God Willing And The Creek Don’t Rise
Posted by Elyse Bruce on November 29, 2010
After Hurricane Katrina, Spike Lee filmed a documentary entitled “If God Is Willing and the Creek Don’t Rise.” The filmmaker told the media that he named the film after a saying his grandmother used when he was a child. But what, exactly, does the phrase mean?
The phrase “God willing and the creek don’t rise” means the speaker will arrive or complete a task if all goes well, hence the reference to God and the creek. That being said, though, the creek in question isn’t a small brook or stream. It’s a reference to the Creek Indians.
American farmer, statesman, and Indian Agent, Colonel Benjamin Hawkins (1754 – 1816), hailed from North Carolina. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress and a United States Senator as well as the General Superintendent of Indian Affairs. His position as Superintendent of Indian Affairs put him in contact with all tribes south of the Ohio River. As principal agent to the Creek tribe, Hawkins moved to present-day Crawford County in Georgia to deal directly with the Creek Indians.
As the representative for the Congress in the 1785 negotiations with the Creek Indians, he convinced the Creek to work with the American government rather than against it even though no formal treaty to that effect was ever signed. The Treaty of New York was signed after Hawkins convinced George Washington to become involved.
One of the major problems the American government faced in acquiring lands settled by the Creek was that the government ignored the fact that the Creek and other North American Indians in the southern states had been farmers for centuries already. Many began ranching when the deerskin trade took a major downturn.
The American government believed that their plan would assimilate North American Indians as American citizens, and that North American Indians would willingly dissolve their national sovereignty and cede their territories to the U.S. government.
By 1812, aroused by the Shawnee warrior, Tecumseh, some members of the Upper Creek were in open revolt. In other words, the Creeks were rising.
When Hawkins was asked to return to the nation’s capital, his response was always, “If God is willing and the Creek don’t rise.” If the Creek rose, it was his job as the Superintendent of Indian Affairs to deal with the uprising and put an end to the rebellion.
Hawkins tendered his resignation in early 1815, but before he could resign, Andrew Jackson forced the Creek Confederacy into signing the Treaty of Fort Jackson, which stole two-thirds of Creek country from the Creek. Hawkins reported later that he was “struck forcibly” by the unfairness of the treaty, as were the Creek.