Treaty of Hopewell

The Treaty of Hopewell refers to three treaties negotiated with the Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw Nations in 1785 and 1786 by commissioners appointed by the US government under the Confederation Congress. The original commission appointed by Congress on 21 March 1785 included Benjamin Hawkins, Joseph Martin, and Andrew Pickens. Lachlan McIntosh was added when two others refused to serve. The commissioners sought to impose a federal Indian policy on the postrevolutionary South and to nullify the Spanish influence among the southern Indians.

All three treaty documents extended the peace, friendship, and “protection of the United States of America, and of no other sovereign whosoever.” The documents were virtually identical except for the articles that described their national boundaries, and the Cherokee treaty contained thirteen articles, while the Choctaw and Chickasaw treaties had only eleven. Several articles provided for the restoration of prisoners and property captured during the Revolutionary War, prohibited American citizens from settling on Indian lands, forbade retaliation, and required that criminals be delivered up and punished. Two articles provided for trade and the exclusive right of trade by the United States, and a third article required notice “of any designs . . . against the peace, trade or interests of the United States of America.” In addition, an article in the Cherokee treaty guaranteed justice “respecting their rights” and the right to send a representative to Congress. Otherwise the treaties used the same language, contrived assurances of peace and friendship, and concluded that the “hatchet shall be buried forever.”

Despite internal and external opposition to dealing with the American government, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw delegations traveled to Pickens’s plantation home, Hopewell, on the Keowee River in northwestern South Carolina. Each nation contained anti-American factions, especially the militant Chickamauga Cherokee, or pro-Spanish factions that sought trade and alliances with Spain. In addition to internal opposition, Alexander McGillivray, the pro-Spanish leader of the Creek Confederacy, prevented his nation from reaching an agreement with the commissioners and attempted to dissuade and intimidate the Chickasaw and Choctaw.

The Cherokee delegation, which included 918 men and women, arrived over a period of several days and delayed the opening session until midmorning on 22 November 1785. Along with speeches and the presentation of symbolic tokens of friendship, discussions centered on disputes about boundaries between Cherokee and US territory. Despite the protestations of some Cherokee leaders, the US commissioners and 37 Cherokee chiefs and warriors signed the treaty on 28 November.

While the commissioners doled out presents to the departing Cherokee, the Choctaw delegation continued its trek eastward, losing most of its horses to the Creek and arriving at Hopewell on 26 December. Worn down by their exhausting two-and-a-half-month journey, the 127 Choctaw men and women presented quite a contrast with the recently departed Cherokee party, whose members had arrived dressed in their finest clothing, leather leggings, gorgets, medals, and feathers. The Choctaw demanded food and new clothing before proceeding with their talks, and like the Cherokee before them, their men and women followed a regimen of rituals and ceremonies in their discussions with the commissioners. They marched in carrying white poles with white deerskins attached as peace tokens, performed the Eagle Tail Dance while painted in white clay, and exchanged gifts with the commissioners, including the calumet pipe and eagle feathers. Each Choctaw speaker from Yockonahoma on the first day through Mingohoopie four days later emphasized the sunny weather and the importance of the sun in helping to create friends and allies out of the Euro-Americans.

The Choctaw delegation, handpicked by Franchimastabé, headman or “first chief,” included men known for their pro-British connections as well as Taboca, “second chief of the Choctaw,” noted for his diplomatic finesse as leader and chief spokesperson. While the commissioners talked about peaceful relations and boundaries, the Choctaw journeyed to South Carolina to establish trade relations with the Euro-Americans on the Atlantic Coast and to supplement the flow of manufactured goods from the Spanish. Unlike the Cherokee, the Choctaw felt no need to discuss boundaries because their land had not been invaded by the Euro-Americans, and the Choctaw failed to understand Article 3, which described the boundaries and reserved three tracts of land six miles square for trading posts controlled by the United States. After several days, thirty-one Choctaw medal chiefs and “captains” concluded their negotiations on 3 January 1786 and placed their marks on the treaty document signed by Hawkins, Martin, and Pickens.

A much smaller Chickasaw delegation, including men and women, arrived four days after the Choctaw signed the second Hopewell treaty. Hawkins, Martin, and Pickens opened their third treaty session at 10:00 on 9 January 1786 and addressed the Chickasaw using the same speeches promising peace and “the blessings of the new changes of sovereignty over this land which you & us inhabit.” Following an explanation of a draft of the treaty by the commissioners, Piomingo, Mingotushka, and Latopoia, who represented the pro-American faction of their nation, addressed the conference and presented several strands of white beads and a broad wampum belt as tokens of friendship and peace. Piomingo boldly presented himself as the “head leading warrior” of the Chickasaw Nation, and Mingotushka presented a medal “worn by our great man, he is dead” but sent by his daughter as a token of peace. Although Piomingo questioned Article 1, stating that he had taken no American prisoners to surrender, he agreed to Article 3, which described the boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation and provided for the establishment of a trading post on a circular tract of land five miles in diameter near the mouth of Bear Creek.

When the commissioners and Chickasaw chiefs convened the next day, 10 January, they presented two copies of the treaty and a map of the Chickasaw lands. After reading the treaty and explaining each article, the commissioners asked the Chickasaw to sign the document, and Piomingo, Mingotushka, and Latopoia made their marks below the signatures of the commissioners.

The treaties signed at Hopewell left US relations with the southern Indians in a precarious situation. Despite their marks on the treaties, none of the delegations recognized the sovereignty of the United States over their lands.

Further Reading

  • American State Papers: Documents, Legislative and Executive, of the Congress of the United States, 38 vols. (1832–61)
  • James R. Atkinson, Splendid Land, Splendid People: The Chickasaw Indians to Removal (2004)
  • Arrell M. Gibson, The Chickasaws (1971)
  • Charles J. Kappler, ed., Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties, 5 vols. (1904–41)
  • Greg O’Brien, Choctaws in a Revolutionary Age, 1750–1830 (2002)
  • Greg O’Brien, Journal of Southern History (February 2001)
  • Alice Noble Waring, The Fighting Elder: Andrew Pickens, 1739–1817 (1962)
  • Grace Steele Woodward, The Cherokees (1963)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title Treaty of Hopewell
  • Author
  • Keywords Treaty of Hopewell
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date June 6, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 14, 2018