To help convey the chaos and complexity that accompanied the taking of land from indigenous people all over the continent, including the present day states of Georgia and Alabama, scholars have long complicated the seemingly straightforward implications of the familiar terms “New World” and “frontier.” Instead of solely relying on a geographical definition of “New World,” historians assert the dynamics at play on this continent after Europeans arrived created a new world for everyone involved, one to which everyone contributed and by which everyone was impacted. Usually, these words reflect the European point of view, to whom this continent, its people, animals, and landscape were actually new, thus comprising a frontier, an area that exceeds familiarity. In a similar but much more jarring and violent vein, North America was new to Africans who were “ripped out of the ‘social tissue’ that gave meaning to their lives and converted them into ‘marketable objects.” Despite indigenous peoples living here for thousands of years, it was a new world for them, too.
European diseases killed an incalculable number of American Indians in the Southeast. In cultures where traditions and skills were passed down orally, centuries of knowledge, wisdom, and skill could disappear with the death of several elders. In societies dependent on communal effort to obtain food and shelter, the death of numerous people threatened a town or village’s ability to sustain itself. Natives in the Southeast responded to sudden reduction in numbers by moving, merging with other groups, and rebuilding their societies. As a result, the group known historically as the Creek Indians was actually a multiethnic, multilingual alliance of towns that spanned much of present day Georgia, Alabama, and northern Florida. Some of the smaller groups included the Tuckabatchee, Hitchiti, Alabama, Yuchi. Other groups such as the Natchez and Shawnee came to Creek towns as refugees, and still others were conquered and incorporated into the alliance. This diverse league was the largest Indian nation in the southeast and wielded power that European countries, especially the English, feared into the 19th century.
Much of the power of the Creeks came from their number, their practice of incorporating other groups into the confederacy, and the amount of land all of these people encompassed. Despite this, the new forces that accompanied European ships forced Indians to adapt ancient ways to function within a capitalistic economy. The enslaving of Indians for European and domestic markets altered societies, as many tribes traded war captives and raided increasingly distant populations to finance their new taste for European goods. The market-driven, race-based slavery introduced by Europeans teetered on the shoulders of the Indians’ ancient practice of enslaving war captives by putting a price tag on each one. Many Creeks responded to the demand for enslaved people by raiding villages in what would become Florida and selling captives to traders in Charleston. In retrospect, we see the market’s perversion of an ancient system producing a brutal, self-perpetuating cycle, driven by the commodification of humans and expediting colonial ambitions to depower indigenous populations and make way for more market expansion by turning more and more people into producers, consumers, and commodities.
During the 1700s, the Indian slave trade waned, the importation of Africans increased, and the market for deerskins grew. As trade relationships between the British and Creek strengthened, traders set up home and shop in Creek towns. The permanence of this trade provided Creeks with a steady source of guns, cloth, metal tools, alcohol, and other European wares in exchange for skins. If they hadn’t enough skins, they bought on credit, a new habit that haunted the Creek people for the next century as the deer population (an important source of food, as well as trade) dwindled and reliance on manufactured goods and livestock increased. EuroAmerican men began living permanently among the Creeks, either as the town trader, or because they preferred Creek society to the one into which they were born.
By the mid-1700s, many of the traders who lived in Creek towns enslaved a person of African descent. This was not the Creeks’ first knowledge of Africans or slavery as practiced by European culture, but Creeks and the enslaved began interacting on a more consistent basis as their interaction with EuroAmerican enslavers became more consistent. These enslaved people played a major role in the deerskin trade, building storehouses, tending horses, loading cargo, running stores, and sometimes interpreting conversations between traders and Creek customers. As planters and farmers settled closer and closer to Creek towns, the likelihood of those towns receiving runaways increased. Many times, the newly freed people continued to live in the towns, convincing some Creeks of the injustice of their former enslavement. As a result, Creek towns were looked upon suspiciously by proponents of slavery for harboring what they perceived to be their valuable property.
