Who Are the Freedmen or African Creeks?
Below is a brief history of the Creek Freedmen as we feel it is essential to understand our history and the role that our ancestors indeed played in the Muscogee Creek Nation. We are not folks trying to receive a handout; our people were citizens and served the Creek Nation in high roles in the Creek government and served the Nation faithfully.
The Muscogee Creek Freedmen were citizens of the Muscogee Creek Nation placed on the Creek Freedmen Roll. This classification included people of African descent who were:
1. Enslaved or owned by citizens of the MCN
2. Free Blacks living as citizens of the Creek Nation.
3. Interracial Creeks of African descent listed as Creek Freedmen on the Dawes Rolls.
Regardless of their “blood” status or roll placement, the Freedmen and their Descendants “shall have and enjoy all the rights of native citizens” Pursuant to Article 2 of the Creek Treaty of 1866 between the United States and the MCN. (Note: Between 1867 and 1895, the MCN created numerous rolls of its citizens. These rolls did not list a blood quantum or single out the Creeks of African descent, free blacks, or the former enslaved African Creeks emancipated by the Creek Treaty of 1866.)
The Force Removal In the 1830s, the United States removed the Creek Indian people, including their enslaved African Creeks, from their traditional homelands in Alabama and Georgia to Indian Territory, now known as Oklahoma. This removal is known as the Trail of Tears. We stress this often-omitted piece of history. The “Freedmen suffered the same loss” when traveling from their Southeastern homelands to Indian Territory on the journey to the new land; our people died suffered from pneumonia, diseases, and exposure. They were afflicted with the same atrocities as the so-called full-blood Indians.
The African tears left on the trail must be acknowledged when discussing the removal odyssey of the five slaveholding tribes. The people of African descent were a part of the trail of tears forced removal odyssey. (See the 1832 Pre-removal Roll-Parsons and Abbott).
Civil War The Muscogee Creek Nation citizens fought on both the Union and Confederate. Some enslaved African Creek Freedmen and African Creeks joined the Union Army, later known as Loyal Creeks.
At the end of the Civil War, the United States and Muscogee Creek Nation signed the peace Treaty of 1866, which required the cession of 3.2 million acres of land and granted full citizenship to Freedmen.
From Property to People In 1866 the people known as Freedmen went from property to People. Of course, they were always people, but in the eyes of many, they were indeed property.
1866 Creek Treaty-Article 2. The Creeks hereby covenant and agree that henceforth neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, otherwise than in the punishment of crimes, whereof the parties shall have been duly convicted in accordance with laws applicable to all members of said tribe, shall ever exist in said Nation; and inasmuch as there are among the Creeks many persons of African descent, who have no interest in the soil, it is stipulated that hereafter these persons lawfully residing in said Creek country under their laws and usages, or who have been thus residing in said country, and may return within one year from the ratification of this Treaty, and their descendants and such others of the same race as may be permitted by the laws of the said Nation to settle within the limits of the jurisdiction of the Creek Nation as citizens [thereof,] shall have and enjoy all the rights and privileges of native citizens, including an equal interest in the soil and national funds, and the laws of the said Nation shall be equally binding upon and give equal protection to all such persons, and all others, of whatsoever race or color, who may be adopted as citizens or members of said tribe.
1867 Constitution In 1867, the Muscogee Creek Nation (MCN) citizens adopted a written constitution that followed Article 2 of the 1866 Treaty, which called for a Principal Chief, Second Chief, the judicial branch. The bicameral legislative system comprised a House of Kings and a House of Warriors, this including the Freedmen (what we know today as our U.S. Legislative system, the Senate, and House Representative).
The term Freedmen Black/African Creeks or Freedmen (The term Freedmen was not used until the late 1890s and was given by the government). It is worth noting that there were free men and women of color living in the Creek Nation and were a part of the Nation before the American Revolution war. Most people of African descent self-identified as “Creeks” or Black Creeks or, as our ancestors would say, “Native Negro’s or State Negro’s. They identified differently culturally from the people known as “State Negros.”)
