George Sugar, the Muskogee Nation slave who became the “richest Negro in Indian Territory”

He was a multi-faceted man. Sugar T. George was a soldier, city king, community leader, and possibly a lawyer and reverend. At the time of his death that day in 1900, George was also said to have been the “richest Negro in Indian Territory”. The area known today as the state of Oklahoma was known as Indian Territory. George was born a slave but became a man of influence in Indian Territory. Yet his name is rarely seen in books on Oklahoma history.

Also known as George Sugar, he was born a slave in 1827, in the Muskogee Nation. His father was Sorrow Pigeon, who had been enslaved on David Pigeon’s plantation while his mother was Nancy Lovett. Some accounts State that George was a slave to Mariah McIntosh on the McIntosh Plantation and may have been brought to Indian Territory when the McIntoshes moved in the 1820s.

George escaped slavery in November 1861 when an Upper Creek chief named Opothleyohola led 5,000 Creeks, 2,500 Seminoles, Cherokees and other Indians, and 500 slaves and free blacks from Indian Territory to Kansas “to avoid live under the rule of pro-Confederate Indian rulers”. during the civil war”, according to BlackPast.

In Kansas, George joined the Union Army, serving in Company H of the 1st Indian Home Guards. His leadership skills and the fact that he could read and write made him become first sergeant of his unit after a short time with it. He acted as the unofficial leader of Company H, taking charge after the white officer and the Indian officer were fired for inappropriate behavior, historian Gary Zellar said. Black soldiers were not to be promoted to any rank of authority as an officer and so even though the unit operated under his leadership for a time, he remained as a first sergeant instead of an officer.

After the war, George was one of the first soldiers to file a claim as part of the Loyal Creeks – Creek Indians who were loyal to the Union during the Civil War. He had claimed $421 and received $228 when his case was settled, as stated The African Roots Podcast.

But George would amass a fortune and become a prominent figure in the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. After the war, he settled in North Fork, Colored Town, in the Nation and later became a king or mayor of the town. He read documents for his neighbors and helped them with correspondence.

“Dozens of people mentioned his name that they met at Sugar George’s home. Some got married at his house, others met for further meetings at his house,” revealed The African Roots Podcast.

By 1868 he had been elected to the Muskogee National Tribal Council, representing North Fork in both the House of Warriors and the House of Kings – the two ruling houses of the Creek Nation.

Following his passion for education, he served on the board of Tullahassee Mission School, a school for Creek and Seminole freedmen. He was good at finance, so he was also put in charge of keeping the school’s financial records.

George married twice but never had children. He adopted and raised James Sugar as his own son with his second wife, Betty Rentie. He also raised two step-grandchildren before his death on June 30, 1900. George is buried in Agency Cemetery in Muskogee. Dozens of people pass by this cemetery every day without knowing who he is, unfortunately.

Rachel J. Bradford