This mixing of people in Creek towns led to intermarriage and children who were considered multiracial and multicultural. Some of these offspring, like the Scottish and Creek William McIntosh used his ties to “both worlds” to build his wealth and earn respect and honor from both Creeks and EuroAmericans. Sometimes this lineage produced conflicting loyalties, as was the case with McIntosh who was executed by Creek warriors for illegally signing away all Creek land in Georgia at the urging of his cousin, Governor Troup. Other times, someone of European and Creek heritage completely identified with one or the other, but not both. Such conflicting interests was a nonissue for the children of African American and Creek marriages. They remained aware that their skin color dictated the ways they could move about outside the village, and even within, as slave catchers sometimes came to collect runaways, or surrogates in their stead. By the 1800s, intermarriage had made the Lower Creek towns “a distinctive, almost hybrid society…genetically and culturally mixed” that consisted of “all complexions shading through white, red, and black.”
This mixing of cultures was almost incomprehensibly complex. While the towns that made up the Creek confederacy shared many characteristics, the cooperation of these fiercely independent groups necessitated diplomacy, patience, and, undoubtedly, trial and error, in order to navigate this new world that was not only created by European microbes and markets, but continued to evolve because of Indians’ increasing interaction with Europeans, enslaved Africans, and their descendants, not to mention the political boundaries that were constantly drawn and redrawn due to international power struggles. Take a minute to imagine the sheer number of cultures and agendas converging in the Southeast. I use “European” and “African” because it is convenient but there’s more to unpack there. Not only was the Creek confederacy a relatively new alliance, EuroAmericans and immigrants from various European countries brought their cultural, religious, and political baggage along with them. The Africans forced into the frontier were from different regions of West Africa (West Central Africa, Bight of Benin, Bight of Biafra, Gold Coast, Senegambia, Sierra Leone, Windward Coast) and their American descendants maintained much of their cultures’ distinct characteristics as a form of dignity and resistance in a new, hostile environment, while also altering the Creeks and EuroAmericans near whom they lived.
Much about frontier eras seem ironic, such as the concept of some Creeks enslaving blacks. Creek enslavers were usually those who had “bought in” more fully to European culture, running plantations, ferries, taverns, and inns, thus benefitting from the westward lurch of the capitalistic market economy. As a group of people generally thought inferior by European standards and abused by EuroAmericans and the economic system that sustained them, it may seem odd that any Creeks participated in the severe oppression of another group of people.
This article means to provide a glimpse into the complexity of frontier areas, regions and intangible spaces where cultures collide and people’s ideas, politics, and genetics inevitably mix to form new worlds and legacies. The categories of race, of who is good or bad, the victim or the perpetrator, are never sufficient in understanding the complexity of human events. Frontiers provide excellent case studies into the fluidity of human nature and motivations, the effects of the market economy and individual wealth, and the concepts of race and cultural loyalty. A frontier is not only a place, it is a complex process that produces new environments. The next article will conclude my attempt to describe the Old Southwestern frontier, with attention to the ways Creeks and Africans affected each other and EuroAmericans, before we move on to reexamining events that shaped its incorporation into the United States.
 David W. Blight, Slavery and Public History: The Tough Stuff of American Memory (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 22; Andrew K. Frank, Creeks and Southerners: Biculturalism on the Early American Frontier (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2005), 12.
 Paul Kelton, Epidemics and Enslavement: Biological Catastrophe in the Native Southeast (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2007), xviii.
 The demand for slaves on the sugar plantations in the West Indies made raiding villages in present day Florida a lucrative venture for the Creeks who took the inhabitants captive to sell into slavery, resulting in the destruction of entire towns and the disappearance of native groups. Kathryn E. Holland Braund, “The Creeks, Indians, Blacks, and Slavery,” The Journal of Southern History 57, no.4 (November 1991), 605-606. Frank, Creeks and Southerners, 30.
 Michael D. Green, The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Practice (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982, 141-42; Grant Foreman, Indian Removal (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1932), 150-51.
 National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, Park Ethnography Program, https://www.nps.gov/ethnography/aah/aaheritage/histContextsD.htm. Accessed November 1, 2016.