Tamahita Tribe

In 1673 the Virginia pioneer Abraham Wood sent two white men, James Needham and Gabriel Arthur, the latter probably an indentured servant, in company with eight Indians, to explore western Virginia up to and beyond the mountains. They were turned back at first “by misfortune and unwillingness of ye Indians before the mountaines that they should discover beyond them”; but May 17 they were sent out again, and on June 25 they met some “Tomahitans” on their way from the mountains to the Occaneechi, a Siouan tribe. Some of these came to see Wood, and meanwhile the rest returned to their own country, along with the two white men and one Appomatox Indian. From this point the narrative proceeds as follows:

They jornied nine days from Occhonechee to Sitteree: west and by south, past nine rivers and creeks which all end in this side ye mountaines and emty themselves into ye east sea. Sitteree being the last towne of inhabitance and not any path further untill they came within two days jomey of ye Tomahitans; they travell from thence up the mountaines upon ye sun setting all ye way, and in foure dayes gett to ye toppe, some times leading thaire horses sometimes rideing. Ye ridge upon ye topp is not above two hundred paces over; ye decent better than on this side, in halfe a day they came to ye foot, and then levell ground all ye way, many slashes upon ye heads of small runns. The slashes are full of very great canes and ye water runes to ye north west. They pass five rivers and about two hundred paces over ye fifth being ye middle most halfe a mile broad all sandy bottoms, with peble stones, all foardable and all empties themselves north west, when they travell upon ye plaines, from ye mountaines they goe downe, for severall dayes they see straged hilles on theire right hand, as they judge two days journy from them, by this time they have lost all theire horses but one ; not so much by ye badness of the way as by hard travell. not haveing time to feed. when they lost sight of those hilles they see a fogg or smoke like a cloud from whence raine falls for severall days on their right hand as they travell still towards the sun setting great store of game, all along as turkes, deere, elkes, beare, woolfe and other vermin very tame, at ye end of fiftteen dayes from Sitteree they arive at ye Tomahitans river, being ye 6th river from ye mountains, this river att ye Tomahitans towne seemes to run more westerly than ye other five. This river they past in cannoos ye town being seated in ye other side about foure hundred paces broad above ye town, within sight, ye horses they had left waded only a small channell swam, they were very kindly entertained by them, even to addoration in their cerrimonies of courtesies and a stake was sett up in ye middle of ye towne to fasten ye horse to, and aboundance of corne and all manner of pulse with fish, flesh and beares oyle for ye horse to feed upon and a scaffold sett up before day for my two men and Appomattocke Indian that theire people might stand and gaze at them and not offend them by theire throng. This towne is seated on ye river side, haveing ye clefts of ye river on ye one side being very high for its defence, the other three sides trees of two foot over, pitched on end, twelve foot high, and on ye topps scafolds placed with parrapits to defend the walls and offend theire enemies which men stand on to fight, many nations of Indians inhabitt downe this river, which runes west upon ye salts which they are att waare withe and to that end keepe one hundred and fifty cannoes under ye command of theire forte, ye leaste of them will carry twenty men, and made sharpe at both ends like a wherry for swiftness, this forte is foure square; 300: paces over and ye houses sett in streets, many hornes like bulls hornes lye upon theire dunghills, store of fish they have, one sorte they have like unto stoche-fish cured after that manner. Eight dayes jorny down this river lives a white people which have long beardes and whiskers and weares clothing, and on some of ye other rivers lives a hairey people, not many yeares since ye Tomahittans sent twenty men laden with beavor to ye white people, they killed tenn of them and put ye other tenn in irons, two of which tenn escaped and one of them came with one of my men to my plantation as you will understand after a small time of rest one of my men remaines with his horse, ye Appomatock Indian and 12 Tomahittans, eight men and foure women, one of those eight is hee which hath been a prisoner with ye white people, my other man remaines with them untill ye next returne to leame ye language, the 10th of September my man with his horse and ye twelve Indians arrived at my house praise bee to God, ye Tomahitans have about sixty gunnes, not such locks as oures bee, the steeles are long and channelld where ye flints strike, ye prisoner relates that ye white people have a bell which is six foot over which they ring morning and evening and att that time a great number of people congregate togather and talkes he knowes not what, they have many blacks among them, oysters and many other shell-fish, many swine and cattle. Theire building is brick, the Tomahittans began theire jorny ye 20th of September intending, God blessing him, at ye spring of ye next yeare to returne with his companion att which time God spareing me life I hope to give you and some other friends better satisfaction. 1

