Will the Real Mary Musgrove Please Come Forward?

I have a friend who portrays Mary Musgrove for Educational Events and lately her choice of dress made of hides has come under question. So I did a little research over the last few weeks and am left with more questions than answers.

B) Oglethorpe, Mary, (If it is her, identity is assumed) and Tomo-Chichi
Who is Mary Musgrove? Opinions vary depending on which side of history you fall on, but here is a fairly accurate accounting of her life:

Mary Musgrove was a half-breed Yamacraw Indian of the Muscogean Tribe, (Also known as the "Creeks" by Europeans). Her Indian name was Coosaponakesee. 

Her father was a white trader and her mother a Yamacraw Indian. Mary's mother was a sister of Emperor Biem who had tried, in the terrible war in 1715, to drive the white man out of the southeast. She had been sent to South Carolina when she was ten years old to go to school. Mary could speak both Creek and English. 

Mary was a tiny woman about five feet tall, wore her hair in two long braids with a band of beads across her forehead, and a feather stuck into the band (MY Note: No documentation validates this description). She married John Musgrove, a white trader who was the son of a South Carolina official. Mary and John's trading post was Mount Venture located on the Altamaha River.

On February 12, 1733 General James Edward Oglethorpe (founder of the colony of Georgia) sailed with four small boats down the coast and up the Savannah River to his new home. (Georgia was the first colony to be established in the 18th century.) When he landed at Yamacraw Bluff, he used Mary (who was about 33 years old at this time) as his interpreter for the first meeting with the Yamacraw Chief (or Mico), Tomochichi, an imposing man six feet tall and 90 years of age. (Tomochichi was very interested in Oglethorpe's gun, which he called a "fire stick'. He remained a fast friend to Oglethorpe until his death in 1739.)

*1) Oglethorpe, Mary and Tomo-Chichi Drawing by W.P. Snyder, This drawing is not flattering to her,
but close to what she actually wore.
Since she regarded and believed in the white man strongly, she was very influential in convincing the Yamacraw Indians to support General Oglethorpe in the settling of Georgia. General Oglethorpe regarded Mary as a valuable interpreter and employed her for a yearly salary of one hundred pounds sterling, which in that day was equal to a great deal more than five hundred dollars. But, Mary earned all that was paid to her and more.

Oglethorpe, Mary, (as a Modern Misconception of an Indian Woman) and Tomo-Chichi, (Modern Rendition)
Not only did she interpret for General Oglethorpe, but she also aided in concluding treaties and aided in securing warriors from the Creek nation in the war that occurred between the colonists and the Spaniards who occupied Florida.

When Oglethorpe left Georgia in 1743 (1742 ?) he gave Mary a ring from his finger. After malaria claimed four of Mary's sons and her husband John, she married a man named Matthews, who also died.
Oglethorpe, Mary, (portrayed as an English Woman) and Tomo-Chichi

In 1744 she married Thomas Bosomworth, who was previously the chaplain to Oglethorpe's regiment. Reverend Bosomworth was a very shrewd individual. Up until her marriage to Bosomworth, Mary had never ceased to labor for the good of the colony. After her marriage to Thomas, her conduct was such as to keep the whites in constant fear of massacre and extermination.

Bosomworth set about winning the Creek Indians to his devious ways. He convinced Malatche (brother of Mary) to have himself proclaimed as emperor of the Creek nation. Then he procured from the Creek emperor a deed of conveyance to he and Mary of the islands of Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Catherine. Thomas then convinced the Creek nation to proclaim Mary as the "Empress of Georgia." He used Mary's influence and previous rapport to his own good.

And even set in stone-Oglethorpe, Mary, (as bare-breasted Greek Goddess), and Tomo-Chichi
Mary, having won support of all the Indians, made instant demand for surrender of all the lands that had belonged to the Upper and Lower Creek Indians.

In August 1749 while meeting in Savannah, Mary and Thomas were privately arrested due to debts Thomas owed in South Carolina for cattle. The Indian Chiefs and council president met on several occasions to negotiate the return of lands to the Indians. Bosomworth repented of his folly, wrote to the council president apologizing for his wanton conduct.

During this time Thomas continually fought to secure the money owed Mary for her services when she was working for General Oglethorpe. Around 1759 (1757 ?), Governor Ellis settled Mary's claims by giving her 450 pounds sterling for goods she had expended in the King's service. She was also allowed 1650 pounds sterling for her services as agent. In addition, she was given 2000 pounds sterling from the auction sale of Ossabaw and Sapelo.

A grant of St. Catherine Island was also made to Mary Bosomworth for her many good deeds she did for the Colonists in her better days before her mind had been poisoned by Reverend Bosomworth. The Bosomworths lived there for the rest of their lives and are buried there.

(*3) Chipita-Ourays Woman
*2) Anyone else notice the resemblance to theunrelated photo on the left?

