War had now raged between the mother country and her colonies of North America for more than three years. It had become fierce and sanguinary along the Atlantic. But the people of West Florida, whose government was composed chiefly of military dependencies, had hitherto enjoyed peace. They were mostly loyal subjects of the King. But now, even in this remote region, the contest began to be felt. The Creek Indians were relied upon, mainly, by the British authorities, to harass the Whig inhabitants of Georgia and Carolina. They had stationed at Hickory Ground, the site of the lower suburbs of the modern Wetumpka, Colonel Tait, an English officer, of captivating address, for the purpose of influencing the Creeks in behalf of the King. There, he soon became acquainted with the most gifted and remarkable man that ever was born upon the soil of Alabama, the history of whose family will now be given.
A Scotch boy, of sixteen years of age, who had read of the wonders to be seen in America, ran away from his wealthy and respectable parents, living in Dunmaglass, and entered a ship which was bound for South Carolina. He arrived, without accident, at the port of Charleston. Young Lachlan McGillivray there first set his foot upon American soil. He then had no property, except a shilling in his pocket, a suit of clothes upon his back, a red head, a stout frame, an honest heart, a fearless disposition, and cheerful spirits, which seldom became depressed. About this period, the English were conducting an extensive commerce with the Cherokees, Chickasaws and those of the Creeks who were not in the interest of the French. Young McGillivray repaired to the extensive quarters of the traders, in the suburbs of Charleston. There he saw hundreds of pack horses, pack saddles, and curious looking pack horsemen, in demi-civilized garbs, together with packs of merchandise, ready to be carried to the wilderness. The keen eyes of one of these traders soon fell upon the smart Scotch boy, who, he saw at a glance, would be useful to him. The next day, Lachlan might have been seen, in the pine woods, several miles distant from Charleston, mounted upon a horse, and driving others before him, in company with a whole caravan of traders. Arriving upon the Chattahoochie, his master, as a reward for his activity and accommodating spirit, gave him a jack knife, which he sold to an Indian receiving in exchange a few deerskins. These he sold in Charleston, upon his return, and the proceeds of this adventure laid the foundations of a large fortune. In the course of a few years, he became one of the boldest and most enterprising traders in the whole country. Whether it was owing to a superior address, a fearless disposition, or, which is more probable, a leaning towards the French, for personal interests, he even extended his commerce, without interruption, to the very neighborhood of Fort Toulouse.
At the Hickory Ground, a few miles above that fort, he found a beautiful girl, by the name of Sehoy Marchand, whose father once commanded at Fort Toulouse, and was there killed, in 1722, by his own soldiers, as we have already seen. Her mother was a full-blooded Creek woman, of the tribe of the Wind, the most aristocratic and powerful family in the Creek nation. Sehoy was an Indian name, which had attached to many persons of the family, time out of mind.
Sehoy Marchand, when first seen by young Lachlan McGillivray, was a maiden of sixteen, cheerful in countenance, bewitching in looks, and graceful in form. Her unfortunate father, Captain Marchand, was a Frenchman, of dark complexion, and, consequently, this beautiful girl scarcely looked light enough for a half blood; but then, her slightly curled hair, her vivacity and peculiar gesticulation, unmistakably exposed her origin. It was not long before Lachlan and Sehoy joined their destinies in marriage, according to the ceremony of the country. The husband established a trading house at Little Tallase, four miles above Wetumpka, on the east bank of the Coosa, and there took home his beautiful wife. The Indian tradition ran, that, while pregnant with her first child, she repeatedly dreamed of piles of manuscripts, of ink and paper, and heaps of books, more than her eyes had ever beheld in the fort, when, a child, she used to visit her father. She was delivered of a boy, who received the name of Alexander, and who, when grown to manhood, wielded a pen which commanded the admiration and respect of Washington and his cabinet, and which influenced the policy of all Spanish Florida.
