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John Crowell

Heather M. Haley, Auburn University
John Crowell (1780-1846) was an Indian agent and legislator during the territorial period of Alabama and its first years as a state. Crowell served as agent to the Creek Nation until their removal in 1836 and was the first delegate to the U.S. Congress from the Alabama Territory and the first U.S. representative from Alabama after it achieved statehood in 1819. He was also a notable breeder of thoroughbreds and a successful horse racer.
Crowell was born in Halifax County, North Carolina, on September 18, 1780. Numerous sources state that his family descended from English politician Oliver Cromwell, who led parliamentary forces in the English Civil Wars and ultimately served as lord protector of the republican Commonwealth of England, Scotland, and Ireland from 1653 to 1658. It is likely that upon arriving in the North American colonies, Crowell's extended family changed its surname from Cromwell to Crowell to avoid local controversy and persecution from those residents who remained loyal to King Charles I. John's father Edward married the aunt of Georgia governor William Rabun, who served in that position from 1817 to 1819.
Crowell served domestically in the War of 1812 at the rank of colonel. In 1815, he moved to the Mississippi Territory as a federal Indian agent to the Creek Indians. He temporarily settled in St. Stephens. Writing from Fort Hawkins, Georgia, on October 25, 1815, Crowell informed Secretary of War William Harris Crawford that he had requested $6,000 in funds from Georgia governor Peter Early to supply and outfit local militia to protect surveying parties in Creek territory. In the same letter, he sought a reimbursement of $30,000.
After the Alabama Territory was organized in March 1817, Crowell was elected by the legislature to serve as its delegate to the U.S. Congress. When Alabama became a state in December 1819, he was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, serving one term. At the end of Crowell's congressional term, Pres. James Madison reappointed him as an Indian agent, working exclusively with the Creek towns along the northeastern Alabama-Georgia border. Future governor and senator Gabriel Moore took Crowell's congressional seat. Crowell replaced the previous Indian agent, former Georgia governor David Brydie Mitchell, who was removed for implementing a scheme to import enslaved Africans through the Coweta tribe near present-day Fort Mitchell, a frontier outpost in present-day Russell County in 1820. The War Department also noted irregular disbursements of federal monies to or on behalf of the tribe.
Crowell moved to Fort Mitchell, which was occupied periodically by federal and state troops throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. On the grounds of the Fort Mitchell Historic Site is the Crowell-Whitaker dogtrot cabin that was erected for Crowell. During his tenure as Indian agent from 1821 to 1836, Crowell hosted Revolutionary War figures the Marquis de Lafayette and Francis Scott Key at Fort Mitchell. In 1836, the Creeks were forcibly removed from their land to make way for white settlement, and Crowell's tenure and position became redundant.
An equestrian, Crowell was an avid horseracing fan and entered his own mares in national and local competitions. His horse John Bascombe was featured in an engraving in American Turf Register and Sporting Magazine in 1837 and was painted by noted equestrian portraitist Edward Troye. Bascombe is notable for giving the South a victory against Post Boy, owned by a New Yorker, in the North-South race at Union Course racetrack in Queens, New York, the previous year. At the Jockey Club dinner following the race, Northerners baited supporters of Bascombe into accepting a rematch. John Crowell refused and retired Bascombe to stud.
Crowell never married. He died at his home in Fort Mitchell on June 25, 1846, and was buried in the Crowell Family Cemetery on his plantation. The Historic Chattahoochee Commission and Russell County Historical Commission erected an historic marker outside the cemetery to commemorate him in 1984.

Additional Resources

Fredriksen, John C. The War of 1812 U.S. War Department Correspondence, 1812-1815. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland & Company, 2016.
Green, Michael D. The Politics of Indian Removal: Creek Government and Society in Crisis. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1982.
Struna, Nancy L. "The North-South Races: American Thoroughbred Racing in Transition, 1823-1850." Journal of Sport History 8 (Summer 1981): 28-57.
Published:  June 1, 2017   |   Last updated:  June 1, 2017