Georgia Native Americans: The Creek and Cherokee

At the end of the Unit, the student should know how the following people and events played a role in the removal of the Creek or Cherokee.

SS8H5d. Analyze the events that led to the removal of Creeks and Cherokees; include the roles of Alexander McGillivray, William McIntosh, Sequoyah, John Ross, Dahlonega Gold Rush, Worcester v. Georgia, Andrew Jackson, John Marshall, and the Trail of Tears.


Read information as an introduction to the removal of the Creek and Cherokee.

One of the most tragic events in Georgia’s history was the removal of the Creek and Cherokee tribes from the state, culminating with the Trail of Tears,where over 4000 Cherokee died on a forced march from Georgia to Oklahoma. The Creek Nation was actually a confederation of several southeastern tribes. The Creeks were the most populous tribe in the state and held the largest amount of land. In the colonial period of Georgia, the Creek Nation became a major trading partner with the colony. Many white Georgians intermarried with the Creek and became members of the tribe. Due to these economic and social ties, Georgians initially hoped that the Creek would become members of the plantation economy. While some did, many chose to continue their traditional life style. Their interactions with runaway slaves also led many Creek to oppose the institution of slavery. Earlier in Georgia’s history, the Creek chose to side with the English during the Revolution; thus, causing an antagonistic relationship with many Georgians. Once the deer trade ended, due to a decrease in animal’s population, many White Georgians coveted Creek land and pushed state and federal leaders for their removal. Due to this pressure, there were several major Creek land cessions after the Revolution including the Treaty of New York in 1790, which stipulated that the Creeks ceded most of land east of the Ocmulgee river to the United States. In 1813, a civil war broke out between the Creek Indians. This war called the Red Stick War, was named after the faction of Creeks who wanted to fight the White settlers who were encroaching on their land (those that did not want to fight were called White Sticks). The war ended in a Creek defeat by future President Andrew Jackson at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, in present day Alabama. Following this war, the Creek lost 22 million acres of land. In 1825, under the Treaty of Indian Springs, a Creek Chief named William McIntosh signed away the remainder of Creek land in Georgia after taking a bribe from an Indian agent. McIntosh was later killed by the Creek Indians for his actions. The Cherokee lived in the mountains of North Georgia long before Spanish exploration. After the English settled South Carolina and Georgia, they became an important trading partner with England. While the Creek traded with both the French and the English, the Cherokee were exclusively loyal to the English; this loyalty caused much conflict between themselves and the Creek. During the Revolution, the Cherokee continued to support the British and fought the Americans even after the war officially ended. The hostilities continued until 1793. Once peace was established, the Cherokee made several treaties with the United States government, including one that led to the Federal Road being built through their land. During this time period, the Cherokee began to believe that their best hope for maintaining their land would be to transform their society to resemble that of the United States. In the 1820s, the Cherokee developed a written language, a written constitution, and a newspaper. They invited Monrovian missionaries to set up schools and adopted an agricultural system that included the use of slavery. However, none of these changes stopped the whites in Georgia from demanding their removal. Once gold was discovered in 1828, the push for Cherokee removal west of the Mississippi River became greater. In 1832, the Cherokee won the Supreme Court case Worcester v. Georgia.This decision should have protected the tribe from removal as it maintained that the Cherokee were an independent nation and were not subject to Georgia law. However, in 1835, a small group of Cherokees signed the Treaty of New Echota without permission from the Cherokee government. Upon receiving it, Andrew Jackson signed the treaty and Congress approved it. In 1838, most of the Cherokee were forcefully removed from the state and suffered on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma.

The removal of the Creek Indians:

  1. Who are the two Creek chiefs most responsible for ceding land to Georgia and the United States?
  2. What caused tensions between Georgia and the Creek(loyalty)?
  3. How do the two Creek Chiefs differ in their reasoning behind ceding land?
  4. Name the treaties signed by the Creek chief, list which chief signed each treaty and what effect it had on the removal of the Creek Indians.
  5. Why did Chief Alexander McGillivray agree to sign the Treaty of New York?
  6. What war resulted in the Creek losing 22 million acres of land(answer found in background)?
  7. Which Creek Chief was murdered for signing the treaty that gave up the last of the Creek land in Georgia?
  8. What treaty gave up the last of the Creek land in Georgia?
  9. Which Chief was better for the Creeks and why?

