Chapter 18: The Occupation of Alabama and Mississippi by the English

Albert James Pickett: HISTORY OF ALABAMA.
(Kindly contributed by William C. Bell)



We mentioned, at the conclusion of the preceding chapter, that France had surrendered all of her North American possessions. Nov 3 1762: Before finally doing so, however, she made a secret treaty with Spain, her ally, in which she ceded to that power the territory on the western side of the Mississippi, extending from the mouth of that river to its remotest sources, and including the Island of New Orleans, which lay on the eastern side of the great river, and south of the Bayou Iberville or Manchac.

Feb 18 1763: Afterwards, a general peace between the three powers was concluded at Paris. France ceded to England all her Canadian possessions, and all that portion of Louisiana which lies on the eastern side of the Mississippi river, from its sources down to Bayou Iberville, which bayou, with a portion of the Amite, and a line through Lakes Maurepas and Pontchartrain, to the sea, was to form the southern boundary. France also ceded to England the port and river of Mobile. Spain ceded to Great Britain her provinces of Florida.

Oct. 7 1764: The King of England decreed that Florida should be formed into two governments, called the provinces of 1763 East and West Florida; that the northern line of West Florida should be the line of 31|, to run from the Chattahoochie to the Mississippi, Feb 1764: But afterwards, understanding that this line did not embrace the valuable settlements at Natchez and above there, he again decreed the boundaries of West Florida to be as follows: a line, to begin at the mouth of the Yazoo, where that stream joins the Mississippi, and to run east to the Chattahoochie; thence down the Chattahoochie, to the mouth of the Apalachicola; thence westward, along the coast of the Gulf, and through Lakes Borgne, Pontchartrain and Maurepas, up to the river Amite; then along Bayou Iberville, to the Mississippi river, and up the middle of that river, to the mouth of the Yazoo.

The territory within these lines, which was known for a period, dating from 1764 to 1781, as West Florida, embraced a large portion of the present States of Alabama and Mississippi. The northern line of the British province of West Florida, thus constituted, was that of 32| 28'. While a large portion of Alabama fell below this line, and was incorporated into British West Florida, more than half of our State, in a northern direction from the line of 32| 28', was embraced in the British province of Illinois.

1764: The province of Illinois was not only made to embrace more than the half of our State, and more than half of Mississippi, but also the western portions of Tennessee, Kentucky, and the country from thence to Lake Michigan. The province of West Florida, which was made to embrace the southern portion of Alabama, extended from the line of 32| 28', southward, to the Gulf of Mexico. We are thus particular in elucidating the 1764 British division of our State, because, hereafter, the reader will be mad To enable the reader still better to understand this matter, the line of 32| 28', which divided the Illinois portions of Alabama and Mississippi from the Florida portions of those States, was a line which commenced at the mouth of the Yazoo, and thence ran eastward, to the Tombigby, striking that river a little below the present town of Demopolis, continuing east, touching the Alabama river a short distance below the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa, and terminating on the west bank of the Chattahoochie, between the present city of Columbus and old Fort Mitchell. During the British occupation of our State, its Illinois portion was uninhabited by Europeans, excepting a few traders, who lived among the Upper Creeks, Cherokees and Chickasaws. It is rather singular to reflect that, during this period, the site of Montgomery was in British West Florida, while the site of Wetumpka was in British Illinois. These sister cities are within fifteen miles of each other.

Between the Mississippi and the Wabash, a population of five thousand French and five hundred negroes existed. But when the French commandant at Fort Chartres--the capital of the Illinois province, opposite St. Louis--surrendered the country, in the spring of 1765, to Captain Sterling, of the British army, who came by way of Detroit, at the command of his King, to take charge of it, then the French, generally, retired across the river, into Spanish territory.

Feb 1764: Captain George Johnstone, of the royal navy, was the first British governor of West Florida. He came to Pensacola, the seat of government, and brought with him a British regiment, and many Highlanders, from Charleston and New York. He issued his proclamation, defining the limits of the jurisdiction, and proclaiming the laws which he was instructed to enforce. The civil government was organized under military commandants and magistrates. The superior courts were formed under English judges. The governor immediately proceeded to garrison Fort Conde, at Mobile, which he now named Fort Charlotte, in honor of the young Queen of Great Britain. Soldiers were also thrown into the forts at Baton Rouge, and Panmure, at Natchez. A detachment went up to the Coosa, and occupied Fort Toulouse; but it was, in short time, withdrawn, when the works, in a few years, went to ruins.

