On Sunday I addressed Grace Fellowship in Anniston, Alabama and used the phrase “God willing and the creek don’t rise.”
I chose to use it knowing that it was a phrase of Southern origin. I always assumed it was referring to a creek, as in the shallow stream of water. After I finished my talk, one listener commented that he thought I said “God willing and the crick don’t rise.” Crick is a hillbilly way of saying creek. His comment caused me to look it up and I found out that there is debate over whether the original saying referred to a creek at all.
Some say the phrase originated from a man named Benjamin Hawkins. Hawkins lived 1754 to 1816. He was the “United States Agent for Indian Affairs South of the Ohio River” from 1796 to 1806. He held a good relationship with the Creek tribe, marrying one of their women before he died. Hawkins is said to have written the words, “God willing and the Creek don’t rise,” in a reply to Thomas Jefferson asking him to return to Washington D.C. That use of Creek would not refer to a creek rising with water but to the Creek tribe rising up in action. Those who hold this view have no source document. The published letters of Hawkins that still exist do not contain the expression.
Others, like me, assume the phrase originated from someone talking about a creek rising. Heavy amounts of rain will cause a creek to rise and make it much more difficult to cross, so that idea is naturally assumed whenever the expression is used.
While there isn’t a consensus on the original meaning, either one could have been used. Today, with bridges and well built roads most people aren’t really concerned about creeks rising. Neither are they mindful of the Creek tribe. The saying continues to be used because people like using expressions that have been passed down one generation to the next. My daddy used to say…
The next time you hear someone say, “The good Lord willing and the C/creek don’t rise,” you can decide whether the “c” is capitalized or not.