He was a man of many parts. Sugar T. George was a soldier, town king, community leader, and possibly a lawyer and reverend. At the time of his death on this day in 1900, George was also said to have been the “wealthiest Negro in Indian Territory.” The area which is known today as the state of Oklahoma was known as the Indian Territory. George was born enslaved but he became a man of influence in Indian Territory. Yet, his name is rarely seen in books about Oklahoma history.
Also known as George Sugar, he was born enslaved in 1827, in Muskogee Nation. His father was Sorrow Pigeon, who had been enslaved on the plantation of David Pigeon while his mother was Nancy Lovett. Some accounts state that George was a slave of Mariah McIntosh on the McIntosh plantation and might have been brought to Indian Territory when the McIntoshes moved in the 1820s.
George escaped slavery in November 1861 when an Upper Creek chief called Opothleyohola led 5,000 Creeks, 2,500 Seminoles, Cherokees, and other Indians, and 500 slaves and free Blacks from Indian Territory into Kansas “to avoid living under the domination of Pro-Confederate Indian leaders 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 rise to First Sergeant in his unit after a short time with it. He acted as the unofficial leader of Company H, taking charge after the white officer and Indian officer had been dismissed for improper 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 direction for some 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 in the Civil War. He had made a claim for $421 and received $228 when his case was settled, as stated by The African Roots Podcast.
But George would amass a fortune and become a prominent person in the Muskogee (Creek) Nation. After the war, he settled in North Fork, Colored Town, in the Nation and later became a town king or mayor. He read documents for his neighbors and assisted them with correspondence.
“Dozens of people mentioned his name that they gathered at the home of Sugar George. Some were married at his home, some met for other meetings at his home,” The African Roots Podcast found.
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 the Tullahassee Mission School, a school for Creek and Seminole freedmen. He was good in finance, so he was also made to keep the financial records of the school.
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 the Agency Cemetery in Muskogee. Scores of people pass this burial ground every day without knowing who he is, sadly.