The greater part of the information contained in this report is from Needham. Not long afterwards Needham was killed by an Occaneechi Indian. Arthur, however, was among the Tomahitans. He escaped the fate of his companion and after several rather remarkable adventures, if we may trust his own statements, he returned to the home of his employer in safety and communicated to him an account of all that had happened. Wood informs us that a complete statement of everything Arthur told him would be too long to record, therefore he sets down only the principal points. The account runs thus:

Ye Tomahittans hasten home as fast as they can to tell ye newes [regarding the murder of Needham]. ye King or chife man not being att home, some of ye Tomahittans which were great lovers of ye Occheneechees went to put Indian Johns command in speedy execution and tied Gabriell Arther to a stake and laid heaps of combustible canes a bout him to burne him, but before ye fire was put too ye King came into ye towne with a gunn upon his shoulder and heareing of ye uprore for some was with it and some a gainst it. ye King ran with great speed to ye place, and said who is that that is goeing to put fire to ye English man. a Weesock borne started up with a fire brand in his hand said that am I. Ye King forthwith cockt his gunn and shot ye wesock dead, and ran to Gabriell and with his knife cutt ye thongs that tide him and had him goe to his house and said lett me see who dares touch him and all ye wesock children they take are brought up with them as ye laneearyes are a mongst ye Turkes. this king came to my house upon ye 21th of June as you will heare in ye following discouerse.

Now after ye tumult was over they make preparation for to manage ye warr for that is ye course of theire liveing to forage robb and spoyle other nations and the king commands Gabriell Arther to goe along with a party that went to robb ye Spanyarrd. promising him that in ye next spring hee him selfe would carry him home to his master, Gabriell must now bee obedient to theire commands, in ye deploreable condition hee was in was put in armes, gun, tomahauke, and targett and soe marched a way with ye company, beeing about fifty, they travelled eight days west and by south as he guest and came to a town of negroes, spatious and great, but all wooden buildings. Heare they could not take any thing without being spied. The next day they marched along by ye side of a great carte path, and about five or six miles as he judgeth came within sight of the Spanish town, walld about with brick and all brick buildings within. There he saw ye steeple where in hung ye bell which Mr. Needham gives relation of and harde it ring in ye eveing. heare they dirst not stay but drew of and ye next morning layd an ambush in a convenient place neare ye cart path before mentioned and there lay allmost seven dayes to steale for theire sustenance. Ye 7th day a Spanniard in a gentille habitt, accoutered with gunn, sword and pistoll. one of ye Tomahittans espieing him att a distance crept up to ye path side and shot him to death. In his pockett were two pieces of gold and a small gold chain, which ye Tomahittans gave to Gabriell, but hee unfortunately lost it in his venturing as you shall heare by ye sequell. Here they hasted to ye negro town where they had ye advantage to meett with a lone negro. After him runs one of the Tomahittans with a dart in his hand, made with a pice of ye blaide of Needhams sworde, and threw it after ye negro, struck him thrugh betwine his shoulders soe hee fell downe dead. They tooke from him some toys, which hung in his eares, and bracelets about his neck and soe returned as expeditiously as they could to theire owne homes.

