Milfort's Memoirs: Part 1 -- Chapters 1 -- 9

Memoirs or A Quick Glance
at my various travels
and my sojourn in the Creek Nation

(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)



Departure from France, and my arrival among the Creeks

THERE ARE extant few, or perhaps no true accounts at all of the savage tribes which inhabit North America. The relations the Europeans have had with these peoples have always been so slight that they have not enabled them to become acquainted with the manners, habits, and the way of living of these savages. The barbaric nature attributed to them terrified those who would have had some desire to go among them. All communications were limited to barter trade which took place on the frontier-lines. Chance and, I must admit, thoughtless youth, having given me this advantage, which few people have enjoyed, I thought that the public would be grateful to me for giving it the details of my travels over the surface of that vast part of the continent. I regret that the circumstance under which I am writing it does not permit me to give to it all the attention and time that such a work would require. I shall be satisfied with relating briefly the most interesting events. If I were to write the story of my life, I would begin with that of my earliest youth; but I am writing only the story of my travels, and I begin it at the time I left France, to return here only after an absence of twenty years.

Chapter 1:
Departure from France

Some time during January 1775, I found in Dunkirk a ship which was sailing to Norway; my first intention being to travel in the north of Europe, I availed myself of that opportunity. Arriving at Bergen, I found another ship which was leaving for the United States of America, and which gave me the idea of going over there. Since my purpose was to travel, the direction was absolutely immaterial to me, for I had no determined goal. I embarked therefore on this ship, and disembarked at New London, in Connecticut, in the month of April in the same year. From this town, of which I shall speak at greater length in the second part of this work, as well as of all those that I only went through before arriving in the Creek Nation, I went to Norege then to Providence, Newport, and from there to Boston. I found nothing remarkable on this journey which was about sixty leagues long, except the antipathy which prevails between the inhabitants of the North and those of the South.

Chapter 2:
Arrival in the United States

I remained a few days in Boston in order to rest, and then left there to go to New Yorckand from there to Jarsey situated on the Delaware which flows under the walls of Philadelphia. I left Jarsey and went through Philadelphia and arrived at Baltimore; from there I proceeded to Yorktown in Virginia (it is the place where Lord Cornwallis was taken prisoner by the combined French and American armies); from Yorktown I traveled through the two Carolinas and arrived at Savanha in Georgia. This state was at that time sparsely settled, but it is considerably inhabited today. I shall tell the reason for it in the second part of my work. From Savanha I went up the river of the same name as far as Augusta, an important town today, but which was then only a very small village, and which I left to proceed to Orangeburg in the hinterland of South Carolina. I left that town and went ten leagues to the east on the Tougoulou road where I was astonished to find vineyards in rather large numbers cultivated in the French manner. I learned that it was a man from Bordeaux, former chevalier de St.-Louis, who, having experienced misfortune and disgrace in France, had decided to go over to the West Indies with his family, and had come to settle down in this part of the New World: this man's name was Monsieur de St. Pierre; his name, and the fact I mention here, must be known in Bordeaux. His being a Frenchman made it easy for him to obtain from the savages who live in this section, and who are Savanogues, land on which he planted grapevines; but the wine he makes, and which I tasted, is hardly better than the worst French wine.

During my travels in the hinterland of the United States, I visited Tougoulou, Franklin, and other places inhabited by Anglo-Americans of a peculiar sort, called Gaugeurs; I found them all one-eyed, I shall tell the reason for it in the second part of my story. I traveled afterwards through the thirteen states of the United States, which now number sixteen with the addition of Quintok and Cumberland to the union; I found there only feelings of hatred and enmity. These people were divided into two parties, constantly infuriated with each other. One of these is called Wigth [Whig] and the other is called Toris. The crimes occasioned every day by this party spirit made me doubt that there could exist on earth men more wicked than these inhabitants. I informed them of my doubts in this respect, and they answered me that in the hinterland of the United States, by going one hundred or one hundred and fifty leagues farther into the territory, one could find savage tribes who carried barbarity to the point of putting to death by a slow fire and eating all Europeans they could seize.

