Benjamin Hawkins, formerly a colonel in the Continental Army, had been appointed general superintendent of Indian affairs and primary U.S. delegate to the Creeks by George Washington in 1796, and it fell to him within a decade to help win a treaty for the Federal Road. Hawkins was not the stereotypical white man who came to steal by pen what he could not take by sword. The Creeks adopted Hawkins into their tribe, and he lived with a Creek woman as his common-law wife. Moreover, Hawkins insisted on bartering the best terms for his Indian allies in any negotiation with the government in Washington, D.C. Hawkins and many perceptive Creek leaders understood that the situation had changed since the colonies threw off Great Britain’s rule in the American Revolution. Obtaining a treaty from the Creeks, who controlled much of present-day Alabama, was no easy feat. The widespread and loosely bound confederation of Creek towns had no overriding governmental authority and no designated spokesman. Internal discord and divisiveness thwarted efforts to unify the nation around a common objective. And the growing anxiety over the erosion of native culture by white settlement undermined enthusiasm for U.S. development in the region. Negotiations for the Federal Road proved arduous.
While the guardians of colonial British interests had valued cordial social and economic relations with the Creeks and other Indian tribes to help maintain order on the southern frontier, the new American leadership prized one Indian possession above all others—land. American speculators, pioneers, and politicians wanted the Creeks’ ancestral lands for farming and settlement. Hawkins and his Creek associates tried to turn this avarice to their advantage by insisting that Indians control the inns and trading posts that would undoubtedly spring up along the trail through Indian country. Indeed, the road eventually connected the Georgia towns of Milledgeville, Athens, and Macon with Alabama frontier havens such as Ft. Stoddert and Mobile. Yet some Creeks argued that any negotiation with the whites was futile, because once they tasted the fruits of what they craved most they would come back again and again until they pushed the Creeks out. Subsequent events proved these naysayers right.
Though Hawkins’s efforts were initially successful, and Creeks retained control of commerce along the new road and surrounding rivers of middle Alabama and Mississippi, controversy continued in the region. Both the Jefferson and Madison administrations wanted to upgrade the nation’s internal defenses cheaply, and improvements to existing roads seemed a logical choice. Thus, in June 1810, Secretary of War William Eustis ordered Fort Stoddert’s commanding officer, Col. Richard Sparks, to examine and document the horse paths that composed the Federal Road, marking a military road that would expedite the flow of supplies and troops to defend the Gulf Coast. Fort Stoddert’s 1st Lt. John Roger Nelson Luckett made the first significant survey to expand road construction in territorial Alabama soon after—but none too soon. Within a couple of years, the Federal Road would become a logistical necessity for U.S. troops.