Most of you will remember Richard Thornton, the conspiracy theorist who appeared in the pilot episode of America Unearthed and has since used that TV appearance to drive his quest to create a revisionist history of precolonial North America. Thornton believes that the Maya had a colony in Georgia, for example, and he claims that the U.S. government has attempted to smear him as a gay sex predator to stop him from revealing the truth. Now Thornton claims that he has new evidence that white people were present in the pre-Columbian American South.
The story is a little convoluted, but it seems to begin in early 2015 (March or April, depending on which article you read) when Thornton claims that a box of documents related to a 1734 Creek visit to London was discovered in the library of the Lambeth Palace, the home of the Archbishop of Canterbury. “On June 1, 2015 this author became the first American (or Native American) to see the actual Migration Legend of the Creek People in almost exactly 280 years.” He then said that the documents were being transcribed. Thornton published the full text of one such legend, which he says is a fuller version of texts that had previously been excerpted in early publications like the American Gazetteer.
Perhaps unknown to Thornton, the transcript of the migration legend, recited during a speech in Savannah, Georgia in 1735, has been in print since at least 2004.
Then, this week, Thornton announced that there were four migration documents found in the Lambeth Palace box, and that the fourth of these indicates that white people lived in early America during the period of the Creek migration. Thornton says that this document shows a history “very different than what both the history books and most Southeastern Native Americans think their history was.” He strongly implies that this is new information, but as we’ll see, that isn’t the case.
According to the text Thornton provides, when the Creek came to the Atlantic coast, “They met white people on the seacoast, who drove them back to their present situation.” While you and I would like consider this text, made from an oral account given in the colonial period, to conflate prehistoric and colonial-era material, Thornton believes it to be a genuine recollection of lost white colonists before 1500 CE. He speculates that these white people were the imaginary Gaelic-speaking white race he mistakenly developed from misunderstood texts a few years ago.
But here’s the thing: The text that he tells us came from the Lambeth Palace box of “lost” colonial texts isn’t lost, or unknown, or even absent from the history books. Bill Grantham, for example, gives the complete text verbatim in his 2002 book Creation Myths and Legends of the Creek Indians. And he certainly wasn’t the original source. Indeed, he takes the text from Benjamin Hawkins’s A Sketch of the Creek Country, which was published in Georgia in 1848 from manuscripts in the collection of the Georgia Historical Society. The text in question came from a diary entry Hawkins made during his 1798-1799 tour of Creek territory, where he explains the context of the story. It was told to him by Tus-se-kiah Mic-co in the wake of the 1793 war between the Creeks and Chickasaws. The emphasis on white people in the story he told seems to be a reflection of the Chickasaws’ efforts to get Anglo-Americans in Georgia to join with them to fight the Creeks, which resulted in Georgia providing the Chickasaws with munitions. According to Steven H. Hahn, who studied all the different versions of the migration legend, including the one Thornton claims to have newly discovered, and was writing in 2006, the events Thornton attributes to before 1500 actually refer to the Cussitas’s migration through Georgia in 1691.
The long and short of it is that Thornton is worked up over a well-known document and imagines a conspiracy to keep from the history books texts that the history books don’t just reference but also reprint, discuss, and analyze.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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