Indian Trading Post: Home of Mary Musgrove

This Hidden History was created by SCAD student Hanwei Yu as part of her SCAD art history department coursework with guidance from art history professor Holly Goldstein, Ph.D., 2018.

The Indian Trading Post: Home of Mary Musgrove historical marker was dedicated 1961. View the Indian Trading Post: Home of Mary Musgrove historical marker listing.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

1. Historical Marker: Indian Trading Post: Home of Mary Musgrove, Savannah. Photograph by Hanwei Yu, 2018.

2. Savannah Sugar Refinery Company, Savannah. Photograph by Hanwei Yu, 2018.

3. “Mary Musgrove (ca. 1700 – Ca. 1763).” Digital image. Georgia Historical Society. Accessed May 25, 2018. https://georgiahistory.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/mary-musgrove.jpg. 

4. Michael Porten, Sculpted Relief Medallion, Mary Musgrove Matthews Bosomworth from Woman of Vision,” Savannah Woman of Vision, Savannah College of Art and Design, 2016, www.scad.edu/savannahwomenofvision.

5. Hanwei Yu, Mary Musgrove and Her Business. Savannah. 2018.

6. Hanwei Yu with Fourth Grade student Taliyah. Mary Musgrove Collage. Susie King Taylor Community School, Savannah, 2018.

7. Mary Musgrove Letters and Map, Georgia Historical Society Archives.

8. Mary Musgrove Letters and Map, Georgia Historical Society Archives.

Indian Trading Post: Home of Mary Musgrove

The following essay is by SCAD student Hanwei Yu, 2018.

Mary Musgrove and Her Business

Rather than a “princess” or “queen,” Mary Musgrove Matthews Bosomworth should be noted as one of the most successful and significant business women in Georgia’s history. Today she is remembered at the Savannah College of Art and Design as a “Women of Vision,” (Fig. 4), and I have also created a contemporary interpretation of her in my own artwork (Figs. 5 and 6). As a female art student, originally from China and studying in Savannah, I am inspired by Musgrove’s example of how to navigate the complex cultural possibilities, expectations, and realities that connect business, race, gender, and civic life.

Mary Musgrove Matthews Bosomworth: Life Overview

This research project seeks to demystify the life and legend of Mary Musgrove Matthews Bosomworth, best known for her contribution as an interpreter for James Edward Oglethorpe, the founder of the Georgia Colony. Musgrove is too often referred to in art and literature as an “Indian Princess” or “half-breed,” monikers that relegate her rich life story to wishful fantasy and romanticized exoticism, mired in problematic complexities of race and gender. Musgrove should be remembered as an indispensable connector between Anglo and Native American people, places, languages, and cultures in the early Georgia colony. She was a shrewd businesswoman who negotiated trade deals and navigated the intricate reality of life as an ambitious mixed-race woman in colonial Georgia. Musgrove was half Creek Indian, with an English father; her Creek name was Cousaponokeesa.[1] After marrying John Musgrove, her first husband, they set up a trading post on the Yamacraw Bluff overlooking the Savannah River (Figs. 1 and 2). Today this land is owned and operated by the Savannah Sugar Refinery Company.

When James Edward Oglethorpe sailed along the Savannah River and landed at Yamacraw Bluff in 1733, he hired the Musgrove couple as interpreters (Fig. 3). They provided him with information and helped maintain a relationship between the British and the Creek Nation. As interpreters for Oglethorpe, the couple’s business also rapidly grew because of their expanding social prominence. In fact, while working for Oglethorpe, Mary and her husband maintained an income of about $500 per year.[2] Later, they established a second trading post at Mount Venture on the Altamaha River.

After John Musgrove’s death in 1739, Mary also lost four sons to malaria. After enduring such tragedy, she was left with immense wealth and endeavored to maintain a 500-acre plantation, many cattle and horses, ten indentured servants, and a thriving deerskin trade.[3] She became one of the wealthiest women in the colony and continued her role as an interpreter for Oglethorpe.

Mary then married Jacob Matthews, the former servant of John Musgrove, in 1739, the same year of John Musgrove’s death. Her second husband died in 1742. In the following year, when Oglethorpe returned to England, he left a gift of a diamond ring and 200 pounds to Mary; he also promised 2,000 pounds more but that promise seems never to have come true.

Later, Mary married a third time, to Thomas Bosomworth, an educated Yorkshire man with a gift for litigation. He played an instrumental role in expanding Mary’s claim for compensation and land, eventually including the three islands of Sapelo, St. Catherine’s, and Ossabaw Islands. Around 1763, Mary died on St. Catherine Island.

Musgrove’s Complex Native American Support

After the death of her first husband, Mary Musgrove’s business success began to falter. One major factor was the war between Spain and England, known as the War of Jenkin’s Ear. Her establishment on the Altamaha was destroyed by the Yamasee and in Savannah, her cattle were attacked.

While her prospects brightened following the war, Mary’s second husband Jacob Matthews’ behavior had a negative impact on her influence. The colonial records show Matthews was a heavy drinker and a troublemaker, who was regarded as useless and trustless by the Native Americans.

