Washburn on Kokomoor, 'Of One Mind and Of One Government: The Rise and Fall of the Creek Nation in the Early Republic.'

Author: 
Kevin Kokomoor
Reviewer: 
Jeffrey Washburn

Kevin Kokomoor. Of One Mind and Of One Government: The Rise and Fall of the Creek Nation in the Early Republic. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2019. 516 pp. $80.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8032-9587-2.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Washburn (University of Mississippi) Published on H-AmIndian (July, 2020) Commissioned by F. Evan Nooe (University of North Carolina, Charlotte)

Printable Version: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showpdf.php?id=53914

The Creation of a Creek Nation-State

In Of One Mind and of One Government: The Rise and Fall of the Creek Nation in the Early Republic, historian Kevin Kokomoor outlines the creation of a Creek Nation in the decades between the American Revolution and the Red Stick War 1813-14. With the establishment of a land-hungry United States, Creek Country was thrown into crisis as the former play-off political system proved ineffective as a means for Creek towns to retain their political and territorial autonomy. Due to these exterior pressures, Kokomoor argues, Creeks diverged from previous political and judicial norms to create a national identity and administrative state centered on a Creek National Council. Through exhaustive research and a compelling argument on the political transformation within Creek Country, Kokomoor argues that Creek leadership entered a period of political change that created a “single, culturally distinct political voice” in the form of a nation-state that was distinctly Creek (p. 25).

Kokomoor’s first section, which is also his longest, illustrates the many political crises in Creek Country in the decades after the American Revolution. Creek Country was comprised of a multitude of independent towns rather than a single unified entity. This previously enabled them to individually negotiate with different European and Euro-American governments to their benefit. In an effort to stem settler advance, Creek towns tried to revive this form of play-off politics as Spanish, American, and, upon the arrival of William Augustus Bowles, British partisans. This “autonomous Creek approach to diplomacy,” however, was an “increasingly untenable one” after the American Revolution (p. 70). After the Treaties of Augusta (1783), Galphinton (1785), and Shoulderbone (1786), where Georgian negotiators forced land cessions on Creek leaders, Creek warriors from different towns responded in a concerted fashion against Georgia. These border wars, however, were merely the “product of a matched response” to an exterior threat to many independent towns rather than the “will of a truly unified Creek people” (p. 106). As Creek towns acted independently in the face of this exterior threat, Kokomoor succinctly states, Georgians demanded the “conquest of Creek Country, while Creeks increasingly responded by calling each other traitors” (p. 70).

Changes in Creek Country in the second half of the 1790s witnessed the coalescence of a national identity and the creation of a Creek National Council. Beginning with a meeting at the Upper Creek Town Tuckabatchee in 1794 and the 1796 Treaty of Coleraine, Kokomoor argues in his second section that these conferences “connected in new and intriguing ways what had been in the past remarkably disparate political places in Creek Country during times of crisis” (p. 201). Kokomoor’s interpretation of Creek national politics, and the actions that precipitated the creation of a nation-state, also provides ethnohistorians with new perspectives on federal agents in Creek Country. One example of this is his discussion of the first federal Creek agent, James Seagrove, who served as agent until 1796. Often an afterthought in Creek historiography that emphasizes his successor, Benjamin Hawkins, Seagrove was, according to Kokomoor, a “more than capable” agent in a period of momentous change and turmoil for the Creeks (p. 149). As agent, Seagrove cultivated American partisans, established negotiation tactics that Hawkins later perfected, and played an instrumental role in the establishment of a new Creek political identity.

Perhaps the most important aspect of Kokomoor’s argument for the second half of his book is that he seriously considers the reasons for the creation of the National Council and illustrates how the Creeks instigated change. The National Council was an inventive means for the Creeks to assert their agency over a changing American South and define their territorial sovereignty through an administrative state and coercive authority that Americans understood. Often understudied or ignored, Kokomoor’s research reveals a nascent Creek state that not only existed but “was far from the abject failure it has since been labeled” (p. 32). Indeed, Kokomoor effectively illustrates that Creeks accepted the National Council as the legitimate voice of the Creeks. Laws created by the National Council were “clear efforts” to “stem several causes of friction between their communities and Georgia settlers,” especially that of horse theft and murder, as they “extended a national jurisdiction over all Creeks” (pp. 246, 263). By the middle of the 1790s until the onset of the Red Stick War, the National Council successfully enforced new laws meant to mitigate the “day-to-day sources of violence between Creeks and American settlers” and to make themselves appear as “respectable neighbors in the eyes of wary Americans” as a means to retain their territorial sovereignty (p. 28).

Kokomoor’s final section addresses the decline of the Creek administrative state. The blatant disregard by the United States after 1807 for the National Council in the creation of a national road through Creek Country delegitimized and undermined the very “Creek system they helped create” (p. 294). This encouraged regional distrust of the National Council as Creek leadership managed this new administrative state. Kokomoor’s penultimate chapter concerns how the National Council handled the Red Stick nativist movement and eventual civil war. For Red Stick nativists, the impetus to fight came from a myriad of influences and directions, including religious, territorial, and economic rejection of the new order, as ethnohistorians Claudio Saunt, Gregory Waselkov, Joel Martin, and many others, previously established. But Kokomoor illustrates that a hatred of the National Council itself was the unifying force for the movement, one that federal agents and Council leadership did not identify until it was too late. Red Sticks were convinced that the National Council “was not only unequal to the task of halting” American expansion but that its destruction “was the best way forward” for Creek communities (p. 331). While the National Council and its allies eventually prevailed over the Red Stick nativists, Kokomoor argues that they were now more of a regional leadership. The nation-state in Creek Country endured after the Red Stick War, “but it was only a shadow of what it had been and was recognized as such” (p. 366).

Kokomoor often repeats a quote from Agent Hawkins, that the Creek national government “was not an ephemeral one,” and he takes this quote seriously (p. 382). Of One Mind and One Government rightly attributes agency to Creek leadership for the creation of a new nation-state that deflected the advances of the United States and retained the sovereignty of the Creeks themselves. The book is brilliantly researched, with a captivating narrative; the primary critique is that the argument is sometimes lost. The examination of pre- and post-American Revolution political machinations is, like the entire book, extensively researched, but the extent of the narrative at times buries Kokomoor’s argument on Creek political change and the importance of the Creek National Council. The successful transformation of Creek political identity centered on the legitimacy and strength (albeit short-lived) of the Creek National Council is a necessary addition to the historiography of the nineteenth-century Native South. Kokomoor’s study on the Creek National Council in the years prior to the start of the Red Stick War of 1813-14 opens new avenues for ethnohistorians to interpret Creek political actions in a period of momentous change.

Citation: Jeffrey Washburn. Review of Kokomoor, Kevin, Of One Mind and Of One Government: The Rise and Fall of the Creek Nation in the Early Republic.. H-AmIndian, H-Net Reviews. July, 2020. URL: http://www.h-net.org/reviews/showrev.php?id=53914

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