Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Georgia's Native American Leader Mary Musgrove c 1700-1763 & Her Unfortunate Choice of Husbands

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Mary Musgrove (c 1700-1763), Indian leader in colonial Georgia, was the child of a Creek mother & an English trader. Originally named Coosaponakeesa, she was born at Coweta town, then on the Ocmulgee River but later moved to the Chattahoochee River. Her father, whose name is unknown, was an English trader; her mother is said to have been the sister of Old Brim, the so-called “Emperor of the Creeks.” When she was about seven, Mary was taken to Ponpon, South Carolina, by her father about 1710. In her own words, she was "there baptized, educated, and bred up in the principles of Christianity." Mary returned to Coweta in 1715, after the Yamasees revolt was put down. At the end of the Yamassee War in 1716, she returned to the Indian country west of the Savannah River.

Shortly, John Musgrove, a prominent South Carolinian, was sent by his government to deal with the Creeks. His son John Musgrove II, who accompanied him, met the young Indian girl & married her. She now assumed the name Mary Musgrove; & although she was married twice afterward, she is best known throughout history under that name.


John Musgrove & his wife Mary were among several traders who lived to the south & west of the Savannah River before 1733

The couple returned to South Carolina about 1722; but by 1732, they were back among the Creeks, running a trading station near a Yamacraw village on the western bluffs of the Savannah River. Mary & John established their trading post at Yamacraw Bluff in 1732, and Savannah was founded on this site a year later. Here they distributed merchandise primarily secured through the imported goods of Charleston merchants & received from the Indians some 1200 pounds of deerskins annually. They also had “a very good cow-pen & plantation,” where they raised their food crops.

When James Oglethorpe landed in 1733, to found the colony of Georgia, Mary Musgrove was among the first to greet him. Her personality, her facility in English, & her key position as a trader all recommended her to Oglethorpe as an aid in his Indian diplomacy. The Yamacraws were less than pleased with the founding of Savannah much less Georgia. The ink was not yet dry on the treaty establishing the Savannah River as the limit of white expansion to the south and west.

Oglethorpe made Mary his interpreter & emissary to the Creeks, treating her with “great Esteem.” It was largely owing to Mary Musgrove’s influence that the Creeks remained friendly to the English, serving throughout the imperial wars of the 18th-century as a buffer between the Southern English colonies & the Spanish in Florida. She became one of the most important figures in Georgia’s colonial history.


James Oglethorpe depicted with Yamacraw Chief Tomochichi. Mary appears between them.

Her husband John Musgrove served as interpreter for John Wesley and Tomo-Chichi. John Wesley was a frequent visitor to Mary's plantation on the Savannah. Mary owned the fairest and broadest acres in Georgia and supplied the struggling colonists with meat, bread & liquor.

At Oglethorpe’s request, the Musgroves set up Mount Venture, a trading station at the forks of the Altamaha River, to serve a a listening post for threats from Spanish Florida. Unfortunately Mary's beloved husband John Musgrove died there in 1739, & his widow promptly married one Jacob Matthews, captain of the 20 rangers stationed at the post, a “lusty fellow,” quarrelsome, & given to drink, who had formerly been her indentured servant.

Public opinion of Matthews was mixed. William Stephens migrated from England to Savannah in 1737, to serve as secretary of Trustee Georgia. Stephens wrote of Jacob Matthews: "On his Master's Death he found Means to get into the Saddle in his Stead, fitly qualified to verify the old Proverb of a Beggar on Horseback; soon learning to dress in gay Cloaths, which intitled him to be a Companion with other fine Folks of those Days, . . . . He was flattered to believe himself a Man of great Significance, and told, that he would be to blame not to exert himself, and let the World know what his Power was with the Indians; wherefore he might expect the Trust would have a singular Regard to that, and be careful to oblige him in all he should expect. Thus prepared, what may we not expect from him? To pass over many of his late Exploits a few of which I have touch'd on in some of my preceding Notes; he seems now to be grown ripe for exemplifying to what Uses he means to employ that Influence he thinks he has over those neighboring Indians, who by half Dozens or more at a Time, have daily of late been flocking about his House in Town, where they continually get drunk with Rum, and go roaring and yelling about the Streets, as well at Nights as Days, to the Terror of some, but the Disturbance and common Annoyance of everybody."

However, a neighbor, Robert Williams later testified: "I was an Inhabitant in this Province and lived at the next Plantation to Mr. Jacob Mathews on the River Savannah . . . he had cleared and planted a large Tract of Land with English Wheat, Indian Corn, Pease, and Potatoes; and very believe he had a larger Crop than any Planter raised by the Labour of White Hands within the said County And I further declare that I have often heard the said Mathews say, that he never received from the Trustees, or Persons in Power at Savannah on their Behalf, Any Bounty or Reward for the said produce. . . ."

