It is the Rosetta Stone of North America. The English translation of this hand-painted vellum containing a lost Native American writing system, requires eight printed pages. With the encouragement of His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales, a search has begun on both sides of the Atlantic to find the original artifact, or at least a copy of the writing system. It has been misplaced for over 230 years.
The year is 1733. Growing increasingly fearful of a combined Spanish, French and Indian attack on its vulnerable white population, the Province of South Carolina agreed to renounce claims on territory southwest of the Savannah River so that a new colony of yeoman farmers could be established on its frontier. Roughly sixty percent of South Carolina’s population was either African or Native American slaves. These suppressed peoples would be highly inclined to assist the French and Spanish.
In 1715, without the direct assistance of European powers, the Yamasee Indians had almost succeeded in wiping the southern part Carolina off the face of the earth. Back then there was no North or South Carolina. A new alliance of tribes in the Carolina Mountains switched sides and attacked the Yamasee just at the moment when Charleston faced annihilation. This alliance was now called the Cherokees.
The new colony, called Georgia in honor of King George I, would have no slaves. Its first town, Savannah, had been designed in advance as a military bastion. Its unique plan maximized the defensive effectiveness of artillery. All males in the colony agreed to be members of the militia in return for being given free land. The colony’s Board of Trustees planned to recruit the thousands of Englishmen in debtor’s prisons, plus German Protestants, being persecuted in Catholic regions, to settle the countryside. Unlike Maryland, Virginia, South and North Carolina, there would be no plantation aristocracy. At least, that was the plan.
The key to this colony’s success would be good relations with the Muskogean peoples of the interior. Prior to the Yamasee War, they had been divided up into provinces of various sizes. The strongest province was itself an alliance known to the British as the Ochese Creek Indians. At about the same time in 1718 that the Mountain Alliance was given the name Cherokees, the Muskogeans formed their own regional confederacy from provinces speaking several languages and dialects.
The Muskogean Confederacy was not a tribe at this time, but would eventually evolve into the Creek Indians. Nevertheless, in 1733, this alliance contained the largest and most culturally advanced indigenous population in North America. It claimed all the former lands of its members, between the Smoky Mountains in North Carolina southward to St. Augustine, FL. Expansion of the Cherokee Alliance into western North Carolina had forced many Muskogean provinces to relocate to Alabama and Georgia. Its members would not be called “the Creek Indians” until the 1740s.
The founding of the Province of Georgia
Savannah was settled in February of 1733 on land given to British Crown by a small Muskogean tribe, known as the Yamacraw. Its leader, Tamachichi (Tomochichi in English) had been banished from Muskogean Confederacy for some unknown incedent. About 1728 Tomochichi created the Yamacraws from an assortment of Muskogean and Yamasee Indians after the two alliances disagreed over future relations with Great Britain and Spain. This Yamacraw village would remain adjacent to Savannah until the American Revolution. Immediately, Tamachichi and Governor James Edward Oglethorpe became close friends.
In November of 1733, Tamachichi invited the highest leaders of the Muskogean Confederacy to Savannah to meet his friend, James Oglethorpe. Tamachichi’s prestigious new status as a close ally of Great Britain brought him reinstatement into the confederacy. British officials were shocked to learn that the Indians in the interior were not one ethnic group, but many peoples with separate histories reaching back over 2,000 years. They were the vestiges of the mound-building era. The leaders agreed to be steadfast allies of Great Britain. The Okonee Province (Ocute in the de Soto Chronicles) agreed to give Oglethorpe all their land that he needed along the Atlantic Coast to establish a healthy colony.
Governor Oglethorpe immediately sent a long letter back to British government that described their new allies, who seemed very different from any Indians that the British had dealt with before. He was astonished that they were skilled in writing, math, astronomy and land surveying without being taught these skills by Europeans. He told the prime minister that he was convinced that these new allies were the descendants an ancient civilization.
