Chapter 31: The Americans in Alabama and Mississippi

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



May 10 1798: It has been seen that the Legislature of Georgia promptly repealed the Yazoo act. Congress, with the consent of that State, organized a large portion of the domain, which was conveyed under the Yazoo sale, into a territorial government, embracing the country between the Chattahoochie and Mississippi rivers, extending from the line of 31° to that of 32° 28'. This government was not to impair the rights of Georgia to the soil.

April 1799: John Adams, now President of the United States, conferred upon Winthrop Sargent the post of Governor of the "Mississippi Territory." John Steele was, at the same time, appointed Secretary, while Thomas Rodney, of Delaware, and John Tilton, of New Hampshire, were constituted Judges of the Superior Court.Four months after the evacuation of the country by the Spaniards, these officers arrived at Natchez. They found the country in the occupation of the Federal troops, under General Wilkinson. The Governor, whose powers were extensive, commenced the organization of his government. He decreed, by proclamation, the formation of the Natchez district into the counties of Adams and Pickering. He established County Courts, which were to be holden quarterly by Associate Justices. Six thousand inhabitants, including slaves, comprised the population, who lived upon the waters of Bayou Pierre, St. Catharine, Cole, Homochitto, and Buffalo creeks. There was also a settlement at the Walnut Hills, and one upon Big Black. It has been seen what kind of a population lived upon the Tensaw and Tombigby in 1792. It was now much increased, but was composed of the same kind of people. Oct 1797: An advance towards civilization had, however, been made in that region by the establishment of a ferry by Hollinger, an Indian countryman, across the Tombigby, and another by Samuel Mims to convey people over the Alabama. The route lay across Nannahubba Island, and in times of high water passengers were ferried from one river to the other, the distance of ten miles. May 5 1799: Lieutenant McLeary had marched across the country, from Natchez, and had taken possession of Fort St. Stephens, when the Spanish garrison marched out and dropped down below Ellicott's line.

This portion of the Mississippi territory was utterly defenceless, entirely isolated, and surrounded by Indian nations on the north, east and west, while the treacherous Spaniards were just below at Mobile. To protect it the Federal Government established a post upon the first bluff below the confluence of the Tombigby and Alabama. July: Captain Shaumberg, of the second regiment, marched from Natchez with two companies and built a stockade with one bastion, which was called Fort Stoddart, and was situated on the site of the present arsenal landing of Mount Vernon.

June 4 1800: Governor Sargent issued another proclamation, defining the limits of Washington county, embracing the population upon the Tombigby and Alabama. Of all counties that ever were established it was by far the most extensive in territory. It extended to the Chattahoochie on the east and to Pearl river on the west, and was bounded on the south by the line of 31° and on the north by that of 32°, 28'. Twenty counties in Alabama and twelve in Mississippi have since been formed out of the territory of the original county of Washington. The people of the territory, becoming dissatisfied with the arbitrary measures of the Governor, remonstrated with the President. These things, together with a prodigious increase of population, induced Congress to establish a second grade of territorial government, which allowed a Legislature. Dec.: Four representatives from Adams, four from Pickering, and one from Washington, convened at Natchez. The Governor held an unqualified veto power.

General Wilkinson deserves to be remembered for many important public services, among which were the treaties which he made with Indian tribes, and the military organization of new counties. He wrote with astonishing ease, and always expressed himself well. He was unquestionably a man of genius, as well as of much usefulness; yet he had always been suspected of allowing personal considerations to control much of his military and official conduct. Oct. 27 1801: However, now acting with great zeal and fidelity, he stationed troops at different points on the line of demarcation, from Fort Adams, upon the Mississippi, to Pearl river, and caused, as we have seen, Fort Stoddart to be built. While his headquarters were at Natchez, he made an advantageous treaty with the Chickasaws, obtaining their consent, among other things, to the cutting of a road, to remain as a highway, extending from the Cumberland district to the American settlements of Natchez. Dec. 17: He made another treaty with the Choctaws for a road from Fort Adams to the Yazoo river. The old boundary between the British and Choctaws was also confirmed by him and marked anew. June 16 1802: He likewise repaired to the distant Oconee, and, near a fort named in honor of him, made a treaty with the Creeks, by which the latter, for valuable considerations, ceded to the United States all the territory east of a line, to run from High Shoals, upon Apalache, thence down the Oconee to its junction with the Ockmulgee, and thence to Ellicott's mound, upon the St. Mary's. The fearless, wise and patriotic agents, Benjamin Hawkins and Andrew Pickens, were associated with General Wilkinson in all these treaties, and, with him, travelled from the Chickasaw Bluff, upon the Mississippi, backwards and forwards over this Indian world, encountering its dangers and sharing in mutual hardships.*

* Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 648-681.