The picture they painted of these people appeared so overdrawn that it gave me the idea of making my way to them at the risk of being roasted and eaten. The repugnance I felt living in the midst of these Anglo-Americans lessened considerably in my eyes the dangers of such a journey; in addition to that the desire to see savages and regions which seemed to be absolutely unknown immediately decided me. To enable me to reach the country of these cannibals, whose true character was far from being known, and whose geographic position was but vaguely indicated to me, I bought a compass in order to be sure of always going in the right direction. I also bought three horses, one of which was to carry me, the second was for my servant, and the third carried the equipment and provisions.

Chapter 3:
Departure from the United States

I set out therefore from the vicinity of Tugaloo, and plunged into an immense forest where no roads were laid out. After traveling two days, my servant, who was a German, informed me that he was not disposed to follow me farther, and asked my permission to turn back; I gave him some provisions, and continued on my way alone. I admit that the journey seemed then to be much more difficult, but I remained no less disposed to continue it. I went on therefore in the same direction, always hoping to meet some tribes. I traveled on in this manner for two weeks, sleeping in the forest and living on my provisions; but at the end of that period they were completely consumed. I did not feel a great deal of anxiety about it, because in the immense forests that I was obliged to go through, I found many fruit trees. I admit, however, that when I found myself compelled to eat these wild fruits and acorns, I began to experience some regret for having ventured forth in this manner without destination and without any knowledge of the country through which I was traveling. I believed nevertheless that I had gone too far to retrace my steps, and each day was making it more and more impossible to go back. Ready for anything that could happen to me, I traveled on for two more weeks, which were very difficult, because I was obliged to swim across, on my horses, several rivers, such as the Big and the Little Ocani, the Holtomao River and a few others which were smaller. At the end of this period, I came to a river called by the English Flint-River, or river of gun-flints. Exhausted by hunger as much as by fatigue, and not knowing whether I was far from or near some habitations, I stopped there for a few hours to rest. After eating a little of my bad food, I set out again, and I traveled forty more leagues; I stopped by a beautiful spring and gave way to reflexions which were in no way cheerful or reassuring. My stomach, which for two weeks had been digesting only wild fruits and acorns, was giving me acute pains, and made me aware of the necessity of taking more substantial food. Only by hunting could I provide myself with it; but I could not avail myself of this facility, because I had made provisions of this kind only for my personal safety, and furthermore, I could not leave my horses, because it would have been impossible for me to find them again. In short, I believe there are few situations in human life more frightful than the one I was in at that time. All my reflexions led me to the decision to kill one of my horses in order to eat him, and I was getting ready to do so, when I heard noises rather near me. I was trying to ascertain from where they could be coming, when I caught sight of two savages, two women, and a Negro boy of about twelve years of age. If on seeing me they did not feel a satisfaction as great as that which their presence gave me, it was not difficult for me to perceive that their astonishment was as great as mine; and since I was armed with my gun, they did not dare approach. I laid it down on the ground and made signs which reassured them. The one who advanced first toward me was an old man whose venerable countenance, and the respect paid him by the others, made me believe that he might be their father, and indeed he was. He spoke to me in his language which I did not understand; but I guessed, by his gestures, that he was asking me where I came from, and who I was. I pronounced in my reply to him the word French, and I perceived with a satisfaction that would be difficult for me to express, that this word was not unknown to him, for he advanced immediately toward me smiling, and took me by my hand.* Although I was far from suspecting what he wanted to do with me, my condition was too sad to permit reflexion; for I did not know any dangers greater than the hunger which was tormenting me. I therefore put myself entirely in their hands, resolved to do everything that they would require me to do. The old man was saying many things I did not understand, but which appeared to please a great deal the two women and the savage who accompanied him, and who took upon themselves the task of leading my horses with the equipment. We were traveling toward the west when, suddenly, at a signal he gave, the young Negro began to run with astonishing speed. Then this old man asked me by signs for what purpose I was going to use my gun that I was holding in my hand when he had caught sight

* One will not be astonished at the welcome given me by this old man, and at the joy manifested by him at the word French, that he heard me pronounce, when one is informed that this man had been rewarded with a significant medal by the governor of Louisiana when the French were there. of me. I made him understand that being in such great need of food, I was preparing to kill one of my horses in order to eat it. Then he immediately pointed at the sun, and drew a short line, to make me understand that when that heavenly body had traveled that little distance, we would be in his village.

