Description

    John Coffee Indian Removal Archive dating between November 1829 and January 1833 and relating to the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, and Creek removal activity by the U.S. Government. The archive includes hand-drawn maps, excerpts from past treaties, delegation expense invoices, letters, and documents. (All letters and documents quoted in the description are included in this archive; all quotations are as found in the letters).

    As the population of the United States grew in the early nineteenth century, pressure began to build for more farm land in the southeast. President Andrew Jackson sought to relieve that pressure by removing the Five Civilized Tribes (the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Cherokee, and Seminole) from their tribal lands, which were situated on valuable farm land in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama. The "Great Father", as President Jackson was known to many of those tribes, needed to convince the Indians to peacefully move to new lands west of the Mississippi River. In an attempt to do that, the president sent General John Coffee, his old Tennessee friend, fellow soldier, and former business partner on several assignments, two which are recounted in this archive.

    The first of Coffee's assignments included in this archive was his journey to Georgia to gather information on a Cherokee and Creek boundary dispute. According to an autograph letter signed by Coffee (a retained copy) to Georgia Governor John Forsyth, dated November 3, 1829, Coffee had instructions from Secretary of War John Eaton to "proceed to the Cherokee Nation and collect such testimony as I may be able to obtain relative to the boundary line between the lands of the Creek Nation and those of the Cherokees, and to forward the same to the Gov't to enable them to determine with more certainty on the true line between those nations wherein the State of Georgia has of late become interested, and between whom and the Cherokees there exists a difference of opinion, and a clashing of interest."

    The result of Coffee's information gathering assignment might have been the two maps (included) along with one "Memo. of Indian Treaties - Treaties with the Cherokee Nation", ca. 1830. One map is labeled "Rough draft of the country in dispute", (15.5" x 12", n.d.) showing the northwest corner of Georgia, including the names of rivers (such as the Tennessee and the Chattahoochee), streams, towns, ferries, the "old federal road", and boundaries. The other map, labeled "Corrected sketch of Cherokee Country" shows the same region, but with greater detail. This second map labels the state lines of Alabama, Tennessee, and Georgia, as well as Cherokee boundary lines (such as a "Line claimed by the Cherokees" and the "New York boundary with the Creeks in 1790"). Other boundary lines are also drawn on the map, but are unnamed. These lines are, however, described in the accompanying "Memo. of Indian Treaties". The memo also gives further boundary descriptions from eight previous Cherokee treaties, all dated from the Treaty of Fort Wilkinson of 1782 through the Treaty at the Creek Agency of 1818. Most of the details in the "Memo." can be found on the map.

    After Coffee's assignment to Georgia, his reputation as an expert on the Five Civilized Tribes increased. In an autograph letter signed and dated September 8, 1831, Secretary of War Lewis Cass wrote Coffee that he would like "to receive . . . suggestions on the subject . . .[of] the management between the Cherokees and Choctaws, and indeed upon matter connected with the question of Indian emigration." As a result of his experience with Indians, Coffee and John Eaton, Jackson's first war secretary, were soon given a much more complicated assignment: to lead a delegation to negotiate with the Chickasaw and Choctaw Indians. "Under instructions from the President of the United Sates" the delegation, according to an August 21, 1832, letter, was to "confer and negotiate with the Chickasaw & Choctaw Indians", which they did from November 24th through December 19, 1831. More specifically, their mission was "to procure an arrangement, by which a sufficient portion of country could be assigned by the Choctaws for the use of the Chickasaws, out of the district allotted to the former west of the Mississippi" (letter dated January 12, 1832). This mission, however, failed because "circumstances independent of [their] control, seem to have combined to render the time an unpropitious one. And the absence of the principal Chiefs necessarily led to a postponement of the affair."

    Despite the failure, President Jackson still had faith in his two delegates and extended the assignment. This confidence was communicated in a Secretary of War Cass letter signed and dated January 12, 1832, to both men (with transmittal envelope) giving the two delegates more control over the negotiations. In the letter, Cass writes that he is satisfied with their efforts and that "the President, who is very anxious, that this arrangement should be made, has instructed me to inform you, that he still relies upon your exertions for the accomplishment of the object. . . . He commits the subject to you. . . . You will therefore, take such measures, as you think expedient, in the performance of this duty. You will appoint the times and places for meeting the Indians, issue any necessary instructions to the Agents or other officers of the Department, and generally adopt that course, which seems to you most likely to attain the object."

    Some of the "measures" they took were expensive, even though they tried to control their expenditures: "Economy in expenditure is desired - no wine - no cegars [sic] - no extravagance" (John Eaton Autograph Letter Signed "J. H. Eaton", October 12, 1830, to John Coffee). Expenditure invoices showing the costs incurred by the assignment are included in the archive. Three are "Duplicate" invoices issued for the trip (one dated December 6, 1831 includes the expense of "going express 320 miles after the Chief Col. Le Flore by order of Jno Coffee & Jno H. Eaton . . . $30"; another for $56.60, partly for "keeping 15 Chiefs & Horses two days while collecting & accompany commissioners to the Choctaw agency @ $1 a day", issued to Levi Colbert, a leader of the Chickasaws and dated December 10, 1831).

    Another invoice (a retained copy signed by John Coffee and dated December 20, 1831) is headed with "The United States, in account Currant [sic] with John H. Eaton & John Coffee Commissioners appointed to confer, and negotiate, with the Chickasaw & Choctaw Nations of Indians". This invoice lists "expenses incurred in conducting the above mentioned business". Twelve individuals are listed with the amount paid them (John Eaton was paid $400.00; John Coffee $328.00).

    During the negotiations for the removal of the Chickasaw Choctaw, some tribal members tried to influence its outcome through letters. In one deliberate letter addressed to Coffee and signed by sixteen members of the Chickasaw Nation, the tribe writes, "We have been informed that the Committee on the part of the Chickasaws have come to the conclusion To dispose of two thirds of their lands recovering the remaining third as a residence for the whole Chickasaw Nation. . . . There are so many reasons why such a course should not be adopted that we are surprised that they should have escaped the observation of the committee." They then fill three pages of "protest against the proceedings of the Committee". In another letter written and signed by Chickasaw tribal leader George W. Long, dated October 16, 1832, Long thanked Coffee for "the exertions you have made to secure a home to those of the Chickasaw people who may please to remain amongst the whites." He then asks Coffee to allow "That Those persons who may wish to remain, shall have the right of first entering land at a stipulator price, payable to the Chickasaw nation in five Annual installments."

    Although Coffee and Eaton were not completely successful in their assignment with the southeastern tribes, President Jackson's zeal and promises eventually resulted in the removal of the Five Civilized Tribes west of the Mississippi River, though at a deadly price paid by the tribes along the Trail of Tears. John Coffee (1772-1833) and Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) became friends in Tennessee before 1800. Coffee quickly became Jackson's business partner, military associate, confidant, adviser, and fearless friend. When the War of 1812 started, Coffee served under Jackson in the Creek War and at the Battle of New Orleans. (During the Creek War, Coffee was promoted to brigadier general.) After the war, Coffee served as surveyor general of public lands in Alabama until his death in 1833. John Eaton (1790-1856) served as Jackson's secretary of war from March 1829 until his resignation in June 1831, following a scandal concerning his marriage to Margaret Timberlake Eaton. This archive also includes other documents, plus two images of General John Coffee's tombstone monument: one, a memorial pamphlet; the other, a cabinet card. Some letters have separations at some folds, along with occasional uneven toning and foxing, but overall, this important archive, which adds to our understanding of the complicated story of Indian removal, is in very good condition. Ex. The Papers of John Coffee.


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