Mr. Jefferson, who was now President of the United States, appointed William C. C. Claiborne Governor of the Mississippi Territory. Governor Sargent retired from office, and never afterwards filled a public station. 1801: The new Governor, who was descended from an ancient Virginia family, removed to Tennessee when a youth, was a member of the convention which formed the constitution of that State, a Judge of the Supreme Court, and a member of Congress. A man of unquestionedtalents, fine address, and strict probity an honor, he could not fail to make a popular and useful officer in the Mississippi wilderness. The Territorial Secretary was Cato West, and the bench of the Superior Court was filled by Daniel Tilton, Peter B. Bruin and Seth Lewis.

The counties of Adams and Pickering being sub-divided into five others, and the name of the latter changed, they were now called Adams, Jefferson, Wilkinson, Claiborne and. A code of jurisprudence was adopted, and the seat of government removed six miles east of Natchez, to the town of Washington.1801 and 1802: Joshua Baker was Speaker of the House, and John Ellis President of the Executive Council or Senate. About this period, Colonel Andrew Marschalk, of Wayne's army, established the "Natchez Gazette," the first paper issued in our country, and, afterwards, was so long engaged in the occupation, issuing different journals for forty years, that he was styled the "Father of the Mississippi press." It was not long, however, before Timothy and Samuel Terill published the "Mississippi Messenger," at the seat of government, where, also performing the duties of public printers, they published the first Digest of the Territory, compiled by Judge Harry Toulmin.*

* Monette, vol. 2, p. 345. Notes on the War in the South, by Nathaniel H. Claiborne, pp. 91-102.

Upon the Tombigby Lake Tensaw, the people still lived without laws, and without the rite of matrimony. For years, the sexes had been in the habit of pairing off, and living together, with the mutual promise of regular marriage, when ministers or magistrates should make their appearance in the country. An amusing incident will here be related, in which a young couple were united by a functionary not hitherto known as participating in such sacred rites. The house of Samuel Mims, a wealthy Indian countryman, was the most spacious in the country, and hither the young and the gay flocked to parties, and danced to the music furnished by the Creoles of Mobile and others, for the country abounded in fiddlers, of high and low degree. Daniel Johnson and Miss Elizabeth Linder had, for some time, loved each other. She was rich and he was poor, and, of course, the parents of the former objected to a pairing. 1800: On Christmas night, a large party was assembled at "Old Sam Mims," and the very forests resounded with music and merry peals of laughter. In the midst of the enjoyment, the lovers, in company with several young people, of both sexes, secretly left the house, entered some canoes, paddled down Lake Tensaw, into the Alabama, and arrived at Fort Stoddart, an hour before daylight. Captain Shaumberg, who had risen early to make his egg-nog, was implored to join the lovers in the bonds of matrimony. The proposition astounded the good-natured old German, who protested his ignorance of all such matters, and assured them that he was only a military commandant, having no authority whatever to make people man and wife. They entreated, telling him with truth, that the Federal Government had placed him there as a general protector and regulator of affairs, and that the case before him demanded his sanction and adjustment. After the egg-nog had circulated pretty freely, the commandant placed the lovers before him, and, in a stentorian voice, pronounced the following marital speech: "I, Captain Shaumberg, of the 2d regiment of the United States army, and commandant of Fort Stoddart, do hereby pronounce you man and wife. Go home! behave yourselves--multiply and replenish the Tensaw country! " The happy pair entered their canoes, rowed back to the Boat Yard, and were pronounced, by the whole settlement, "the best married people they had known in a long time." *

1802: The Federal Government displayed much wisdom in the establishment of a factory, or trading-house, at St. Stephens. It was well stored with such merchandise as suited the Choctaws, for whom it was particularly designed. It served to create a good feeling with those Indians, and to entice them from the control of Panton and the Spaniards, below the line. Joseph Chambers, a man of a well-cultivated mind, and of business capacity, a native of Salisbury, North Carolina, was made superintendent of this factory, with an assistant, Thomas H. Williams, also from North Carolina, who afterwards was Secretary of the Territory, Collector of the port of New Orleans, and United States Senator from Mississippi.