Lachlan McGillivray, assisted by his alliance with the most influential family in the Creek nation, continued to extend his commerce. He became wealthy, and owned two plantations, well stocked with Negroes, upon the Savannah, besides stores filled with Indian merchandise, in the towns of Savannah and Augusta. When his son, Alexander, was fourteen years of age, he carried him to Charleston, by the consent of his wife, for we have seen that, among the Creeks particularly, the children always belonged to the mother. He was placed at school in that town, and, after a few years, was transferred to a counting house at Savannah. But Alexander had a distaste for business, and, while the other clerks were delving among the goods, and squabbling with the pack-horse traders, he was accustomed to steal to some corner, and there pore over the histories of European nations. Having an inordinate thirst after knowledge, his father, through the advice of his friends, again carried him to Charleston, and placed him with a clergyman of his name, with whom, in a short time, he mastered the Greek and Latin tongues, and became a good belles lettres scholar. But Alexander was now a man. He had a thousand times thought, and dreamed, of his bow and arrows, his blow-gun, his mother’s house by the side of the clear and beautiful Coosa, in which he used to fish and bathe with the Indian lads of his own age–of the old warriors, who had so often recounted to him the deeds of his ancestors–of the bright eyes of his two lovely sisters, Sophia and Jeannet–yes, he remembered all these, and, one day, he turned his back upon civilization, and his horse’s head towards his native land.
About this time, the Chiefs of the Creek nation were getting into much trouble with the people of Georgia, and with anxiety they had awaited the time when Alexander McGillivray could, by his descent from the Wind family, assume the affairs of their government. His arrival now was most opportune, and the first we hear of him, after he had so suddenly left Charleston, he was presiding at a grand national council, at the town of Coweta, upon the Chattahoochie, where the adventurous Leclerc Milfort was introduced to him, as we have seen. He was, at this time, about thirty years of age. He was then in great power, for he had already become the object of attention on the part of the British authorities of the Floridas. When Colonel Tait was stationed upon the Coosa, they conferred upon Alexander McGillivray the rank and pay of a colonel, and associated him with Tait, for the purpose of procuring, through them, the alliance of the Creek nation in the war of the revolution. McGillivray, throughout the whole war, was devoted to their interests, and it was natural that he should have pursued that course towards those who first honored him; besides, his father, a man of great influence, was also a royalist.
Colonel McGillivray was tall, rather slender, and of a constitution by no means robust. To be a leader in war was not his forte, and was unsuited to his tastes and habits. His great power lay in diplomacy, and in the controlling of men, as the reader will often see, in perusing this history at a later date. In 1778, he carried on an extensive correspondence with the British colonial governments of Florida, and also with that of the province of Georgia, and was indefatigable in co-operating with Tait, in confederating the Indians against the Whigs. During the war, he led, in person, several expeditions with that officer; but his chief reliance was upon Leclerc Milfort, a man at once bold, daring, enthusiastic, possessed of an iron constitution, and every way qualified to lead Indians into battle. He often did so, while Col. McGillivray remained at home, controlling the arbitrary Chiefs, and compelling them to raise warriors for his King. All the while, McGillivray was not unmindful of the aggrandizement of himself and his nation, for it must be borne in mind that the blood which coursed his veins was Scotch, French and Indian. During the desperate struggle for human liberty, he acted in concert with many royalists, who had fled to East Florida, among the most conspicuous of whom were Colonel Daniel McGirth, and his brother, Captain James McGirth. They were bad men, but were brave and enterprising, and well suited to the times. Colonel McGirth commanded the “Florida Rangers,” whose sudden and sanguinary attacks the Whigs of Georgia often severely felt. Leaving Colonel McGillivray, with his red army and white allies, engaged in expeditions most harassing to the Georgians, on their western frontier, we hasten to portray the exciting scenes about Natchez.1
