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Hardships of the Early Natchez Emigrants
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Taking the reader with us, to the settlements of the distant Natchez region, he will find that emigrants continued to pour in, upon those fertile hills and alluvial bottoms, from all parts of “his majesty’s Atlantic plantations.” Many were the hardships and perils they encountered, in reaching this remote and comparatively uninhabited region. It is believed that the history of one party of these emigrants will enable the reader to understand what kind of hardships and deprivations all the others were forced to undergo.
Major General Phineas Lyman, a native of Durham, a graduate of Yale, a distinguished lawyer, and a member of the legislature of the commonwealth of Massachusetts, became commander of the Connecticut forces in 1755. He served with so much distinction, during the Canadian war, that he was invited, by persons high in office, to visit England. He had formed an association composed of his brothers in arms, called the “Military Adventurers,” whose design was, the colonization of a tract of country upon the Mississippi. He sailed to England, as agent for this company, with the sanguine, yet reasonable hope, that the King would make the grant. Arriving there he found, to his astonishment, that land in a wilderness was refused to those who had fought so valiantly for it, and whose contemplated establishment would have formed a barrier against enemies, who might seek to acquire it. In his own country Lyman had never solicited favor, otherwise than by faithful public services. The coolness which he now experienced deeply mortified him — his spirits sank, and he lost all his former energy. Shocked at the degradation which he imagined he should sustain by returning home unsuccessful, he made up his mind to bury his bones upon the ungrateful soil. There he remained for eleven years, a neglected man. His wife, a lady of superior endowments, distressed at his long absence, sent her own son to solicit his return. The sight of his boy called up their remains of his resolution, and he resolved to go back to America, as the grant upon the Mississippi had at last been made.1 He reached home in 1773. But the grave had closed over most of his original associates, while others had arrived at an age unsuitable to bold enterprises. In company with his eldest son, a man of rare attainments, but who had become subdued and listless, in consequence of the deep distress and mortification of his father while so long absent, General Lyman sailed from New England with a number of emigrants, in two vessels bound for New Orleans.
It is deemed proper that an enumeration of these emigrants be here made, as the eyes of some of their descendants, still living in Mississippi, may perhaps rest on these pages. On board of these vessels were:
General Lyman, of Suffield
Captain Ladley, of Hartford
Thomas and James Lyman, Durham
Hugh White, Middletown
Major Easley, Weatherford
Thaddeus and Phineas Lyman, with eight slaves, Suffield
Moses and Isaac Sheldon
Elisha and Joseph Flowers, Springfield
______ Alcott, Windsor
Daniel and Rosswell Magguet, Hartford
_____ Weed, New Hartford
Captain Silas Crane
James Dean, of Lebanon.
Abram Knapp and Matthew Phelps, of Norfolk.
Giles and Nathaniel Hull,
Thaddeus Bradley, Salisbury
Hezekiah Rew, Sheffield
Elisha Hale, Wallingford
Timothy and David Hotchkiss, Waterberry
William and Jonathan Lyon
William Davis, Stratford or Derby
James Harman and family
Elnathan Smith, Suffield
Elisha Leonard, with a number of slaves, Springfield.
General Lyman and these emigrants at length saw the mouth of the Mississippi, passed up to New Orleans, there obtained boats, and, after a laborious ascent of that powerful stream, arrived upon the Big Black River. He settled his grant, but was too old to cultivate it. In a short time his son died, and before he could arrange his own affairs, to return home, for the purpose of bringing out his family, the grave also closed over him, terminating a life, first, of honor and military glory, and then of sadness and misfortune. But the half has not yet been told of the troubles of his family, the last of whom were miserable sufferers in the Creek nation, as will hereafter be narrated.
