George Strother Gaines is most famous for his role in negotiating and then leading the Choctaw Removal from Mississippi. Born 1 May 1794 in Stokes County, North Carolina, Gaines moved with his family (including his older brother, Edmund Pendleton Gaines, a noted US Army officer) to the area around Gallatin, Tennessee; ten years later Gaines moved to Fort St. Stephens in the Mississippi Territory (now Alabama) to apprentice as an Indian factor, assuming full duties at the Choctaw Trading House in 1807. After moving the Trading House to the west bank of the Tombigbee River, he resigned his position in 1818 to pursue new business opportunities, especially banking, relocating to Demopolis, Alabama, in 1822. While there, Gaines served two terms in the Alabama State Senate.
Gaines’s trading relationships with a number of Choctaw leaders, including Pushmataha, led to his involvement in the negotiations in Macon, Mississippi, that led to the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. A year later he served as the federal liaison overseeing the groups of Choctaw who traveled through Arkansas to survey Oklahoma lands for Choctaw settlement, and he subsequently supervised Choctaw movement into that territory. In 1831, as Gaines watched hundreds of Choctaw boarding boats in Vicksburg, he wrote, “The feeling, which many of them evince in separating, never to return again, from their long cherished hills, as poor as they are in this section of the country, is truly painful to witness; and would be more so to me, but for the conviction that removal is absolutely necessary for their preservation and future happiness.”
Gaines moved to Mobile in 1832 and became president of the Bank of Mobile and established a dry goods business. In 1844–45 he served on a three-member committee that met in Philadelphia, Mississippi, to investigate land claims by Choctaw who felt that the US government had not kept its promises to them. He also became deeply involved in the establishment of the Mobile & Ohio Railroad through the Tombigbee Valley.
Sometime after 1850, Gaines moved to a ranch in Perry County and then to other landholdings in Wayne County. In 1856 he began a final business venture, Peachwood Nurseries, near State Line. By the standards of southwestern Mississippi, he and his family were large slave owners, with more than twenty slaves. Gaines was elected to the Mississippi House of Representatives, making him one of the few men to serve in the legislatures of two states. A Confederate supporter, he resigned in 1863 because of poor health.
Gaines married Ann Lawrence in 1812, and they had nine children, most notably businessmen George Washington Gaines and Abner Strother Gaines. Ann Gaines died in 1868, and George Strother Gaines died five years later.
- George Strother Gaines, The Reminiscences of George Strother Gaines: Pioneer and Statesman of Early Alabama and Mississippi, 1805–1843, ed. James P. Pate (1998)