They rested but a short time before another party was commanded out a gaine and Gabrielle Arther was commanded out a gaine, and this was to Porte Royall. Here hee refused to goe saying those were English men and he would not fight a gainst his own nation, he had rather be killd. The King tould him they intended noe hurt to ye English men, for he had promised Needham att his first coming to him that he would never doe violence a gainst any English more but theire business was to cut off a town of Indians which lived neare ye English. I but said Gabriell what if any English be att that towne, a trading, ye King sware by ye fire which they adore as theire god they would not hurt them soe they marched a way over ye mountains and came upon ye head of Portt Royall River in six days. There they made perriaugers of bark and soe past down ye streame with much swiftness, next coming to a convenient place of landing they went on shore and marched to ye eastward of ye south, one whole day and parte of ye night. At lengeth they brought him to ye sight of an English house, and Gabriell with some of the Indians crept up to ye house side and lisening what they said, they being talkeing with in ye house, Gabriell hard one say, pox take such a master that will not alow a servant a bit of meat to eate upon Christmas day, by that meanes Gabriell knew what time of ye yeare it was, soe they drew of secretly and hasten to ye Indian town, which was not above six miles thence, about breake of day stole upon ye towne. Ye first house Gabriell came too there was an English man. Hee hard him say Lord have mercy upon mee. Gabriell said to him runn for thy life. Said hee which way shall I run. Gabriell reployed, which way thou wilt they will not meddle with thee. Soe hee rann and ye Tomahittans opened and let him pas cleare there they got ye English mans snapsack with beades, knives and other petty truck, in it. They made a very great slaughter upon the Indians and a bout sun riseing they hard many great guns fired off amongst the English. Then they hastened a way with what speed they could and in less than fourteene dayes arived att ye Tomahittns with theire plunder.

Now ye king must goe to give ye monetons a visit which were his frends, mony signifing water and ton great in theire language. Gabriell must goe along with him They gett forth with sixty men and travelled tenn days due north and then arived at ye monyton towne sittuated upon a very great river att which place ye tide ebbs and flowes. Gabriell swom in ye river severall times, being fresh water, this is a great towne and a great number of Indians belong unto it, and in ye same river Mr. Batt and Fallam were upon the head of it as you read in one of my first jornalls. This river runes north west and out of ye westerly side of it goeth another very great river about a days journey lower where the inhabitance are an inumarable company of Indians, as the monytons told my man which is twenty dayes journey from one end to ye other of ye inhabitance, and all these are at warr with the Tomahitans. when they had taken theire leave of ye monytons they marched three days out of thire way to give a clap to some of that great nation, where they fell on with great courage and were as couragiously repullsed by theire enimise.

And heare Gabriell received shott with two arrows, one of them in his thigh, which stopt his runing and soe was taken prisoner, for Indian vallour consists most in theire heeles for he that can run best is accounted ye best man. These Indians thought this Gabrill to be noe Tomahittan by ye length of his haire, for ye Tomahittans keepe theire haire close cut to ye end an enime may not take an advantage to lay hold of them by it. They tooke Gabriell and scowered his skin with water and ashes, and when they perceived his skin to be white they made very much of him and admire att his knife gunn and hatchett they tooke with him. They gave those thing to him a gaine. He made signes to them the gun was ye Tomahittons which he had a disire to take with him, but ye knife and hatchet he gave to ye king, they not knowing ye use of gunns, the king receved it with great shewes of thankfullness for they had not any manner of iron instrument that hee saw amongst them whilst he was there they brought in a fatt bevor which they had newly killd and went to swrynge it. Gabriell made signes to them that those skins were good a mongst the white people toward the sun riseing. they would know by signes how many such skins they would take for such a knife. He told them foure and eight for such a hattchett and made signes that if they would lett him return, he would bring many things amongst them, they seemed to rejoyce att it and carried him to a path that carried to ye Tomahittans gave him Rokahamony for his journey and soe they departed, to be short, when he came to ye Tomahittans ye king had one short voyage more before hee could bring in Gabriell and that was downe ye river, they live upon in perriougers to kill hoggs, beares and sturgion which they did incontinent by five dayes and nights. They went down ye river and came to ye mouth of ye salts where they could not see land but the water not above three foot deepe hard sand. By this meanes wee know this is not ye river ye Spanyards live upon as Mr. Needham did thinke. Here they killed many swine, sturgin and beavers and barbicued them, soe returned and were fifteen dayes runing up a gainst ye streame but noe mountainous land to bee seene but all levell. 2

Arthur was then sent back to Virginia by the Tamahita chief; and he reached Wood’s house June 18, 1674.

This narrative leaves a great deal to be desired, and the reliability of much of that reported by Arthur is not beyond question, but the existence of a tribe of the name and its approximate location is established. The narrative is also of interest as containing the only specific information of any sort regarding their manners and customs.

