Chapter 27: Singular Inhabitants of Alabama

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



The territory now called Alabama was but sparsely settled in 1792, except by the natives, and they occupied only some of the principal water-courses. Fort Charlotte, at Mobile, was garrisoned with Spanish troops. The old French "Tombecbe," which, in Spanish times, was called Fort Confederation, contained also a Spanish garrison. The English trading post, near the present Stockton, then called Tensaw, was repaired and occupied. A Spanish garrison occupied Fort St. Stephens, which was built upon a bluff on the Tombigby, called by the Choctaws, Hobuckintopa. A considerable Spanish garrison held the fortress at Pensacola. West Florida and Louisiana were governed by the Captain-General at Havana. The next person in authority was the Governor of Louisiana, to whom all the commandants of the posts in Alabama and Mississippi were subordinate. The whole territory of Alabama was then an immense wilderness, with American trading-posts on the east upon the Oconee, and those of Spain upon the south and west, while it was uninhabited by whites as far as the distant Cumberland settlements on the north.

1792: The most populous settlement, with the exception of Mobile, was upon the Tensaw river and lake of that name. It was composed of both whigs and royalists. The latter had been driven from Georgia and the Carolinas. Added to these, were men, sui generis, appropriately called old Indian countrymen, who had spent much of their lives in Indian commerce. The most conspicuous and wealthy inhabitant of this neighborhood was Captain John Linder, a native of the Canton of Berne, in Switzerland. He resided many years in Charleston, as a British engineer and surveyor. There General McGillivray became acquainted with him, and, during the revolution, assisted in bringing here his family and large negro property.

In February, 1791, a party of emigrants, consisting of Colonel Thomas Kimbil, John Barnett, Robert Sheffield, Barton Hannon, and --- Mounger, with a wife and children, three of whom were grown, set out from Georgia for the Tombigby. Entering the Creek nation, one of the children was injured by a fall, which compelled the elder Mounger and his younger family to stop upon the trail. They were afterwards robbed by the Indians of everything they possessed, and had to make their way back to Georgia on foot. The three young Moungers, and the other emigrants, continued to the Tensaw, passing the creeks and rivers upon rafts. They found upon their arrival at Tensaw, the Halls, Byrnes, Mims, Kilcreas, Steadhams, Easlies, Linders and others. Crossing the Alabama and Tombigby upon rafts, they found residing below McIntosh Bluff, the Bates, Lawrences and Powells. Above there, on the Tombigby, they discovered the Danleys, Wheets, Johnsons, McGrews, Hockets, Freelands, Talleys and Bakers. Among these few people, Colonel Kimbil and his little party established themselves, and began the cultivation of the soil with their horses, upon the backs of which they had brought a few axes and ploughs.

The garrison at St. Stephens was composed of one company, commanded by Captain Fernando Lisoro. The block house, the residence of the commandant, and the church, were good buildings, of frame-work, clay and plaster. The other houses were small, and covered with cypress bark. All the inhabitants of this place, and of the country, were required to labor so many days upon the public works, to take the oath of allegiance, and to assist in repelling the depredations of the Creeks, who stole horses and other property. 1792: Some French farmers also lived upon this river, who dwelt in houses made almost entirely of clay, while those of the Americans were constructed of small poles, in the rudest manner. They all cultivated indigo, which was worth two dollars and fifty cents per pound. The burning of tar engaged much of the time of the Spaniards, still lower down.

