 1825 the Cherokee owned no less
than 1,277 Negro slaves."(18). The Creeks too, "On their strikes
into South Carolina they confiscated property, including numerous
slaves whom they refused to sell."(19). When answering complaints,
the Creeks replied that "they were told by the General before they
went into Carolina that whatever plunder they got should be their
own property and that they saw the King's Army Seize upon all the
Negroes they could get upon which they did the same and intended to
carry them to the Nation."(20). Willis writes that in "...1773,
David Taitt, Indian agent, threatened to cut off the Creek trade
unless the Indians returned fugitive Negroes."(21). This referred to
runaway slaves who had sought refuge in and around Indian villages,
but Willis adds that "Indians were bona fide slave traders. They
stole Negroes from White slaveholders in order to sell them to other
While slaveholders."(22). In fact on European contact, all of the
southern tribes "...radically changed their costume and quickly took
over cattle, slaves, and many arts."(23). By the 1820's many
half-breed Indians of the southeastern tribes had risen to a
position of some power and influence, principally by acting as
negotiators and mediators for the Indians land "...between the less
sophisticated Indians and the white Americans."(24). This
power-oriented role brought its rewards and "...many of the new
leaders had valuable plantations, mills, and trading
establishments..."(25). The Cherokees and Choctaws in particular
"...took pride in their achievements and those of their people in
assimilating the trappings of civilization."(26). If the same sort
of inhuman liberties occurred affecting black women by Indian,
slaveholding, plantation owners as they did with many of their white
counterparts, it is small wonder that the Indian strain,
particularly Cherokee, is extant in many Blues singers.
However, by the end of the Civil War, "The Cherokees, Creeks, and
Seminoles had been induced to grant full citizenship to their former
slaves..." (27), and "The Choctaws and Chickasaws had secured an
optional provision in their peace treaty, and the United States
agreed to remove the freedmen within two years and colonize them
elsewhere if the Indians should decide against adoption. Both tribes
promptly voted for their removal, but the United States failed to
take action. Finally, after twenty years, the Choctaws adopted their
freedmen and gave them the limited economic, educational and
political privileges permissible under the treaty; but the
Chickasaws, except for a temporary weakening in 1873,
continued to petition for the fulfillment of the treaty during the
remainder of the tribal period."(28).
But nearly five years later, the black or 'colored' population of
Indian Territory were still without most of basic human rights. A
committee on behalf of "...the Colored People of the Choctaw and
Chickasaw Nations"(29), in a letter to the Senate in Washington,
stated that "...although freed from slavery by the result of the
late war, we enjoy few, if any, of the benefits of freedom." (30).
While both the Indian (a classic mis-nomer) and the American black
continue to be ethnic minorities in the U.S. and often live in
comparative harmony today, history shows us this wasn't always the
case. "According to John Bricknell, an early eighteenth century
reporter, Indians had "a natural aversion to the Blacks"(31). Willis
goes on "In 1763, George Milligan Johnston, a South Carolina
physician, opined that this hostility was mutual and spoke of the
"natural Dislike and Antipathy, that subsists between them (Negroes)
and our Indian Neighbours."(32). But there was nothing
natural about the creation of that mutual dislike and antipathy.
There was a very conscious effort on the part of the whites to
ensure a divide and rule policy operated. It is not difficult to
understand the cause of this line of thinking, even if at the same
time, one does not condone
it. The whites in South Carolina in the eighteenth century
"...comprised a fear-ridden minority of the
population."(33). Fearful of the Indians who had arms and therefore
military strength, and fearful of the black slaves who in their
ever-increasing numbers, posed the threat of insurrection, not
without reason. The obvious and logical process of thought in white
minds was "...that that Indians and blacks might join against
them."(34). This fear perpetuated into the early nineteenth century.
In Georgia, British actress Fanny Kemble stated the case for white
women in the South, c-1838: "...a slave population, coerced into
obedience, though unarmed and half-fed, is a threatening source of
constant insecurity, and every Southern woman to whom I have
spoken on the subject has admitted to me that they live in terror of
So the whites needed to keep these two ethnic minorities from
uniting with each other and feeling a common bond. They set about
instilling fear in the hearts of slaves by probably regaling them
with horror stories about what Indians did to them if captured.
Actually, not without some justification. The whites also employed
slaves as soldiers to fight against Indians. On the other hand, the
scheming whites offered payment to Indians for the return of runaway
slaves. The native Americans, knowing the terrain, were far more
efficient at tracking down the slaves, than their white
counterparts. Many blacks who successfully escaped from their white
oppressors, dived into the swamp regions and ended up in and around
Indian villages. But once the whites offered rewards for the return
of slaves, the Indians in complete antipathy with their customs,
would round up the unfortunate blacks and shepherd them back to
their white "owners".