Apr. 24 1802: The Yazoo act had been repealed, the treaty of Madrid had been made, Ellicott's line had been run, and the Spaniards had been removed; still great difficulties had arisen between Georgia and the Federal Government in relation to lands granted under the Yazoo act, which the companies and various purchasers under them resolutely claimed and defended. Many plans were proposed for satisfactory adjustment, which produced debate and contention of an angry character. Finally, Albert Gallatin, James Madison and Levi Lincoln, on the part of the government, and James Jackson, Abraham Baldwin and John Milledge, representing Georgia, made a final disposition of the matter. For the sum of one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars Georgia ceded to the United States all the territory within the following boundaries: Beginning upon the Mississippi, at the line of 31°, thence continuing up that river to the line of 35°; thence along that line, due east, to Nickajack; thence southward to the mouth of Uchee creek; thence down the Chattahoochie to Ellicott's line; thence along that line due west to the Mississippi, the place of beginning. The purchase money was to be paid to Georgia out of the first net proceeds of the sales of these lands. The United States stipulated to recognize all good claims to any of this territory under Spanish and British grants, and also under the act of Georgia of 1785 creating the county of Bourbon; but it refused to admit any of the Yazoo claims.* The United States now held the right of jurisdiction and the right of soil to all the territory which forms the present States of Alabama and Mississippi. After this compromise the money paid by the Yazoo companies was made over to the United States. Some of it had been drawn by the purchasers under the laws of Georgia; some of it had been lost whilst in deposit at the treasury, from which the State had taken the precaution to be saved harmless, having declared in good time that the deposit should remain in the treasury at the risk of the depositors. The Yazoo grantees, or those claiming under them, were never suffered to hold lands in Alabama or Mississippi, in virtue of either the Yazoo act or the compromise. They might have held as much as they pleased in virtue of the stock of five million scrip created by an act of Congress.

* Conversations with old settlers.

Dec 1801: Emigrants flocked to the Mississippi Territory by various routes, all of which were difficult, and some of them very circuitous. A party set out from North Carolina, consisting of Thomas Malone, a young clerk in the land office of Raleigh; John Murrel and his family; James Moore, Goodway Myrick, George Nosworthy, Robert Caller, William Murrel, and sixty negroes. With great difficultly they ascended the Blue Ridge with their wagons, and descended through its dark gorges into the valley of the Tennessee. Constructing flat-boats at Knoxville, they floated down the river to the head of the Muscle Shoals, where they disembarked at the house of Double-Head, a Cherokee Chief. Placing their effects upon the horses, which had been brought down by land from Knoxville, they departed on foot for the "Bigby settlements," about St. Stephen's, a great distance off, and to which not a solitary direct path led. After a fatiguing march, they reached the residence of Levi Colbert, a celebrated Chickasaw Chief, who gave them the necessary directions. Pursuing their journey, they came upon the Tombigby, at the Cotton Gin, which had not long before been erected by the Federal Government to encourage the Chickasaws in the cultivation of the great staple.

* Public Lands, vol. 1, p. 114.

