Photo of Indian Peace Medal with Thomas Jefferson on one side and shaking hands on the other side.

Example of an Indian Peace Medal presented to the Choctaw Leaders, Courtesy of the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

Minutes from the Treaty of Fort Adams (Part 1)

Iti Fabvssa

July 2, 2024

In 1801, the US Secretary of War acknowledged that, “The Choctaws may be considered one of the most powerful nation of Indians within the limits of the United States; and a pacific and friendly disposition in, and towards them, should be cultivated, as well from principles of policy as of humanity.” This quote was written in a letter to the Choctaw Indian Agents who were charged with entering into a treaty agreement with the Choctaw Nation. The U.S. was worried that the Spanish or British would turn southeastern tribes against them. To prevent this, Indian Agents were assigned to the southeast to promote peace and friendship. During the Treaty of Hopewell in 1786, the boundary between the U.S. and the Choctaw Nation was defined. However, the boundary was never surveyed, causing friction between Choctaws and illegal American immigrants. The U.S. also needed to secure easier access to its towns to the southwest and southeast of Choctaw Nation, known as the Natchez and Tombigbee Districts. To improve access, the U.S. decided that it needed to build a wagon road from (old) Cumberland, TN to Natchez, MS. However, they needed permission from the Chickasaw and Choctaw Nations to construct this road. The U.S. sent three commissioners to meet with Choctaw leaders to seek permission to establish this wagon road and to survey the boundaries of the Choctaw Nation. These negotiations led to the signing of the 1801 Treaty of Fort Adams.

For many decades prior to the Treaty of Fort Adams, Choctaw leaders had been renting Choctaw lands to the French, British, and Spanish. Rent was paid to the Choctaw Nation in the form of gifts or presents. Each year a delegation of Choctaw leaders would travel to a predetermined place to collect the goods for their village(s). At each treaty, Choctaw leaders orally stated that the land was shared. Despite this, the British and Spanish would write into the treaties that Choctaw Nation was ceding its lands. Due to this deceit, the Choctaw Nation unknowingly lost the land that comprised the Natchez and Tombigbee Districts. When the U.S. gained land from Britian and Spain, they also gained the colonial legal rights to these stolen lands.

Over the next three months, Iti Fabvssa will look back at the 1801 Treaty of Fort Adams meeting minutes and explore the conversations between the United States and our Choctaw leaders. This month, Part 1 will follow the first section of the meeting minutes which begin with a speech by the U.S. Commissioners to the Choctaw leaders. In the following months, we will look at Part 2 which includes responses by the Choctaw chiefs, and part 3 which will include written responses by beloved men and warriors that were later submitted to the U.S. Commissioner.

The following transcript has been copied from the American State Papers Indian Affairs volumes. It begins with a copy of the 1801 Treaty of Fort Adams submitted by U.S. President to the U.S. Senate, followed by a letter from the Secretary of War to the treaty commissioners, and lastly the minutes from the treaty conversations. The transcript of the meeting minutes are italicized throughout the article.

“Minutes of a conference between Brigadier General James Wilkinson, Benjamin Hawkins, and Andrew Pickens, Esquires, commissioners of the United States, and the principal chiefs of the Choctaw nation of Indians, held at fort Adams, on the Mississippi, the 12th day of December 1801.”

“The conference commenced. -The interpreters being called forth, and warned to correct each other, and after having gone through the ceremonies of the pipe, General Wilkinson addressed them, and the name of the commissioners, as follows:”

When Choctaw leaders formally met, they organized themselves by social status. Those sitting in the front of the circle had a higher status than men in the back. The chiefs sat up front, behind them would be the beloved men, then the warriors, and in the back were the young men. Before talks commenced, a tobacco pipe would be passed to each person in attendance. Once the pipe ceremony was completed, talks would begin.

“Mingoes, Chiefs, and Principal Men, of the Choctaw nation:
You have all heard of the death of your father, the great Washington, and you have, no doubt, wept for the loss. Since we experienced that heavy misfortune, the people of the Sixteen Fires, assembled in their great national council house, have thought proper to select our beloved chief, Thomas Jefferson, to be the President of the United States.”

In 1801, the United States was only made up of sixteen states. To better relate to the Choctaw leaders, the U.S. refers to its states as Fires. At this time, the Choctaw Nation was made up of three districts, known as Ulthi or Council Fires. The U.S. tried to relate to the Choctaw by comparing its States to the Choctaw Districts. They use a similar analogy when referring to the Independence Hall, or the great council house, located in Philadelphia, MA where the President lived. General Wilkinson equates the President to a Chief; showing that the Choctaw Nation is an equal sovereign power to the United States.

