Thrasher on Hill, 'Creek Internationalism in an Age of Revolution, 1763–1818'
James L. Hill. Creek Internationalism in an Age of Revolution, 1763–1818. Borderlands and Transcultural Studies Series. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2022. Illustrations. xiii + 303 pp. $65.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-4962-1518-5.
Reviewed by Christopher A. Thrasher (Pennsylvania State University) Published on H-AmIndian (March, 2023) Commissioned by F. Evan Nooe (University of South Carolina Lancaster)
Printable Version: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=58422
With a Little Help from Their Friends: Muscogee Internationalism on the Continent and Beyond
In the late eighteenth century, the town leaders of the Creek or Muscogee Confederacy continually strove to enhance their community’s autonomy, often strengthening these efforts through connections with outsiders. James L. Hill’s first book keeps these towns at the center of an engaging study of Muscogee community sovereignty over more than half of a century. Creek Internationalism in an Age of Revolution, 1763-1818 foregrounds Muscogee travelers to British and Spanish colonial possessions, particularly those who visited the West Indies and the British Islands. Hill’s monograph builds on such works as Steven C. Hahn's The Invention of the Creek Nation, 1670-1763 (2004), which discusses Muscogee neutrality and “play off” diplomacy, balancing competing imperial neighbors. Hill argues that Muscogee leaders “were advancing national projects or the prospects of local autonomy, and they were doing so by attempting to secure their place in a rapidly shifting international order by having Euro-American powers explicitly recognize their place within that order” (p. 16).
Creek Internationalism in an Age of Revolution contains six chronologically organized asymmetrical chapters, some covering decades while several narrowing their focus to just four years. Chapter 1 discusses early Muscogee efforts to build networks with Havana following the Seven Years’ War, establishing patterns that then thread through each chapter all the way to an epilogue about late 1950s Miccosukee outreach to Cuba. The second chapter examines both the efforts of some Muscogees to centralize the Confederacy or Muscogee Nation and the deployment of Emer de Vattel’s “law of nations” by leaders like Alexander McGillivray. The following two chapters, acting as a pair, consider how the towns examined in chapter 1 pursued tighter British connections, particularly through engagement with adventurer William Augustus Bowles. Chapter 5 explains the spread of inter-town violence both during and leading up to the Creek War as British and Spanish connections faltered. The final chapter looks at “the Long Creek War,” further division among Muscogee Confederacy towns, Indian Removal, and the disappointing results of two opposing Muscogee parties’ attempts to leverage US or Spanish aid to boost their own autonomy and sovereignty.
By canvassing sources from archives on both sides of the Atlantic, Hill pierces more deeply into these topics without sacrificing focus on the Muscogees. Interrogating the sources left behind by Muscogees in Cuba, Spain, the Bahamas, and Britain reveals the breadth and regularity of Muscogee travels beyond the Southeast. Scholars incorporating Spanish sources often explore the Papeles de Cuba, a collection capturing many documents trafficked locally throughout the Louisiana and Florida colonies. (Swaths of this collection have been reproduced in the United States and are becoming available widely, such as the East Florida Papers now available online through the Library of Congress.) However, Hill also researched in the Audiencia de Santo Domingo collection, which includes troves of other colonial documents received by the Spanish court and administration. As of the summer of 2022, the Archivo General de Indias in Sevilla has digitized this collection, accessible on computers within the archive itself but not online. By incorporating these documents with those found in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Nassau, and the United Kingdom, Hill demonstrates that Muscogee international networks reached deeper and further than most scholars previously recognized. Muscogee leaders almost constantly courted multiple empires both in the Southeast and abroad, inviting stronger connections that could be leveraged to boost a particular community’s autonomy.
Among Hill’s other contributions are unique insights into Muscogee history during the Revolutionary War, the Creek War, the War of 1812, and the First Seminole War. Hill considers McGillivray’s centralization efforts and use of the “law of nations” language while exposing that most Muscogees remained deeply committed to local autonomy. This last point builds on the work of Joshua Piker in 2004’s Okfuskee: A Creek Indian Town in Colonial America, but Hill applies this town-centric lens more broadly. Hill also engages with the “New History of the State,” a historiographical trend that sometimes emphasizes Native leaders’ adoption of European languages of sovereignty. However, he problematizes this development by arguing that Muscogee leaders used the language of nationhood fictitiously to achieve certain ends, like leveraging US federal power against states. As Hill argues, Muscogees “adopted the language of European nation-states, whether or not they actually desired to transform Muscogee country into something resembling those nation-states, in order to press their claims and their political legitimacy in a transatlantic diplomatic community” (p. 15). In the later portions of the book, Hill emphasizes that the Red Sticks invited European alliances during the Creek War rather than adopt some form of isolationism. Many Muscogee and US leaders saw conflicts following the Creek War as an extension of it. Muscogee towns in the heart of Muscogee country used connections with the US Army to curb Flint River and Florida towns’ autonomy during the First Seminole War (the populations of the Florida towns had swelled with Red Sticks fleeing south).
Hill’s book leaves room for future studies to more deeply incorporate the histories of slavery and captivity. Many of the agreements between the Muscogees and either the United States or Georgia included a provision about the return of enslaved people taken captive from US plantations and settlements. Did slavery play a role in contests over autonomy between Muscogee towns? Did Muscogee towns divide over compliance? Hill brings in some discussion of US anxieties over slavery and freedom during the final chapters of this book (particularly during the First Seminole War) but leaves the subject relatively untouched during earlier periods. Similar could be said for internationalism between Muscogees and their Native peers. The “internationalism” of the title primarily references Muscogee connections to Euro-American nations rather than other Native nations. Hill’s monograph features many references to relationships between Native nations, but these references are mostly scattered and brief with a stronger presence in the later sections (especially in chapter 5). How did connections to Native neighbors influence struggles for autonomy? Hill could have taken these examples collectively and more explicitly connected them to his thesis.
Creek Internationalism in an Age of Revolutions provides an excellent survey of Muscogee history during the titular period of 1763-1818. Even readers unfamiliar with these histories will be able to follow the narrative with ease. The introduction includes helpful overviews of important Muscogee terms and practices, giving unfamiliar readers an easy entry into the field. The text and the notes—many of which are packed with deep and rich analysis in their own right—provide specialists with an overview of relevant historiographies and show how Hill engages with other scholars of the Native South in particular. Each chapter effectively reintroduces the major themes of the monograph, meaning that the book also has great value if assigned in parts or as a whole to undergraduate and graduate classes. In his first monograph, Hill succeeds marvelously in his academic objectives as well as in the pursuit of writing an engaging, gripping, and enlightening narrative. This book should become standard reading for Native American and Indigenous studies scholars researching the Native South or for those interested in debates over local autonomy versus nationalism.
Citation: Christopher A. Thrasher. Review of Hill, James L., Creek Internationalism in an Age of Revolution, 1763–1818. H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews. March, 2023. URL: https://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=58422This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.