The Migration Legend of the Kashita People
Early in 1734 a delegation of Muskogean Confederacy leaders returned to Savannah to confirm their alliance with Oglethorpe. This delegation was lead by Chikili, the war chief of the Palache (Apalache) who formerly lived in the gold fields of the Georgia Mountains, but now lived in the region northwest of Savannah. The highlight of a friendship ceremony was the presentation of a vellum made from a bison calf skin. On this vellum was painted in the Muskogean writing system, the history of the Kas’hita People. They were late arrivals to the Southeast. As Chikili read the vellum, Indian trader, John Musgrove and his beautiful Indian wife, Kusaponakeesa, translated the legend into English, while a notary wrote down the information. The Creek Indian writing system was capable of transmitting all verb tenses and complete thoughts.
The Kashita People called themselves, the Kauche-te, in their Itsate Creek language. They were originally vassals of Kusa, the great town visited by Hernando de Soto in the summer of 1540. At some time in the past, they moved northward to live among the Talasee Creeks in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, then moved to an abandoned town site on the Hiwassee River near present-day Murphy, NC. Juan Pardo visited them in the fall of 1567. He called them the Cauche. In their migration legend, the Kashita claim to have sacked a great capital on the side of Georgia’s highest mountain, Brasstown Bald. The Kashita’s description of this town seems to match the Track Rock terrace complex site.
Governor Oglethorpe immediately realized the scientific importance of the Kashita vellum. He dispatched it to England for safe-keeping. It created quite a stir in England. The American Gazetteer newspaper published a full translation and described as written with peculiar red and black characters, not pictures as normally seen on American Indian skin paintings. It reportedly was mounted in a frame on the wall of the Georgia Office in Westminster Palace as long as Georgia was a colony then misplaced. See the following URL for more complete discussions of the Creek Indians’ migration legends: http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/the-migration-legend-of-the-kashita-people.htm
The on-going research into the cultural connections between the Southeast and Mesoamerica has sparked a renewed interest in the long forgotten bison calf vellum. Tamachichi’s name was Itza Maya. It means “Merchant Dog.” Of particular interest is the statement in contemporary London papers that the Creek Indian’s writing system consisted of “peculiar red and black characters.” During the Terminal Classic and Post-Classic Periods, the Itza Mayas used a simplified Maya writing system consisting of red and black characters. A mineral mined in Georgia was found on the buildings at Palenque, the Classic Period capital of the Itza Mayas in Chiapas.
Clarence House picks up the rugby ball
The premier of American Unearthed on December 21, 2012, about the Creek Indian-Maya connection, had the highest viewership of any program ever watched on History Channel H2. It is now being viewed by people around the world. Intrigued by the research, His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales, directed one of his personal secretaries at Clarence House to assist in the search for the lost buffalo calf vellum. Clarence House is the official residence of the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall.
The staff at Clarence House reported on January 28, 2013 has already turned up some previously unknown details about the lost vellum. Tamachichi and several family members were guests of the Archbishop of Canterbury when they visited England in 1734. His barge was at their disposal. In a ceremony on August 18, 1734 Tamachichi and Governor Oglethorpe formally presented the vellum to Archbishop William Wake at Lambeth Palace. The vellum has been the official property of the Church of England since then. It may be in the church archives rather than in the British Museum.
In a recent conversation with the Friends of Oglethorpe Society, Clarence House official, Grahame Davies, has learned that a Lutheran minister, the Rev. Martin Boltzius, copied portions of the Creek writing system then included them in personal correspondence to Lord Edgemont in England. Boltizius was the leader of the Saltzburger Colony at New Ebenezer, GA. The next step in the research process will require the laborious study of archives held by the Church of England, British Museum, British Government and the James Oglethorpe Room at the Godalming Museum in Surrey, UK. See http://www.exploringsurreyspast.org.uk/themes/places/surrey/waverley/godalming/godalming_westbrook_manor/.
The results of this research could again turn the world of archaeology upside down. American anthropologists have traditionally refused to label the Southeastern Indians as “civilized” because "they did not have a writing system until the early 1800s, when Sequoyah created the Cherokee Syllabary.” There will not be a whole lot that the anthropologists can say, when an official at Clarence House presents the Creek writing system to the world.
Those readers who wish to ask Richard Thornton questions about architecture, urban planning or Native American history may email him at Native Question@aol.com .