Franchimastabé was the title of a major eighteenth-century chief of the western division of the Choctaw. The record of his life during both war and peace provides insight into the political and economic changes in the Gulf and Lower Mississippi Valley brought about by sustained contact between Native Americans and Euro-Americans in the last half of the century. He developed considerable political skill in exploiting rival French, British, Spanish, and American imperial interests to advance his own. Other chiefs did the same, however, and as events of the 1780s and 1790s reveal, Franchimastabé often found himself in competition with and isolated from other important chiefs, all of whom sought goods from Europeans and Americans as a means of sustaining authority.
The first evidence in the historical record of a Franchimastabé emerges in the 1760s, toward the end of the French and Indian War. The title suggests that he had established himself in a traditional way for young male warriors—that is, by killing an enemy, in this case a Frenchman. In 1763 John Stuart, the British superintendent for Indian affairs in the southern district in North America, sent a letter to his “friend and brother” Franchimastabé to express continued dependence on his friendship. Two years later, the chief led a party of Choctaw up the Mississippi River to assist the British in establishing a post at the mouth of the Missouri River. Continuing a practice begun by the French to create some sort of useful hierarchy among native groups, British officials made him a small-medal chief.
The American Revolution afforded Franchimastabé more opportunities to sustain British confidence and through it to secure goods that would enable him to fulfill the basic expectation that chiefs be generous. By the end of that conflict, he had defined himself in the minds of some as the “English chief.” In 1777 he attended a meeting in Mobile called by Stuart to secure Choctaw approval of boundaries for a Natchez District. He affixed his sign to the treaty document. The next year he led Choctaw to help the British secure Natchez after a raid by American rebel James Willing. In 1781 Franchimastabé led a force to help the British resist the Spanish expedition against Pensacola. In the context of that failed enterprise, Franchimastabé strongly complained about a lack of help from the British and their failure to provide promised presents.
Franchimastabé subsequently employed trade and diplomacy to secure goods. He developed an especially close association with trader Turner Brashears, who had come into the region during the American Revolution. Like so many other traders, Brashears acquired a Native American wife—the daughter of another Choctaw chief, Taboca, and the niece of Franchimastabé. Franchimastabé and Brashears thus established kinship ties that proved useful for both men.
In the closing days of the American Revolution, Franchimastabé and Taboca traveled to Savannah and St. Augustine to secure a continued supply of goods. That journey proved futile, and Franchimastabé and others had to look to both the Spanish and Americans for the goods they wanted. Along with more than two thousand other Choctaw and Chickasaw, Franchimastabé attended a summer 1784 congress held by the Spanish in Mobile and signed a treaty of friendship and commerce. As problems developed with regard to this trade, Franchimastabé hosted a late 1787 meeting in his village of West Yazoo at which he and other chiefs complained of the Spaniards’ failure to abide by the terms of the Mobile treaty. The Spanish governor’s representative assured Franchimastabé that these problems would be remedied, and with the encouragement of Chickasaw chief Taskietoka, Franchimastabé agreed to exchange his English medals for Spanish ones. Taboca and other Choctaw had already agreed to a treaty with the United States to secure American goods.
Three important congresses of the 1790s provided opportunities for Franchimastabé to enhance his chiefly role, but records of those meetings indicate that he did much to alienate other chiefs. In 1791 he and Taboca agreed to a letter in which Brashears protested the Spaniards’ establishment of a military and trading post at the mouth of the Yazoo River. The Spanish governor of Louisiana, Manuel Gayoso, and other Spanish officials had concluded that such a post was needed to deter a projected American settlement, but Brashears saw the initiative more as a way to expand the interests of the other traders on whom the Spanish had come to rely for goods for the Indian trade. That letter began a year of intense diplomatic activity that culminated in a Natchez congress attended by almost one thousand Choctaw and Chickasaw. Other Choctaw and Chickasaw chiefs, including Taskietoka, had decided to support the Spanish initiative, but Franchimastabé resisted until he was assured of ample gifts, receiving a scolding from Taskietoka. Later that year Franchimastabé and others traveled to New Orleans to meet with the Spanish governor-general and agree to an initiative to create a confederation of the major Native American groups of the Gulf region (Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, and Cherokee) that would reduce violence among them and deter what all agreed was increasing US pressure for land. The agreement was formalized in late 1793 at the new Spanish post of Nogales, at the mouth of the Yazoo. In what was no more than a symbolic gesture given the nature of Choctaw polity, Gayoso announced that he would regard Franchimastabé as the principal chief of the entire Choctaw nation.
Franchimastabé met a serious challenge to his position and indeed his life after the 1795 Treaty of San Lorenzo provided for the Spanish to withdraw south of what the United States had insisted since 1783 to be its southern boundary. Many Native American leaders felt betrayed and threatened. That feeling, combined with Franchimastabé’s age, envy of his ability to extract goods from outsiders, and younger male warriors’ need to assert themselves resulted in a plot to assassinate him. It failed, and Franchimastabé lived on until early 1801. Expressing regret at his death, the governor of the recently created Mississippi Territory, Winthrop Sargeant, called Franchimastabé “a universal Friend of the White People.”
- James Taylor Carson, Searching for the Bright Path: The Mississippi Choctaws from Prehistory to Removal (1999)
- Greg O’Brien, Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750–1830 (2002)
- Charles A. Weeks, Paths to a Middle Ground: The Diplomacy of Natchez, Boukfouka, Nogales, and San Fernando de las Barrancas, 1791–1795 (2005)