History of Santa Rosa County, A King's County

by M. Luther King. Used with permission.


Among many "border incidents" of effect on this section were those revolving around and inspired by Alexander McGillivray, who for years was associated with Panton, Leslie & Company (later John Forbes and Company) of Pensacola. There seems to be no doubt that on many of his trips back and forth between Pensacola and Coweta on the Chattahoochee, Little Tallassee, and Hickory Ground, he passed along the, so called, "Three Notch Trail", referred to in an earlier chapter. This trail was always a safe (peaceful) road; not so was the new, sometimes, called "Indian Trail" which was a difficult and dangerous trail. Difficult in that it did not so well avoid the difficult and dangerous in that it passed through the area of the "border forts" that were constantly under the surveillance of opposing war parties.

All that is known of Alexander McGillivray and his family history is interesting. Let's begin with Captain Marchon.

Captain Marchon, a French officer, was at that time commanding officer at Fort Toulouse, near what is now Montgomery, Alabama. (You are not to forget this was within what was at various times called Florida by both British and Spanish). The Captain met, fell in love with, and married Sehoy, a Muscogee princess of the Tribe of the Wind. They had a daughter also named Sehoy, who married a Tookabatcha chief to which marriage a daughter, likewise named Sehoy was born. Upon the death of her chief-husband this Sehoy met and married Lachlan McGillivray, a Scottish trader, who had come to America at Charleston, South Carolina, to make his fortune in the Indian trade. Signing himself on there to a trading train starting for the Indian country with nothing more in the way of trade goods than a hunting knife that had been given him, he proved himself an apt pupil in the ways of Indian trading. Those trading trains were at that time traveling as far west, northwest as that locality known to the Indian as Hickory Ground - on the Coosa-Alabama River system somewhat upstream from the present site of Montgomery, Alabama. Finding the life much to his liking and being a shrewd trader, young McGillivray was able in a short time to run his original investment up to a really worthwhile trading estate.

On one of his trading trips into the Hickory Ground country, he made the acquaintance of Sehoy, the beautiful half-French, half-Indian princess. About this time he felt the urge to settle down - to build up for himself a fixed- estate. Many of the more prominent men of his acquaintance were building up for themselves permanent estates along that portion of the Alabama River from just below what is now Montgomery, Alabama, (Holy Ground) to points just above what is now Montgomery, Alabama, (Hickory Ground). Lachlan McGillivray chose a location in this latter area. How much his choice was prompted by the abundant natural resources of the area (level land, fertile soils, abundant grasses yet fine stands of timber, plentiful game and fishes, abundant surface waters and a fine climate) and how much his choice was prompted by the proximity to the widowed princess, Sehoy, we do not know. Anyway he located in the Hickory Ground area.

Lachlan McGillivray developed, as the years went by, two great plantations which were later to be valued at more than one hundred thousand dollars. Crops, race horses, cattle, slaves - all seemed to thrive as if by a master planter's hand.

McGillivray proceeded to woo and to win Sehoy, the widowed princess. They, it seemed, were most happily married.

To the earlier union by the marriage of this Sehoy to the Tookabatcha chieftain had been born another Sehoy, while to this later union of the marriage of Sehoy to Lachlan McGillivray were born three children in this order: Sophia, Jeanette and Alexander. Sophia later married Benjamin Durant, the world famous French athlete. Jeanette married Le Clerc Milfort, a French Army officer, who upon the death of Jeanette returned to France to achieve some measure of fame and a general's commission as an officer in Napoleon's Army. He also wrote in his memoirs a full- account of his experiences among the Indians in the Alabama country. (These memoirs have been a wonderful source of material to the student of sociological history of those people.) Alexander, the youngest of these children of this famous princess Sehoy, was in many ways to add luster to the family name.

Also at Fort Toulouse, Alexander McGillivray's beautiful older half-sister Sehoy (the daughter of Alexander's mother and the Tookabatcha chieftain) met and married Colonel David Tate during a period when the British were occupying that frontier fortress. At that time, Colonel Tate was the commanding officer of that post. However, with the changing fortunes (and changing occupation of that post and surrounding area), his command was moved and he deserted his family to follow his flag. He left not only a wife but several children one of whom, also named David Tate, was to achieve some prominence in the history of the region in connection with the activities of his Uncle Alexander McGillivray.