Jan. 1802: Desiring to lessen the fatigues of the long and painful trip, the party constructed two canoes at this point, each forty feet in length, and very large, but of miserable workmanship, being executed with no other tools than axes and grubbing hoes. These they placed in the river, in parallel positions, five feet apart. They were connected by a platform made of cane, upon which were deposited the effects of the expedition, which were piled up high above the heads of the emigrants, who now sat down in long rows in the two canoes. A few of the men went by land with the horses towards St. Stephens, to make preparations for the arrival of the main party. This rude and singular craft, then quite common in savage regions, had proceeded but two miles down the rapid, crooked and swollen stream, when it struck with great force against a log, which extended half across the channel, and immediately disappeared. The cane ligament which bound the Siamese canoes burst asunder, and every soul was washed deep under the waves. Those who rose again were presently seen struggling with the torrent, amid the wreck, now tossed about in the fury of the waters. Murrel rose, but in his arms was the lifeless body of a daughter. His wife also came to the surface, with a babe at her breast, both, happily, alive. Malone and others, swimming ashore, became active in assisting many of the party in reaching limbs of trees by extending to them grapevines and canes. At length, all who survived huddled upon a small piece of land, surrounded by water.

It was now night. The north wind swept over the gloomy swamp. The ducks, in their rapid flight, whizzed through the air. The wolves howled upon the prairies. The owls screamed and hooted upon the lofty trees. The mighty timber crashed as the angry currents passed by. Such were the unwelcome sounds that fell upon the ears of this miserable party. No succor came. No encouraging voice saluted them. Benumbed with cold, they hovered together to keep alive, shivering and knocking their agitated limbs against each other, while their wet apparel froze fast upon them. Being without fire, they had no way to produce one. It was two miles back to the old camp, and the route lay over thick cane, water and small islands. A resolute young negro man volunteered to find it. He plunged into the low grounds, and, strangely, made his way to the camp. In the meantime, the helpless pioneers, despairing of his return, bewailed their condition with deep moans and bitter lamentations. Beneath the shadows of one of the darkest nights ever known, they mournfully counted over the missing and the drowned. Two long hours passed away, when the cheerful halloo of the negro was heard afar off. It was answered by a united and sympathetic shout. All eyes were turned in the direction from which the sound came, and in the darkness was seen an indistinct light, which shone over the tops of the distant canes like a far-off Aurora Borealis. It was fire, and the noble negro had brought it from the old camp. At length he came, with a cracking, crashing noise, familiar only to the ears of those who have walked through the dense cane swamps of Alabama.

Fires were kindled with dry cane, and around them sat the sufferers until the morning sun dispelled the horrid night. It was now ascertained that one white child and twenty-one negroes were entombed beneath the tide of the angry Tombigby. The survivors groped their way to the Cotton Gin, without provisions, without hats, without tools, without firearms, without money, and with no clothes except those which drooped upon their limbs They were friendless and alone in a savage country, far from their point of destination, and still further from their native land.

Who saved these people from starvation, and enabled them to reach Washington county, Alabama, after a journey of one hundred and twenty days from North Carolina? Not the Indians, for one of them stole a negro from the brave Malone, for the return of whom he had to give his watch. Those animals who cling to their unfortunate masters to the last moment, and are never once guilty of the crime of ingratitude, who hunted rabbits, opossums and raccoons for their famished owners. They saved the lives of these people.

1799: Several years previous to this period two brothers from New England came to the Boat Yard, upon Lake Tensaw. William Pierce pursued the business of weaving, a profitable employment in those days. His brother John established the first American school in Alabama. There the high-blood descendants of Lachlan McGillivray, the Taits, Weatherfords and Durants, the aristocratic Linders, the wealthy Mims's, and the children of many others, first learned to read. The pupils were strangely mixed in blood, and their color was of every hue. It was not long before these Yankee brothers engaged in mercantile pursuits. Oct.1802: They established a cotton gin at the Boat Yard, the first in that part of the country. Six months before this Ahram Mordecai, an Indian trader, procuring the consent of the Creek Chiefs and the approbation of Col. Hawkins, had established a cotton gin at Weatherford's race track, on the first eastern bluff below the junction of the Coosa and Tallapoosa. It was built by Lyons & Barnett, of Georgia, who brought their tools, gin saws and other materials from that State on pack-horses. The same enterprising mechanics also built the one for the Pierces, and another at McIntosh Bluff, upon the Tombigby.