1792: Upon Little river, dividing the modern counties of Baldwin and Monroe, lived many intelligent and wealthy people, whose blood was a mixture of white and Indian. This colony was formed at an early period, for the benefit of their large stocks of cattle, for the wild grass and cane were here never killed by the frost. A most remarkable woman, a sister of General McGillivray, lived occasionally among these people. Sophia McGillivray, a maiden beautiful in all respects, was living at her native place, upon the Coosa, when Benjamin Durant, a man of Huguenot blood, came from South Carolina, to her mother's house. A youth of astonishing strength and activity, he had mastered all who opposed him at home. Being informed by the traders that a man in the Creek nation was his superior, he immediately set out for that region, to which he had long before been inclined to go. He was handsome, his complexion was almost as brown as that of the pretty, dark-eyed Sophia. She went with him to the Hickory Ground, only a few miles distant, where many Indians collected, to see the antagonists meet. They encountered each other, and a tremendous fight ensued. Durant felled his antagonists to the ground, where he lay, for a time, insensible. The conqueror was proclaimed the champion of the nation. He soon married Sophia, and went to reside upon one of the estates of her father, the wealthy Lachlan McGillivray, situated upon the Savannah river. During the seige of Savannah, she was there with her father, her husband and her little boy Lachlan Durant, who is now favorably known to many of our modern citizens, and is yet a resident of Baldwin county. When the city was surrendered to the Americans, she parted from her father, amid a flood of of tears, and set out for her native Coosa, while he, as we have seen, sailed with his British friends to Scotland.

Sophie Durant had an air of authority about her, equal, if not superior, to that of her brother, Alexander. She was much better acquainted witht the Indian tongue, for he had long lived out of the nation. When, therefore, he held councils in the vicinity of her residence, she was accustomed to deliver his sentiments in a set speech, to which the Chiefs listened with delight. Her husband became a wealthy man, and "Durant's Bend," * and other places upon the Alabama, still preserve his memory. In the summer of 1790, while McGillivray was at New York, the Creeks threatened to descend upon the Tensaw settlers and put the whole of them to death. Mrs. Durant mounted a horse, with a negro woman upon another, and set out from Little river, camped out at night, and, on the fourth day, arrived at the Hickory Ground, where she assembled the Chiefs, threatened them with the vengeance of her brother upon his return, which caused the arrest of the ringleaders, and put a complete stop to their murderous intentions. Two weeks afterwards, this energetic and gifted woman was delivered of twins, at the Hickory Ground. 1792: One of them married James Bailey, who was killed at the fall of Fort Mims, in 1813, and the other lived to be an old woman. At a later period Mrs. Durant will again appear in this history.

* The most remarkable bend upon the Alabama, embracing a large tract of land lying between Montgomery and Selma, formerly the property of the late Honorable William Smith, and now owned by John Steele, of Autauga. It was cultivated by Benjamin Durant as early as 1786.

The territory of the present county of Montgomery contained a few white inhabitants in 1792. Among others, there was a white woman, who had lived with her husband at Savannah. He was there a foot soldier in one of the British regiments, but deserted from the army, when she fled with him to the Chattahoochie. He died at Cusseta, and his bold and adventurous wife continued to wander through the Creek nation, and finally settled in the territory of the present county of Montgomery, upon the eastern side of a creek, which still bears her name, for she was called by no other than that of "Milly." Here, among the Cuwalla Indians, she established herself, without husband, father, children, or even a single friend. Espousing one of the sons of the forest, she soon began to have comforts around her. Her stock of cattle became large, to which was added in a few years, a large drove of ponies. For many years Milly lived alone upon this creek. The trading path leading from Pensacola to Tookabatcha passed by her house. But, at the period of 1792, her solitary hours were agreeably relieved by the prattle of a little white girl. In 1790, a party of Creeks advanced to the Georgia frontiers, and, surrounding the house of one Scarlett, killed him and his wife and children. A little girl, named Tempey Ellis, about eight years old, the child of a neighbor, was in the house at the time, and, when the attack was made, she concealed herself under the bed. After all the family lay upon the floor, in the sleep of death, a warrior discovered Tempey Ellis, and, dragging her out by the hair, raised his hatchet to kill her; but, reflecting that he could possibly obtain a handsome sum for her ransom, he placed her on his horse and carried her to Auttose, on the Tallapoosa. Here she was often beaten, and made to bring water from the springs. 1792: One day Milly heard that the Auttoses had a white girl in slavery. She immediately mounted her pony, rode to Auttose, paid ten ponies and six head of cattle for Tempey, and the next day carried this unfortunate child to her house. For several years she acted the part of a most affectionate mother. Subsequently the child was delivered to Seagrove, the Creek Agent, at St. Mary's, and was sent from thence to her friends in Georgia. Old Milly was exceedingly attached to Tempey, and gave her up with great reluctance.*

* I have conversed with Tempey Ellis. She is now a respectable old woman, the wife of Mr. Thomas Frizell, residing in Pike county, Alabama.

