Oglethorpe and Tomochichi

Tomochichi and Toahahwi, 1739. From the Foltz Photography Studio Photographs, MS 1360.

Tomochichi and Toahahwi, 1739. From the Foltz Photography Studio Photographs, MS 1360.

Tomochichi was the mico, or chief, of the Yamacraw Indians. The Yamacraw were a small band of Lower Creek Indians that lived in coastal Georgia when Oglethorpe arrived with the colonists. When Oglethorpe selected Yamacraw Bluff as the site for the colony’s first settlement, Mico Tomochichi welcomed him and the colonists. Some of the colonists were ill from the long voyage and stayed in the house of John Musgrove in the Yamacraw village while permanent structures were built in the new town of Savannah. John Musgrove’s wife Mary Musgrove had an English father and Creek mother and served as interpreter between the English and the Indians.

Mico Tomochichi was happy to have the colonists settle near them because it was an opportunity for his people to trade with and to establish diplomatic connections with the English. As outcasts from the Lower Creek Confederacy, the Yamacraw needed an opportunity to show the value of his people to the other Creek communities. Disagreements over diplomatic relationships with the English and Spanish after the Yamasee War led to Tomochichi’s exile from the Lower Creeks and relocation to the banks of the Savannah River.

Map Detail, Oglethorpe Meeting Indian Chief, 1733. From the Georgia Historical Society Map Collection, MS1361-MP215.

Map Detail, Oglethorpe Meeting Indian Chief, 1733. From the Georgia Historical Society Map Collection, MS1361-MP215.

Oglethorpe wanted to avoid problems between English and Indians seen in other colonies. He managed to build a friendly relationship with Tomochichi despite having no training or experience in diplomacy. About a month after the colonists arrived, Tomochichi came to visit Oglethorpe in Savannah. The two leaders had to speak through an interpreter in order to understand each other. Tomochichi told how a neighboring tribe had attacked and killed one of the tribe members, and Tomochichi wanted permission from Oglethorpe to return the attack. Tomochichi respected Oglethorpe and the colonists’ presence in Georgia and wanted to be sure the English did not misunderstand his actions if he attacked.

Tomochichi and the Yamacraw were invaluable resources during the early years of the colony. Tomochichi helped the colonists lay out roads, including the first one from Savannah to Darien (or New Inverness) to the south. In 1734, Tomochichi, his wife Senauki, their adopted son Toonahowi, and six Lower Creek tribesmen accompanied Oglethorpe on a trip to England. The chief was looking for assurances that his people would benefit from education and fair trade policies with the English. In 1736, after their return to Savannah, a short-lived school was established for the children of his tribe.

Tomochichi and Oglethorpe often worked together and asked advice of one another. After the trip to England, Tomochichi traveled with Oglethorpe south of Savannah to determine the southern border of the colony, an important border in the defense of the English colonies against the Spanish to the south.

Maintaining peace with the neighboring Indian tribes was important to Oglethorpe as well, and Tomochichi did his best to advise Oglethorpe on achieving this. In 1739, Oglethorpe traveled deep into Lower Creek Indian territory, what is now southeast and middle Georgia. This trip was meant to reinforce relations between the Indians and the English, and it was successful. Unfortunately, Tomochichi wasn’t able to attend these meetings and share in Oglethorpe’s success. He was in his home village battling an illness and passed away on October 5, 1739. Because of his help in establishing the Georgia colony, Oglethorpe held a military funeral to honor the chief and his grave was marked with a pyramid made of stones. These stones were removed in 1880, and a granite boulder replaced it in 1899. The boulder can still be found in Wright Square in Savannah, along with a copper plaque commemorating the mico.

From the Source

Joseph Vallence Bevan (1798-1830), a Savannah lawyer, was appointed official historian of Georgia in 1824. In this capacity he arranged, published, and copied many of the state’s official papers and collected others from private sources. The Joseph Vallence Bevan Papers, MS 0071 include copies of several important documents related to Oglethorpe’s relationship with Tomochichi and the Lower Creek Indians. The proceedings from Oglethorpe’s meeting with the Lower Creek Indians was published in the Georgia Historical Quarterly.

“Oglethorpe’s Treaty with the Lower Creek Indians.” The Georgia Historical Quarterly 4, no. 1 (1920): 3-16.

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