For some years after the period of this narrative we hear not a word regarding the tribe, and when they reappear it is on the De Crenay map as “Tamaitaux” on the east bank of the Chattahoochee above the Chiaha and nearly opposite a part of the Sawokli. 3 A little later Adair enumerates the “Ta-mè-tah” among those tribes which the Muskogee had induced to incorporate with them. 4 They appear among other Lower Creek towns in the enumeration of 1750, placed between the northern Sawokli town and the Kasihta. 5 On one of the D’Anville maps of early date we find “Tamaita” laid down on the west bank of the Coosa not far above its junction with the Tallapoosa. The Koasati town was just below. In the list of Creek towns given in 1761 in connection with the assignment of traderships we find this entry: “27 Coosawtee including Tomhetaws.” The hunters of the two numbered 125 and they were located “close to the French barracks” where was the Koasati town from very early times. 6 Thus it appears that some at least of the Tamahita had moved over among the Upper Creeks sometime between 1733 and 1761 or perhaps earlier. Bernard Romans, on January 17, 1772, when descending the Tombigbee River, mentions passing the “Tomeehettee bluff, where formerly a tribe of that nation resided,” 7 and Hamilton identifies this bluff with McIntosh’s Bluff, a former location of the Tohome tribe. 8 It is probable that some Tamahita moved over to this river at the same time as the Koasati and Okchai, a little before Romans’s time, and afterwards returned with them to the upper Alabama.

Memory of them remained long among the Lower Creeks, since an aged informant of the writer, a Hitchiti Indian, born in the old country, claimed to be descended from them. According to him there was a tradition that the Tamahita burned a little trading post belonging to the English, whereupon the English called upon their Creek allies to punish the aggressors. The Tamahita were much more numerous than their opponents, but were not very warlike, and were driven south to the very point of Florida, where they escaped in boats to some islands. This tradition appears to be the result of an erroneous identification of the Tamahita with the Timucua. There is no evidence that the Creeks had a war with the former people.

After the above account had been prepared some material came under the eye of the writer tending to the conclusion that Tamahita must be added to that already long list of terms under which the Yuchi tribes appear in history. In view of the already formidable number of these Yuchi identifications – “Hogologe, Tahogale, Chiska, Westo, Rickohockan” – he would have preferred some other outcome, but we must be guided by facts and these facts point in one and the same direction.

The first significant circumstance is that, with one or two easily explained exceptions, wherever the name Tamahita or any of its synonyms is used none of the other terms bestowed upon the Yuchi occurs. This is true of the De Crenay map (pl. 5), of the French census of 1750, 9 and of the list of tribes incorporated into the Creek confederacy given by Adair. 10 The only exceptions are where different bands might be under consideration. Thus in the census of 1761 “Tomhetaws” are mentioned in connection with the Koasati living near the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers, Alabama, while the Yuchi among the Lower Creeks and those which had formerly been on the Choctawhatchee are entered under their proper names. 11 Romans, too, speaks of a town of “Euchas” among the Lower Creeks and in a different part of his work of a former tribe called “Tomeehetee” which gave its name to a bluff on the Tombigbee River. 12 These exceptions, however, are not of much consequence.

In the second place the names of almost all of the other important Creek tribal subdivisions do occur alongside of the Tamahita. On the De Crenay map and in the French census of 1750 this tribe is located among the Lower Creeks, alongside of the Coweta, Kasihta, Apalachicola, Sawokli, Osochi, Eufaula, Okmulgee, Oconee, Hitchiti, Chiaha, and Tamali. 13 Adair gives them as one of a number of “broken tribes” said to have been incorporated with the Creeks proper, and he seems to have been familiar only with those living among the Upper Creeks, for the others mentioned in connection with them were all settled here, viz, Tuskegee, Okchai, Pakana, Witumpka, Shawnee, Natchez, and Koasati. As incorporated tribes among the Lower Creeks he notes the Osochi, Oconee, and Sawokli. In other places where Tamahita are mentioned among the Upper Creeks we find, in addition to the above, the Okchaiutci, Kantcati (Alabama), people of Coosa Old Town, and Muklasa, while the Tawasa are given in the census of 1750 and on the De Crenay map of 1733 as entirely distinct. 13

Taking the Lower Creek towns by themselves we find all of the towns accounted for except the Yuchi towns and two or three which were located upon Chattahoochee River for a very brief period. These last were a Shawnee town, Tuskegee, Kolomi, Atasi, and perhaps Kealedji. The first two, however, occur independently in Adair’s list, and the others are well-known Muskogee divisions which appear alongside of the Tamahita among the Upper Creeks. The Yamasee were also here for very brief periods but at a point much farther down the river than that where the Tamahita are placed.

