Lesson Plan: Overview

Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians

Grade Level: 8th

Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians

Academic Standards

Standard 8-1: The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of South Carolina and the United States by Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans.

8-1.2 Categorize events according to the ways they improved or worsened relations between Native Americans and European settlers, including alliances and land agreements between the English and the Catawba, Cherokee, and Yemassee; deerskin trading; the Yemassee War; and the Cherokee War.

8-1.6 Explain how South Carolinians used natural, human, and political resources to gain economic prosperity, including trade with Barbados, rice planting, Eliza Lucas Pinckney and indigo planting, the slave trade, and the practice of mercantilism.

Historical Background Notes

While the relationship between Native Americans and white settlers was frequently one of animosity, distrust, and cruelty, there were individuals such as Indian agent Benjamin Hawkins who worked to make strained relations more amiable as well as profitable and advanced for the Creek Indians along the Flint River in Georgia (Letters, Journals and Writings of Benjamin Hawkins, vol. 1).  Receiving a presidential appointment as a US Indian Agent, Hawkins worked to provide agricultural training and equipment to the Creek Indians as depicted in the circa 1805 painting of what might have been a typical encounter between Hawkins and the Creeks for whom he did so much.

Hawkins' relationship with the Creek, Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw lasted more than two decades beginning shortly after the American Revolution.  "Threats not only from abroad, but internally as well, forced the fledgling nation to negotiate treaties with the tribes on the western frontier" ("Benjamin Hawkins: A North Georgia Notable"). 

Benjamin Hawkins was instrumental in helping his friend George Washington with those negotiations.  After his term as US senator and as a result of his established rapport with the Native Americans, Hawkins received the appointment to southern Georgia as a Creek Indian Agent. 

While in Georgia Hawkins set about the task of sharing agricultural skills with the Creeks as well as looking out for their interest.  In a letter to Silas Dinsmoor dated January 6, 1799 Hawkins writes, "I have purchased all my supply of corn, meat, and fowls for the winter from the Indian women with clothing, which gives them a high idea of the new plan.  I have introduced weights and measures instead of guesswork heretofore in use, and they are pleased at the change.  I am making arrangement to get fences made, and to introduce the plough [plow]. I am applied to by the upper towns already for one hundred ploughs.  I have prevailed on some families to move from the towns into villages and the villagers to farm.  They begin to consult me upon all their private and public concerns" (Letters, Journals and Writings of Benjamin Hawkins, vol. 1).  Six years later there is evidence that Hawkins continued to serve not only on the behalf of the United States but especially on behalf of the Creeks.  It seems that white settlers had infringed on "Indian" lands and were also stealing and killing cattle.  Hawkins addressed this and a solution to John Milledge on August 4, 1805 when he wrote, "…it is not doubted here but that many of the cattle which stray over on this side are gathered up and sold by white people in the neighborhood of Fort Wilkenson.  Finding that intrusions had commenced on the Creek lands and were increasing between Oconee and Ocmulgee orders have been given to remove them with military force, and which will be carried into effect in the course of this month" (Letters, Journals and Writings of Benjamin Hawkins, vol. 2).

Within the time of Hawkins' tenure with the Creeks other events were unfolding in the United States.  One such event was the acquisition of the Louisiana Purchase.  In a joint meeting of Congress on October 17, 1803, President Thomas Jefferson spoke of the new "brethren" which would be "adopted" as a result of the new property.  In his speech he mentioned "peace and friendship" that had been established as a result of trade and sharing of agricultural commodities (Third Annual Message).  There is every reason to believe that in areas where there was "peace and friendship", which certainly did not exist throughout the country, there must have been others like Benjamin Hawkins.  A true testimony of his relationship with the Creeks follows: "From his Agency on the Flint River, where he maintained a large plantation and raised pigs her became friends with the Creek Chiefs and took a Creek woman as a common-law wife.  He mechanically churned milk by the barrel, which impressed the chiefs.  His benevolence with the food he raised saved whole villages from time to time.  It is said that his brand was so widely respected that he never lost a pig or cow. ("Benjamin Hawkins: A North Georgia Notable").