Alexander McGillivray

Alexander McGillivray(ca. 1750-1793) was a Creek Chief who was of dual linage. His mother was a Creek Indian and his father was a Scottish trader named Lachlan McGillivray. Lachlan was a member of the Scottish Highlanders who came to Georgia with Oglethorpe. Alexander was considered to be a full member of both cultures so he received a traditional English education and, due to his mother’s ancestry, was also a leader in Creek society. During the American Revolution, Alexander’s father remained loyal to the crown and, as most Creeks, Alexander fought for England as well. After the war, McGillivray focused on keeping as much Creek land as possible. He signed a treaty with Spain in 1784, which kept Georgia’s land ambitions at bay. Eventually in 1790, McGillivray signed the Treaty of New York which created a treaty of friendship between the United States and the Creek Nation. The treaty also ceded Creek land to the United States, in return the United States promised to honor the boundaries of the Creeks’ remaining lands. After the treaty, McGillivray continued in his role at the Creeks’ national leader until his death near Pensacola, Florida in 1793.

William McIntosh

William McIntosh(1778-1825) was another Creek chief with a Scottish father and Creek mother. McIntosh was also first cousins with Georgia’s governor George Troop and was related by blood or marriage to several prominent Georgia families. McIntosh infuriated his Creek tribesmen by consistently siding with the United States on several occasions, even during the Red Stick War. After the war, the Creek Nation suffered through a terrible famine and McIntosh used this opportunity to regain his status in Creek society by befriending a U.S. Indian agent. Due to this alliance, McIntosh gained the influential position of allocating food and supplies to those Creeks in need. McIntosh was in favor of changing the traditional Creek lifestyle by promoting the move to agriculture and slaveholding. McIntosh led this lifestyle himself and was the owner of two plantations. Most Creeks did not support his abandonment of traditional ways. The final conflict between McIntosh and the Creek was his decision to sign the Second Treaty of Indian Springs (1825). McIntosh, along with six other Creek chiefs, agreed to sell the remainder of Creek land in Georgia, without the tribe’s consent, for $200,000. McIntosh received extra cash for his personal lands in the treaty. Upon hearing about what they considered to be a bribe, the Creek Nation ruled to execute McIntosh for his actions. On April 30, 1825, 200 Creek warriors carried out McIntosh’s execution at his home by shooting and stabbing him repeatedly. Nevertheless, the Second Treaty of Indian Springs officially removed the Creek from Georgia’s borders.

The removal of the Cherokee and the Cherokee's attempts to assimilate.

  1. How did the Cherokee go about keeping Cherokee land(answer at end)?
  2. What role did Sequoyah play in the Cherokee nation?
  3. How did Sequoyahs creation help the Cherokee's attempt to assimilate to the white man?


Sequoyah (ca. 1770-ca. 1840), was the nickname of George Gist and meant “little lame one” in Cherokee. Sequoyah is most well known for creating the Cherokee Syllabary, the first written language for a Native American tribe. Much is unknown about Sequoyah and there is much speculation about his lineage, his knowledge of English, and his reasoning behind creating the Cherokee written language. The traditional story about Sequoyah’s life was that he was born to a Cherokee mother and white father. His father was said to be a soldier in the Continental army during the Revolution. Unlike Alexander McGillivray and William McIntosh, Sequoyah completely rejected white society and never learned English. However, he was impressed with the way that Whites were able to communicate over long distances and in 1821, created the Syllabary. After its creation, Sequoyah traveled throughout the entire Cherokee Nation, including Georgia, to teach and promote the use of the new written language. Within one generation of its development, it was used by nearly all Cherokees.

