The Apalachicola Ecosystems Project

Benjamin Hawkins History

Historic documents and maps are invaluable sources for historical anthropology.  AEP scientist, Thomas Foster, has published and analyzed the journals of the United States Indian Agent, Benjamin Hawkins.

Benjamin Hawkins worked with the Creek Indians from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. Unlike previous federal Indian agents, Hawkins lived among the Indians, learned their language, and became a respected member of Creek society. The Creek Indians came to refer to him by the honorific title “Beloved Man.”  Hawkins negotiated a number of treaties with the Indians and accompanied official surveys for the state of Alabama and surrounding states. 

During the presidency of Thomas Jefferson, Hawkins sought and gained federal support to “civilize” the Indians by teaching them European agricultural practices and convincing them to live in settled towns and participate in the U.S. economy. Although the Indians had been assimilating with the Europeans for decades through trade, they were still relatively traditional in that they primarily lived on hunting and gathering and small scale farming, both of which required large amounts of land desired by non-Indian settlers. Hawkins believed that assimilation into the Anglo-European culture of the expanding United States was the only way that Indian nations would survive. He understood, correctly, that the federal government would continue to acquire land, by force when necessary, on which the Indians depended for their livelihood.  

Hawkins wrote extensively about the Creek, Cherokee, and Chickasaw and was genuinely interested in their cultures and welfare.  His writings include descriptions of Indian languages, agricultural practices, and political life.   His journals are an invaluable and unique source of information about the people and geography of the southeastern United States during the eighteenth century.

 

 

Foster, Thomas, editor.  2003.  The Collected Works of Benjamin Hawkins, 1796-1810.  University of Alabama Press.

Cover of Viatory or Journal of Distances by Benjamin Hawkins

Photography by Thomas Foster

 

The Creek Agency, Flint River, Georgia

 

 

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