Near the prairies, within a few miles of this solitary woman, lived William Gregory, a native of one of the States, who had resided for years among the Indians. He was now a stockkeeper, and lived in a cabin, which contained his Indian family. As far as the eye could reach over the beautiful and gently rolling plains his cattle and horses fed, undisturbed by man or beast. It is said that William Gregory was a kind-hearted man, who fed the wanderer "without money and without price," and who, even in a lawless land, possessed a heart which prompted him to be honest.

In 1785 came also into this neighborhood a Jew, named Abram Mordecai, a native of Pennsylvania, and who established a trading house at the spot where now stands the house of Mrs. Birch, two miles west of Line Creek. Here also lived James Russell, another trader, who, being a tory, had sought this place to be rid of whig persecution. A tory, named Love, and Dargan, a Dutchman and notorious horse thief, lived near the site of Mount Megs, where they carried on a small commerce. All these traders had Indian wives except Mordecai, whose faithful spouse was Indian considerably darkened with the blood of Ham.

At Econchate, Red Ground, now embracing the southern suburbs of the city of Montgomery, lived several white traders. Charles Weatherford established a trading house upon the first eastern bluff below the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa, and laid out the first race-paths ever known in East Alabama. Often would the noted horse thief, fresh from the frontiers of Georgia, here for the first time try the speed of his stolen ponies.

1792: The most blood-thirsty, fiendish and cruel white man that ever inhabited any country was Savannah Jack, or, as he was universally called by this outlawed world, "Savaner Jack," who lived at Souvanoga, upon the Tallapoosa. He boasted that he had killed so many women and children, upon the Cumberland and Georgia frontiers, in company with his town's people, that he could swim in their blood if it was collected in one pool.

Thus we see that the territory of Montgomery county, now the focus of so much wealth and intelligence, was then a wilderness, inhabited by Indians and the few singular characters who have been named. Indeed, all over the territory of Alabama and Mississippi, wherever an Indian town of importance was found, white traders lived. Some of them became wealthy, but like all property acquired in a commerce with Indians, it generally left the owner in his old age. One of these up-country traders, "Woccocoie Clarke," living at Woccocoie, in the modern Coosa county, transported his merchandise and skins upon seventy pack-horses. His squaw, who was of great assistance to him, he called Queen Anne, for Clarke was an Englishman.

Besides skins of various kinds, the traders bought up beeswax, hickory-nut oil, snake-root, together with various medicinal barks, and transported them to Augusta and Pensacola on packhorses, and to Mobile and New Orleans in large canoes. The pack-horses used in this trade were generally small ones, raised in the nation, but were capable of sustaining heavy loads and of enduring great fatigue. A saddle of a peculiar shape was first placed upon the pony. The load consisted of three bundles, each weighing sixty pounds. Two of these bundles were suspended across the saddle, and came down by the sides of the pony, while the third was deposited on top of the saddle. The whole pack was covered with a skin to keep off the rain. Thus the pony sustained a load of one hundred and eighty pounds. Even liquids were conveyed in the same manner. Taffai, a mean rum, was carried on these horses in small kegs. Indeed, these hardy animals transported everything for sale; and even poultry of all kinds was carried in cages made of reeds strapped upon their backs. A pack-horseman drove ten ponies in a lead. He used no lines, but urged them on with big hickories and terrible oaths. Accustomed to their duty, they, however, seldom gave trouble, but jogged briskly along. The route and the stopping places became familiar, and, as evening approached, the little fellows quickened their trot with new life and activity. When the sun retired over the hills the caravan stopped; the packs were taken off, piled in a heap, and covered with skins; the horses were belled and turned out to find their food, which consisted of grass and young cane. It was usually late the next morning before the horses were collected and packed, for no person in an Indian country is fool enough to regard time. An attack from the natives upon traders was of rare occurrence. They imagined that they needed the supplies which they brought into their country, and regarding these singular merchants as their best friends, did not even rob them. A pack-horseman always drank taffai--it cheered him in the forest and emboldened him in distress. With a bottle slung by his saddle he often indulged, while those before and behind him followed his custom. Those going to Pensacola and other places were frequently in want of the stimulant, and it was customary for the traders, whom they met coming from the market, to halt and treat and interchange jokes. The trader who suddenly rushed by a thirsty party was long remembered as a mean fellow.

