“God willing and the Creek don’t rise.”

If you are from a certain geographical area of the United States the title of this post is a saying you have heard numerous times. Heck, you may even use it yourself. I’ll admit that I have found usage of this American style vernacular a few instances in my lifetime.

Did you know that there is one version that connects the popular saying to a figure in American history and has its origin dating back into the 18th century?

While reading a history of Osceola, I came across the mention of Benjamin Hawkins and as many of you know, did some internet research, consulted other books on the Seminoles, Creeks, and other Native Americans and the research took off from there. This is just a brief overview of Hawkins and his possible, albeit tenuous, connection to this saying.

A possible first mention of the saying above is attributed to Hawkins, whose name probably does not ring a bell for a large segment of people, historians included. Hawkins, born in North Carolina on August 15, 1754 into a family of six, was a gifted individual who attended the College of New Jersey, now known as Princeton University with an aptitude for linguistics, which apparently including learning Native American dialects.

Benjamin Hawkins

He was still a student in college during the American Revolution and left his studies when the approach of British troops forced the school to close operations. Hawkins found a staff role with General George Washington, serving as a French translator. With the emergence of the Marquis de Lafayette, Hawkins was released from service in 1777 and won an election to the North Carolina House of Representatives in 1778. From 1781 through 1783 (and again in 1787) he represented the Tar Heel State in the Continental or Confederation Congress.

He stayed active in North Carolina politics, being a delegate to the Fayetteville Convention that helped his native state ratify the United States Constitution and used this as a springboard into earning a senator position from 1789 through 1795.

Even by this juncture, Hawkins had established an affinity for the cause of Native Americans, helping in 1790 to formalize a treaty with the Creek tribe after persuading George Washington to get directly involved. This ended five years of negotiation and diplomacy. While his dealings with the Creeks were ongoing, Hawkins was one of three commissioners that negotiated a treaty with the Choctaws as well.

His work with the Native Americans won Hawkins, in 1796, the position of General Superintendent of Indian Affairs with responsibility for all tribes south of the Ohio River by President Washington.

During his tenure, he was summoned back to Philadelphia to meet with the president. In his written reply, Hawkins supposedly said he could make the trek, “God willing and the Creek don’t rise.”

Although there was always the distinct possibility that a tribe would rise up against the incursions, depredations, or slights they felt were being directed toward them, the timeframe of the 1790s was not a particularly volatile period in this respect. The opening decades of the 19th century was a different matter, of course. Thus, the chance and relevancy of Hawkins putting this now popular saying into a communication with the president of the United States is remote.

A 1805 painting of Hawkins in conversation with Creek Native Americans on the
introduction of European farming techniques on their lands

Whether the saying is attributed to him or to another persona or just worked its way into American popular culture, the chance that it could be connected to such a remarkable person who had such positive relations with Native Americans (including a 19-year span of peace in the Southeast United States) and included a possible communication to George Washington, is just interesting to speculate and wonder.

3 thoughts on ““God willing and the Creek don’t rise.”

    1. Bolts

      Same here, Bill. Growing up in the Pittsburgh area, I often heard my grandmother
      (born 1901) use the local version: “The good Lord willing and the crick doesn’t rise” using the Pittsburgh-ese pronunciation of creek.


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