This portrayal of Sequoyah is still widely accepted by most historians. However, in 1971, a Native American named Traveler Bird, who claimed to be a descendant of Sequoyah, wrote a book called Tell Them the Lie: The Sequoyah Myth. In this book, Bird makes many claims including, Sequoyah was a “full blooded Cherokee,” and he spoke many languages. Most importantly, Bird argued that Sequoyah did not create the Syllabary and that he was a scribe of a written Cherokee language that had been invented long before the arrival of Europeans. Though many historians disregard this book as a work of fiction and have serious concerns about its lack of written sources, the New Georgia Encyclopedia states that“it has also gained a place and some credence in academic discourse

.”No matter what the actual version of Sequoyah’s life is, his Syllabary was important in the history of the Cherokee. It was the first time an individual in an illiterate civilization created a written language that became widely accepted and used within a generation. Secondly, the language was the basis of the Cherokee newspaper The Cherokee Phoenix and was used in the creation of a written Constitution. The Cherokee adopted in their hopes both to emulate white society and to be allowed to stay on their land.

Sequoyah, moved to Oklahoma in 1829, and later died in either Texas or Mexico. He was attempting to locate other Cherokee who had moved to these areas to withdraw further away from whites. Today, there are several schools and parks named in his honor. In addition, the giant Sequoia trees in California are also named after him.

John Ross

John Ross- Cherokee Chief
  1. Who is John Ross to the Cherokee people?
  2. Why does Ross believe the Cherokee will be able to stay on their land?
  3. How does Ross attempt to save Cherokee land?

John Ross(1790-1866) was the principal chief of the Cherokee Nation. He was born in present day Alabama, and his family later moved to Georgia. Ross, similarly to McGillivray, McIntosh, and Sequoyah was also of mixed heritage. Like the Creek chiefs, Ross spoke English and practiced many European customs. Ross became a successful business man when he began selling goods to the U.S. Government in what became Chattanooga, Tennessee. He used the profits he earned to buy a plantation and create a ferry business. Ross used his wealth and connections to win several governmental positions in the Cherokee Nation, eventually becoming principal chief in 1827. During the same time white Georgians were lobbying to remove the Cherokee from the state. When gold was discovered in Dahlonega in 1828, it all but assured that the Cherokee would eventually be displaced. However, Ross had faith in the U.S. Government, primarily the U.S. Supreme Court,and believed that the government would protect the most “civilized” tribe in the Southeast. Even after Congress passed the Indian Removal Act(1830) it still appeared that the Cherokee would be able to stay in Georgia when the Supreme Court ruled in their favor in Worcester vs. Georgia. This ruling declared that the Cherokee were a sovereign nation and were not under the jurisdiction of the United States or the state of Georgia. Nonetheless, this ruling did not protect the Cherokee from removal as President Andrew Jackson refused to enforce it. Ross continued to fight removal until 1838, when he negotiated a deal with the U.S. Government to pay for his moving expenses. However, this still did not completely protect Ross from tragedy on the Trail of Tears. Ross’ wife died of exposure on the long journey to Oklahoma. After arriving in Oklahoma, Ross continued to serve as principal chief of the Cherokee. During the Civil War, Ross initially sided with the Confederacy, but soon supported the Union. This caused a split between the Cherokee in Oklahoma with Ross remaining chief of those Cherokee who supported the United States. After the war, Ross became chief of the reunited tribe and remained in this position until his death.

The Dahlonega Gold Rush

  1. How does the Dahlonega Gold Rush contribute to the removal of the Cherokee?

Legend has it that in 1828, a young man named Benjamin Parks kicked an unusual stone while deer hunting in North Georgia. This stone was actually a gold nugget, and Park’s find led to America’s first gold rush in Dahlonega. No matter if this story is true or not, (there are many others describing how gold was discovered) someone discovered gold around 1828, and soon almost everyone knew about it. This discovery did not bode well for the Cherokee. Soon after the discovery, thousands of white gold miners began clamoring for Cherokee land and began to settle there without permission. So many whites wanted land in the area; Georgia held a land lottery in the region in 1832. It did not matter that the Cherokee still lived on the land that was being allocated. Hungry for land and gold, whites began to demand for their removal. In 1838, the Cherokee were removed from the region by the U.S. Army. This began the Trail of Tears.

For two decades gold was plentiful in and around Dahlonega. So much gold was found that in 1838, the U.S. government set up a mint. This mint, according to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, produced almost 1.5 million gold coins. Nevertheless, as the years passed, gold became much more difficult to mine in the area. In 1849, California’s more famous gold rush began and brought thousands of Americans out west to find their fortunes. Even though there was still “gold in them thar (sic) hills” the gold rush ended in Georgia as soon as the first nugget was found in California.

