Delegates from the Choctaw Nation and commissioners for the United States signed the Treaty of Fort Adams on 17 December 1801. Located some thirty-eight miles below Natchez on the Mississippi River, the fort, named for Pres. John Adams, was constructed in 1799 on Loftus Heights overlooking the Mississippi. While under the command of Brig. Gen. James Wilkinson, it served as the port of entry from Spanish Louisiana into the United States and collected export-import duties until 1803.
On 12 December 1801 Wilkinson, Benjamin Hawkins, and Andrew Pickens welcomed the Choctaw to Fort Adams on behalf of their “new father,” Pres. Thomas Jefferson. While Jefferson’s administration continued to emphasize pacification, it cloaked expansion and pressure for more roads and land in a policy of “civilizing” Native Americans. After a successful conference with the Chickasaw in October, the commissioners anticipated no problems in extending a road across Choctaw country from Nashville to Natchez. In his opening remarks, Wilkinson told the Choctaw delegates of Jefferson’s concern for “his red children” and his desire “to lead & protect you in the paths of peace & prosperity.”
Asking the “Mingos, chiefs, and warriors” to open their minds and state their wishes, Wilkinson outlined the conference agenda. He explained the need to improve the path from Nashville to Natchez and provide accommodations for travelers and reported that the Chickasaw had agreed to open the road through their lands. Without making a specific request to build a road between the Lower Tombigbee River and Natchez, Wilkinson suggested that opening a road could “prevent disagreement and mischief” because of the constant travel back and forth. In the same vein, he told his Choctaw audience, “We come not to ask lands from you, nor shall we ever ask for any unless you are disposed to sell.” To prevent any future misunderstandings, he asked that the old boundary line separating the Natchez settlers and the Choctaw “be retraced and marked anew.” He ended his remarks by reminding them that the president had generously sent presents for several years but had not received anything in return.
Except for the pipe ceremony on the first day, only four of the twelve Choctaw speakers used the traditional symbolism and speech followed at Hopewell and Nashville. Tuskonahopoie, Tootehoomuh, and Oak-chume offered to take the commissioners “by the hand and hold fast.” Oak-chume covered his hands if not his entire body with white clay as a gesture of peace and friendship. Elautaulau Hoomah invoked the power of the sun to bring honest talks by acknowledging that the clouds had cleared when he began to speak. Tuskonahopoie, a chief of the lower towns, opened the second day and told the commissioners that seven chiefs would speak for their towns and then the young warriors should be heard. Like those who followed him, he granted permission to cut the road and agreed to redraw the boundary line, but he denied receiving annual gifts or pay for the lands occupied by “white peoples.”
Subsequent speakers agreed to the creation of the road and the redrawing of the boundary but reflected the changing dynamics of the frontier exchange economy. Apukshunnubbee, chief of the Western District, asked for an interpreter, a blacksmith, and spinning wheels for his towns. Homastubbee, chief of the Northeastern District, asked for a wheelwright and for women to teach his women to spin and weave, and he asked that farm implements and blacksmith tools be sent to his people. The mixed-blood Robert McClure asked for a cotton gin and a blacksmith for the lower towns. Wishing to conduct their business “sober,” Homastubbee asked the commissioners not to distribute the whiskey they had brought to the conference. Buc-shun-abbe asked that traders be prevented from introducing liquor to his people.
On the morning of 17 December, the commissioners greeted the Choctaw delegation, promised to faithfully report the conference to their new father, and apologized that the presents sent by the president had “not reached your hands.” General Wilkinson read the treaty and interpreted the six articles that provided for cutting the Natchez Trace and redrawing the demarcation lines for the land bounded on the south by the thirty-first parallel, on the north by the Yazoo River, and on the east by a line paralleling the Mississippi River on the west. The sixteen Choctaw chiefs, “principal men and warriors,” made their marks on the treaty below the signatures of Wilkinson, Hawkins, and Pickens.
Before departing for their towns, Tuskonahopoie received a copy of the treaty, and the commissioners distributed $2,038 in goods—primarily guns and ammunition—and twelve days of rations and tobacco for each delegate. In exchange for the three sets of blacksmith tools discussed in Article 5, the Choctaw had effectively confirmed the transfer of 2.5 million acres of land to the US government. While there would be no less deception at the next six treaty conferences, American demands for Choctaw land cessions continued through their Removal to the West under the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek.
- Benjamin Hawkins, A Combination of a Sketch of the Creek Country, in the Years 1798 and 1799, and Letters of Benjamin Hawkins 1796–1806 (1982)
- Florette Henri, The Southern Indians and Benjamin Hawkins, 1796–1816 (1986)
- Greg O’Brien, Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750–1830 (2002)