When Governor Johnstone arrived in West Florida, there came with him a Major Loftus, who had been appointed to take charge of the Illinois country. Early in 1764, that officer sailed from Pensacola to New Orleans, and from thence to Manchac, where he joined his detachment, which had been some time exploring that bayou. With four hundred men he began the ascent of the Mississippi in boats and canoes. Reaching the heights of La Roche a Davion, where Fort Adams was afterwards built, he was suddenly attacked by armed Indians, from ambuscades on both sides of the river. In this skirmish he lost several men and had many wounded. He returned to Manchac, and despatched a captain with twenty men to Mobile, through the lakes, who arrived safe at that place. Apr. 5 1764: Major Loftus, with the residue of his command, dropped down to the Balize, and went from thence to Pensacola. Thus was the occupation of the Illinois country for a time prevented by the fierce and successful hostility of these Indians.*

* French and Spanish MS., Martin's History of Louisiana, Gayarre's Histoire de la Louisiane, Memoire Historique et Politique sur la Louisiane, par M. de Vergennes, Minister de Louis XVI.

The French population along the east side of the Mississippi to the Walnut Hills was considerable, and when they ascertained that British laws had been extended over them many retired across the river south of Manchac. Others, assured that they would not be disturbed, either in the enjoyment of the Catholic faith or in their rights or property, remained in the coutry. The English authorites encouraged emigration, and many availed themselevs of their liberal offers. The first Anglo-American colony came from Roanoke, in the province of North Carolina, and established themselves between Manchac and Baton Rouge. They were followed by others, from North and South Carolina, who crossed the mountains to the Tennessee, there constructing flat-boats, descended that river into the Ohio, and thence passed down the Mississippi. Others from Georgia even cut through the wilderness to find the Natchez country, which had become so favorably known. Emigrants frm Virginia came down the Ohio. They all received upon their arrival liberal and extensive grants. After a while emigrants came from Great Britain, Ireland and the British West Indies. During the three succeeding years many flocked from Georgia, the Carolinas and New Jersey, and established themselves upon the soil drained by the Bayou Sara, the Homochitto and Bayou Pierre. All these settlements extended from Mississippi back for fifteen or twenty miles. A few years afterwards the Scotch Highlanders from North Carolina arrived, and formed a colony upon the upper branches of the Homochitto, thirty miles eastward of Natchez, and their numbers were at a late period increased by others from Scotland. This region afterwards assumed the name of New Scotland. They still retain much of their national character, and not a few of the old ones speak the Gaelic. In 1770 emigrants came from New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia, by the way of the Ohio, and three years afterward a much greater number advanced by that state.

West Florida continued to be governed by the general commandant at Pensacola. With the exception of some futile attempts to form a colonial legialature, like those of the Atlantic provinces, it remained the whole time a mere military government. It was strengthened by garrisons at the places mentioned, and also at Manchac, where Fort Bute was erected, in 1765, for the purpose of monopolizing the trade of the Lower Mississippi. England constantly introduced, through the lakes and by this fortified outlet, Africans obtained from their native country. These were purchased by the French, Spanish and British settlers, in definance of the laws of Spain. Through Manchac, the English also supplied the Spanish subjects with all kinds of merchandise. To arrest this illicit trade, Don Ulloa, the governor of Louisiana, constructed a fort on the south side of the Iberville or Manchac, four hundred yards from Fort Bute; but with little effect. Negores continued to be imported, and sugar, ondigo, cotton and tobacco were extensively cultivated. *

* Monette, vol. 1., pp. 405-7

Discord made her appearance in the councils of the province of West Florida soon after its organization. The colonists became very much dissatisfied with Governor Johnstone. He was succeeded by the Honorable Montforte Brown, in the capacity of lieutenant-governor. Governor Elliot came in the place of Brown; but, when the latter died, Brown again came into power. 1772: He was, however, a second time replaced, when the Honorable Peter Chester assumed the government of the province, and under whose auspices it flourished for a long time. Governor Chester was universally esteemed. *

* Roman's Florida, p. 4.

The year 1765 was fatal to the inhabitants of Mobile. The ravages of death gave it a reputation for unhealthiness, which, for years, kept it from increasing in population. In that year, the 21st British regiment brought from Jamaica a contagious disease. Upon their arrival in Mobile, the officers and soldiers rioted in intemperance, and drank the water of stagnant pools. Death hovered over these imprudent people, until none remained. Indeed, the English population, generally, lived too fast, converting day into night, and sporting their lives away in dissipation.

