Musgrove, Mary

ca. 1700–1765

By December 1752 Musgrove secured peace between the Creeks and the Cherokees. The South Carolina legislature failed to pay Musgrove the money Glen had promised but did award her two pieces of land in Colleton County.

Mediator between the Creeks and the English. Musgrove was born Coosaponakeesa around 1700 in Coweta, Creek Nation (central Georgia), the daughter of a Lower Creek woman and Edward Griffin, a Charleston trader, and niece of Brims, chief of Coweta. When she was seven years old, her father took her to Pon Pon, South Carolina, to be baptized and educated. She returned to the Creek Nation after the Yamassee War and married Johnny Musgrove, the son of a planter/trader and a Creek woman. Mary and Johnny returned to Pon Pon, had three sons, and built a thriving trade business. In 1732, at the invitation of the Yamacraw leader Tomochichi, the Musgroves moved to Yamacraw (near the future city of Savannah).

In 1733 Georgia founder James Oglethorpe arrived at Yamacraw Bluff to establish an English colony. Musgrove acted as mediator for talks between Tomochichi and Oglethorpe, becoming the latter’s interpreter and consultant on Indian affairs. Mary’s husband died in 1735. Since all her sons had died too, she stood, as a woman, to lose her extensive property holdings. In 1737 Musgrove married Jacob Matthews, her former indentured servant. She retained her property as a result, making her the wealthiest woman in Georgia as well as the most powerful.

Jacob Matthews died in 1742. Oglethorpe returned to England in 1743, after giving Musgrove the diamond ring from his hand, £200 sterling, and the promise of more money for her services. The following year Musgrove married Thomas Bosomworth, newly appointed rector of the Savannah church.

In 1738, at a public ceremony attended by Oglethorpe, Creek leaders had given Musgrove three hundred prime coastal acres. The gift cemented her relationship with the Creeks but threatened the English, who feared her allegiance with the Creeks. Musgrove spent the next two decades seeking legal recognition of this land, while still negotiating with the Creeks on behalf of the English. By 1749 Musgrove had not only failed to gain title to her land but had been publicly humiliated by Savannah officials who had ignored her pronouncement that she was sovereign queen of the Creeks. To regain her status, Musgrove spent time in Creek Town and planned a trip to London to secure her land. But in May 1752 Musgrove and Bosomworth were asked by Governor James Glen of South Carolina to halt a war between the Creeks and the Cherokees that threatened the colony’s welfare and trade.

To quell the Indian war, Glen invited Cherokee leaders to Charleston to discuss peace. On their departure, a group of Lower Creek warriors, led by an Upper Creek chieftain named Acorn Whistler, killed four Cherokee delegates. The ambush jeopardized Glen’s reputation with the Cherokees, who would not be pacified until some of the Creek warriors had been killed. Mary Musgrove, in need of money and eager for Glen’s support, was the only person the governor could find willing to make such a difficult demand of the Creeks.

Musgrove traveled to the Creek Nation, discussed the situation with the Lower Creek leaders, and persuaded Acorn Whistler’s clansman to murder him. She then traveled to the Upper Creek Towns to explain why Acorn Whistler’s death was a necessary act of justice. By December 1752 Musgrove secured peace between the Creeks and the Cherokees. The South Carolina legislature failed to pay Musgrove the money Glen had promised but did award her two pieces of land in Colleton County. Glen also pledged that he would urge Georgia legislators to recognize her Georgia land claims.

Colonists in South Carolina and Georgia remained dependent on Musgrove’s aid in the years that followed. Her petitions fell on deaf ears until 1757, when Georgia governor Henry Ellis, fearing Creek attack and impressed by Musgrove’s negotiating skills, agreed to a compromise drawn up by Bosomworth. Musgrove abandoned most of her claims in exchange for St. Catherines Island and several thousand pounds. Musgrove and Bosomworth retired to St. Catherines in 1759 and remained there for the rest of her life. She likely died in the summer of 1765, for by the following autumn Bosomworth had remarried and made preparations to sell St. Catherines.

Fisher, Doris. “Mary Musgrove: Creek Englishwoman.” Ph.D. diss., Emory University, 1990.

Gillespie, Michele. “The Politics of Sex and Race: Mary Musgrove and the Georgia Trustees.” In The Devil’s Lane: Sex and Race in the Early South, edited by Catherine Clinton and Michele Gillespie. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Green, Michael D. “Mary Musgrove: Creating a New World.” In Sifters: Native American Women’s Lives, edited by Theda Perdue. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Musgrove, Mary
  • Coverage ca. 1700–1765
  • Author
  • Keywords Mediator between the Creeks and the English, born Coosaponakeesa, Georgia founder James Oglethorpe, Musgrove and Bosomworth were asked by Governor James Glen of South Carolina to halt a war between the Creeks and the Cherokees that threatened the colony’s welfare and trade,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date September 26, 2022
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 15, 2022
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