1802: Abram Mordecai was a queer fellow. He traded extensively with the Indians, exchanging his goods for pink root, hickory-nut oil and peltries of all kinds. These he carried to New Orleans and Mobile in boats, and to Pensacola and Augusta on pack-horses. The hickory-nut oil was a luxury with French and Spanish epicures. It was manufactured by the Indians in a simple manner--by boiling the cracked nuts in water, and skimming off the oil as it floated on the surface. Mordecai bought cotton of the Indians in small quantities, ginned it, and carried it to Augusta on pack-horses, in bags much smaller than those of the present day. He was a darkeyed Jew, and amorous in his disposition. Tourculla, (Captain Isaacs,) the Chief of the Coosawdas, hearing of his intrigues with a married squaw, approached his house with twelve warriors, knocked him down, thrashed him with poles until he lay insensible, cut off his ear, and left him to the care of his wife. They also broke up his boat, and burned down his gin-house. A pretty squaw was the cause of the destruction of the first cotton gin in Alabama.*

* Conversations with Lachlan Durant, James Moore, Abram Mordecai, and many other old traders.

1803: General Bowles, quitting the island where Ellicott found him, boldly advanced into the Creek nation, disturbed the mild and beneficial influence which Hawkins had began to engender, declared his eternal hostility to Spain and the United States, and became an object of dread to all quiet minds, and a terror to all interests against which he acted. Among other outrages, he headed a party of Indians, advanced upon St. Marks, captured the fort, and plundered the store of Panton, Leslie & Co. Hawkins united with the Spanish authorities in a scheme to rid the country of a common enemy. A large secret reward was offered for his capture. A great feast was given by the Indians at the town of Tuskegee, where the old French Fort Toulouse stood, to which Bowles and the Miccasoochy Chiefs were invited. They attended, and during the feast the unsuspecting freebooter was suddenly seized by concealed Indians, who sprang upon him, securely pinioned him and placed him in a canoe full of armed warriors. They then rapidly rowed down the river. Hawkins and John Forbes, of Pensacola, were in the town, but were concealed, until Sam McNac, a half-breed, had caused Bowles to be made a prisoner. Arriving at a point in the present Dallas county, the canoe was tied up, the prisoner conducted upon the bank, and a guard set over him. In the night the guard fell asleep, when Bowles gnawed his ropes apart crept down the bank, got into the canoe, quietly paddled across the river, entered a thick cane swamp, and fled. At the break of day, the astonished Indians arose in great confusion, but fortunately saw the canoe on the opposite side, which Bowles had foolishly neglected to shove off. Swimming over to that point, they got upon his track, and by the middle of the day once more made him a prisoner. He was conveyed to Mobile, and from thence to Havana, where, after a few years, he died in the dungeons of Moro Castle.*

* Conversations with old traders, who were present when Bowles was captured. See also Indian Affairs, vol. 1.

While the inhabitants of the eastern section were disturbed by Bowles, a notorious robber, named Mason, was a terror to the people of the western part of the Mississippi Territory. During the occupancy of the country by the Spaniards, the lair of this remorseless human tiger was in a cave upon the Ohio, where he secreted his banditti, and the booty which he had acquired in a long and bloody havoc upon the public. He had now stationed himself upon the highway between New Orleans and Natchez, with his two sons and their desperate associates. The Western people boated their produce down the Mississippi, sold it in New Orleans, purchased horses, and returned offered the most extensive theatre for the operations of Mason and his banditti. Hence his sanguinary outrages were perpetrated one day in the Chickasaw nation and the next upon Pearl river. At length the peope in all parts of the country were aroused by his inhuman murders, and every hand was raised against him. Governor Claiborne declared him an outlaw, and offered a large reward for his head. The proclamation was widely distributed, and fell into the hands of Mason; and while he was reading it with a smile of scorn and contempt, a blow from behind felled him to the earth. 1803: His sons were out upon an expedition, and he was alone with two of his men, who, tempted by the reward, now cut off his head and bore it to Washington to Governor Claiborne. Fortunately, on account of a temporary lack of funds in the treasury, the reward was not paid. In the meantime, hundreds flocked to the governor's quarters to see the head of Mason, and it was recognized by many who had seen him. Among others went two young men, whose respectable father Mason and his gang had waylaid and robbed while they were with him. They immediately recognized his two associates, who brought in the head. These men were thrown into prison, condemned and hung, and the reward was thus saved to the territory, while Mason was also out of the way.*

* Monette, vol. 2, pp. 351-353. Conversations with aged persons in Washington county, Alabama.

