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The Second Yazoo Sale


Chapter 26
Page 158

The winter of 1794 and 1795 was remarkable for the celebrated Yazoo speculation, or, as the more intolerant opponents of the measure termed it, the "Yazoo fraud." We have already seen how a prior sale of territory, lying in Alabama and Mississippi, by the Georgia Legislature, ultimately terminated. We have said that we did not believe that Georgia, under the treaties made between Spain, Great Britain and the United States, in 1782 and 1783, had a right to the extensive territory lying between the Chattahoochie and the Mississippi, but, as the Federal Government contended that she had, it ought to have placed her in possession of the country, by the expulsion of the Spaniards. The Georgians felt much aggrieved by the conduct of the General Government, in not only permitting the Spaniards to occupy what they really believed to be their soil, but in suffering them constantly to instigate the Creeks in killing and plundering their frontier population, and in interfering with their treaties. In truth, Georgia did not recognize the right, even in the Federal Government, to make treaties with the Indians, respecting

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the territory which she claimed, while the General Government, on the other hand, did not admit any right in Georgia to make treaties. These, and many other things of a like nature, we are charitable enough to believe, prompted the Yazoo sale.

The first bill which the Legislature of Georgia passed, in regard to the Yazoo sale, at the session of 1794, was returned with the objections of Governor George Mathews. He contended that the time had not arrived for the disposal of the territory; that the sum offered for it was not enough; that the quantity reserved for the citizens was too small; that greater advantages were secured to purchasers than to citizens; that it would operate as a monopoly; and that at least one-fourth of the lands ought to be reserved for the future disposal of the State. The Legislature became excited at the veto of the bill, and in a few days passed another, which Governor Mathews signed.

Governor Mathews was a man of honor and integrity. He vetoed the first bill, not on account of any fraud which he supposed the Legislature was committing upon the Federal Government, for, in common with many other prominent citizens of Georgia, he believed that the State had a right to sell its own lands; but he vetoed it for the reasons which we have enumerated.

Governor Mathews was a native of Ireland, and landed upon the Virginia shore in 1737. Establishing himself in the county of Augusta, he immediately became a formidable and fearless defender of the country against the Indians west of

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the Ohio, who frequently made incursions into Western Virginia. After many combats, in defense of his father's house, and those of his neighbors, he was appointed a captain, and participated in the most gallant manner in the great battle fought between the Virginians and Indians, at the junction of the Ohio with the Kenawha, on the 10th October, 1774. In 1775 he was elected a colonel of the ninth regiment, and for two years he commanded it on the eastern shore of Virginia, after which he joined General Washington. Colonel Mathews commanded his regiment at Brandywine, and at the battle of Germantown captured a regiment of the enemy. He received a very severe wound with a bayonet in another skirmish, was taken a prisoner, and confined on board a British ship in the harbor of New York. He was not exchanged until the termination of the war, when he joined General Greene as commander of the third Virginia regiment. He removed to "Goose Pond," on Broad River, Georgia, in 1785, with his family. One year afterwards he was elected Governor of the State. Under the present constitution he was the first representative of Georgia in Congress, and in 1794, 1795, he was again Governor.

Governor Mathews was short in stature and compactly made. His hair was light, and his complexion was fair and florid. He wore a three-cornered cocked hat, a pair of top-boots, a shirt full-ruffled in front and at the wrist, and occasionally a long sword at his side. He was a man of unsurpassed bravery, and of indomitable energy. His mind was of a strong and vigorous order, but wholly uncultivated, except by

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observation of men and things. His education was more limited than that of any other man of the same distinction. In consequence of his valuable military services, the Legislature of Virginia has preserved his memory in the name of one of the counties of that State.

The preamble to the Yazoo bill declared that the articles of confederation stipulated that each State was to retain her territory; that, by the treaty of Paris, of 1783, the boundaries of Georgia, as well as those of other States, were confirmed; that they were consistent with all the former acts of Georgia, and with the convention held at Beaufort, in 1787, between South Carolina and Georgia; that the States had the right of pre-emption, as well as the full exercise of all territorial rights; that the Legislature disapproved of the New York treaty with McGillivray; that the President had no authority to guarantee therein all the territory west of the Oconee to the Creeks; and that Georgia clearly had the right to convey fee simple titles to all her territories to individuals or companies.