Chapter 4:
Arrival among the Creeks

After about an hour of travel, which seemed a century to me, so tormented was I by the need to eat, we came to a river called Chactas-ou-Guy, on the other side of which is the town of Coetas. It was there that my guide lived. The young Negro who had gone on ahead had received the order to prepare canoes for our crossing; thus we found him waiting for us with several of his comrades. When we had arrived at the old man's house, he made me sit down and offered me a pipe of tobacco and a light. Although this was not the exercise which seemed the most urgent to me in my present state, nevertheless I took the pipe which I smoked, and which did me much good. When I had finished, he gave me a slice of watermelon of which he ate a similar slice, and did not want me to take any more of it, judging by the manner in which I dispatched it, that if he were to let me have my way, I would certainly do harm to myself. I had to be satisfied with this small portion.

While we were eating our melon, I heard a drum beating a short distance from us; I showed surprise, and he made me understand that it was an assembly which was going to be held, and offered to take me there. Since I did not understand anything he was telling me, I made up my mind to accept everything he wished. The hospitable manner in which he had received me had dispelled all my fears; and although he wore clothes which appeared extraordinary to me, I doubted that I had already arrived among one of the savage tribes where I was to be roasted and eaten. It was, however, at this time, that is to say, in the month of May 1776, seventeen months after my departure from France, that I arrived in the Creek Nation where I remained twenty years, and of which I became the great war chief, as will be seen by what follows; for that man was one of the old men of the Creek Nation. From the time I left the country of the Anglo-Americans until my arrival in the town of Coetas, I had traveled for thirty-two days, although the distance was only one hundred leagues. I had increased them a great deal by my ignorance of the right way. I arrived precisely at the time when the chiefs of the nation are accustomed to assembling each year to hold their grand council. When the assembly had formed, my host went to inform it that he had a Frenchman in his home; the deliberations not having begun, it was decided to receive me, and the old man* was invited to escort me there. He came indeed to get me, and escorted me to the assembly where he introduced me to a man who was seated in the center on a bearskin, and who appeared to me to be the chief. The color of his skin was much less dark than that of the others, and he was not much older than I. He invited me, by a gesture, to sit down by him on the same bearskin, and shook hands with me as an indication of friendship. I spoke a few words to him in French; but seeing that he did not understand me, I spoke bad English to him which he understood immediately because he spoke that language perfectly. This man, in a word, was Alexandre Maguilvray, about whom so much has been written in the newspapers of North America, and even of England. Although he was at that time only an estechacko, that is to say well-beloved,** he had come to this town to preside over the grand council.

* Although my host was not a chief of the nation, he could enter the great cabin of the assembly in his capacity of an old man.

** McGillivray was made head chief only when I was made great war chief.

My status as a foreigner not permitting me to remain in the assembly, my host came to get me again in order to take me to his home. When we arrived there, he gave me a glass of tafia which I drank, and then had us served an excellent meal to which I did great honor, because I had not had anything like it for a long time. Since I could understand only his gestures, he had the consideration to invite to dine with us McGillivray, who was then my interpreter. I spoke English well enough to make myself understood, and it was a great satisfaction for McGillivray, who himself spoke the savage tongue very little.* During our dinner we had a long conversation in which I made known to him that my intention was to remain some time at least in the nation. He expressed to me then the desire to have me with him; he even wanted me to go immediately to the house of his friends where he was staying; but he feared that the old man who had given me hospitality might be offended. We agreed that when the council had ended, I would stay in the town of Coetas only long enough to rest, and that both of us would leave afterwards in order to go to his home; that with regard to my horses and equipment, I could leave them with the old man who would take care of them, and who would bring them to me when they had rested sufficiently; that he would be very pleased to have this opportunity to visit his chief.