This beautiful buxom grass-widow then met and married Charles Wetherford, who like Lachlan McGillivray was a thrifty and successful Scotch trader. To this union in marriage of the Widow Tate and the Scotch trader Wetherford were born two sons - William and John Wetherford. Of the two, both of whom achieved some prominence in the history of the region, William's prominence is probably exceeded only by that of his uncle, Alexander McGillivray. William Wetherford was known among his Indian relatives as Lamochattee (The Red Eagle) and by that name has been immortalized in a narrative poem entitled The Red Eagle by Alexander Beaufort Meek, the great Alabama poet. The poem pictures many things peculiar to this great family and the region that was their home. It is a great love-story of the love between William Wetherford and Lilah Beasley.

What scenes may be conjured up at the mere mention of those names -- Alexander McGillivray, Le Clerc Milfort, Sophia Durant, William Wetherford, David Tate! They were so successful in their evident intention of holding the area for their people, the Indians, that it seemed for many years that the white man would never dominate the area as he had so many other of the Indian's hunting grounds.

At one and the same time, so sharp was the political and business acumen of Alexander McGillivray and so strong was the distrust and detestation he held for the average representative of the nations concerned in the area that to protect the interests of his people he acquired and held the rank of Brigadier General in the Army of the United States at a salary of twelve hundred dollars per year. His specific duty as connected with this title was to act as emissary of peace to the Indians from the government of the United States. At this same time he was consular agent (with a rank of Colonel) of the Spanish government to the same Indians at a salary of thirty-five hundred dollars per year. He was too, during all this time a silent partner in the Scotch trading firm of Panton, Leslie and Company. His role as a silent partner in that firm was to help that firm to assure that all of the Indian trade came to the firm's post in Pensacola rather than have some of it go to other firms -- say in Savannah, Georgia. It is rather easy to see it would be entirely possible for his duties in one of these positions to easily run counter to those of another position. However, let it be said in view of all the evidence that has been found that Alexander McGillivray's primary objective was that of service to the Indians. When there was another duty that seemed to counter this, then the other duty was rather shunted aside - nor did Alexander McGillivray ever find it necessary to "let the left hand know what the right hand was doing," He very practically served two masters where the service did not interfere with what he felt was his duty to his people. He was by right of his birth and by popular election of his people the Grand Chief of his Indian Nation. They respected and admired him and never had any cause to regret such admiration. He defended his people and their lands against the land-hungry Georgians, the Spanish, and the British alike. He prevented an outbreak of hostilities between his people and the whites, for he seemed to know that such would be disastrous. He seemed to know as well as anyone how careless the Georgians were in giving and keeping their word; yet he remained on apparently friendly terms with them.

During the period 1784-1790 there were many attempts to reach a satisfactory settlement between the Indians and the Georgians. Those attempts went to the extent that Colonel Marcus Willet persuaded Alexander McGillivray and several of his sub-chiefs to accompany him (Colonel Willett) to New York City, then capital of the United States, for a conference with General George Washington, the "Great White Chief," then president of the United States and rather friendly to the Indians' point of view.

That trip to New York City, during which the Indians were showered with adulations, was on the whole not the success that had been hoped, for the Georgians again failed to keep the White Man's bargain.

Not all the duplicity was on the part of the white people, however, for even while McGillivray and his chiefs were negotiating for a peaceful settlement in "the great White City" some of the sub-chiefs yielding to the Shawnee pressure were conspiring to massacre the settlers along the Tensaw River in south Alabama. Sophia Durant, Alexander's sister, hearing of this plan, although far along in pregnancy, rode horseback accompanied by her negro servant from her plantation at Little River to the Hickory Ground where she spoke as the representative of the "Grand Chief" and persuaded the Indians assembled there not to go through with the plan. (However, several years after the death and burial of Alexander McGillivray, the planned massacre was carried out in August 1813 and is known in White History as the Massacre at Fort Mims.)

Thus we see that so many of the things that Alexander McGillivray had striven for and had apparently succeeded in achieving were to be completely lost to his people in less than twenty years after his death. One of the important things in his mind, however, had been a series of sort of "buffer" settlements -- to protect the inland trails over which the trade of Panton, Leslie and Company passed.

Santa Rosa County is proud to number among its settlers of the early 1800s those hardy Scotch pioneers -- McDavids, Campbells, McLeods, McWhorters, Mcmillans, McDaniels, McArthurs, McCaskills, Monroes, Milligans, McDonalds, Stewarts, and many others. The forebears of these people were proud to name as their friend that other of part-Scotch ancestry, Alexander McGillivray, whom they possibly knew before he came to this area, and who was known to so many as "the Great Indian."

Alexander McGillivray died at Pensacola, February 17, 1793 and was supposedly buried in the garden of William Panton; his grave is unmarked.


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