A) Who is the Woman in the Red Dress on the right? Men shown in traditional Men's Garb of the time

Above: Yamacraw Creek Native Americans meet with the Trustee of the colony of Georgia in England, July 1734, Notice the Native American boy (in a blue coat) and woman (in a red dress) in European clothing.

So my research remains inconclusive, with a couple of notes.

  • First, the women of Mary's tribe wore skirts plaited from palm and Spanish Moss for the most part, hides were only resorted to when the weather required more clothing. They were not considered formal wear and she would not have met Europeans in this garb when negotiating.
  • Second, Mary was of mixed blood and educated as well as raised among the Europeans, she must have been well thought of by her people as normally, a woman of mixed blood was not accepted by the tribes in any way. She probably wore European dress, for the most part, since her husbands were European.

  • Third, when Mary proclaimed herself a "Empress" of her tribe, she would have donned the clothing that befit such an office, which would have been at the time either the two sleeve dress with elaborately decorated over poncho shown in paintings *(1) & *(2) above or a one over the shoulder dress as shown worn by the men in the painting above (A) or (B) the first picture above showing her squatting and smoking a pipe.
I'm really surprised at the lack of documentation of her actual appearance, she was an important part of South Eastern History and therefore, should have had her likeness recorded. But when you look at the many ways Oglethorpe was portrayed in the portraits above, as well as Tomo-Chichi, it really is no surprise that she is shown in different ways.
Mary and her Husband As Self-Proclaimed Royalty
I'm going to stick my neck out and say she wore the One Shoulder Hide dress when she first began her life's Journey but when she became self-proclaimed royalty she donned the Two Sleeve Hide Dress with over-poncho shown in Pictures (A) and (B).
Why? It would impress both European and Native alike, it was fashionable at the time and I would like to think she wore something that really looked formal and formidable as a European Ministers Wife, but still related to her origins with her Native People.
*1) Oglethorpe, Mary and Tomo-Chichi Drawing by W.P. Snyder, This drawing is not flattering to her,
but I feel is actually very close to what she wore
It mirrors almost perfectly what writers describe her wearing and is actually shown wearing in more than one drawing.

*Who is the woman supposedly depicted in the photo (3) above who had a striking resemblance to the drawing of Mary? See Below.

Chipeta - Wife of Ute Chief Ouray

Wife of Ute Chief


The San Luis Valley was inhabited at different times by numerous Indian tribes.  Early paleolithic hunters killed now extinct ice animals in the valley.  Indians from the upper Rio Grande Pueblos also hunted in the valley at times.  Before the Utes finally established their dominance in the valley, it was frequently raided by Plains tribes such as the Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, and Kiowa.  Jicarilla Apaches lived in peaceful harmony with the Utes and frequently camped in the southern end of the valley.  The first contact with the Utes was in the period 1630-1640.  The Utes were called "QUERECHOS" by the early Spaniards in the area.

The Capote band of Utes occupied the southern end of the valley at the time of the first contact.  Another band, the Mohuache, also lived in southern Colorado and the Weeminuche band also ranged in the western end of the valley, generally west of the San Juan Mountains.
Ute Photograph taken in 1882

Chipeta (shown above) was wife of the paramount Ute chief Ouray.  She was almost hanged by a lynchmob in Alamosa, Colorado, on January 7, 1880, when she and ten Ute chiefs arrived there to board a train for Washington to resolve reservation resettlement matters.  Early Colorado settlers were irate at the Utes for the killing of eleven cavalrymen and the wounding of forty three others in the massacre at Meeker, Colorado.
My Note: I am not convinced the person named in this photo is Chipeta, her clothing does not match the tribe she belonged to, as the photo above does and she doesn't even look like Chipeta, even if it was taken in a much earlier time.

The person in the photo on the right is wearing a South Eastern Poncho Dress of Post Contact Design and is almost exactly the person featured in the drawing (2) above, right down to the silver bracelets on her arm and beads hanging from her belt. What goes on here? At the very least, the artist in the drawing (2) used this photo for his model of what Mary looked like, it's just to similar to dismiss it entirely! Just another case of an Artist thinking one Indian looks and dresses the same as another? The Mystery Thickens...

Here I include a more flattering version of Mary's Life Taken from:

Mary Musgrove (ca. 1700-ca. 1763)
Known as Coosaponakeesa among the Creek Indians, Mary Musgrove served as a cultural liaison between colonial Georgia and her Native American community in the mid-eighteenth century. Musgrove took advantage of her biculturalism to protect Creek interests, maintain peace on the frontier, and expand her business as a trader. As Pocahontas was to the Jamestown colony and Sacagawea was to the Lewis and Clark expedition, so was Musgrove to the burgeoning Georgia colony. 

