Chapter 20: Journey of Bartram through Alabama

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



William Bartram, the botanist, who has been mentioned in our remarks upon the aborines of the country, passed through the Creek nation, and went from thence to Mobile. He found that that town extended back from the river nearly half a mile. Some of the houses were vacant, and others were inruins. Yet a few good buildings were inhabited by the French gentlemen, and others by refined emigrants of Ireland, Scotland, England, and the Nortern British Colonies. The Indian trade was under management of Messrs. Swanson and McGillivray. They conducted an extensive commerce with the Chickasaws, Choctaws, and Creeks. Their buildings were commodious, and well arranged for that purpose. The principal houses of the French were of brick, of one story, of a square form, and on a large scale, embracing courts in their rears. Those of the lower classes were made of strong cypress frames, filled in with plaster.

Major Farmar, one of the most respectable inhabitnts of West Florida, who formerly had much to do with the colonial government, resided at Tensaw, in sight of the present Stockton, where once lived the tribe of Tensaw Indians. The bluff sustained not only his extensive improvements, but the dwellings of many French families, chiefly his tenants, while his extensive plantations lay up and down the Tensaw, on the western side. Indeed, all up that river, and particularly on the western branch, were many well cultivated plantations, belonging to various settlers, while others were in ruins, having been abandoned by the French when the English took possession of the country. The plantations on the Mobile river, as seen five years before, have already been mentioned. At one of these Bartram stayed all night, in company with Dr. Grant, a physician of the garrison of Fort Charlotte. The occupant, who was an old gentleman and a famous hunter, annually killed three hundred deer, besides bears, panthers and wolves.

Arriving at Pensacola, Bartram received from Dr. Lorimer, one of the honorable council, much politeness and attention. Mr. Livingston, the government secretary, took him to the department in which he did business. Shortly afterwards, Governor Chester rode by in his chariot, having been upon a morning ride to his farm. He received the learned botanist with cordiality, invited him to remain some time in the country, to make his house his headquarters, commended his laudable pursuits, and offered to defray his expenses in traveling over the country under his jurisdiction.

Oct 1777: Pensacola, at this period, contained several hundred habitations. The governor's place was a large stone building, erected by the Spaniards, and ornamented with a tower. The town was defended by a large stockade fortress, of wood, on the plan of a tetragon with a salient angle at each corner, where stood blockhouses a story higher than the curtains. Upon these, light cannon were mounted. Within this fortress was a small council chamber where the records were kept, also houses for the officers and barracks for the garrison, together with arsenals and magazines. The secretary resided in a handsome and spacious house, as did some eminent merchants and professional gentlemen. *

* Bartrams Travels, pp. 402-407-412-414.

Autumn 1777: Returning to Mobile, the botanist presently embarked in a trading vessel, manned by three negroes, and set sail for Pearl river. Passing along the western coast, and reaching the mouth of Dog river, he there landed, and entered the woods for recreation. Here he saw the remains of the old Fort St. Louis de la Mobile, with a few pieces of iron cannon, and also vast iron kettles, for boiling tar into pitch. Pursuing his voyage, he again came to the shore, a few miles beyond, where resided a Frenchman, eighty years of age, who was active, strong and muscular; his mother, who was present, and who appeared to be brisk and cheerful, was one hundred and five years of age. Fifty years previous to this period, she had landed in Mobile, from la belle France. Arriving at Pearl Island, Bartram, took up his quarters at the house of a generous Englishman, named Rumsey, with whom he passed a month. Leaving this place in a handsome boat, navgated by three negroes, he coasted along the northern shore of Lake Pontchartrain, entered Lake Maurepas, and proceeded up the Amite river for thirty miles to the large plantation of a Scotch gentleman, who gave him a hospitable reception. Bartram, still ascending the Amite, next entered the Iberville on the left, and it was not long before he reached a landing, at which were situated warehouses for depositing English merchandise. A beautiful road overhung with evergreens led from this place to Manchac, upon the Mississippi. Here, also, the English had mercantile depots, the chief establishment of which was that of Swanson and McGillivray, who were Indian traders. The Iberville was now dry, its channel being higher than the Mississippi, which had receded from it. It was, however, navigable in winter and spring, for the "Father of Waters" then disgorged some portion of his tide through this channel into the lakes. It also separated, as before observed, the English colony of West Florida and the Spanish province of Louisana. On one side of this bayou was an English fort, at Manchac, and just across, at the south point, was a Spanish fort. A slender wooden bridge connected the two establishments, and strange to say, they were at this time peaceable, although such near neighbors. The next day Bartram began the ascent of the Mississippi, and two miles above Manchac stopped at an Indian town. The inhabitants were a portion of the Alabamas, who had once lived upon the river of that name, but who, when the French evacuated Fort Toulouse, followed them to Louisiana, and here had formed an establishment. The botanist visited Baton Rouge, now called by the English New Richmond, and various plantations on both sides of the great river. He was particularly pleased with the French planters, who had long tilled these superior lands. They were ingenious, industrious, and lived in ease and great abundance.

Nov. 27 1777: About the middle of November Bartram returned to Mobile by the same route, arranged his specimen plants and flowers, and left them in the hands of Swanson and McGillivray, to be shipped to Dr. Fothergill, at London. He then entered a boat and went to the mansion of Major Farmar, at Tensaw. The next morning he set out for the Creek nation with a caravan of traders, who transported their merchandise upon pack-horses. The road, like all others in an Indian country, was narrow and well beaten. The pack-horses were arranged one after the other, the oldest and best trained in the lead. At night they were belled and turned out to graze in the woods. In the morning so much time was occupied in collecting them, arranging their packs and preparing breakfast that the sun was high when a start was made. Then these faithful animals fell into line on the trail, like regular soldiers, and began a brisk trot, which was continued all day, amid the ringing of their bells and the whooping and cursing of the drivers.

Dec 1777: When near the site of the present city of Montgomery the caravan met a party of Georgians, consisting of a man, his wife, a young woman, several young chldren, and three stout young men, with a dozen horses laden with their effects. These fearless people had passed through the Creek nation, then very extensive, and were on their way to settle upon the Alabama, a few miles above the confluence of that river and the Tombigby. They are believed to have been among the first Anglo-Americans who settled in the present Baldwin county. *

* Bartram, pp. 416-441.

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