Mary Musgrove—”Creek Mary,” as the British-Americans called her—was one of the most remarkable people of mixed European and Native American heritage to live on the American frontier.
At her birth in the Creek Indian town of Coweta on the Ocmulgee River in what is now Alabama, Mary was given the name Coosaponakeesa. Her mother was a Creek Indian from a prominent family, and her father was a British trader. When Coosaponakeesa was seven, her father took her to live among white settlers in South Carolina. She was educated there, became a Christian, and at some point began to use the name Mary.
Around 1716, Mary married John Musgrove, Jr. of South Carolina, and by 1733 they were running a trading station among the Creeks. That year, Mary was among the first settlers to greet British colonizer James Oglethorpe when he arrived to found the colony of Georgia.
Mary’s linguistic skills, and her knowledge of both the Indian and British- American worlds, persuaded Oglethorpe to make her his chief interpreter and his emissary to the Creek tribes. It was largely due to her influence that the Creeks remained friendly to the British for the rest of the century, thereby allowing the Georgia colony to take root.
John Musgrove died in 1739. Soon after, Mary married Jacob Matthews, one of the soldiers at her trading post. In 1740, she persuaded many of the Creeks to join Oglethorpe in his attack against the Spanish fort at St. Augustine.
Mary and Jacob moved to Savannah in 1742, where Jacob died that same year. Oglethorpe left Georgia in 1743. Prior to his departure, he gave Mary 200 pounds sterling and a diamond ring from his own finger, a token of his esteem for the woman who had been so helpful in keeping peace within his colony.
In 1744, Mary married for the third time. Her new husband, Thomas Bosomworth, was a hard-nosed businessman. He and Mary planned to corner the market on cattle in the colony. They obtained a grant from the Creek nation for the islands of St. Catherine s, Ossabaw, and Sapelo, just off the coast of Georgia. Bosomworth stocked St. Catherine’s Island with cattle he had bought with borrowed money, while Mary presented claims for money to the Georgia colony for her past services.
When Georgia proved reluctant to provide her with money, Mary led a large number of Creek warriors to Savannah and harassed the townspeople there for a month in the summer of 1749. In 1754, Mary and her husband went to Britain to pursue their claims. The matter was finally settled in 1759, when Mary received the title to St. Catherine’s Island from the British government.