Here, also, the revolution began to be felt. James Willing, of Philadelphia, with a small body of American soldiers, arrived at Natchez, by the way of the Ohio. The ports upon that river, and the Upper Mississippi, had fallen into the hands of the Americans, and had been supplied, for more than a year, by shipments from New Orleans, in consequence of a private arrangement between Don Galvez and Oliver Pollock, the American agent at New Orleans. Willing was now sent to further that end, and he was supplied with blank commissions, and authorized to recruit for the American service. Knowing that the inhabitants of this part of West Florida were loyal subjects of Britain, to allay their opposition to his schemes, he first sought to place them in a neutral position. A man of ingenuity and address, he made speeches, eloquently depicting the justice of our cause, and the certainty of final success, asserted that five thousand troops were then on their way to protect these inhabitants from the aggressions of the British government. He generally prevailed on them to take an oath of strict neutrality. Also enlisting a hundred men, whose officers he commissioned, he continued his voyage to Manchac, and was equally successful there. By stratagem, he made himself master of an English armed ship, which he conveyed to New Orleans, sold to the Spaniards, and wasted the avails in debauchery. With two subalterns, and forty of his original party, he returned to Manchac, plundered the plantations, without distinction, and rioted upon the booty. In the meantime, the Natchez people, hearing of these outrages, formed a large armed association, for their protection, and stationed themselves about the mouth of St. Catherine, not far below Natchez, to prevent the ascent of Captain Willing. He was presently seen to approach, but turned his boats to the opposite side of the Mississippi. Through the effects of a flag, and upon his professions of friendship, and assurances that he intended no injury to this section of the country, he received permission from the “settlers” to come over to them, across the river. After some consultation, he despatched Lieutenant Harrison, with a command, in a boat. In the meantime, the “associated settlers,” reposing confidence in the promises of Willing, had abandoned their defensive positions, and now sat and lay upon the banks, at their ease. When the boat approached near enough, the gunner, by the orders of Lieutenant Harrison, fired a swivel upon the settlers, by which many were wounded. The latter instantly rose up, in great confusion, returned the fire with their guns, riddled the boat, and killed Lieutenant Harrison and seven of his men. The others came ashore, and surrendered. Willing, with his remaining banditti, fled to Manchac, sailed over to the Tensaw settlements, above Mobile, and endeavored, in vain, to enlist the people in his cause. He was eventually made a prisoner of war, and kept in the British camp, in chains, and was not released until the close of 1779.
The inhabitants now considered themselves absolved from their oath of neutrality, by the baseness of Captain Willing, and they all swore to defend the government of the King. They elected officers, repaired old Fort Panmure, and occupied it with a regular garrison. They also marched, in April, to the relief of the people in the neighborhood of Manchac, from which place Willing had already fled. Thus, by the indiscretions and outrages of the first American command sent here, our glorious cause was materially injured.2
Fort Panmure, at the Natchez, in a short time, received as a commander, Michael Jackson, a native of New England, an abandoned horse thief, who had been driven from the borders of civilization. During the whole of the fall and winter, this man, now a captain in the British service produced great dissatisfaction by his oppressions and extortions. 1778: Colonel Hutchens, an influential citizen of Natchez, placed himself at the head of the malcontents, arrested and confined Jackson, and placed Captain Thaddeus Lyman in command. On promising to leave the country he was released, but the first night after his dismission from the fort he was joined by thirty deserters, who were as abandoned as himself. Jackson now stationed himself “under the hill,” where he seized some military stores and artillery. Sending runners to the Choctaws, they returned with a considerable force of these savages. Jackson now exultingly fired his artillery upon the fort; but his Indian allies, seeing the British flag flying from the ramparts, and learning the nature of the dispute, refused to be made the instruments of the rascal, and retired peaceably to their homes. Seeing himself abandoned, Captain Jackson requested a parley, which was agreed to, and he was suffered, with his men, to enter the fort, and there peaceably to remain until the whole affair should undergo an investigation. Here he soon raised a mutiny, and one night caused the drums suddenly to beat to arms, and seizing Captain Lyman placed him in close confinement. His tyranny caused many to desert, who were pursued by a detachment under Lieutenant Pentacost. An engagement took place, when Pentacost was killed, and the deserters made their escape to the Spanish garrison at Manchac, across the Iberville. Again Jackson was overthrown and forced to retire; but before doing so he robbed the fort of all the valuables which he could transport.3 In this manner the royalists were divided, and in the midst of their dissensions a large number of Whigs were scattered about the country, anxiously awaiting the time when they should be joined by aid from a distance, under Colonel Clark, of Virginia.
