Col. Benjamin Hawkins’ Address – July 4, 2010, FORT HAWKINS, MACON, GEORGIA
“When in the course of human events . . .” so begins one of the most brave and daring documents ever created by the Human Race, and thus begins our Patriotic program today, Independence Day, our Nation’s 234th Birthday, at historic Fort Hawkins, or at least what is left of it in 2010. We will conclude today with the equally brave words of, “O, say can ye see,” from our Nation’s Second War of Independence – the War of 1812. In 1776, a year after the American Revolution began, our brave leaders gave the world a bold new document declaring our Independence, and remembering as “self evident that all men are created equal and that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among them are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Thus, this unanimousDeclaration of Independence of the thirteen United States, in Congress, July 4, 1776, did birth our proud Nation, “with,” as the Declaration concludes, “a firm reliance on the Protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our Sacred Honor.” At the time of that momentous Declaration of Independence, I, your Kind & Obedient Servant, Col. Benjamin Hawkins, was serving as a Junior Officer on Gen. George Washington’s Staff in the new Continental Army.I would continue to faithfully serve my country until my death at the age of 62 in 1816 on the banks of the Flint River in today’s Crawford County. So, how did I come to serve my new country and home state of North Carolina for over forty years and end up here with my burial on the Flint River and a United States Army fort that bears my name even to this day?Let me quickly relate the facts that will clearly connect our two Wars of Independence and this very frontier fort as I share the tragic events of the summer of 1814. I grew up on the plantation of my father, Col. Philemon Hawkins, in what is today’s Warren County, North Carolina, along with three brothers and a younger neighbor named Nat Macon.My military and cultivated upbringing, led myself and all my brothers to pursue college educations.I was a Senior at Princeton University in 1775 when we all could hear “the shot heard round the world” from Concord. Gen. George Washington knew of my proficiency in several languages and personally recruited me to be his Staff Interpreter in 1775.I personally relished the first meeting of Gen. Washington and our French hero, the Marquis de Lafayette, in 1777, but shortly thereafter, and with aplenty of newfound French Interpreters, I left the General’s Staff and joined the Continental Congress. After serving the Congress and the North Carolina General Assembly, I became one of the first two United States Senators from the state of my Birth.I was also honored later to serve as one of the first official United States Commissioners for treating with the Native Americans, and then, now President Washington appointed me in 1796 as the Principal Superintendent, or Indian Agent, for all the land south of the Ohio River, the position I would hold for the next twenty years until my death Yet, to the dismay of much of my family and many of my friends, I chose not to live in Washington, D.C. nor my native North Carolina, but rather in the real Native American Land of the Muscogee Creek Nation.Before the turn of the century, which I should remind you was three century turns ago, in the 1790’s, I had already settled and begun developing my Model Plantation on the banks of the beautiful Flint River.My Agency was to help the Creeks and all natives, or savages, as they were called in my day, to peacefully and productively assimilate into our new American Nation. Some will forever debate the wisdom and success of that thought and process, but all hope of positive Native Relations or assimilation ended in the summer of 1814.One of the results of the War of 1812, became sadly known as the Creek Wars, due to the direct British influence on the rebelling “Red Stick” Creeks.Many of the same grievances that led to our Declaration of Independence in 1776 were being repeated by the British, but to me, this was the most grievous – their aiding and abetting of the “Red Sticks” that led to the British supplied, misguided Creek massacre, the worst in American History, of over 500 men, women, and children, white, black and red at Fort Mims, Alabama in 1813. A justifiable alarm spread throughout the southeast American frontier, as it seemed that despite all of my best efforts in assimilating and civilizing the so called savages, this progress had been brutally unraveled at Fort Mims. So, it came to be that Gen. Andrew Jackson and his rough and tough Tennessee Militia, plus other military units, including mine own, came to quash the “Red Stick” Rebellion at the likewise brutal Battle of Horseshoe Bend in 1814. This complete annihilation of the “Red Sticks” resulted in Gen. Jackson asking me to call a Council of all Creek Chiefs at his hastily created Fort Jackson.At the Treaty of Fort Jackson in August of 1814, General Jackson would not let me speak as he proceeded to punish the entire Creek Nation by taking away their rights to their very homeland. What may not be generally understood, even by John C. Butler in his 1879 History of Central Georgia, is that I had left Gen. Wash- ington’s Staff as a Junior Officer and only became a Colonel after the founding of Fort Hawkins in 1806.Assigned to the fort were nearly 1000 Creek Warriors, many whose names are still heard today in the Muscogee Creek Nation, that I had recruited to serve under me and Lt. Col. William McIntosh.These brave warriors fought for Gen. Jackson, by