Musgrove was the daughter of the English trader Edward Griffin and a Creek Indian mother who was related to Brims and Chigelli,
From First Lessons in Georgia History, by L. B.  Evans
Mary Musgrove
two Creek leaders. She spent most of her childhood straddling the two worlds of her Creek village, Coweta, and the colony of South Carolina. During these years she learned to speak the Creek language of Muskogee as well as English, and she learned firsthand about the deerskin trade and the different customs and expectations of colonial and Native American societies. Despite her mixed heritage Musgrove was considered a full member of Creek society and the Wind Clan. In this matrilineal society children took the clan identities of their mothers. Later in life she would claim royal heritage, a claim few scholars have accepted.

In 1717 she married English trader John Musgrove, and together they set up a trading post near the Savannah River. (Archaeologists excavated the site of this trading post in 2002, prior to the beginning of a construction project by the Georgia Ports Authority.) Musgrove helped her husband as an interpreter and probably used her kin ties to attract clients. The establishment of Georgia in 1733 provided the Musgroves an opportunity to expand their role on the southern frontier. In 1734, after *See My NOTE at bottom John Musgrove and a group of Creeks accompanied James Oglethorpe on a trip to England, the Trustees officially granted John Musgrove some land at Yamacraw Bluff on the Savannah River, four miles upriver from Savannah itself. John Musgrove died in 1735, and Mary Musgrove subsequently moved the trading post to Yamacraw Bluff. The post, known as the Cowpens, became a major commerce site and was probably the center for the English-Indian deerskin trade. 

From the colony's inception Musgrove placed herself in the center of Oglethorpe's dealings with neighboring Creek Indians. As interpreter for Oglethorpe and Yamacraw Indian chief Tomochichi, Musgrove was instrumental in the peaceful founding of Savannah, and by extension, the Georgia colony. She served as Oglethorpe's principal interpreter from 1733 until 1743, receiving financial compensation for her assistance and the prestige that accompanied her position. During this period she repeatedly used her connections to foster peace between the British and the Creeks. Oglethorpe obtained most of his understanding of the Creek Indians directly from Musgrove.
Musgrove remarried in 1737. With the assistance of her husband, Jacob Matthews, Musgrove established another trading post at Mount Venture on the Altamaha River. In 1742 Matthews died, and Musgrove remarried once again.

Her third and final husband was the Reverend Thomas Bosomworth. This marriage provided an opportunity for Musgrove to further increase her power. The couple probably met when she interpreted for Bosomworth, who was sent to the young colony as a Christian missionary. When the marriage was announced, however, few Georgians believed it to be true. Musgrove's marriage signified a rise in status that few had foreseen. Musgrove, who had earlier married among the lower branches of the colonial order, now connected herself to "respectable" society. The daughter of an Indian trader and a Creek mother had risen to the upper echelon of colonial society. 

Bosomworth's status paired with Musgrove's skills formed a powerful combination. Together they traveled into Creek villages with messages from Oglethorpe and the English king, brought back speeches from various Creek leaders, and hosted Creek and American visitors at their home. They occasionally taught Christian missionaries the Muskogee language, and otherwise tried to mediate interactions between Creeks and colonists. 

Despite her central role in Georgia's Indian affairs, Musgrove is more often remembered for her controversial land claims in Georgia. The controversy began in 1737 when Yamacraw chief Tomochichi granted her a plot of land near Savannah. The claim was unsettled when Musgrove married Bosomworth. In the following years Lower Creek chief Malatchi granted the Bosomworths three of the Sea Islands that the Indians claimed as their own—Ossabaw, Sapelo, and St. Catherines. British officials, however, refused these claims on the grounds that a nation can cede or grant land only to a nation, not to individuals. 

Musgrove pursued her claims to the lands for the next decade. In 1749 more than 200 Creeks accompanied her to Savannah to support her claim. With Georgia officials unwilling to accept the grant, Musgrove eventually traveled to England to plead her case. In 1754 the Board of Trade heard her case and referred it to the Georgia courts. When she returned to Georgia, the disputed land had come under Georgia control. In 1760 a compromise was finally reached under royal governor Henry Ellis—in return for the right to St. Catherines Island and £2,100, Musgrove relinquished her claims to the other lands. Afterward Musgrove ceased to play a central role in Georgia-Creek relations. She died on St. Catherines Island sometime after 1763.
In 1993 Musgrove was inducted into Georgia Women of Achievement

Note: Did Mary accompany her husband to England on this trip? Is she the woman portrayed in the English portrait in the red dress? According to "A School History of Georgia" by Charles H. Smith, Tomochichi, his wife and adopted son along with five Cherokee Chiefs made up the visiting party, so if we credit this source, Mary was not among them.

1 comment:

  1. Enjoyed seeing the pictures etc of Mary Musgrove. As a descendant of the Musgrove half-brother of the Rev War heroine - another Mary Musgrove - of SC's Musgrove Mill - the Mary Musgrove you depicted has always been interesting to read about.



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