Chapter 34: St. Stephens -- Huntsville -- Indian Commerce Kemper Expeditions

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



Dec. 7 1807: The military movements of Burr increased the population and wealth of the Mississippi Territory, for hundreds of his followers became permanent citizens. About this time the cultivation of indigo was much abandoned for that of cotton, and some salutary laws were enacted in relation to the toll for ginning the latter staple. The cotton receipts obtained from the owner of a gin were also made a legal tender, and passed as domestic bills of exchange. St. Stephens was laid off into town lots. A road was cut out from thence to the city of Natchez. Sept. 8 1807: Notwithstanding the revenue exactions upon the settlers, which now subjected them, by means of the Spanish custom-house at Mobile and the American at Fort Stoddart, to a duty of from forty-two to forty-seven per cent, ad valorem for articles essential to family comfort, while at the same time their fellow-citizens about Natchez were entirely free from such exactions, paying only four dollars per barrel for Kentucky flour, when the Tombigby planter paid sixteen--yet they remained loyal to the Federal Government; and both whigs and tories participated in an animated public meeting at Wakefield, pledging their support to the United States to avenge the wanton attack of the British upon the American ship Chesapeake, in a string of eloquent and patriotic resolutions, drafted by James McGoffin.

The little town of Huntsville, north of the Tennessee, continued to receive around it many wealthy emigrants from several of the Atlantic and Western States. Governor Williams issued a proclamation, forming a county, of which this became the courthouse. Dec. 13 1808: The new county of Madison, where it joined the Tennessee line, was about twenty-five miles wide, and approached the Tennessee river in the shape of a triangle, not exceeding three miles wide at Ditto's Landing. It embraced all the territory that fell within Alabama, to which the Indian title was extinguished by the treaty with the Chickasaws in 1805.

Dec. 23 1809: The Mississippi Territory continued to improve. The forests began to be extensively felled; houses were reared as if by magic; the preacher was zealous in the discharge of his divine mission; the "schoolmaster was abroad;" the medical and legal professions flourished; the merchants drove a good business; the mechanics received constant employment and high wages--while the farmer worked for them all, and received his due reward. These remarks apply more particularly to the section upon the Mississippi. A stock bank, with a capital of five hundred thousand dollars, was established at Natchez.

The factory of the United States, located at St. Stephens, continued to be managed with advantage, so far as the friendship of the Choctaws depended, which was the chief aim of the government. When quite a young man, Mr. George S. Gaines, a native of Virginia, and then a resident of Gallatin, Tennessee, received the appointment of assistant factor, and arrived at St. Stephens in the spring of 1805. The parsonage of the old Spanish church was used as a skin-house, and the old block-house served the purpose of the government store. In 1807 Gaines was made principal factor. He received a good salary, as also did the assistant clerk, the skinsman and the interpreter. To this establishment the Indians--principally Choctaws--and sometimes the American settlers, brought bear's oil, honey in kegs, beeswax, bacon, groundnuts, tobacco in kegs, and all kinds of skins and peltries. To pay for which, the Federal Government usually kept a stock of coarse Indian merchandise, besides all kinds of iron tools, ploughs, arms and ammunition. In the summer the furs and hides, often overhauled by the skinsman for the purpose of keeping out the worms, were assorted. In the fall they were packed up in bales and shipped to the Indian Agent at Philadelphia. Mr. Gaines at first came often in collision with the revenue authorities of Mobile, who exacted duties--delayed his vessels--and, upon one occasion, came near putting him in the calaboose of that place for venturing to remonstrate. The Federal Government, to avoid the payment of these duties, and to prevent delays, instructed the factor to obtain the consent of the Chickasaws for a road from Colbert's Ferry to St. Stephens. The government resolved to send supplies down the Ohio and up the Tennessee, to the former point. The faithful and enterprising Gaines was unable to procure the privilege of a road, but was allowed the use of a horse path. Upon the backs of horses he was accustomed to transport goods, hardware, and even lead, from Colbert's Ferry to Peachland's, upon the Tombigby. There, boats being constructed, the merchandise was floated down to St. Stephens. It is singular that our ministers, in forming the treaty with Spain in 1795, by which we acquired all of West Florida above the line of 31°, and the right of free navigation a the Mississippi, neglected to insert an article for the free navigation of the bays and rivers of Mobile and Pearl.*

* Conversations with Mr. George S. Gaines.

August: The Spaniards continued to occupy the Baton Rouge district and that of Mobile, and the daring Kempers, who had received such cruel treatment at their hands, together with many other persons, impatient at the irresolution of the Federal Government, resolved to expel them. They were assisted by the people of Bayou Sara, and others below Ellicott's line. Organizing at St. Francisville, the patriots, as they styled themselves, marched upon Baton Rouge--took it by surprise, after a small skirmish, in which Governor Grandpre was killed. The town and other posts fell into their hands, and the Spaniards retired to Pensacola. As the Americans at this period, and for a long time previous, were fruitful in plans to form governments independent of the Union, so the patriots, many of whom were old Spanish subjects, now resolved to have one of their own. A convention assembled, which adopted a declaration of independence, very similar in tone and sentiment to that drawn up by Jefferson. Sept. 26 1810: They declared their right and intention to form treaties, and to establish commerce with foreign nations. Oct. 27: Afterwards, however, this new republic was annexed to Louisiana with the approbation of the inhabitants.