April 1803: Down to this period, no Protestant preacher had ever raised his voice to remind the Tombigby and Tensaw settlers of their duty to the Most High. Hundreds, born and bred in the wilderness, and now adult men and women, had never even seen a preacher. The mysterious and eccentric Lorenzo Dow, one day suddenly appeared at the Boat Yard. He came from Georgia, across the Creek nation, encountering its dangers, almost alone. He proclaimed the truths of the gospel here, to a large audience, crossed over the Alabama, and preached two sermons to the "Bigby settlers," and went from thence to the Natchez settlements, where he also exhorted the people to "turn from the error of their ways." Dec. 27 1804: He then visited the Cumberland region and Kentucky, and came back to the Tombigby, filling his appointments to the very day. Again plunging into the Creek nation, this holy man of God once more appeared among the people of Georgia.*

* Lorenzo Dow's complete works," pp. 76-101.

As early as the summer of 1799, the Rev. Tobias Gibson, a Methodist missionary from South Carolina, visited the Natchez settlements, by way of the Cumberland and Ohio--organized religious societies in Washington and its vicinity, and then departed from the wilderness. In the fall of 1800, he again appeared, now as a missionary from the Tennessee Conference, and formed societies from Bayou Pierre to the Spanish line, numbering, collectively, two hundred church members. After performing the most arduous labor in the cause of our Divine Master, for three years, in this rude and savage land, he died. The Rev. Mr. Brown, another Methodist missionary, came from Tennessee in 1802, and brought with him to the Natchez country, a mind stored with a knowledge of science, and a heart fervent with piety. He labored in Natchez until 1807. Montgomery and Hall, two reverend gentlemen of the Presbyterian order, also preached in Natchez for several years. The Baptists, too, sent a "laborer into the vineyard," in the person of the Rev. David Cooper, who arrived in 1802. Dr. Cloud, of the Episcopal Church, was also sent to "proclaim the glad tidings." The efforts of these various sects were highly salutary, serving to soften and refine the people, and to banish much sin and vice from the worst region that ministers ever entered. *

* Monette, vol 2, pp. 354-357

Mar. 3 1803: Congress established regulations respecting the English, Spanish and Georgia grants. Many of the inhabitants claimed extensive tracts of land under them. A land office was established at the town of Washington, and a board of commissioners formed, composed of Thomas Rodney and Robert Williams, who proceeded to consider all claims arising under these grants, in a district extending from Pearl river to the Mississippi. July 9: They continued in office until the 3d July, 1807, having recorded two thousand and ninety claims. Their acts were sanctioned by the President. Feb. 2 1804: Another board of commissioners, consisting of Joseph Chambers, Epham Kirby and Robert Carter Nicholas, was formed at St. Stephens, upon the Tombigby, whose district extended from Pearl river eastward. They adjourned on the 21st December, 1805, having admitted to record two hundred and seventy-six claims, which the President likewise ratified. The inhabitants living upon public lands about the time of Ellicott's survey, were afterwards allowed by the government a section of land; and those who came just before the board of commissioners was established, received a quarter section. Mar. 27: Isaac Briggs was surveyor-general. The Territorial government was made to extend to the southern boundary of the State of Tennessee; but the extinguishment of the Indian title had been obtained to no portion, except a strip seventy miles long, above and below Natchez, and extending back twenty miles, and the small district upon the Tombigby. The balance of the territory was occupied by the Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws and Choctaws.

Col. James Caller, of North Carolina, was one of the first representatives to the Legislative Council, from the county of Washington, Alabama. The first County Court of this county was held at McIntosh Bluff, where John Caller, Cornelius Rain and John Johnson, presided with great frontier dignity. These justices had no code before them, and coming from different States, decided cases according to the laws of their native land, so that the most amusing differences of opinion often prevailed. This was the case all over the territory; but the Justices from Georgia holding the laws of South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, and the whole of New England in great contempt, contended that the practice in the State from which they came, was alone correct. With their usual success, they generally managed to carry their points.

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