1792: Nothing stopped these men on their journey. They swam all swollen creeks and rafted over their effects or produce. Where they had no canoes, rivers were crossed in the same manner. If they reached a stream having large cane on its banks, these were presently cut, ten feet long, and tied up into bundles about three feet in circumference, which were placed in the water. Across these others were laid, which formed an admirable raft, capable of sustaining great weight. Logs were, also, often employed in the construction of rafts. Guided by long grapevines, they were generally dragged safely across to the opposite side, where the wet ponies stood, ready to receive their packs again. Then all hands drank taffai, and journeyed on, with light hearts and laughing faces. The average travel was twenty-five miles a day. The route from Pensacola was a well-beaten path, leading up the country and across the fatal Murder Creek, and thence to within a few miles of the Catoma, when it diverged into several trails, one of which led to Tookabatcha, along the route of the old Federal road, the other to Montgomery and Wetumpka, by the Red Warrior's Bluff, now Grey's Ferry, upon the Tallapoosa. This trail continued to the Tennessee river.*

* Conversations with Abram Mordecai, James Moore, and many other old traders; also conversations with Hiram Mounger, of Washington county, Mrs. Sophia McComb, Mrs. Howse and Lachlan Durant. In many things, they are supported by the reports contained in Indian Affairs. vol. 1.

Northward, there were no white settlements between the Alabama river and the vicinity of Nashville. Here, in 1792, the Creeks committed many depredations. They pushed their hostilities to the very doors of Nashville. They attacked the house of Thompson, a wealthy and respectable man, killed the whole family, except his interesting daughter, just arrived at womanhood, whom they carried in captivity to Kialigee, upon the Tallapoosa river, together with an amiable lady, named Caffrey, with her little son. The unhappy prisoners found in this town a young woman, named Sarah Fletcher, who had, several years before, been captured in the Miro district, which was also called Cumberland district. Miss Thompson was ransomed by Riley, a trader, for eight hundred weight of dressed deer-skins, worth two hundred and sixty dollars, and was treated with kindness by her benefactor, and restored to her friends. Mrs. Caffrey was separated from her son, beaten with sticks, scratched with gar's teeth, and made to work in the fields. After two years, she was also carried to Nashville, but without her boy. The little fellow became an Indian in his feelings, and, when he had been in the nation five years, it was with difficulty that Mordecai could separate him from his Indian playmates, and carry him to Seagrove. That gentleman sent him to Governor Blount, and he finally reached his mother's arms. The bloody Coosawdas, who lived upon the Alabama, were frequently out upon the Cumberland, engaged in the massacre of the settlers and the plunder of their effects. Captain Isaacs, the Chief of this town, returned, in 1792, with Elizabeth Baker, a young lady from Cumberland. How miserable and lonely must have been the journey, with these sanguinary warriors, who bore the scalps of her father, mother, brothers and sisters, daily suspended upon poles before her eyes. When she arrived in Coosawda, the savages hung their trophies upon the council-house, and danced around them with exulting shouts. But she found a friend in Charles Weatherford, who lived across the river. He ransomed Miss Baker, and placed her in charge of his wife, Sehoy, the half sister of General McGillivray, and the mother of the celebrated William Weatherford, who will figure in this history hereafter. The unfortunate captive ultimately reached her friends. It would be an endless task, to enumerate all the instances of murder and captivity which occurred upon the frontiers of Georgia and Tennessee.*

* Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 431-433-270-274-634.

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