The Kempers, apart from mercenary motives for engaging in this rebellion, desired to gratify a feeling of revenge. Reuben and Samuel captured Kneeland, one of the kidnappers, and inflicted upon his naked back one hundred lashes, then one hundred more for their brother Nathan, who was absent, cut off his ears with a dull knife and permitted him to retire. These trophies of resentment were long preserved in spirits of wine, and hung up in one of the Kemper's parlor. Reuben caught another of these wretches named Horton, and chastised him as long as the latter could receive it, and live. Barker, seized by the Kempers at the court house at Fort Adams, under the nose of the Judge, was dragged forth, and flayed till they were content. Captain Alston, who received the Kempers at the line, with a Spanish guard and conducted them to Bayou Tunica, died of the dropsy contracted in lying in an open boat at anchor every night to avoid the attacks of the injured brothers.*

* MS. notes in the possession of Mr. E. T. Wood, of Mobile. Monette, vol. 2, pp. 486-490. American State Papers, Boston edition, vol. 7, pp. 482-484-479.

However, before the new republic was annexed to Louisiana the convention despatched its colonel, Reuben Kemper, to the Tombigby river to enlist an army for the purpose of expelling the Spaniards from the Mobile district. The hatred of all these people for the Spaniards facilitated the movements of Kemper, who operated in conjunction with Colonel James Caller, a man of wealth and considerable frontier influence, at whose house he lodged. Troops were secretly raised. Flat-boats, with provisions, were despatched down the Tensaw river to Smith's plantation. Nov. 1810: Major Kennedy and Colonel Kemper crossed over to the Boat Yard, where they were joined by Dr. Thomas G. Holmes and other fearless and ardent spirits, together with a company of horse under Captain Bernard. Arriving at the White House, one mile above the present Blakeley, Kemper despatched young Cyrus Sibley with a letter to Governor Folch, who had just taken command of Mobile, demanding the surrender of that place. A party under Dr. Holmes was also despatched to scour the surrounding country for arms, ammunition and provisions, which the inhabitants generally secreted and withheld, because, being Spanish subjects, they were not dissatisfied with that government, which exacted no onerous duties of them. The command dropped down to the old fields of Minette Bay, opposite Mobile, where they appropriated to themselves without scruple forage and provisions, the property of Charles Conway, Sr. Captain Goss arrived with a keel-boat laden with whiskey, corn, flour and bacon, which had been sent by the Baton Rouge Convention down the Mississippi; through the lakes. The whiskey put the whole expedition in good spirits. Glowing speeches were made by Kennedy, who pointed them to the ancient Mobile, which, he said, they would shortly capture. But cold, rainy weather, which the troops were forced to encounter without tents or covering of any kind, now sat in. This circumstance, together with a personal difficulty which arose between Dr. Holmes and Dr. Pollard, in which the former was compelled, in self defence, to severely wound the latter with a pistol, influenced Kemper to conduct the campaign on the other side of the bay. With a portion of the party, Major Hargrove proceeded in the boat to Saw-mill creek, on the west side of Mobile river, twelve miles above the town. With an abundance of whiskey and several fiddlers, a frolic was there kept up, which was intended to last until Kemper and the horse company could go round by the Cut-Off and join them. An evil old man in the neighborhood, who often drank with them, went one night to Mobile and assured Governor Folch how easily they might be captured. The latter sent Parades, with two hundred regulars and citizens in boats, up the river late one evening, who entered Saw-mill creek, ascended it to the American camp, and while the poor fellows were dancing and shouting, at 11 o'clock at night, fired upon them. Many of them fled in all directions. Four were killed and others were wounded. Major Hargrove rallied a few of his men and fought, but was overpowered. He and nine more were loaded with irons, carried to Mobile, thrown into the calaboose, and from thence conveyed to Havana and immured in the dungeons of Moro Castle. Cyrus Sibley, afterwards recognized as the bearer of the despatch to Folch from Kemper, was seized, and also sent to Moro Castle. Nov 1811: These men remained Spanish prisoners in the Castle for five years.* This affair broke up the "Kempper expedition," which was further embarrassed by opposition from the Federal authorities about Fort Stoddart. Subsequently, Wilkinson despatched Colonel Cushing, with some troops, to Mobile, for the protection of the Spaniards from the designs of the patriots. They encamped three weeks at the Orange Grove. Cushing then marched up to Fort Stoddart, and built a cantonment at Mount Vernon.**

* MS. notes in the possession of Mr. E. T. Wood, of Mobile. Also, conversations with Dr. Thomas G. Holmes, of Baldwin county, Alabama.
** Conversations with Major Reuben Chamberlain, of Mobile, who came with Colonel Cushing.

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