The House of Kings and the House of Warriors Black Creeks or Freedmen served in the House of Kings and the House of Warriors. They served as Senators, Judges, lawyers, Lighthorse police, and the principal chief of Creek Nation, etc. One such example is Chief Perryman. As described in the Extra Census Bulletin, “The principal chief, virtually a Negro, comes of a famous family in creek annals his name is Leguest Choteau Perryman. “The negroes are among the earnest workers in the Five Tribes. The Creek Nation affords the best example of negro progress. “The principal chief, virtually a negro, comes from a famous family in Creek annals. His name is Leguest Choteau Perryman”. Department of the Interior Census Office, Washington D.C., United States Printing Office, 1894.” We can cite many stories of the Creeks Freedmen serving the Creek Nation in essential government and community roles. For example, Mikko Cow Tom Treaty signer, and Interpreter, Sugar George prosecuting attorney, Judge Henry Reed, Harry Island served as an Interpreter, and Jesse Franklin served as supreme Court judge, to name a few.
We would argue that the Creek Nation literally would not be what it is today without the bloodshed and tears of the Creek Freedmen who served their Nation faithfully only to be disenfranchise years later.
Dunn Roll Dunn Roll was to identify citizens entitled to payment. All citizens, Native Creeks, and Freedmen were listed on the Dunn roll. Three Freedmen districts or towns were established for political and economic purposes: North Fork, Canadian, and Arkansas.
Colbert Commission The Colbert Commission was established to authorize, summons witnesses, take testimony, and decide and approve citizenship cases (abolished in 1898).
Curtis Act 1898 the Curtis Act allowed the government to terminate the MCN tribal government by taking away ownership of the land held in common and replacing it with individual ownership of 160 acres of land per citizen.
Dawes Commission The establishment of the Dawes Commission by congress was to identify and enroll citizens eligible for allotment. All creek Freedmen received the same amount of land as citizens considered to be full-blood Indians. They all received 160 acres of land as full citizens of the Creek Nation. All were on equal footing.
The Curtis Act directed the Dawes Commission to divide the MCN by creating two separate rolls: 1) the “Creek Nation Creek Roll or Creek Nation Indian Roll.” The express purpose of the use of Blood quantum was intended to be used for land allotment purposes only. For example, “In cases of mixed Freedmen and Indian parents, which was common among the Creeks…the applicant that was enrolled as a Freedmen was not given credit for having any Indian blood. See the works of Kent Carter, “Dawes Commission.” Blood quantum was never intended to be used by tribes decades later to determine membership of the various tribes. It was for land allotment purposes only! “Period.”
Department of Interior In 1938, a memorandum was sent to the Solicitor, the Department of Interior, Nathan Margold, by John Collier, Commissioner, on behalf of the Five Tribes, “Question: They wanted to find some way to eliminate the Freedmen.” And “The status of these Freedmen, would the Freedmen be entitled to vote on the adoption of a constitution.” In 1941, Nathan Margold answered and stated that “Creek Freedmen were adopted as full members pursuant to the Treaty of June 14, 1866 (14 Stat. 785). “
1979 Constitution & Disenrollment of the Freedmen In 1979, the Muscogee Creek Nation decided to divest themselves of the Freedmen by adopting a new Constitution. As per the Treaty of 1866 article 2, Freedmen are citizens by Treaty and have a constitutional right to vote in all constitutional elections. By in large, the problem is that the Freedmen were not permitted to vote on the proposed constitution of 1979; the Treaty of 1866 is the supreme law of the land and has not abrogated, thus the Creek Nation is in violation of their own laws. As a result, the Freedmen descendants have lost their citizenship, identity, right to run for political office, voting rights, Indian housing grants, educational grants, COVID stimulus relief funds, and other federally funded programs. What would it look like if the U.S. decided to remove citizenship from the enrolled citizens of the five slaveholding tribes? No more dual citizenship. Would members of the tribes be outraged?
The Creek Treaty of 1866, Article 2, has not been abrogated or amended, and the new Constitution of 1979 violates the Treaty, which is the supreme law of the land. Members of the MCIFB are in ACTIVE litigation pursuing citizenship within the Muscogee Creek Nation.