Although Spain had long experienced evasions of her revenue laws on the part of the British, and had been compelled to establish a fort at Manchac to prevent them, nevertheless she had up to this period maintained a neutrality in the war waging between England and the United American Colonies. But France had not been an indifferent spectator, and the leaning of that power towards us brought about a collision with arbitrary John Bull. Spain interposed her friendly efforts to effect reconciliation; but the canine propensities of England were aroused, and that ungenerous government declared war against Spain as well as France. His Catholic Majesty, fired at the ruthless manner in which he had been treated for a friendly act, now resolved to dispossess England of every foot of land in the Floridas. Sept. 1: According to his directions, Don Galvez, the governor of his province of Louisiana, stood before Fort Bute, at Manchac, with a force of fourteen hundred men. After a resistance of five days it was carried by storm and utterly demolished. Reinforced by a number of militia, including American patriots, Galvez marched up and invested Baton Rouge. After a severe cannonade of two hours and a half, Colonel Dickson, the British commander, surrendered the fort and a garrison of four hundred regulars and one hundred militia. Fort Panmure, at the Natchez, a small fort and garrison on the Amite, and another at Thompson’s creek, were also surrendered at the same time.
Leaving Don Grandpre in command, at Baton Rouge, and sending Spanish detachments to the other forts, which had already yielded to his arms, Galvez returned to New Orleans, and there began extensive preparations for the reduction of Mobile. After encountering a terrible storm, which came near destroying his transports and stores, he landed his army a little below Mobile, early in March, 1780. Fort Charlotte refused to surrender, and Galvez planted his six batteries. A severe cannonade opened a breach in the fort, when the British officer capitulated, by the surrender of Mobile and all its dependencies, extending from the Perdido to the Pearl River. Thus, the Spaniards were now in possession of all West Florida, except Pensacola, and the country as far as the Chattahoochie. Knowing the great strength of Pensacola, Galvez determined to be well prepared for a siege. He put in requisition all his disposable regular forces and militia, both of Louisiana and of the country which he had conquered, and, in the meantime, sailed to Havana to obtain more troops and heavier artillery. With a large number of well equipped troops, and an abundance of stores and ordnance, he entered the bay of Pensacola with his fleet, while his Louisiana and Mobile forces marched across the country, from the mouth of the Perdido. Being invested both by sea and by land, General Campbell, after a vigorous defense, in which he was assisted by the Creek Indians, finally surrendered.
The Creeks, on this occasion, were commanded by William Augustus Bowles, an interesting person, who will figure in our narrative hereafter.
The town of Pensacola, the fortress and seaport, with eight hundred men, as prisoners of war, and the whole of West Florida, thus fell into the hands of the King of Spain. The victorious Galvez received many honors for his brilliant services.4
MS. in my possession. Also information derived from conversations with the intelligent niece and nephew of Colonel McGillivray, still living, also with old Indian traders who knew him in those times. See also Milfort’s “Sejour dans la Nation Creek,” and McCall’s History of Georgia. ↩
Memoirs and Adventures of Phelps, pp. 107-120. This author was one of the “associated settlers,” And appears to have been a conscientious and truthful man. He is sustained by Judge Martin, in his History of Louisiana, vol 2, pp 42-3, in regard to the outrages of Willing. It is, however, due to the descendants of that officer, to observe that Monette, in his History of the Valley of the Mississippi, represents him as a brave and honorable man, and severely censures the “associated settlers” for the perfidy which they displayed in the fire upon Harrison and his command. I, however, after a careful and dispassionate examination, believe the statement of Phelps. See Monette, vol. 1, pp. 434-6. Monette quotes Ellicott’s Journal, pp. 131-2. ↩
Phelps, pp. 121-197. ↩
Spanish MS. ↩