After Jacob’s death, Mary married her third husband Thomas Bosomworth. Ambitiously, Mary and Thomas Bosomworth entered into some perhaps questionable dealings, which would expand Mary’s land claim. Mary procured an agreement from Malatchee, one of the Creek leaders, noting her ownership of three islands: Ossabaw, St. Catherine’s and Sapelo, by dealing with multiple tribal groups. The Native American people thought they were signing a list to be carried by Mary to Savannah instead of relinquishing their land, which had been reserved for hunting. Instead, they mistakenly ceded land to May and Thomas.

Supported by Malatchee, the Bosomworths planned to gain more land. However, Malatchee’s support ultimately wavered. He believed Thomas to be an untruthful man. Yet, when Malatchee received word that Mary might be arrested, he supported her. Another incident went differently. One meber of the Bosomworth family, Adam Bosomworth, was being arrested. Mary rushed into the house while tribal leaders were talking about the arrest. An article published in the Georgia Historical Quarterly in 1927 reports that Mary screamed out, “‘Your General and his Treaties, a fig for your General, you have not a foot of Land in the Colony’ and violently stamping with her feet she declared, ‘that very ground was hers.’” Calling her outburst a moment of, “lost control of Madness” gave the authorities a chance to consider her words as hostile. They called her the “Queen of all the Creeks” and arrested her.[4]

However, when Thomas Bosomworth begged the tribes for help, they sent word that they unable to appear and support them. From the Georgia Historical Quarterly, there is a quote from Proceedings of the President, 1741-1754:

The Council now exposed the designing schemes of the Bosomworths before the chiefs, showing how Mary and Thomas would take a third of the presents that rightfully belonged to the Indians, whereupon Malatchee declared that he saw the light, that he would have no more dealings with Mary, and professed that ‘He did not before understand that He was Ranked with an Old Woman.’[5]

It was clear that Mary was too ambitious and powerful for both Georgia Colonial leaders and the Creek, so they tried to limit her powers. The colony sent Patrick Graham into the Creek country and procured a document from the Upper Creek; it indicated that they never agreed to Mary’s treaty involving the three islands. Also, the Lower Creeks, including Malatchee, eventually denied that they ever granted the lands to Mary and her husband.

Eventually, the Trustees submitted their report to the King. The Bosomworths sold their Savannah property and sailed to England speak directly with the Board, however their claims to the Native American reserve lands were disallowed. However, as a reward for Musgrove’s service of interpretation, she was granted the island of St. Catherine’s along with 2,100 pounds from the sales of Ossabaw and Sapelo Islands.[6]

Musgrove’s Business

Undoubtedly, Musgrove’s business success was largely based on the support of the Native American people and due to her indispensable role as an interpreter. Her position at Yamacraw Bluff made her instrumental in helping to build the grand history of Savannah. The experience as a connector between people and cultures also gave her an unusual life as a trader and interpreter, and she became arguably one of the most important women in Georgia.

Two books, Princess of the Creek Indians, and Queen of the Creeks, both hold titles given by later historians, revealing how the complexity of her life as a businesswoman was often overshadowed by romanticized fascination with her race and gender. However, Musgrove’s lasting influence is based on her work as an interpreter and also the advantages her business brought to both the Native American and the colonists.

[1] “The Bosomworth Controversy MSS,” p. 141. In the possession of the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress. https://www.loc.gov/. Accessed May 30, 2018.

[2] Mary Musgrove, P. 54, Encyclopedia of World Biography. Vol. 20, 2nd edition, 2004.

[3] Ibid.

[4] E. Merton Coulter, Mary Musgrove, “Queen of the Creeks: A Chapter of Early Georgia Troubles,” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 11 (1): 19, 1927.

[5] “Proceedings of the President, 1741-1754,” pp. 263-268.

[6] E. Merton Coulter Mary Musgrove, “Queen of the Creeks”: A chapter of early Georgia troubles. The Georgia Historical Quarterly 11 (1): 28.

Baine, Rodney M. “Myths of Mary Musgrove.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 76 (2): 428-35, 1992.

Corry, John Pitts. “Some New Light on the Bosomworth Claims.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 25 (3): 195-224, 1941.

Coulter, E. Merton. “Mary Musgrove, ‘Queen of the Creeks:’ A Chapter of Early Georgia Troubles.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 11 (1): 1-30, 1927.

Hahn, Steven C. Life and Times of Mary Musgrove. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2012.

Hahn, Steven C. “The Pocahontas of Georgia: Mary Musgrove in the American Literary Imagination.” Georgia Historical Quarterly 99, no. 1/2: 1-47. Academic Search Premier, 2015, EBSCOhost (accessed May 27, 2018).

Knight, Lucian Lamar, Kenneth Coleman, and Milton Ready. “Memorial of Coosaponakeesa, Princes of the Creek Indians, to the Board.” In The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, 465-77. Vol. 26. Franklin Printing and Publishing Company, 1916.

Knight, Lucian Lamar, Kenneth Coleman, and Milton Ready. “Memorial of Mr. Bosomworth in behalf of himself and wife.” In The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, 477-502. Vol. 26. Franklin Printing and Publishing Company, 1916.
Mueller, Pamela Bauer. An Angry Drum Echoed: Mary Musgrove, Queen of the Creeks. St. Simons Island, GA: Piñata Pub., 2007.

Taylor, Melanie Benson. Serving her People—And herself. Vol. 30. Wellesley: Old City Publishing, Inc, 2013.

Todd, Helen. Mary Musgrove, Georgia Indian Princess. Savannah, GA: Seven Oaks Press, 1981.