The Sehoy Legacy: Kinship, Gender, and Property in a Tensaw Creek Community, 1783-1851
Type of DegreePhD Dissertation
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In 1783, Alexander McGillivray and his sister, Sophia Durant, migrated to the Tensaw Delta with a herd of cattle and forty enslaved laborers to establish a plantation on the periphery of Creek territory adjoining Spanish West Florida. As children of a British trader and a politically connected woman of the powerful Wind clan, McGillivray and his sister helped establish a culturally mixed community that played a prominent role in nineteenth century Creek politics and economics. Within twenty years, several Creek families followed them to settle along the Tombigbee and Little Rivers; their goal was to become incorporated into the cash economy, while remaining near their families in the Creek interior. As they experienced more sustained contact with Euro-American economic and social patterns, this community faced increasing pressures to assimilate, but they successfully adapted their economic policies to their native ethnic identity. Their bicultural identities allowed them to act as conduits between the Euro-American world and the Creek interior, but it also placed them in a precarious position during the Creek War of 1813-14. Later, in 1819, this community became a part of the newly established state of Alabama and faced new legal obstacles that challenged their conceptions of indigeneity, gender, property, and kinship. Using memoirs, letters, federal property claims, and county probate records, this research reorients discussions of cultural identity in nineteenth-century America by focusing on the Creek family unit. This dissertation expands on discussions of biculturalism by demonstrating how families blended aspects of two societies together, providing a case study into the flexibility and limitations of cultural change.