“Brothers: Open your ears, and listen well. Your new father, Jefferson, who is the friend of all the red people, and of humanity, finding himself at the head of the white people of the Sixteen Fires, immediately turned his thoughts to the condition of his red children, who stand most in need of his care, and whom he regards with the affection of a good father.”

The United States had a paternal stance when interacting with Native American Nations. In traditional Choctaw culture, the father was seen as a provider and protector, but not an authority figure. The intent of the U.S. was to elevate the President above the leaders of the Choctaw Nation so that they could more easily demonstrate their power and control over the situation; however, the American leaders’ misunderstanding of Choctaw culture communicated a message to Choctaw leaders that the President would provide goods, presents, and protection.

“Brothers: Your father, the President of the United States, being far removed from you, by the intervention of deep rivers, high mountains, and wide forests, finds it impossible to look upon you with his own eyes, or speak to you from his own lips. He has, therefore, appointed two of his beloved men, Colonel Hawkins, and General Pickens, with myself, to meet you and counsel, and confer with you on several subjects interesting to yourselves, and your white brethren of the Sixteen Fires. We are happy to see you. We, on his behalf, and in his name, take you by the hand, and we congratulate you on your safe arrival here.”

A Beloved Man was the second highest rank in Choctaw society. By referring to the commissioners as beloved men, General Wilkinson portrayed their status in the U.S. hierarchy as just under the President.

“Brothers: The President of the United States invites you to look upon him as your friend and father, to rely in full confidence on his unvarying disposition to lead and protect you in the paths of peace and prosperity, And to reserve concord between you and your neighbors. In his name, we promise you, that you may at all times rely on the friendship of the United States, and that he will never abandon you or your children, while your conduct towards the citizens of the United States, and your Indian neighbors, shall be peaceful, honest, and fair.”

The U.S. at this time was worried about its stability as a country and its potential defenses against military aggression from Spain or Great Britian. A particular worry was that Spain would influence the Choctaw Nation and other tribes to take military action against the U.S. By creating peace and friendship among the southeastern Native Nations, the U.S. could better protect itself from outside invasion.

“Brothers: We invite you to state to us freely, the situation of your nation, and what you wish, on the part of your father the President, to better your condition in trade, in hunting, agriculture, manufacturers, and stock-raising; that we may represent the same for his consideration. We wish you to open your minds freely to us, and to set forth all of your wishes and all of your wants, that we may learn the true state of your condition, and be able to assist you with our advice, our attentions, and our friendship.”

Early on, the United States was extremely interested in how it could improve its relationship with the Choctaw Nation as military allies and trade partners. By assessing and meeting the needs of Choctaw leaders, the U.S. could build a power alliance with the Choctaw and other southeastern Tribes to protect itself from European Nations.

“Brothers: On the part of your white brethren, we have to state to you, that the path from the settlement of Natchez through your nation, towards Cumberland, is an uncomfortable one, and very inconvenient to them, in its present unimproved condition; and we are directed to stipulate with you, to make it suitable to the accommodation of those who may use it, and at the same time, beneficial to yourselves. Your brethren, the Chickasaws, have heard our requests on this subject, and they have consented that we should open a road through their lands to those of your nation, and now we ask your consent, that we may continue the same road through your lands, to the settlements of this territory. We propose, for the accommodation of travelers, and for your own interest, that houses of entertainment and ferries, should be established on the road, and that they may be rented by you to such persons as your father the President may appoint to keep them. The ground, the houses, and the money, arising from the rents, to be for the use of your nation, and subject to its disposal; And that not more than one family be suffered to live at the same place.”

Through the Choctaw and Chickasaw Nations was a trade road known by Choctaw people as the Natche Hina, or the Natchez Road. This was the road that Choctaw and Chickasaw people would take to reach the Natchez Nation, a tribe who used to live near today Natchez, MS beside the Mississippi River. The U.S. wished to improve the road so it could support wagon traffic from (old) Cumberland, TN to Natchez, MS. Additionally, they wished access to a right-of-way alongside the road where U.S. citizens could build homes, trading posts, inns, and ferries. Today the National Park Service maintains and interprets the 440-mile Natchez Trace Parkway.

