Once a month here on the Molten Sulfur Blog, I run content taken from our book Archive: Historical People, Places, and Events for RPGs. This post, about the State of Muskogee, is one of eighty entries in Archive, each more gameable than the last!
The State of Muskogee
The Little Nation That Tried
The State of Muskogee was a short-lived, self-proclaimed sovereign nation founded in 1799 in Florida. Citizens of the nation were primarily Seminoles and other Native Americans, runaway black slaves, and white defectors from the United States and Spain. The State of Muskogee was defined by its opposition to the predatory expansion of Spain and the United States, a stance which brought it into conflict with the two larger nations. Led by its director-general, William Augustus Bowles, the State of Muskogee beat back the United States and Spain for a few years, but ultimately crumbled.
Bowles was born in Maryland in the mid-eighteenth century. When the Revolutionary War began, he joined the British Army. His time in the military eventually brought him to Florida, where he joined some Creek warriors who welcomed him to their town after he was discharged. Bowles immersed himself in native culture. He even married the daughter of a prominent chief. Bowles returned to duty during the later stages of the Revolutionary War and ended up getting captured, forcing him to spend several years away from home. When he returned, he was disappointed to discover that the 1783 treaty failed to bring peace to the Southeast.
Bowles organized Creek and Seminole resistance to American and Spanish efforts to expand into Florida. He was taken prisoner by the Spanish but escaped and found himself on an American ship to England. There, he solicited the Crown on behalf of the Creeks and Seminoles before returning to the Southeast. On his way back, he began sporting Native American attire, promoted them wherever he went, and called himself Native American. Upon returning home, Bowles formed the State of Muskogee to continue the effort to resist expansion.
The State of Muskogee had a diverse population, including locals and refugees from up to ten tribes. In addition to Native Americans, it included a population of blacks, as the nation welcomed escaped slaves and trusted them with roles like warriors, translators, negotiators, and guards for prisoners. The State of Muskogee also included whites recruited to the cause by Bowles in his travels. The neighboring state of Georgia took Bowles’ recruiting efforts so seriously that it issued a proclamation prohibiting Georgians from joining the State of Muskogee.
In time, both the Spanish and Americans recognized the State of Muskogee as a danger. The Americans saw it as a refuge for runaway slaves, while the Spanish feared the nation would unite natives against Spanish rule. The Spanish began to pressure the natives to surrender Bowles. When the natives resisted, the Spanish attacked ships coming to trade with the State of Muskogee. They also began patrolling the mouth of the river and destroyed a village, taking its residents prisoner. In 1800, the State of Muskogee responded by declaring war against Spain. The unrecognized nation managed to seize a fort, and with the seizure, it attracted more followers. The State of Muskogee moved on to greater things. Its fighters raided plantations, interrupted maritime trade with privateer ships, and seized at least twelve Spanish ships in 1801 and 1802. Spain’s inability to subdue the rogue nation was an embarrassment.
With the threat posed by the State of Muskogee on the rise, the United States intervened. Benjamin Hawkins, a man who often negotiated with natives on behalf of the United States, took the lead in quelling the conflict. Hawkins and Bowles became bitter rivals. In 1803, Bowles and the State of Muskogee planned to directly confront Hawkins. The attempt backfired, and Hawkins and allied Creek leaders captured Bowles. Bowles was delivered to Spanish authorities, and the State of Muskogee collapsed just four years after its creation.
The State of Muskogee in Play
In a campaign, your PCs could be the ones starting up their own little nation in the face of a corrupt government or unjust war. They could face major adversaries, like larger countries, and maybe are betrayed by people close to them. Or the party could be on the other side. The PCs could be working to dismantle a rogue nation from the inside in pursuit of the interests of their country. They could try to blend in with the refugees, who all look just as out-of-place. The realization that the small nation is righteous may force a tough decision in the party: work to undermine a just cause, or defect and betray your homeland? PCs could even come to the State of Muskogee without allegiances, simply seeing the place as a port free of imperial entanglements. A pirate port with a strong moral stand and a narrative of freedom could be great fun at the table. The party might be asked to escort supply ships, scout the border for Spanish incursions, or smuggle escaped slaves and refugees into the rogue nation. In time of war, the PCs’ jobs would get more perilous, and their choices might have dangerous consequences.