RSM Profile: Alexander McGillivray

Hoboi-Hili-Miko (“Good Child King”) was a Creek Indian leader of Scottish, French and Creek descent, known more commonly by his English name, Alexander McGillivray. Born in the Creek village of Little Tallassee near present-day Montgomery, McGillivray was raised in both the Creek culture of his mother and the colonial lifestyle of his father. Though it made him a controversial figure in traditional Creek society, his blending of the power of his mother’s clan with the wealth and privilege of his father’s world made him a consummate politician.

After spending a few years on his father’s plantation in Augusta, acquiring classical education in Charleston and apprenticing to his Scottish uncle in Savannah, McGillivray returned to Little Tallassee. A Loyalist like his father (who had recently lost his plantation to Revolutionaries) he began to negotiate on behalf of the Creek with the British, earning a commission as a colonel in the British Army in the process. Though he often failed as a military strategist, he excelled as a diplomat.

Following the American Revolution, he became chief of the Upper Creek towns. He negotiated sovereignty for millions of acres of Creek land with the Spanish, becoming the official representative of the Creek to Spain and earning a $50 per month salary. He further secured a trading monopoly for the Spanish through the Scottish-owned firm Panton, Leslie & Co., himself become a partner in the firm.

When Spanish support waned, he sought treaties with the new American government, repeatedly meeting with George Washington himself. His diplomacy in those efforts earned him the title of Brigadier General in the U.S. Army and a $100 per month salary.

Though he was the de facto emperor of the Creek and Seminole nations, he was not a popular man amongst all in native society. Contradicting Creek norms regarding property, McGillivray owned plantations and slaves, cattle and more typically Western items like books and mattresses. However, he held to certain Creek customs, participating in key observances like the Green Corn Ceremony and taking multiple wives.

When the Americans failed to honor their treaties, McGillivray again negotiated with the Spanish. He finally retired to Pensacola, where he died in 1793. His lasting legacy was the centralization of authority among the various Creek and Seminole tribes and the establishment of a national Creek identity. His legend led Theodore Roosevelt to describe him as “the most gifted man ever born on Alabama soil.”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. It’s Pirate Week on Real Southern Men! | Real Southern Men - June 3, 2011

    […] Next, we profiled Bowles’ hated rival, Creek and Seminole Indian leader, Alexander McGillivray. […]

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