Today in History: November 15

Georgia and Alabama Prior to the Trail of Tears
Georgia and Alabama Prior to the Trail of Tears / Historical/GettyImages

Looking back on a particular day in history can be extremely complicated, as there are so many possible ways to view just one event. In fact, one of the central complexities of historical research is that even the most unbiased source has limitations, thanks to their perspective and available knowledge.

Assuming five witnesses all recorded a shared event in as accurate of a way as possible, they would still have some major differences. This is why there is nearly always contradiction when trying to understand any given circumstance after the fact.

Now, expanding that to every year in human history, as well as every recorded civilization on Earth, it's going to be virtually impossible to draw a conclusion about what one day—say, November 15—should be remembered for.

With that in mind, today we're going to look at two perspectives on explorations of the Americas, based on notable events that all happened on this day in history.

Notable explorations and conquests on November 15

Facade of the Inca temple of Coricancha in the City of Cuzco
Facade of the Inca temple of Coricancha in the City of Cuzco / Fotoholica Press/GettyImages

1533: Francisco Pizarro captures Cusco

Explorer Francisco Pizarro was a major force in the Spanish conquest of present-day Peru. Almost exactly a year after capturing the Inca ruler Atahualpa, Pizarro faced off against General Quisquis to capture the capital city of Cusco. This was a major loss to the Inca, both due to the gold and silver that was raided and the greater social consequences.

1620: Myles Standish explores Cape Cod

Although traditionally seen as a military leader, Myles Standish was responsible for leading many explorations to find a permanent settlement for the Mayflower travelers. After scouts first found land on November 9, Standish led a small group to explore the area we now know as Cape Cod on the 15th. While they were able to stay in the area for a short time, they eventually founded the Plymouth colony in December of that same year.

1806: Zebulon Pike spots the mountain now known as Pike's Peak

Zebulon Pike was an American-born explorer who famously tracked his way through the Louisiana Territory from 1805-1807. His first expedition followed the Mississippi River, and his second followed the Arkansas and Red Rivers. Early in his second mission, he explored present-day Colorado, where he spotted Tava, a mountain in the Rockies that would eventually be named after him.

November 15, 1827: The Creek Nation lost all property rights in the state of Georgia

Creek Indians, early 19th century (c1880).
Creek Indians, early 19th century (c1880). / Print Collector/GettyImages

While we frequently see exploration described as a brave adventure, it is vital to acknowledge the other side of the issue. Europeans and early Americans did not discover new land. The land was already occupied by other people and civilizations, who were then removed to make space for the explorers and their countrymen.

A critical point in this conflict also took place on November 15, in 1827. Going back as far as 1739, the Creek Nation in Georgia had repeatedly signed treaties granting land to European and American settlers. While some of these negotiations were peaceful, many were coerced under the threat of violence.

In 1826, a treaty was agreed to which required the Creek Confederacy to relinquish all of their lands east of the Chattahoochee River. However, Georgia Governor George Troup wanted the complete removal of all indigenous peoples in Georgia.

This led to a new treaty known as the Treaty of Indian Agency, or simply the Creek Treaty of 1827. According to the documents surrounding this treaty, the Creek Confederacy was asked to relinquish land which the Georgians considered "small and worthless" so that they would no longer possess any lands in the state.

In March, the Creek Confederacy was extremely clear in their refusal of the matter. In fact, John Crowell's letter to the Secretary of War included a postscript stating that the Chiefs required that they be given a copy of their answer to ensure it was not altered.

"They denied, in the most positive terms ever having expressed to any person, on any occasion, a willingness to sell the land in question; and at the first interview, gave me a positive refusal, and requested me to inform you that they would not, under any circumstance, sell it."

John Crowell, Agent for Indian Affairs

However, Crowell made it clear that he would "use every possible exertion to satisfy them of the unimportance of that land."

They were told that President John Quincy Adams would not protect them if the people of Georgia chose to take matters into their own hands. Still, they refused. Then, Crowell requested to have soldiers posted at his office due to supposed fear of violence.

The next letter stated that a treaty had been made, though with frequent objections and only partial agreement. Still, that was considered good enough.

The Creek Treaty of 1827 gave up all Creek rights to land within the boundaries of Georgia and began the preparations for their removal to the west. While a lesser known episode in the chronicles of Indian Removal, this was, in effect, the legal justification for genocide.

According to William W. Winn, a reporter and author, "Everything that happened to the Plains Indians and the Indians out West happened [to the Creeks in Georgia] first."

Less than three years later, the Indian Removal Act gave the US government the right to invalidate all land rights of indigenous peoples in the Southeast. Thus began the brutal massacres and re-locations known as the Trail of Tears.

To learn more about the Creek Treaty of 1827 and other legal actions taken against Native Americans, check out the following sources:

  • The Triumph of the Ecunnau-Nuxulgee by William W. Winn
  • The Great Father: The United States Government and the American Indians by Francis Paul Prucha
  • The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis by Michael D. Green
  • Trail of Tears: An Enthralling Guide to the Choctaw and Chickasaw Removal, the Seminole Wars, Creek Dissolution, and Forced Relocation of the Cherokee Tribe by Billy Wellman
  • Bending Their Way Onward: Creek Indian Removal in Documents by Christopher D. Haveman

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