Far otherwise was it with the French inhabitants. Among them were exhibited instances of greater longevity than could be found in any other part of North America. In the family of the Chevalier de Lucere this was particularly the case. Its members were all extremely aged, and the mother of all died a few years previous to that period, from the snapping of her legs -- the effects of the last stages of the gout. M. Francois, who then lived five miles above Fowl river, stated his age to be eighty-three, and that the old woman who was in the kitchen, cooking, and walking with activity and cheerfulness from one house to another, was his mother. She was one of the first females that came to Mobile from France. At the age of sixty-five, Francois fell from a pine tree, which he was climbing, to disengage some game, which had lodged in the branches. If this accident had not occurred, he would not have felt the hand of time. Although now over eighty-three years of age, he was accustomed, almost daily, to walk five miles to the bay, angle there for hours, and at night, walk home with a mule's load of fish upon his back, some of which his affectionate mother would instantly prepare for the supper of herself and her dutiful child!

They lived comfortably, on a small farm, subsisting upon its products, and those of a large herd of cattle. Many other cases of protracted life were witnessed by travellers to ths country. The French assimilated their constitutions to the climate by a regular, abstemiuos life, refraining freom spiritous liquors in the summer, and obtaining pure drinking water from a rivelet, three miles back of the town. It was the custom of many to spend the fatal months upon their plantations, up the Tensaw and Mobile rivers, where the air appears, at that day, to have been far more salubrious than in Mobile. * The plantation of the Chevalier de Lucere was on the first island, below the confluence of the Tombigby and Alabama. Many of the islands on the Tensaw and Mobile rivers were well cultivated, by the French, and also by the English, who worked them in summer, and withdrew ther laborers, in winter, to their settlements, hard by among the hills, where they engaged extensively in making tar and pitch for exportation.

* Barnard Roman's Florida, pp. 4-13.

The first plantation, after that of the Chevalier de Lucere, passed in descending the Mobile river, was that of Campbell. Then followed those of Stewart, Andrey, McGillivray, Favre, Chastang, Strother and Narbone. Five miles below the latter was the site of an old French fort, which was once occupied a short time. Six miles further down, was, at one time, a splendid plantation, the property of the French Intendant of Mobile, but which now belonged to M. Lizars.*

* Ibid.

The articles exported from Mobile and Pensacola, in 1772, were--indigo, raw hides, corn, fine cattle, tallow, rice, 1772 pitch, bear's oil, tobacco, tar, squared timber, indigo seed, myrtle wax, cedar posts and planks, salted wild beef, pecan nuts, cypress and pine boards, plank of various woods, shingles, dried salt fish, scantling, sassafras, canes, staves and heading, hoops, oranges, and peltry.

Cotton was not enumerated among the articles of export, but it is mentioned as having been, at that time, cultivated to some extent, and machines, for separating the lint from the seed, were in use. One of these is thus described by Captain Roman:

"It is a strong frame, of four studs, each about four feet high, and joined, above and below, by strong transverse pieces. Across this are placed two round well-polished iron spindles, having a small groove through their whole length, and, by means of treadles, are put in opposite motions. The workman sits behind the frame, with a thin board before him, upon which is placed the cotton, thinly spread, which the rollers receive. The lint goes through the rollers, and the seed falls in a separate pile. The French population have much improved upon this plan, by a large wheel, which turns two of these mills, with so much velocity, that seventy pounds of clean cotton can be made every day."

Mr. Crebs, upon the Pascagoula river, owned one of these improved machines, and claimed the invention of it. He suspended canvass bags between pine trees, and packed in his cotton by treading, making them almost three hundred weight.*

* Bernard Roman's Florida, pp. 211-12.

Aug 30 to Sept 3 1772: Mobile, in common with the whole of West Florida, was visited with the most awful storms. Vessels, boats and logs were driven up into the heart of the town. The violence of the winds forced the salt water over the gardens, which destroyed the vegetables. The spray rose in the air, and fell again, at the distance of a half mile, like rain. All the houses were filled with water, several feet deep, and the one inhabited by a joiner was run entirely through by a schooner, which had broken from her moorings.