As James Glen, a retiring governor of South Carolina, said in 1758,
to his inexperienced successor "it has been always the policy of
this government to create an aversion in them (Indians) to
Negroes."(36). And earlier in 1725, "Richard Ludlam, a South
Carolina minister, confessed that "we make use of a
Wile for our prest Security to make Indians and Negroes check upon
each other least by their vastly Superior Numbers we should be
crushed by one or the other" (37). In 1739, whites blamed an
epidemic of smallpox which wiped out around 1000 Indians and nearly
destroyed the Cherokees' faith in their gods, and had their priests
destroying "...the sacred objects of the tribe"(38), on the blacks.
The whites told the Indians that "...new slaves from Africa had
brought the disease to Charles Town"(39), (later Charleston). Whites
also contributed to the created aversion referred to above, "... by
using Negro slaves as soldiers against Indians. These slaves were
rewarded with goods and sometimes with their freedom..."(40). Also
"During the Second Natchez War in 1729, the French accused some
Negro slaves of plotting insurrection with the Chouacha Indians, a
small harmless tribe living near New Orleans. Although the
accusation was unfounded, they armed the Negroes and ordered them to
attack this tribe as the sole means of saving their own skins. An
on-the-spot reporter tells us that "this expedition rendered the
Indians (in Louisiana) mortal enemies of the negroes."(41).
Yet despite the white man's concerted efforts to alienate black man
from red man, a more sympathetic attitude between the two races
seemed to flourish. In the earlier part of the nineteenth century
some Indian religious leaders reflected a more harmonious attitude
towards the black man. Because of political reasons regarding Indian
removal and also slavery "...a leading Choctaw left the church of a
Presbyterian missionary from the North and organized a Cumberland
Presbyterian Church which was more in line with his sentiments
towards the Negro."
Also, on recounting the hard fight that the Seminoles put up in the
1830's and '40s to retain their lands. Eaton tells us "One of the
chief reasons for their fierce struggle to remain in their native
haunts was that many fugitive-Negroes who had mingled
their blood with the tribe were living among them, and
in the process of removal (see Ch. III), they might be reclaimed by
The Seminoles were a "...branch of the Creeks who had emigrated into
at the beginning of the eighteenth
century, and their name in the Creek language meant "runaways", or
"separatists".(44). Latter-day black singer/authoress, Sheila
Ferguson states that "As the poorer Africans lived alongside the
Indians, in both freedom and slavery, and intermarried ... they
gained from them their knowledge of native vegetables, roots and
As Foster said in 1935 "The States included in the Southeastern
culture are the ones in which, by far, the most frequent
intermingling occurred between Negroes and Indians to a degree not
known by most persons. This is very largely due to the fact that
these States have comprised our greatest slave culture area." (46).
Foster continues: "The Creek influence upon the Negroes of Alabama
and Georgia has its visible effects."(47).
So it would seem that whether the two races lived in relative
harmony and equality or under the cloak of the 'slave/master'
syndrome, intermarriage and 'intermingling' took place. As most of
the Blues singers who made reference to the Indian were from the
same areas as the Cherokees, Choctaws, Creeks, Chickasaws,
and Seminoles, it would seem more often than not that any Blues
singer's claim to Indian blood would be of the strain of one of
these Five Civilized Tribes. In the next chapter we will be
examining the ancestry of these tribes and also the possible links
of other smaller tribes who once lived in 'Blues country' in the
l. R..L. Nichols & G.R. Adams. p.293•
3. D.Murray. p.45.
4. Encyclopedia Americana. Vol.6. p.399.
5. Ibid. Vo1-15. p.390.
6. Ibid. Vol.6. p.437.
7. Ibid. p.621.
8. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p.160.
9. Murray. ibid. p.6.
10. D.Lavender. p.37.
13. Ibid. p.179.
16. A.Debo. p.3.
17. Ibid. p.p.3-4.
18. Encyclopedia Americana. Vol.6. p.400.
19. J.H. O'Donnell,III. p.82.
21. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p.78.
22. Ibid. p.83.
23. Ibid. p.7.
24. Ibid. p.134.
27. Debo. ibid.
29. H. Aptheker. p.622.
30. Ibid. p.619.
31. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p.75.
33. Ibid. p.74.
36. Nichols & Adams. ibid. p.79.
38. Ibid. p.80.
41. Ibid. p.81.
42. Ibid. p.131.
43. C.Eaton. p.275.
45. S. Ferguson. p.11.
46. L.Foster. P.-P-15-16.
47. Ibid. p.16.
Chapter II - Some Probable Recent Ancestry Of The Five Civilised
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