I was very flattered by the offer McGillivray made me and very inclined to accept it; but I was at the same time tormented by the fear that my departure might distress a host to whom I was so obligated. I confided my thoughts to McGillivray, and he took it upon himself to obtain the old man's approval of it, and to assure him of all my gratitude. A week after the close of the grand council, feeling completely recovered from all my hardships, I informed McGillivray that I was ready to follow him whenever he might think it advisable to leave. We made preparations for our journey and set out immediately. I confess that it was not without experiencing much regret on leaving a house which had been my first refuge at a time when I was destitute of everything. I said goodbye to my host and received his promise that he would come shortly afterwards to see me in the home of the estechacko. He kept his word; and six months later he paid me his first visit, which he renewed each year after that. He was visiting me at the time of my departure for France, and made me promise not to stay very long, so that he could press me once more to his heart before dying.

* I shall tell in the second part of my work why he spoke this language very little, although he was an estechacko.

Chapter 5:
Departure from Coetas

McGillivray and I set out; and after four days of travel, we arrived at a village called Little Talessy or village of the walnut trees. Near this village, and on Coussa River, is the house that McGillivray lived in. It is a half league from Fort Toulouse, formerly occupied by the French, and where the village of Taskiguy stands today. This plantation seemed beautiful to me. McGillivray had in his service about sixty Negroes, each of whom lived in a private cabin, which gave his place the appearance of a small village.

Chapter 6:
I settle in the Creek Nation

During our trip McGillivray did all he could to induce me to settle in the Creek Nation. He described the mildness of manners and the reputation that this nation had acquired, and effaced entirely the bad opinion that the Anglo-Americans had given me of it. He told me that if I decided to do so, he hoped that I would be willing to remain with him, and that for this purpose he would give me one of his dwellings over which I would be the absolute master. Such a kind welcome removed all possibility of refusal. Moreover, we had conceived for each other an esteem already strong enough to make it painful to part from each other.

One will not be astonished that this bond was so quickly established, when one is informed that McGillivray, although born in the midst of a savage nation, was far from being uncivilized himself, and had much knowledge and intelligence. His father, who was a Scotchman, had taught him only the English language; so that he spoke very poorly that of the people among whom he lived, and of whom he had become one of the chiefs. What made learning the Creek language difficult for him was the fact that this nation is composed of the union of ten to twelve different nations which came to unite with it, as I shall tell in the second part of my work, and all of which have kept their particular languages. The consequence of that was that McGillivray experienced a real satisfaction in having as his companion a man with whom he could associate freely and converse about the manners and habits of the peoples of Europe, of whom he had only slight knowledge. For my own part, gratitude made it my duty to comply with the wishes of a man who was offering me, with such rare sincerity and disinterestedness, a part of what he possessed. I was discovering, moreover, so obvious a difference between the manner of living of these people who were called savages, and that of the Anglo-Americans who profess to be civilized, that I was induced, in spite of myself, to accept McGillivray's offer. I took up my residence, therefore, May I5, I 776, in his house which his friendship soon made me consider as my own. I had been settled for only a short time when an opportunity presented itself to give to McGillivray, as well as to the whole Creek Nation, proof of my gratitude and of my complete devotion to its interests.