1772: Upon the Pascagoula, the storm was equally furious. The plantation of Mr. Crebs was almost entirely destroyed. A large crop of rice and corn was completely swept off. His dwellings were unroofed, his outhouses blown down, and his smith's shop washed away. For thirty miles, up that river, the cypress trees were prostrated and the pines twisted into ropes. At Batereaux's cow-pen, the herdsmen were six weeks collecting and bring home their cattle. A colony of Germans up the Pascagoula, fearing that another Noah's flood was at hand, were about to set out for the Choctaw nation; but the abatement of the waters preceded their usually slow movements. The whole west coast was ravaged. A schooner, with a detachment of the 16th British regiment on board, was driven to Cat Island, and, when under the west point, parted her cables, and was carried entirely over the island, and stranded upon another, which bore the name of Freemason. There the crew remained six weeks, and would have perished, but for their discovery by a hunting smack. The different directions of the currents of wind were passing strange. That from the south-east drove the water, in immense volumes, up all the bays, rivers and bayous to the west, being here countercted by the winds from the north-east. A body of water was violently forced into the Bay of Spirito Santo, behind the Chandelier, Grand Gazier and Breton Isles, and not finding sufficient vents up the riveulets, nor down the outlets of the bay, firced a number of deep channels through these islands, thus forming many new islands. The Chandelier, being higher than the others, had all its surface washed off, and, but for the roots of the black mangrove and myrtle, which held much of the earth together, not a vestige of it would have been left. A Spanish vessel there parted, and the whole crew were drowned. The most extraordinary effect of this hurricane was the production of a second crop of leaves upon all the mulberry trees, which had never happened before. This tree budded, foliated, blossomed, and bore ripe fruit, within the brief space of four weeks after the terrible gusts had passed away. Other trees remained naked, until the following spring.*

* Roman's Florida, pp. 4-13.

At that time, Governor Chester was at the head of the government of West Florida. He was universally esteemed, and, under his auspices, the people prospered, and their valuable products continued to increase. Slavery was in existence, and the government of the mother country was active in transporting Africans into this country. The freeholders assembled in Mobile, Pensacola, and other parts of the province, to elect representatives to a colonial legislature; but, finding that the writs required the continuance of members for thre years in office, they added the condition to their votes, that the elected members were to serve but one year. The governor, disliking this arrangement, declined to accept it. The freeholders remained inflexible, and, rather than be deprived of annual elections, chose to remain without representatives. * In 1771, Pensacola contained about one hundred and eighty houses, built of timber, in good taste, and arranged with much convenience. The town formed an oblong square, near the foot of an eminence, called Gage Hill named in honor of the great British officer, well remembered by the whigs of America.**

* Ibid
** Ibid, p. 303.

June 1 1773: Turning our eyes towards the British province of Georgia, we find that the Cherokees and Creeks had assembled at Augusta, at the instance of Sir James Wright, the governor, and John Stuart, superintendent of Indian affairs. These Indians there ceded to Great Britain a large area of territory, upon the head waters of the Ogechee, and northwest of Little river. The object was to compensate the Honorable George Galphin, and some other traders, for large debts due them by these nations. The governor, having no power to accept this cession, but seeing the influence it would enable him to wield, in behlaf of the tottering power of his King, to whom he was devotedly attached, he had already obtained the consent of the ministry to make the treaty. But Galphin never obtained any of these lands, or the proceeds of the sales thereof, on account of his boldly expressed patriotic opinions; and Governor Wright, with a vindictive partiality, paid the loyal traders, in preference, keeping the larger portion of the proceeds, to strengthen his government, and perhaps to add to his own coffers. Galphin was wealthy; he sacrificed thousands in defence of American liberty, and, to this day, his descendants remain without renumeration. * It is said that Governor Wright received the orders of knighthood, for the unjust direction which he gave these funds. In the meantime, land offices had been established at Augusta, and at the confluence of the Broad and Savannah rivers, where a town was laid out, called Dartsmouth, but which was subsequently changed to the name of Petersburg.

* Since I have written this paragraph, some of the heirs of Galphin have received a Large amount of money, from the United States government, on account of this claim. They had previously applied to Georgia, (Great Britain, and the United States, without success. The claim of the heirs of Galphin was just upon one of these powers; but many have contended that it was not a just claim upon the federal government, but one upon Georgia, while others have contended that it was a just claim upon Great Britain.

1774: This newly ceded territory began to be rapidly settled, when a party of Creeks attacked Sherrill's Fort, killed seven persons, and forced the others to barricade an outhouse, where they would have been butchered, but for the timely arrival of Captain Barnard, with forty men, who dispersed the enemy. Other attacks by the Indians succeeded, and the settlers abandoned their new homes, and retired into the old British settlements, lower down upon the Savannah. The noble Galphin, who had great influence with the Indians, despatched runners to the nation, who induced the Chiefs to put a stop to the effusion of blood, which afforded the settlers the opportunity of coming back, and of renewing their abandoned improvements.*

* McCall's History of Georgia, vol. 2, pp. 11-12.

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