Tomo Chi-Chi's Grave Marker/Monument
Backstory and Context
Tomo Chi-Chi was thought to be born around 1644, some sources also place his birth from 1650s to the 1660s. It is believed that he was raised along the Chattahoochee River in Apalachicola town. Early records from 1706 seem to point to Tomo Chi-Chi being a slaver. Some of the first records of him were when he sold a few Native Americans to English traders for goods, and later when he sold seven more “Waucoogau” natives into slavery. It’s likely that from 1690-1715, he lived with Hitchitis, a group known for selling other natives into slavery, along the Ocmulgee River. During this time, Tomo Chi-Chi created alliances with Yamasee speaking people, and then the Creek Confederacy, which was created between 1680 and 1710. This gave Tomo Chi-Chi power. By 1715, the Confederacy was a great mix of alliances between towns and it became very powerful after the Yamasee War in 1715. The Yamasees fought English traders because they were assaulting the native women, price gouging, and manipulating credit at the expense of the Yamasees. The Yamasees were isolated by the Creek, and together with the British Carolinians, outlawed the Native slave trade. This was a blow for Tomo Chi-Chi. The Coweta Resolution between the Lower and Upper Creek in 1717 and 1718 pledged partial allegiance to the British and made outcasts of the Yamasees and other groups that participated in the uprising against the British. Tomo Chi-Chi’s power came from the Yamasee slavers, and with them outcasts. he was “banished” from the confederacy.
After 1718, he returned to Apalachicola Town to recover from his loss. In 1728, it is thought he created the Yamacraw tribe, consisting of Lower Creek and Yamasees. By 1729, he had a falling out with the French near the town, and he moved on to Apalachicola along the Savannah river. In 1732 he attended a treaty council with Upper and Lower Creek, as well as Carolina officials, in a leadership role. He quickly became disliked among the Apalachicolans, and had to leave again. He then moved with the Yamacraw that followed him down the river in late 1732, and created and led Yamacraw Bluff, along the south bank of the Savannah river, no doubt because of the need of access to quality goods and new allies. In 1733, James Oglethorpe, co-founder of Britain’s new colony Georgia, landed near Yamacraw Bluff.
In January 1733, Oglethorpe and Tomo Chi-Chi met along the Savannah River and made a verbal agreement about the Native and British relations. In February, the two men met in Savannah, where boundaries were set for the colony. Tomo Chi-Chi would show up unexpectedly between February and March to establish himself in the town. On March 7, he gave Oglethorpe deerskins, and Oglethorpe gave him gifts in return. The two men exchanging gifts meant that, in native terms, there had been an alliance forged. This alliance allowed for Tomo Chi-Chi to reenter the Creek Confederacy. The alliance was also important to the British, who desperately needed Native allies due to the border with Spanish-controlled Florida to the south.
In May 1734, Oglethorpe had Tomo Chi-Chi, his wife Senauki, and other Yamacraw administrators join him in going to London, England, so they could ratify the agreement reached between the Georgia colony and the Lower Creeks. Oglethorpe needed the support of the Lower Creek for Georgia to survive. Tomo Chi-Chi probably thought that by going to the negotiation, he would be able to get favorable prices and more allies. This negotiation seemed to work; both sides got what they wanted: the British trustees saw Georgia’s success, and Tomo Chi-Chi got to communicate his needs in person and get some of what he wanted for his people.
Upon return, Tomo Chi-Chi became the mediator between the Creek and the British, once he had established himself as an important figure in the Creek Confederacy. Tomo Chi-Chi supported efforts to have an Indian school established in 1736. He assisted Oglethorpe with interactions with the Spanish by being a mediator and establishing Georgia’s southern border. Oglethorpe and Tomo Chi-Chi were thought to be good friends during their partnership. They were known to give each other advice, and Oglethorpe was a pallbearer at Tomo Chi-Chi’s funeral.
Tomo Chi-Chi died on October 5, 1739, from a serious illness. Oglethorpe learned of Tomo Chi-Chi’s death when he returned from a meeting with the Lower Creek. Oglethorpe held a military funeral for him because of his part in establishing Georgia as a colony. Before his death, Tomo Chi-Chi expressed that he wished to be buried in Savannah, because of his hand in creating it. Tomo Chi-Chi was buried in Wright Square under orders of Oglethorpe. Oglethorpe also had a pyramid of stone placed over Tomo Chi-Chi’s grave, but it’s not known what happened to it between the time of Tomo Chi-Chi’s death and a painting by Joseph Louis Firmin Cerveau called View of Savannah created in 1837 were the pyramid is not in Wright Square. Now, in Wright Square there is a monument to William Washington Gordon, that sits on Tomo Chi-Chi’s grave. Gordon’s daughter in law, Nellie Kenzie Gordon, wanted there to be a monument placed in Wright Square to Tomo Chi-Chi, because of the removal of the mound and placement of the Gordon Monument. So on April 21, 1899 the Georgia Society of the Colonial Dames of America placed the Tomochichi Monument, a granite boulder with a copper plaque commemorating him, in the south eastern corner of Wright Square where it can still be viewed today. Which says “In Memory of Tomo-Chi-Chi, The Mico of the Yamacraws,The Companion of Oglethorpe, And the friend and ally of the Colony of Georgia. This stone has been here placed, By the Georgia Society of the Colonial Dames of America 1739-1899".
Boone, S. Brief Bio. Georgia History. . Accessed September 24, 2018. https://georgiahistory.com/education-outreach/online-exhibits/featured-historical-figures/tomochichi/tomochichi-brief-bio/.
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Sweet, A J. "Will the Real Tomochichi Please Come Forward?." American Indian Quarterly, vol. 32, no. 2, 141-177. Published 2008. Ebscohost.
Tomo-Chi-Chi Monument. Visit Historic Savannah. . Accessed September 24, 2018. from https://www.visit-historic-savannah.com/tomo-chi-chi-monument.html.