“Brothers: Since the King of Spain has given up his district to the United States, a necessity has arisen for frequent communications between your white brethren, who live in the neighborhood of the Mississippi, and those who have settled on the Tombigby; and it follows, that people are constantly traveling across your country, from one place to the other. Under such circumstances, to prevent disagreement and mischief, we recommend to you consideration of the expediency of having but one road of communication between these settlements, to be opened and improved after the same manner, and on the same terms, as that proposed from the settlements of this territory to the Chickasaw nation.”

The U.S. also wished to have access to an east to west Choctaw trade path that went from Natchez, MS to Fort Tombecbe in Alabama. Previously, the French, English, and Spanish had settled Choctaw lands along the Mississippi and Mobile/Tombigbee Rivers; these areas became known as the Nachez and Tombigbee Districts.

“Brothers: We come not to ask lands from you, nor shall we even ask you for any, unless you are disposed to sell; and your father will assist and protect you in the enjoyment of those you claim; but, to prevent future misunderstandings, and to confine the settlers of this territory within the line long since run between you and them we recommend it should be traced up, and marked a new, while men can be found, who were present at the survey, and assisted in making it: for, If all those witnesses should die before this is done, then disputes may arise between you and your white brethren, respecting this boundary, and the mischiefs may ensue.”

The 1786 Treaty of Hopewell defined the boundaries between the Choctaw Nation and the United States; however, these lands were never surveyed, and already American settlers were living just passed the boundary within the Choctaw Nation without permission. Choctaw leaders put pressure on the Choctaw Indian Agent to move the settlers off Choctaw lands, however the U.S. did not know where its borders with Choctaw Nation were.

“Brothers: For several years past, your father, the President of the United States, has sent you a present of goods, as a token of his friendship, which will be continued the present year. But you must recollect that you have never given any equivalent for this strong evidence of his paternal regard; and you must bear in mind, that you are indebted for it to his generosity for more than his justice. Should this bounty be continued to you in the future, you ought to be grateful for it; and should it be discontinued, you should have no cause to complain, as you have never given anything to the United States in return.”

For many decades prior to the Treaty of Fort Adams, Choctaw leaders had been renting Choctaw lands to the French, British, and Spanish. Rent was paid to the Choctaw Nation in the form of gifts or presents. Each year a delegation of Choctaw leaders would travel to a predetermined place to collect the goods for their village(s). Records from British and Spanish treaties recorded that Choctaw leaders would give oral statements that land was not given, but shared between their peoples. Despite this, the British and Spanish would write into the treaties that Choctaw Nation ceded the lands. This deceit led the Americans to believe that they owned these lands after acquiring them from Great Britian and Spain. In the colonial mindset, these lands were legally acquired from the Choctaw Nation. From a Choctaw perspective, they were still owned by the Choctaw Nation. This colonial theft of Choctaw land led to the misunderstanding the United States did not have to furnish presents. Unknown that their land had been stolen, Choctaw leaders still expected rent to be paid.

“Brothers: We wish you to let this talk sink deep into your hearts; we wish you to take time, and reflect seriously on it; And when you have made up your minds, we shall listen to you with pleasure, and the hope that you may enable us to make an agreeable report to our common Father, the President of the United States, and in the meantime, we shall be happy to contribute to your accommodation, and the good of your nation. December 13th.”

It was Choctaw tradition for leaders to be given time to contemplate ideas before making important decisions. This allowed leaders to think through how their decisions would affect their communities, the Choctaw Nation, and future generations.

When we study the situations and decisions of our ancestors, we can see the future they wished for us to have. As we read their words, we can see glimpses of Choctaw culture extend through their thoughts, feelings, and perspectives. The speech read by General Wilkinson gives context to the following speeches that the Choctaw leaders made. Next month Iti Fabvssa will continue sharing the meeting minutes from the Treaty of Fort Adams (Part II). If you would like to jump ahead, we encourage you to look at the American State Papers. Class II Indian Affairs. Volume 1. Pages 658-663.

About Iti Fabvssa

Iti Fabvssa seeks to increase knowledge about the past, strengthen the Choctaw people and develop a more informed and culturally grounded understanding of where the Choctaw people are headed in the future.

Additional reading resources are available on the Choctaw Nation Cultural Service website. Follow along with this Iti Fabvssa series in print and online.


If you have questions or would like more information on the sources, please contact Ryan Spring at [email protected].