Manac's Tavern

Today we're going to go back to the same spot we covered in the last post, and talk about the other side of that historical marker.  I mentioned Manac's Tavern, and the fact that two groups of Army trailblazers had met in the middle near the marker to finish the Old Federal Road.  Manac's Tavern was that meeting point, and today we're going to look at the owner and operator, Samuel Manac (or, more often, Moniac).

One of the most interesting ideas I've come across so far in my reading for this blog has been the fact that there were actually quite a few European men who had made their way to Creek and Cherokee territory long before the American Revolution, let alone the creation of the Old Federal Road.  I may do enough digging to eventually do a bigger story about that subject as a whole, but today we're going to start with the Moniacs.  It's hard to tell if it was Sam's father or grandfather, but sometime in the second half of the 1700s a Dutch man named William or Dixon (or William Dixon) Moniac moved into the Creek Nation, probably as a trapper.  He married a Creek woman, and his son (or grandson) was Samuel Moniac.  Sam grew up and also married a Creek woman.  Before we get into his story, we need to meet four more men: William Weatherford (aka Red Eagle, Sam's brother-in-law), Alexander McGillivray (aka Hoboi-Hili-Miko, a Creek chief descended from a Scottish soldier on one side and a French soldier on the other) William Augustus Bowles (aka Estajoca, a man from Maryland who had fought with the British in the American Revolution), and Benjamin Hawkins (U.S. Indian Agent, effectively the American Ambassador to the Creek Nation).  All four men are fascinating in their own rights, and we may come back to them in future posts.

William Weatherford, aka Red Eagle, 1814 (image courtesy of Alabama Department of Archives & History)

Alexander McGillivray, aka Hoboi-Hili-Miko (public domain image)

William Augustus Bowles, aka Estajoca, 1791 (image courtesy of The British Museum)

The first interesting Samuel Moniac story I was able to find has Sam and his brother-in-law William Weatherford going with Alexander McGillivray to New York City.  President George Washington invited a group of 30 chiefs, led by McGillivray and including Moniac and Weatherford, to a conference to establish a treaty between the United States and the Creek Nation. The Treaty of New York was signed in 1790 by all 30 chiefs as well as the U.S. representative, Secretary of War Henry Knox.  All 30 chiefs received silver medals from the President, and are sometimes called Medal Chiefs in later stories.

The next story has Moniac and Weatherford being recruited by Benjamin Hawkins to help him deal with the arrival of William Augustus Bowles in Creek territory.  Bowles was wanted by Spain for trouble he had caused in Spanish Florida, and had come to the Creek capital, Hickory Ground, to try to add the Creeks to his forces.  Moniac, Weatherford and Hawkins went to a Great Council at Hickory Ground in May 1803.  Bowles had convinced the majority of the Creeks to side with him, so when Hawkins announced he was there to arrest Bowles, hundreds of guns were drawn.  Moniac and Weatherford walked straight up to Bowles, tied him up, threw him in a canoe and took off down the Alabama River to turn him into the Spanish authorities.  Their audacity, combined with their reputation and high standing in the Nation, allowed them to escape with the prisoner before anyone could shoot.

The final major story in Samuel Moniac's life starts at another Creek Council, this time in 1811.  Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief from present-day Ohio, was there to convince the Creeks to join his war against the encroachment of American settlers.  Moniac was one of the few Creeks willing to speak out and denounce Tecumseh's plans.  The rise of the Red Stick movement eventually led to the Creek War, and in the summer of 1813 Moniac returned home from a trading expedition to find a group of Red Stick leaders waiting for him.  They wanted him to pledge his support for their side, and he refused.  He escaped on horseback under gun fire, and his plantation and tavern on the Federal Road were burned in retaliation.  There are U.S. military documents that show that Moniac led Creek units that fought on the side of the Americans on at least two occasions, he was said to have led General Ferdinand Claibourne's troops to the Battle of Holy Ground, and it's very likely that he was also part of the Creeks who fought on the side of General Andrew Jackson in the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.  

Samuel Moniac died near Pass Christian, Mississippi in 1836.  He was part of the last major Creek group to leave Alabama on the Trail of Tears.  Nearly a quarter of that group died on the Trail.  Even though Sam had sided with the the United States at every turn, eventually anti-Creek sentiment forced him to leave his home just like almost every other member of the Creek Nation.

As a final side note on the life of Samuel Moniac, his son David also led an interesting life.  David Moniac was invited to attend the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1817, and in 1822 he became both the first Alabamian and first Native American to graduate from West Point.  In 1836, he was the only Native American officer fighting on the side of the United States in the Second Seminole War.  He was killed at the Battle of Wahoo Swamp on November 21, 1836.

Samuel operated a large farm near the Alabama River near Burkville, Alabama in Lowndes County, and he opened his tavern on the Federal Road at the request of Benjamin Hawkins some time after 1800.  The tavern's most famous visitor was Aaron Burr, who spent the night as a prisoner in 1807 on his journey back to Virginia to stand trial for treason.  The first tavern, along with his farm, was burned to the ground by the Red Sticks in 1813, but after the Creek War he rebuilt the tavern.  The first traveler's description of the area to not mention "Manac's Tavern" was written in 1820, so it's likely that by that point Sam and his family had shuttered the business.  The building doesn't survive, but contemporary accounts describe it as a large dogtrot style log cabin, much like this one still standing in north Alabama and built in 1820.

John Looney Pioneer House Museum, Asheville, St. Clair County, Alabama (courtesy of Bjornquist Films)

The historical marker stands about half a mile northeast of the actual site of the tavern, which has been partially excavated by a team from the University of South Alabama in the last decade.  You can read the text in the photo below (sorry for the odd angle, the ground was pretty swampy) or in the following quote.

Manac's Tavern historical marker, Hope Hull, Montgomery County, Alabama

Manac’s Tavern

Manac’s Tavern, located near here and nearby Pinchona Creek, was the oldest stand on the Federal Road. Samuel Manac, the proprietor, in 1791 went with Alexander McGillivray to the U.S. capitol in NYC and met George Washington to conclude a peace treaty for the Creek Nation, the U.S.’s first treaty with a foreign power. He married Red Eagle’s sister, Elizabeth. Aaron Burr stayed here in 1807. In 1822 Sam’s son, David Moniac, became the first Indian and first Alabamian to graduate from West Point. In 1836, in the Second Seminole War, Maj. Moniac was killed at Wahoo Swamp leading a unit of Creek militia against the braves of Osceola, who was his wife’s cousin.
— Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce, Historical Preservation and Promotion Foundation, Alabama Historical Association, 1997

Intersection of Cloverfield Road and Federal Road, Hope Hull, Montgomery County, Alabama

By all accounts, Samuel Moniac lived a fascinating life, and his influence was integral to the early days of Alabama as a Territory and State.  As many stories, or legends, exist around him, he's still somewhat shrouded in mystery.  I found one account of a new book about him being written a few years ago, but I wasn't able to find any updates.  If that book is ever published, maybe we will revisit Mr. Moniac on the blog.  If he really did everything he was purported to have done, he deserves a much higher status in the early annals of Alabama.

Our next post will move north up the Federal Road to another famous tavern.