I’ve been to the Auburn University library and back to capture legible images of manuscripts from the office of the Spanish commandant of Pensacola, Province of West Florida, composed around July 1813. One moment of discovery last week was pure bliss: a letter from the commandant describing in detail the visit by a Creek Indian party headed by Peter McQueen and fellow Redsticks, seeking guns and ammo.
The Creeks’ story for the Spanish was that they were going to attack the Americans in Mississippi Territory — including Mobile, which the U.S. had seized from neutral Spain three months earlier on the flimsy pretext that it was part of the Louisiana cession from France ten years earlier. (The real reason for the attack seems to be a calculation that because Spain’s government was in crisis it would be unable to punish poachers on its New World territory. This proved correct.) By July 1813, when the Creeks turned up, Pensacola officials thought their city was probably the Americans’ next target.
So the Creeks assured the Spanish that they were about to wreak vengeance on the Americans, if only Spain would spot them some guns and powder. In fact, though, the Redsticks’ prime objective was not to attack Americans, but to win a civil war on the ruling class within the Creek Nation. This was the indispensable first step toward the long-term goal of resisting U.S. expansion and reducing — maybe even to zero — the number of Anglo-American settlers on Creek land. A string of U.S. defeats at the hands of the British and their northwestern Indian allies in the first year of the War of 1812 made this vision seem realistic in 1813.
West Florida, though, was Spain’s most vulnerable province and could not afford open conflict with the U.S. Arming the Indians would certainly give the Americans a pretext for seizing Pensacola and the rest of the province (the Florida panhandle). It also appears that the Spanish commandant, Mateo González Manrique, was not much convinced of the likelihood of the Redsticks’ following through on their aspirations, even if they were serious about them. Today I am translating a document that will do much to either support or refute that interpretation.
Some of the Indians who solicited Gonzáles’ help were attacked five days later by Mississippi territorial militia at Burnt Corn Spring, an event that helped bring on the Creek War with the United States. I am building a case that Americans involved in this war invented evidence for Creek-Spanish collaboration. I’ve written a paper before on competing interpretations of the Burnt Corn fight, including an “official story” that inflated the number of Indian combatants and professed that they were heavily armed and equipped by the Spaniards.
Whereas an inventory of goods given to the Indians by the Spanish commandant confirms that no weapons were provided. So far I’m having trouble even locating gunpowder among the gifts, or indeed anything more deadly than salt and coffee. The commandant’s letter is in a clear hand that comes through well even in these 80-year-old photographic prints (microfilmed about 40 years ago), but the inventory, in a different hand, is exceptionally difficult to read.* So that’s what I’m working on today.
* The originals are housed at a Spanish archive I’ve written longingly about, the Archivo General de Indias.