Note: According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia,the word Dahlonega is similar to a Cherokee word “Tahlonega” meaning “golden.”

Worcester vs. Georgia

  1. What did Supreme Court Justice John Marshall rule in Worcester vs. Georgia?
  2. How did President Jackson respond to this ruling?
  3. What was the treaty of New Echota?

Worcester vs. Georgia (1832) was a land mark court case that should have protected the Cherokee from removal. The Supreme Court’s decision declared that the Cherokee Nation was sovereign and were subject to their own laws. As a sovereign nation, the state of Georgia could not interfere in their affairs. However, Andrew Jackson’s decision to not enforce the court’s ruling lead to the Cherokee’s removal. As with many other Supreme Court decisions, this overarching recognition of the Cherokee’s rights as a sovereign nation started with the actions of a few people. In this case, several missionaries, including Samuel Worcester, who were living among and supporting the Cherokee were arrested (several times) for living amongst the tribe without Georgia’s permission. The state finally prosecuted the missionaries and sentenced them to four years of hard labor in a Milledgeville prison. The Cherokee Nation hired lawyers to represent the missionaries to appeal their sentencing. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor and Chief Justice John Marshall condemned legislators of Georgia for their actions. However, due to President Jackson’s unwillingness to enforce the court’s decision, Georgia kept the missionaries in prison and continued to push the federal government for removal. In the end, after a small faction of Cherokee signed a treaty accepting removal in 1835,(The Treaty of New Echota) the entire tribe was eventually removed from the state.

Andrew Jackson and John Marshall

  1. How are Jackson and Marshall's roles during Indian Removal opposite?

Simply put, Andrew Jackson’s and John Marshall’s roles during the Indian Removal were on opposite ends of the spectrum. As discussed previously, Marshall ruled in favor of the missionaries and the Cherokee in general, in Worcester vs. Georgia. In his ruling, he condemned Georgia for its actions against the missionaries and wrote that Indian nations were “distinct, independent political communities retaining their original natural rights.”

On the other hand, Andrew Jackson, who had fought with and against Native Americans, believed that they should be moved to Indian Territory. One Cherokee man, who had fought with Jackson against the Creeks, is said to have stated that if he knew how Jackson would have treated Indians when he became president, he would have killed him when he had the chance. Some researchers have claimed that the primary reason that Jackson wanted to remove the Native American tribes out of the southeast was due to their past history of siding with the British and other European powers during wars against the United States. Others have said it was Jackson’s way of pacifying the Southern states after his threat to invade South Carolina during the Nullification Crisis. Still others have argued that it was Jackson’s intense racial prejudice of Native American’s that led to his actions. No matter the reason, or combination of reasons behind Jackson’s decision, by not enforcing the ruling of the Supreme Court, he did not meet his Constitutional requirements as president. When asked about his choice, Jackson is often quoted as saying “John Marshall has made the decision, now let him enforce it.”

The Trail of Tears

  1. Explain the Trail of Tears.

In 1838, after a series of court cases, petitions, and treaties, President Martin Van Buren ordered the U.S. Army to forcefully remove the Cherokee from Georgia. Let by General Winfield Scott, the army rounded up as many Cherokee as they could find and put them in temporary stockades. Once they were satisfied that they found as many Cherokees as they could, the Army began the forced march to Oklahoma. This march was called the “Trail of Tears” due to the fact that the under supplied Cherokee lost over 4,000 people to disease and exposure.

Note:Cherokees who lived on private land, not tribal land, were not forcefully removed.Note: In North Carolina, 400 Cherokee were able to escape removal. This group became known as the Eastern Band of the Cherokee. The Cherokee in Oklahoma are called the Western Band.

Note: The Cherokee Nation is now the largest tribe in the United States.

  1. How are the Creek and Cherokee different in the way in which they went about staying on their land?
  2. Who were the chiefs and treaties involved in the removal of the Creek?
  3. Who were the people and events involved in the removal of the Cherokee?

Comment Stream

3 years ago

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3 years ago

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3 years ago


3 years ago

Informational peice of writing.

3 years ago

Hey did both cheifs had Scottish fathers?

3 years ago

Good job

2 years ago

+giphy SUP

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