Thirdly, Yuchi are known to have lived at or in the neighborhood of most of the places assigned to the Tamahita. The topography of the De Crenay map is too uncertain to enable us to base any conclusions upon it, but in the census of 1750 the Tamahita are given at approximately the same distance from Fort Toulouse as Coweta and Kasihta, and 3 leagues nearer than Chiaha, very close to the position which the (unnamed) Yuchi then occupied. As we shall see when we come to discuss the Yuchi as a whole, there was at least one band of Indians belonging to this tribe among the Upper Creeks, remnants apparently of the Choctawhatchee band. The Tamahita which figure in this section of the Creek country may, therefore, have been a part of these. I believe, however, that there was a second band of Yuchi here, which had had a somewhat different history. When we come to discuss the Yuchi Indians we shall find that a section of these people, called generally Hogologe or Hog Logee, accompanied the Apalachicola Indians and part of the Shawnee to the Chattahoochee River about 1716. The Apalachicola were satisfied with this location, but some time later the Shawnee migrated to the Tallapoosa, and I think it probable that at least a part of the Hogologe Yuchi went with them. We know that relations between these two tribes must have been intimate for Bartram was led to believe that the Yuchi spoke “the Savanna or Savanuca tongue,” and Speck testifies to cordial understandings between them extending down to the present time. 14 But Hawkins gives us something more definite. In a diary which he kept during his travels through the Creek Nation in 1796 he states, under date of Monday, December 19, when he was following the course of the Tallapoosa River toward its mouth and along its southern shore, “half a mile [beyond a large spring by the river bank is] the Uchee village, a remnant of those settled on the Chattahoochee; half a mile farther pass a Shawne village.” 15 In his Sketch, representing conditions a few years later, he says, in the course of his description of the same Shawnee village, “Some Uchees have settled with them,” and there is every reason to believe that they were the Yuchi who had formerly occupied a town of their own half a mile away. 16

Last of all, we must not lose sight of the fact that the origin of the Tamahita, like that of the Yuchi, may be traced far north to the Tennessee mountains. It seems rather improbable that a tribe from such a distant country could have settled among the Creeks and, after living in closest intimacy with them for so many years, have passed entirely out of existence without any further hint of their affiliations or any more information regarding them. And the fact that they and the Yuchi share so many points in common and appear in the same places, though practically never side by side, must be added to this as constituting strong circumstantial evidence that they were indeed one and the same people.Citations:

  1. Alvord and Bidgood, First Explorations Trans-Allegheny Region, pp. 212-214.[]
  2. Alvord and Bidgood, op. cit., pp. 218-223.[]
  3. See plate 5; Hamilton, Col. Mobile, p. 190.[]
  4. Adair, Hist. Am. Inds., p. 257.[]
  5. MS., Ayer Coll.[]
  6. Ga. Col. Docs., VIII, p. 524.[]
  7. Romans, Nat. Hist. E. and W. Fla., p. 332.[]
  8. Hamilton, op. cit., p. 106. See pp. 160-166.[]
  9. MS. in Ayer Coll., Newberry Lib.[]
  10. Hist. Am. Inds., p. 257.[]
  11. Ga. Col. Docs., VIII, pp. 522-524.[]
  12. Romans, E. and W. Fla., pp. 280, 332.[]
  13. Loc. cit.[][]
  14. Bartram, Travels, p. 387; Speck, Anth. Pub., U. of Pa. Mus., I, p. 11.[]
  15. Ga. Hist. Soc. Colls., IX, p. 41.[]
  16. See p. 320; also plate 8.[]

History, Tamahita,

Swanton, John Reed. Early History of the Creek Indians and Their Neighbors. US Government Printing Office. 1902.

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