Chapter 7: I serve as a soldier

I was informed that a military expedition was being prepared secretly. I asked to take part in it as a common soldier. My request, although pleasing McGillivray considerably, was refused. They told me that I had been in the nation too short a period of time to be given the honor of defending the native land; that other occasions might present themselves on which my services would be accepted. I fully perceived the prudence of this refusal, and it increased my desire to dispel any doubt about my intentions. I repeated my request, and it was not without difficulty that I obtained the favor I was beseeching. I have even learned since that if I had not been French, I would not have been admitted into the army. McGillivray's friendship and my repeated entreaties procured for me therefore the title of soldier. The army set out, and I easily perceived that several subordinate chiefs, under the pretext of friendship, were commissioned to watch me. When we were near the enemy, they kept me in sight. The chiefs having called together the council of war to decide on the plan of campaign, the fact I was a European gave them the desire to know my ideas in this regard. They had me called into the council and asked me for my opinion. I refused to give it at first, alleging that I was unacquainted with their practices and their manner of waging war, as well as those of the enemy we were going to fight. They entreated me so much that I yielded to their wishes. Since, at this time, they waged war only by surprise attack and at night, and never in pitched battle, unless they were forced to do so by the enemy, I proposed to them a plan much more like European tactics, and which being absolutely unknown to the enemy, had the most fortunate results. This war gave me the opportunity to signalize my zeal and my courage in several engagements. The certainty that I had of being watched, the title of Frenchman for which I saw that these people had great veneration, the reputation of courage that the French had acquired when they had possessions in this part of the continent were for me powerful reasons for encouragement; and I declare without vanity that I upheld the high ideal that they had conceived in this respect. I must, however, admit now with the same frankness that the first time I went into battle with these savages, their manner of painting their bodies and of fighting appeared horrible to me, and that I needed a stimulant as strong as that of the title of Frenchman in order not to be frightened. I can assert that the different colors with which they paint their completely naked bodies all over make them more frightful than the devils which appear in the opera ballets. When the campaign was over, although it had not been very important, my companions in arms, as well as the chiefs, praised me a great deal, and showed great interest in me. I even realized by the eagerness with which the chiefs reminded me of the advice that I had given in the council of war that I had made great progress toward deserving their confidence. The praise they bestowed upon me on our return was extremely pleasing to McGillivray, who welcomed me as one of the saviors of the native land.* He informed me that I would often have the opportunity to give further proof of my courage and of my zeal to serve the nation, because the Anglo-Americans and certain savage tribes were making frequent raids in the Creek lands.

* I have traveled over a large part of Europe and have found nowhere men as grateful and as generous as the savages generally are.

It was not long, indeed, before I found another opportunity to increase my influence and enhance my reputation. A second expedition was made on which I was taken without any difficulty as a volunteer. I was fortunate enough to render a very great service to the army which had unwisely begun the action, and had taken up a position which the enemy had been able to turn to its advantage. It was not without exposing myself to very great danger that I succeeded in changing this bad arrangement of the troops and in saving a part of the army which would have certainly been lost.

Chapter 8: I am appointed little war chief

On our return from this expedition, the war chiefs, no longer able to doubt the genuineness of my intentions, gave a report to the council of old men of the services I had rendered the army, and which they exaggerated as well as the dangers I had run. They proposed at the same time to make me little war chief without warriors. This title which flattered my vanity as well as that of McGillivray, who had declared himself to be my protector, was accorded me unanimously at the end of two years of my sojourn in the nation. Consequently, I had a distinguished rank among the warriors, and I was only looking for the opportunity to justify in the eyes of the chiefs the confidence of which they were giving me such flattering proof. The following year gave me this opportunity. The young warriors were assembled for an important expedition. I presented myself with the title which had been accorded me on my return from the last campaign, and set out with the army. When we arrived near the enemy, the chiefs assembled their council to determine the plan of the campaign.* My rank as little chief gave me the right to attend it. There I gave opinions which were approved; and the subordinate chiefs, to whom I presented new tactics, decided that for the execution of the plans I proposed, I should take command of the army for this campaign only. It was the third year that I had been in the nation, and I had given so many proofs of my devotion to its interests that I was looked upon as a native capable of filling all kinds of positions. I accepted this one offered me all the more willingly because I had recognized the warlike character of this people, and because I knew what they were capable of when led by a chief who had been able to earn their confidence.* I had already learned this through experience. I was all the more successful in my military operations, because, as I have said previously, I was waging war in a manner new to the enemy. Thus I finished the campaign quickly and in the most glorious manner for the nation. When there was no longer any enemy to fight, I led the army back, and the warriors departed each to his home; for in time of peace there is no armed body of troops in the nation. I spent the winter very quietly, occupying myself with hunting and traveling through districts to make sure that they were perfectly calm. I was authorized by the different chiefs and the council of old men to travel, in this manner, through the whole nation. The report of the services that I had rendered the native land had spread even to the most remote places; and wherever I went, I received the most flattering congratulations. The chiefs who assemble every year to hold the general council of the nation, as I have said above, decided among themselves to give me another token of the gratitude that the nation believed it owed me for the services I had rendered it; that is what they did, as shall be seen.

* It should be noted that the plans of a campaign are determined when one is near the enemy, and that it is the head chief who is the absolute master.

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