An Analysis of Native American and Colonialist Interaction

In the 1630s the first European trade with the Creek people was chronicled in a variety of documents. But what was the nature of this interaction? To us, this was an interesting question. The inspiration for our document study started while working on another archaeological project. We noticed an inconsistency between our data and the established historical narrative of interaction between the Creek and Europeans.

Other scholars suggested that Creek towns had an established relationship of trade with the Spanish before 1680, but, during our excavations, we found no evidence of this relationship. We found similar results when expanding the scope to include all archaeological sites in the area. We suspected historic documents might be to blame in this case. While a useful tool, historic documents can be biased by the writer.

We wondered, might this be the reason for the inconsistency with the archaeological data? We designed a study to sample historic documents and quantify them. We analyzed 255,851 pages from various colonial collections and documents related to the Creek specifically. We then calculated the level of interaction between the Creek and Europeans. We discovered that the historic documents matched our archaeological findings. In other words, there was limited evidence for interaction between the Creek and Europeans before the late-seventeenth century. Ultimately, we found that quantifying our sample of documents and using them in conjunction with the archaeological data gave us a finer understanding of changes of Creek/European interactions.

This study was published in the International Journal of Historical Archaeology by Nancy K. Williams and H. Thomas Foster, II.

Ms. Williams is a doctoral student and Dr. Foster is an Associate Professor in the Department of Anthropology. Funding for this research was provided by grants from the National Science Foundation (BCS-1026542, BCS-1026308, BCS-1026652, and BCS-1259355).