  Primary Sources
  Unidentified artist. Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians. Circa 1805, oil on canvas, 35 7/8 x 49 7/8 inches.  Collection of the Greenville County Museum of Art, gift of The Museum Association, Inc.
  Hawkins, Benjamin, to Silas Dinsmoor, 6 January 6, 1799. In C.L. Grant, ed.  Letters, Journals and Writings of Benjamin Hawkins, Volume One, 1796-1801. Savannah: The Beehive Press, 1980.
  Hawkins, Benjamin, to Henry Dearborn, 31 July 1805. In C.L. Grant, ed.  Letters, Journals and Writings of Benjamin Hawkins, Volume Two, 1802-1816. Savannah: The Beehive Press, 1980.
  Hawkins, Benjamin, to John Middedge, 4 August 1805. In C.L. Grant, C. L., ed.  Letters, Journals and Writings of Benjamin Hawkins, Volume Two, 1802-1816. Savannah: The Beehive Press, 1980.
  "Third Annual Message of President Thomas Jefferson." Addresses, Messages, and Replies by Thomas Jefferson. Available online from Liberty Accessed 2003.
  Secondary Sources
  Severens, Martha R. Greenville County Museum of Art: The Southern Collection.  New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1995.
  Golden Ink. "Benjamin Hawkins: North Georgia Notable." Available online at About North Georgia. Accessed 2003.
  Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians teacher made student worksheet

Lesson Plans

Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians challenges students to use art along with written documents to study history.  This method encourages participation and stimulates visual learners. Each lesson takes one class period of 55 minutes.
Lesson One:  Reading a Painting
Lesson Two:  Through the Eyes of Benjamin Hawkins' Journal

Teacher Reflections

Reading a Painting
Lesson One Summary

"Mrs. Evans, we're gonna do what?  But it ain't got no words!"  Such was the typical eighth grade reaction to my posted lesson plan for the day - "Read a painting, Benjamin Hawkins and the Creek Indians, to gather historical details."  After assuring my students that I was certain they could accomplish such a feat, I instructed them as to how they could master this "ridiculous" assignment.

To prepare the students for the task at hand, I explained that just as we had used other primary source documents, a work of art could be considered a primary source as well.  We could still look for and find historical details and information even though it was not in text form, which they are mostly used to. I did tell them that the subject of the artwork in the slide, Benjamin Hawkins, was a real person who had "dealings" with the Creek Indians but I made a point to leave out the specifics of his relationship with the Creeks. 

… On the Internet I found a very helpful source of sample questions specifically for "reading" a painting [http://www.kcsd.k12.pa.us/~projects/critic] but it was obviously intended for use in an art class.  I made some adjustments to the sample questions in order for it to better suit my activity.… 

In reflection one thing I might consider is having other art slides as examples to do with the students to introduce them to "reading" a painting.  I feel it might be less threatening to some students if they go through it "hand held" the first time and are certain of the expectations.  This may become one of my first types of activities at the beginning of the year next year to jump-start their history experience - something unique and fairly non-threatening.

The students made comments that they enjoyed the activity.  They made comments that they had never used art to study history and were anxious to do a similar activity again.  I suppose the ultimate critique came from some of the male students who had been rather skeptical at the beginning of the lesson.  One in particular said, "That was pretty cool."  Another said, "I didn't know you could see all that in one painting!"  As a teacher, it doesn't get any better than that. 

In preparing the lesson, I discovered that examining the painting posed a problem - how to get the room dark enough so the slide would be vivid and detailed when projected on the screen.  Martha Severens had advised me to get the room as dark as possible for better viewing.  As luck would have it, the science fair was in progress and I used a science fair display board over each window; they were a perfect fit! The projected image was almost as rich and detailed as the original.  My projector screen posed another problem.  It wasn't quite large enough so I used by dry erase board to project the slide.  This caused a bit of a glare at certain angles but it allowed the image to be displayed fairly largely and the students simply moved to a better viewing location.

Through the Eyes of Benjamin Hawkins’ Journal
Lesson Two Summary

The next lesson carried the same theme but offered some clarification as to the activity and rapport displayed in the painting.  I found in the first Benjamin Hawkins lesson that there was some disagreement among the students as to what could actually be taking place.  The students knew that crops and people were important; they knew the plow represented something important, but as to the actual position and importance of Benjamin Hawkins in the olives of the Creek Indians there was still some ambiguity.  In order to get this needed clarification we liked at some primary and secondary sources.

After searching for information in the letters most of the students were able to gather that Hawkins was “there” to help the Creeks.  I then gave the students an Internet article specifically about Hawkins and his work with the Creek Indians.  This article filled in some of the gaps like where Benjamin Hawkins was, what his title was, and specifically what his job description included.

In reflection, if I had had time to completely read both volumes one and two of Letters, Journals and Writings of Benjamin Hawkins, there might not have been the need for the Internet article for further clarification.  It still might have been a necessity but I don’t know.  I would have preferred that the second lesson with Benjamin Hawkins’ actual writings to have completed any missing information about his actual dealings with the Creek Indians and the location.

Student Assessment

No student assessment available for this lesson plan.

Examples of Students Work

Student Worksheet
Written Assignment


Jo Evans
Palmetto Middle School, South Carolina