NATIVE AMERICAN RHYMES

Mary Musgrove


            Coosaponakeesa, a Creek interpreter, trader, and political leader, was an important figure in the founding and development of the colony of Georgia by James Oglethorpe.  She was born at Coweta, Alabama in Creek territory around 1700, and lived on the Chattahoochee River until about the age of seven, at which time her White father took her to South Carolina to be educated.  During her stay there she was baptized into the Church of England and given the name Mary.  She returned to Alabama about 1716 and soon met and married a young White trader, John Musgrove; the couple moved to Georgia in 1732 and opened a trading post at Yamacraw Bluff on the Savannah River, exchanging trade goods purchased in Charleston for deer skins gathered by the local Creek hunters.
            In 1733, Oglethorpe and ten others arrived with a charter from King George II allowing him to establish a new English colony south of the Carolinas and north of Spanish Florida.  They found the Musgroves already there, operating a prosperous enterprise, and Mary soon became Oglethorpe’s main interpreter and a trusted emissary in his dealings with the Indians of the area.  Her influence among the tribes helped the English to establish their colony with minor difficulty.  The Creek warriors fought on the British side in several battles against the Spanish, including Oglethorpe’s attack on San Augustín in 1740, and the Battle of Bloody Marsh on Isla San Simón in 1742.
            The next year Oglethorpe left Georgia, but Mary Musgrove continued to work for the English among her people.  A second trading post was established at Mount Venture, on the Altamaha River, which became something of a “listening post” for the British, and her efforts there went far to prevent the land north of Florida from becoming a Spanish possession.  It was at Mount Venture that John Musgrove died in 1739, and that Mary eventually married Captain Jacob Matthews of the ranger forces stationed at the Post.  Subsequently, the couple went to Savannah because of Jacob’s poor health, and he died there in 1742.
            Mary remained loyal to the British, but was faced with increasing pressures from both the French and the Spanish to join their side as they exhorted the Creeks to desert the British.  She continued to be effective as a negotiator between the several contestants, however, and at the age of 49 married Thomas Bosomworth, the chaplain of the colony and a Church of England clergyman.  Unfortunately, Bosomworth seems to have been something of a scoundrel who was more interested in profit than piety; he abandoned his clerical duties and took up cattle raising on St. Catharine’s Island in Georgia, which was among the properties Mary had induced the Creek council to grant her, along with Ossabaw and Sapelo Islands.
            Bosomworth also managed to obtain appointment as Agent to the Creek Indians.  But, as a climax to his persuasive efforts, he got Mary to title herself “Empress of the Creek Nation,”—an entirely fictitious role, since the Creek people at no time had established any royalty.  But Mary seemed unable to retain any sense of independence or realization of these manipulations of her position.  Bosomworth had purchased his cattle on credit, and to pay for them, he got Mary to enter a claim against the English colonists for her past services.  She claimed that, as Empress she was the sovereign ruler of the Creek Indians and not a subject of the King of England; in 1749 she brought a band of warriors to Savannah to press her claims in a more forceful way.  The terrorized population of colonists prepared for battle, but managed to get the Indians to agree to a council, during which they were able to demonstrate how absurd Bosomworth’s position really was.
            The Creek listened, and finally withdrew, realizing that they had been used by Mary and her husband for selfish purposes.  Abandoned, the couple stormed and threatened, but to no avail; the colonists refused the claim, but did allow them to go to England to present their case to the Crown in person.  At that distance, Mary had an easier time, and in 1759 was paid a modest compensation, and allowed to sell Ossabaw and Sapelo.  The pair returned to St. Catharine’s, where Mary tried to reestablish her earlier good relations with the Indians and the colonists, but she died shortly afterwards, in 1763, and was buried on the island.


Source:  Great North American Indians by Frederick J. Duckstander

 

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