From Mount Venture, Mary rallied the Creeks to aid the Georgians in their was with Spain-the War of Jenkins’ Ear 1739-44. Bands of Creek warriors accompanied Oglethorpe in his unsuccessful attack on St. Augustine in 1740, & her brother was killed in that attempt. She returned to Savannah in 1742, because of her husband’s ill health. Upon her departure, Spanish Indians destroyed Mount Venture & the settlement that had grown up around it.

Apparently Jacob worked hard but he also set himself up as the leader of the malcontents in Georgia and chief critic of the authorities to the annoyance of William Stephens. Stephens declared in his Journal for 1740 that it was useless "to foul more Paper in tracing Jacob Matthews through his notorious Debauches; and after his spending whole Nights in that Way, reeling home by the Light of the Morning, with his Banditti about him." Jacob Matthews died on May 8, 1742

Oglethorpe left the colony of Georgia in 1743, upon his departure giving Mary 200 pounds & a diamond ring from his finger. She continued her services to the colony, working successfully during the War of the Austrian Succession to counter French influence among the Creeks. Mrs Musgrove also persuaded her native relatives to retain their English allegiance, after their brief flirtation with Spain during the Creek-Cherokee war in 1747-48.

About 3 years after the death of her 2nd husband, Mary remarried. Her new husband would come to foment a scheme which took advantage both of the Creeks & of the colony government. Her new husband was an opportunistic fortune seeker named Thomas Bosomworth.

Bosomworth had an "Ambition of being an Author" of essays on religion. According to Stephens, "his sprightly Temper, added to a little Share of classical Learning, makes him soar" high. Bosomworth wrote a long essay on the "Glory & Lustre" of charity, to the Georgia Trustees in 1742, attempting to show that the Bethesda Orphans Asylum was being perverted. Bosomworth also wrote poems & lyrics but took offense at the accusation of having "Ambitions to be an Author." He wrote the Trustees, "I am sorry to find that my good intentions are so far perverted as to be imputed to an Ambition of appearing as an Author."

Failing as a religious essayist, Bosomworth next felt a call to preach sailing to England for Holy Orders in March 1743. He was appointed minister to Georgia for a term of 3 years on July 4th, and returned to Georgia on December 2nd. However, Bosomworth soon tired of preaching & apparently of Mary. He sailed back to England in 1745, without notice or providing for the church in Savannah declaring that he would not return. The Georgia Trustees ignored the complaints he attempted to bring to their attention, but Bosomworth decided to return to Georgia the following year.

He was, however, no longer the minister. One report was that he cast "aside his Sacredotals;" but another had it that the Trustees had torn them from him. His successor, the Reverend Mr. Zouberbuhler, discovered that Bosomworth had stripped the parsonage of all furniture, & he was forced to live in an unfurnished house for some time.

Dissatisfied with past unsuccessful financial ventures, Bosomworth laid plans for an ambitious venture into the cattle business. Mary first secured from the Creeks a grant of the 3 coastal islands of St. Catherines, Ossabaw, & Sapelo, together with a tract of land near Savannah which had been reserved to the Creeks, by treaty with the English, for hunting grounds. Chief Malatchee entered into this agreement on the "4th day of ye Windy Moon called ye month of January by ye English" in 1747, in return for promises of cloth, ammunition, & cattle.

After Bosomworth had stocked St. Catherines with cattle bought on credit in South Carolina, Mary made large claims to the colonial & English government for her past services. Mary & her husband came to Savannah on July 24, 1749, accompanied by Malatchee & 2 other chiefs. Malatchee announced that he was "the present and only reigning Emperor" & that all Creeks were his loyal followers. Malatchee also announced that 200 more chiefs & their warriors would be in Savannah within 8 days. And so Mary produced a large body of Indian warriors into Savannah in the summer of 1749, terrorizing the town for nearly a month. In 1754, she & her husband sailed for England to press her claims.

Not until 1759, was a settlement reached, the English government finally agreeing to give her St. Catherines Island & 1,200 pounds for her services to Georgia. Back on St. Catherines, she & her husband built a manor house & developed a cattle ranch, but Mary died not live long to enjoy it. Sometime in the early 1760s, she died & was buried on the island. Her only children, by her 1st husband, had all died in infancy.

This posting based, in part, on information from Notable American Women edited by Edward T James, Janet Wilson James, Paul S Boyer, The Belknap Press of Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts. 1971


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