HISTORY SPOTLIGHT: THE CREEKS, THE COMMISSIONERS, AND THE CHATTAHOOCHEE
Our history is important and it’s our shared stories that shape us going forward. History can be inspirational, complex, difficult, and painful. It is also vital that when sharing those stories that it is done in an honest and inclusive way. Our community's Native American history is complex and painful. Here is a brief compilation of our early start as a trading town. There are several more detailed and much better written books on Native American history in the Chattahoochee Valley – especially by local historian Billy Winn (The Old Beloved Path: Daily Life Among the Indians of the Chattahoochee River Valley and The Triumph of the Ecunnau-Nuxulgee: Land Speculators, George M. Troup, and the Removal of the Creek Indians from Alabama and Georgia, 1825 -1838) . If you would like to have more information on this part of Columbus' history, please let us know – firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, if there are other stories you would like for us to include in future History Spotlights, please tell us!
This area had been the scene of settlement by Native Americans for hundreds of years, before the discovery of America. Columbus is located in the heart of the former Creek Nation. The Yuchis were the local tribe. Georgia was one of the original thirteen colonies, with the coastal area, around Savannah, developing first. When the Revolutionary War ended in 1783, the people in this country began to move westward, and those in Georgia were no exception. Georgia, at this time, included all of its present area and parts of Alabama and Mississippi. In order to secure safe land for settlement, the State agreed to give up all lands west of the Chattahoochee River to the Federal Government in exchange for a treaty removing the Indians from all Georgia territory. The Treaty of Indian Springs was signed on February 8, 1825 and stipulated that the Creeks relinquish all their land holdings in Georgia. In return, the Creek Indians received $400,000 and a comparable amount of land west of the Mississippi River. Chief William McIntosh, son of an English trader, realized the inevitability of the Creeks moving westward. He was instrumental in convincing the Creeks to sign the treaty. However, not all Creeks were not in favor of the treaty. On May 1, 1825, McIntosh was killed by Indians who resisted the idea of releasing their land to the State for use by white settlers.
In June of 1825, Governor John Forsyth and the Georgia Legislature set out through a series of acts to establish the frontier village of Columbus at the site of Coweta Falls on the Chattahoochee River. This was an excellent location for a new trading village because its site at the foot of the falls made it the northernmost navigable point for trading vessels and steamboats on the state’s longest river. The falls cause the water level to drop 125 feet within two and a half miles. Five commissioners were appointed by the Governor to create this “trading town.” Two of the commissioners, Dr. Edwin Lewis de Graffenreid, a physician; and James Hallam, an Indian trader, were from Muscogee County. The remaining three commissioners, Colonel Philip H. Alston, Colonel Ignatius A. Few, and Brigadier General Elias Beall, led troops against the Indians during the War of 1812. These five commissioners met in January of 1828 and appointed a surveyor to assist in the city’s planning.
Edward Lloyd Thomas was the chosen surveyor who mapped out the city. In actuality, Thomas was a Methodist minister who initially made surveying a hobby. As his skills increased, so did the State’s demand for his talent. Once the plans were drawn and lots were sold, Columbus came into being in the year 1828. This planned beginning was unusual because most towns were not planned, but developed around existing plantations, cross roads, or the terminus of the railroad. Columbus is probably the last planned city of the original thirteen colonies. The Indians by the year 1836 had suffered from poor living conditions across the river. They were also only allowed in Columbus in the daytime. This would lead to an uprising resulting in loss of life, damage to the steamboats, and loss of property. The last of the Indians in this area were removed to Oklahoma in 1837. The Chattahoochee Valley had been a crossroads for foreign visitors even before the town of Columbus was settled because of the location of the important capital of the Creek Confederation 25 miles south of us at Coweta Town on the banks of the Chattahoochee. One of the first descriptions of Columbus comes from an English woman who was accompanying her husband, Basil Hall, a British Naval Captain. On a tour of the world, they were in Columbus in April of 1828. At that time a number of prospective citizens and craftsmen were on hand for the sale of lots at auction in July of that year. She wrote that Columbus was a dense forest area, and that her husband had observed that he had often seen towns without inhabitants, but he had never before seen so many inhabitants without a town.
The Chattahoochee River formed the original southern boundary of the city. Our original surveyor, Mr. Thomas, did Columbus a far-reaching favor by setting aside land near the river for municipal use. These areas were called “commons.” In later years, the City was able to use land at the South Commons for a baseball park, football stadium, municipal auditorium and golf course. This area now contains a fast-pitch softball complex, the Civic Center, Ice Rink, and Golden Park. The North Commons, once Mott’s Green, was located on what is now the TSYS campus. The western commons area was located along Front Avenue. It was later developed in the mid-1970s as our community’s celebration for the Bicentennial and is now called The Chattahoochee Promenade. Historic Columbus was a major partner in that effort and assisted with moving the historic house at the Promenade to its current location. Exhibit panels were also developed in small vignettes along the river bank to tell many parts of the history of our community. If you have time, they are worth checking out!
If you are able, please consider joining or making a donation to Historic Columbus. Your contribution will increase heritage education programming in our public schools and preservation projects along the Second Avenue corridor, the original city, City Village, Waverly Terrace, and MidTown Columbus. These are the places where your gift can make a transformational difference in a child’s sense of place and strengthen our neighborhoods one house at a time.