Captain Matthew Phelps, one of the companions of General Lyman, returned to Connecticut, and his representations of the fertility of the new country excited many of the citizens, who resolved to return with him to occupy it. But various causes prevented their departure. At length, however, they sailed from Middletown. Among these emigrants were Madame Lyman, the wife of the late General, with three sons and two daughters; Major Timothy Dwight, his wife and one child; Sereno and Jonathan Dwight, of North Hampton; Benjamin Day and his family; Harry Dwight and three slaves; Joseph Leonard and Joshua Flowers, with their families, from Springfield; the Rev. _____ Smith and his family, from Granville; Mrs. Elnathan Smith and children; and John Felt and his family, from Suffield; together with Captain Phelps, wife and children, with many others.2
After a voyage of three months, attended with many dangers, the party reached New Orleans, on the 1st August. Here, obtaining boats, they began to stem the muddy current of the Mississippi. Mrs. Flowers, an estimable lady, who was too sick to continue the voyage, was left at Point Coupee, where she soon died. The eldest daughter of Captain Phelps was seized with a violent fever, and, in a few days after, the enterprising father became sick with the same disease, his boat tied to the willows, while the others continued the voyage. His intimate friend, Leonard, who had messed with him at sea, arrived at Natchez, where he buried his wife. The boat containing the Lymans and the Rev. — Smith reached Natchez about the same time, a few days after which the worthy minister closed his earthly career, and was soon followed to his long home by the refined and estimable Major Dwight. At length, those of this party who were left, reached the Big Black, and the improvements made by General Lyman. Here Madame Lyman soon died, and was buried by the side of her husband and son!
The unfortunate Phelps remained in his boat, which was anchored fifteen miles above Point Coupee, when his daughter, Abigail, died. He was compelled to bury her with his own hands. All this time, it was only at intervals that his family were able to assist each other in to the severe fits of the ague which afflicted them.
The Disposer of Events removed from this distressed man an infant, born on the ocean, whom the sailors had named “Atlantic.” Phelps again had to perform the melancholy task of digging a grave, and burying the boy by the side of his lovely sister. Mr. Flowers, the other members of whose family had died below, came, with his child, in a small boat, to the gloomy habituation of Phelps. They now both obtained a larger boat, and, placing in it their joint effects, began again to ascend the river. The Phelpses were worn to skeletons, but, struggling forward, against singular adversity, and buoyed up with the hope of brighter scenes, they finally arrived at the landing of Natchez. Advancing, after a few days, they reached Petit Gulf, where lived Philip Alston, a gentleman of wealth and humanity. Mrs. Phelps, worn down with trouble and disease, was rapidly approaching dissolution. In a few days she died, and Alston had her remains decently interred. He did all in his power to alleviate the sorrows of the unhappy husband, and sheltered him and his two remaining children under his hospitable roof. A few days afterwards, the fated Phelps began again to move up the river, and, upon gaining Grand Gulf, entered the hospitable abode of an old acquaintance. Leaving this place, he came in sight of the mouth of the Big Black river having consumed nearly one hundred days in performing a voyage from New Orleans, which can now be accomplished in a few hours. Near this place, three years before, he had purchased some improvements. Captain Phelps was so debilitated, that he hired a lad, of fourteen years of age, and a man, by the name of Knapp, to propel his boat. Upon entering the Big Black, the captain and the boy, disembarking, walked along the bank, dragging the boat after them with a long line, while Knapp remained on board, to steer, in company with the children, a boy of five and a girl ten years of age. The children were quietly sitting upon the bed on which they had suffered so much. Presently the boat entered a whirlpool, which forced the stern under a willow. Knapp jumped out and swam ashore. The terrified Phelps secured the end of the rope around a tree, and rushed to the spot where his all remained in such imminent peril. Unable to swim, he crawled into the river upon the willow, imploring his daughter to remain quiet, until he could get her little brother. While the little fellow was wading the water in the bottom of the boat, endeavoring to reach his unhappy father, the willow began to sink, with additional weight upon it, and, at that moment, an angry billow came rushing down, the boat suddenly went under, and the poor children were swept rapidly off. “Oh, God, save them!” was all that the miserable Phelps could utter. Standing upon the unsteady willow, he saw them rise again to the surface, locked in each other’s arms, and then sink forever. The bereaved father stood upon the tree in mournful silence — wet, cold, emaciated — without property, without friends, and without children, and with no wife to encourage him and sympathize with him in his misfortunes. But Phelps was a Christian, and he bore up with astonishing fortitude. The calamities which had befallen him had been unavoidable and yet he tortured his imagination, for some time, with reproaches upon himself. In addition to his weighty troubles, he found that, during his absence, his improvements had been taken from him, by a wretch who availed himself of the customs of the country. Phelps, however, survived all this, and lived to be an old man surrounded, in New England with a wife, children and plenty. He was long accustomed to relate to the sober Yankees the horrors which he experienced in the “Natchez country,” with perfect composure; always, however, avoiding the last terrible affair, when his two children, whom God had spared him, and with whom he had expected yet to see much happiness in the wilderness, rose up to his view, from their watery bed, for one short moment, locked in each other’s arms, and then went down forever.3
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