Georgia’s Foundations of Freedom: The Powerful Friendship of Oglethorpe and Tomochichi
Written by Aaron Bradford of Liberty Encounters
The friendship between the great Mico, or Chief Tomochichi of the Yamacraw, and the Father of Georgia, James Edward Oglethorpe of England, is one of the shining exceptions to the usual conflict found in history. This friendship was built on integrity and mutual respect. This foundation brought peace between these people and nurtured the blessings of liberty to the Colony of Georgia and Yamacraw during their lifetimes.
In 1711, Tuscarora American Indians attacked South Carolina settlers. South Carolinians called upon many groups of American Indians, mainly the Yamasee, and defeated them within a couple of years. In 1715, Ochese Creek and Yamasee Indians instigated an attack against South Carolina settlers, driven mainly by a lack of deer and becoming indebted to British traders. Despite 90 out of 100 British traders in the field being killed by the Muscogee, Cherokee, Catawba, Savannah River Shawnee, Waxhaw, Cheraw, and others, along with 7% of the Carolina population being killed, 240 Carolina militia won a crucial battle against several hundred Yamasee warriors near the Indian town of Salkehatchie. North of Charlestown, Carolina Militia also won the Battle of the Ponds, when 400 Catawba were defeated by 70 Carolinians at the Battle of the Ponds outside of Charlestown (today Charleston), SC. However, the Indian raids exacted a terrible toll on the struggling Carolinians. Despite the victories of the militia units, the Indians were very effective at stealth and were not able to be brought to decisive battle. The next year, the part time, temporary, citizen soldiers were replaced with a professional army of 600 South Carolina citizens, 400 enslaved black South Carolinians, 170 friendly Indians, and 300 North Carolinian and Virginians. In 1716, the Cherokee sided against their traditional enemies, the Creek. This tipped the balance, and despite the Creek and Yamassee strengthening trading connections with the French and Spaniards, they were not able to get the muskets and ammunition required for large-scale offense against South Carolina. The Yamasee War ended in 1717.
Rather than trade with their former enemies, the Yamassee began trading with the Spaniards based in St. Augustine, Florida. As the Yamassee had been a rather loose knit group to begin with, many joined the Lower Creek along the Altamaha River, while most went to Saint Augustine, Florida. Tomochichi made a bold step that defines a good leader. Wary of being swept up into another war, he stepped away from the large, loose Lower Creek Nation, and formed a new group of about 200 souls in 1728 known as the Yamacraw. Tomochichi began a village overlooking the Savannah River at the resting place of his ancestors.
Five years later in 1733, the 90 year old chief Tomochichi of an independent people possessed a wealth of experience in diplomacy and wisdom when meeting the 36 year old Oglethorpe. A remarkable woman with an English father and Creek Indian mother named Mary Musgrove helped interpret. As the British were attempting to form a buffer colony to protect South Carolina from the Spaniards in Florida, Oglethorpe needed to maneuver the complex relationships with various groups of Creek and Yamasee Indians. Tomochichi welcomed the new British colonists to begin the town of Savannah and graciously moved upstream.
Tomochichi noticed that, rather than bringing ships full of soldiers and priests, Oglethorpe brought 114 men, women, and children aboard the ship Anne when Georgia was begun. Tomochichi saw that, under the Royal Trustees, Georgia was an extraordinary place in the Western Hemisphere as it banned slavery! This was in stark contract to the British in South Carolina, who shifted from relying heavily on enslaved American Indians to enslaved Africans to work the rice and indigo plantations. Every head of household in Georgia received 50 acres of land, while no one was permitted to own more than 500 acres of land! Catholics (mainly due to fear of allegiance to Catholic Spain rather than Protestant England), the “pestilence and scourge of lawyers,” and the disastrous and powerful strong liquor was banned as well.
Trade flourished at places such as at the post run by Mary Musgrove. European items, including iron tools, wool, and linen items, were traded for Indian goods and deer skins. A year later, Tomochichi, his wife Senauki, and nephew Toonahowi visited England. Tomochichi impressed the British and championed free trade and education for the Yamacraw and Lower Creek Indians. In 1736, Tomochichi was delighted when a friend of John Wesley named Benjamin Ingham honored his request for an Indian school for Christian education at Irene. Shortly before Tomochichi died in 1739, his advice and aid were invaluable when Oglethorpe journeyed deep into Indian Territory to strike a mutually beneficial peace treaty. That same year, war erupted with the Spaniards in Florida.
Of professional redcoats, Oglethorpe only had his one regiment, His Majesty’s 42nd Regiment of Foote, which was on paper 800 men. Thus, he relied heavily upon roughly 700 Georgia Militia, Scottish Highlanders, and about 45 Yamacraw and Muscogee Creek. After British forts on the southern end of Saint Simons Island stopped the Spaniard ships, Oglethorpe rallied his force and attacked the head of the Spaniard Column south of Fort Frederica in what became known as the Battle of
Bloody Marsh. When Tomochichi’s nephew Toonahawi was shot in the arm, Toonahawi shot his opponent in the head! This determined stand halted the Spaniards, a series of nighttime raids by militia and Indians harried and terrified the Spaniard camp. When a fleet of British supply ships were soon sighted off the coast, the Spaniards retreated back to Florida, never to invade Georgia again. Historians have placed this victory in the top 100 most influential battles of human history!
Today in Savannah, a 9 foot tall statue of Oglethorpe stands guard facing Florida in Chippewa Square. Tomochichi insisted that, when he died, he be buried with the colonists in Savannah. Just north in Wright Square rest the remains of Tomochichi and a large granite boulder from Stone Mountain. May we remember their vision, servant leadership, and friendship.
Image of Tomochichi and Toonahawi: https://georgiahistory.com/education-outreach/online-exhibits/online-exhibits/encounter-and-exchange/early-georgia/encounter-and-exchange-in-a-new-colony/
Image of Tomochichi's Rock:
All other images from Aaron Bradford