Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/McGillivray, Alexander

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Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography
McGillivray, Alexander
Edition of 1900. Written by James Roberts Gilmore. See also Alexander McGillivray on Wikipedia, and our Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography disclaimer.

McGILLIVRAY, Alexander, Indian chief, b. in the Creek nation in 1740; d. in Pensacola, Fla., 17 Feb., 1793. His father was Lachland McGillivray, of Dunmaglas, Scotland, his mother a half-breed Creek princess of the influential Wind family, whose father had been a French officer of Spanish descent. He had thus in his veins the blood of four nations, and in his character were some of the traits of them all. He possessed the polished urbanity of the Frenchman, the duplicity of the Spaniard, the cool sagacity of the Scotchman, and the silent subtlety, and inveterate hate of the North American Indian. He received a classical education from his father's brother, a Scotch-Presbyterian clergyman of Charleston, but on reaching manhood returned to his mother's people, among whom he was at once given the position to which he was entitled by his talents and the influence of his family. He assumed a kind of semi-barbaric pomp, being constantly attended by a numerous retinue, from whom he exacted all the deference due to royalty. He had several wives, whom he lodged in as many different “palaces,” at which he entertained his guests in rude magnificence. His influence was always great among his nation, but it was at first overshadowed by that of the Cherokee king, Oconostota. On the deposition of the latter, he became the autocrat of the Creeks, and their allies the Seminoles and Chickamaugas. Thus he could bring into the field not less than 10,000 warriors. He sided with the British in the Revolutionary war, and in retaliation Georgia confiscated such of his lands as lay within her limits. This excited his bitter enmity, and led a long war against the western settlers. The treaty of peace of 1783 was no sooner signed than he proposed to Arthur O'Neil, the Spanish governor of Pensacola, the treacherous policy by which Spain sought for twelve years to sever the trans-Alleghany region from the Union. Failing to bring the other southern tribes into a coalition against John Sevier on Holston and Watauga rivers, he made constant raids upon Gen. James Robertson, along Cumberland river, and the latter, with unexampled heroism, as constantly beat him back, at one time with but seventy men, and with never so many as a thousand. The U. S. government made him repeated overtures for peace, but he seriously listened to none till he was invited to New York in 1790, to hold a personal conference with Washington. Seeing in this an opportunity for display, he went, attended by twenty-eight of his principal chiefs and warriors; but he was careful before setting out to write to the Spanish governor at New Orleans that, although he should conclude a treaty of peace with the U. S. government, he would ever remain faithful to his old friends, the Spaniards. He was received with great ceremony by the United States officials, who concluded with him a treaty by which they restored to the Creeks a large territory, paid McGillivray $100,000 for his confiscated property, and gave him the commission of major-general in the U. S. army. He returned home, and at once instigated a fresh raid upon the heroic Robertson. He pursued this treacherous policy till his death. McGillivray was a curious compound of the wild savage and the educated white man. He indulged in a plurality of wives, and had a barbarian's delight in tinsel splendor; yet he had scholarly tastes, and an intellect so keen as to be a match in diplomacy for the ablest statesman. He was a skilful speculator, a shrewd merchant, an astute politician, and an able writer of state papers. At the same time he was a British colonel, and a Spanish and an American general, and he played these different nationalities so skilfully against each other as always to secure his own interest and that of his nation. He is chiefly remembered for his savage delight in blood, his treacherous diplomacy, and the duplicity by which he hid the most fiendish designs under the guise of fraternal kindness. He was an instance of a powerful intellect absolutely divorced from moral principle. Said Robertson, who knew him well: “The Spaniards are devils, and the biggest devil among them is the half Spaniard, half Frenchman, half Scotchman, and altogether Creek scoundrel, McGillivray.”