his very side, at his crushing victory at Horseshoe Bend, nevertheless he confiscated their land in the summer of 1814 despite their faithful service.Although Andrew Jackson received some belated glory in the War of 1812 and eventually become a popular President of the United States, his Native policies would only worsen with time and lead to the blight on American History known as “The Trail of Tears” and the near complete collapse of all Native Culture in the Southeast with his Nullification Policy. I resigned my official position just after the injustice at the Treaty of Fort Jackson, but it was never accepted by the United States government, and so I was still the official Agent at the time of my death in 1816.Some may surmise correctly that the awful events in the summer of 1814 led to my natural death, but I was always proud of my life of service to my country, my successful Agency on the Flint, and my amazing family that not only braved and survived the frontier, but also succeeded and thrived beyond the frontier we called home. Although Gen. Jackson is still known as “The Devil” by Native Americans, I am extremely proud to still be known as “The Beloved Man of Four Nations” – the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw, and Chickasaw. Why else would they have allowed the United States Army to build a fort on the highest hill of the Sacred Old Fields? – This very one that bears my name!This frontier fort and trading outpost never witnessed any bloodshed, red, black or white, and only became obsolete as the Nation and the Natives moved westward, leading to the birth of Macon in 1823, seventeen years after the fort’s founding. That might never have happened if not for our victory in our Second War of Independence, the War of 1812, which included a potentially lethal and awful event in that same summer of 1814, which relates directly to our own Fort Hawkins – the burning of Washington, D.C. by the British in that same month of August 1814.This destruction of our new Capital included the destruction of the original plans and official records for Fort Hawkins, and only now through the science of archaeology is the real Fort Hawkins being discovered along with the fort’s true significance and substance. After the burning of our Capital, the trend toward total British victory seemed certain.We would, once again, become Subjects of the King of England.So when the relentless British attack upon Baltimore’s Fort McHenry began in September of 1814, our hope of a new American Nation seemed doomed.As the 25 hour British bombardment with over 1500 bombs trained on the fort, our fate was certainly sealed.So, imagine now the real surprise and utter joy that all had, including one Francis Scott Key, upon seeing our American flag still flying after such a savage and brutal barrage.Key could see the massive 30 foot by 42 foot flag with its 15 bright stars and its broad red & white stripes from a distance of 8 miles. That 15 starred flag that flew over Fort McHenry and Fort Hawkins 200 years ago is the flag you see today so gallantly streaming overhead. Key’s delight, relief and pride in seeing the proof that our Nation was not doomed created the powerful poem “The Defense of Fort McHenry,” which quickly became the popular tune and successful rallying song, “The Star Spangled Banner” and the country’s official National Anthem in 1931.In closing, I would like to share those original dramatic words that led to a renewed sense of American purpose, pride and determination, and to our victory in the War of 1812.May this generation be ever mindful of the many brave sacrifices made to validate the principles of our Declaration of Independence, and that I see now have so gloriously come true 234 years later on this July 4th 2010.These same sacrifices and convictions continue today by brave and undaunted Americans, so these words are as timely and meaningful now as they were after that sad and mad summer of 1814.
“O, say can ye see through the dawn’s early light, what so proudly we hail’d by the twilight’s last gleaming? Whose bright stars and broad stripes through the clouds of the fight, O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming? And the rocket’s red glare, The bombs bursting in air, Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there! O, say does that star spangled banner yet wave, O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?
On shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep, Where foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, now conceals, now discloses? Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam, In full glory reflected now shines on the stream: “Tis the star spangled banner – O long may it wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And where are the foes who so sweepingly swore that the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion, a home and a country should leave us no more ?! This blood has washed out his foul footsteps’ pollution. No refuge could save the hireling and slave from the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:And the star spangled banner in triumph doth wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!
And, thus be it ever, when foemen shall stand between their loved homes and war’s desolation!Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heaven rescued land Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just, and this be our motto – “In God is our trust.” And the star spangled banner - O long may it wave - O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!”
Marty Willett for Col. Benjamin Hawkins July 4, 2010