The act stipulated that one-fifth of the purchase money should be paid into the Georgia treasury previous to the passage of the bill. The remainder was to be paid on the 1st November following, secured, by a mortgage, to the Governor. Payments were to be made in specie, United States Bank bills, or military warrants, drawn by the Governor, from 1791 to 1795, inclusive.

For the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand dollars, the Legislature sold to James Gunn, Matthew McAllister, George

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Walker and their associates, termed the "Georgia Company," an immense area of territory, which now embraces the following modern counties:

In Alabama, Clarke, Marengo, Greene, Perry, Autauga, Bibb, Shelby, Tuscaloosa, Pickens, Fayette, Jefferson, St. Clair, the southern portions of Blount, Walker and Marion, and portions of Wilcox, Monroe, Dallas, Sumter and Baldwin.

In Mississippi, The larger portions of Kemper, Neshoba, Leake, Madison, Yazoo and Issaquena, all of Washington, Holmes, Attala, Winston, Noxubee, Lowndes, Oktibbeha, Choctaw, Carroll, Sunflower, Bolivar, Tallahatchie, Yalabusha, Chickasaw and Monroe.

For the sum of one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, the Legislature sold to Nicholas Long, Thomas Glasscock, Ambrose Gordon, Thomas Cumming, and their associates, called the "Georgia Mississippi Company, all the territory out of which has since been formed the following counties:

In Mississippi, The northern portions of Greene, Perry, Marion, Pike, Amite and Wilkinson, all of Adams, Franklin, Lawrence, Covington, Jones, Wayne, Jefferson, Copiah, Simpson, Smith, Jasper, Clarke, Lauderdale, Newton, Scott, Rankin, Hinds, Warren, Claiborne, and the southern portions of Yazoo, Issaquena, Madison, Leake, Neshoba and Kemper.

In Alabama, Nearly all of old Washington and Sumter, and the southwest corner of Greene.

For the sum of thirty-five thousand dollars, that body also conveyed to Wade Hampton, John B. Scott and John C. Nightingale, termed the "Upper Mississippi Company," the

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territory extending entirely across the extreme northern part of the State of Mississippi, twenty-five miles deep, now embracing the northern portions of the modern counties of De Soto, Marshall, Tippah, Tishamingo and a fragment of the northern part of Tunica.

For the sum of sixty thousand dollars the Legislature of Georgia also sold to Zachariah Coxe, Mathias Maher and their associates, called the Tennessee Company, all the territory comprising the whole of North Alabama, out of which the following counties have since been formed: Lauderdale, Limestone, Madison, Jackson, DeKalb, Cherokee, Marshall, Morgan, Lawrence, Franklin, and the northern parts of Marion, Walker and Blount.

The lands thus conveyed to the four Yazoo companies, for the gross sum of five hundred thousand dollars, contained twenty-one million five hundred thousand acres. A reserve of two millions of acres was made from this purchase for the benefit of the citizens who desired to become purchasers upon the original terms of sale. The four companies paid promptly into the treasury one-fifth of the purchase money, and obtained titles from the governor. During the progress of this bold measure the members of the Legislature were in the midst of the profoundest excitement, which extended to the "lobby members" and the whole community.

The bill was signed by Thomas Napier, Speaker of the House; Benjamin Taliaferro, President of the Senate; and approved by his Excellency, George Mathews, Governor.

It was asserted that "bribery and corruption distinguished

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the proceedings of the members favorable to the Yazoo act." The public documents abound with affidavits, pro and con. It was asserted that members were bought up to vote for the measure, by receiving in advance from the companies certificates of large shares of the land which they were about to vote to sell. The public became aroused upon the subject.

A majority of the counties, through their grand juries, pronounced against the act. Public meetings assembled all over Georgia, and the bitterest denunciations fell from the lips of every speaker. A large convention was held at Louisville, where hundreds of petitions were read and evidence adduced setting forth "the atrocious peculation, corruption and collusion by which said usurped acts and grants were obtained." Nov. 1: Although the tide of public sentiment swept over the State in angry torrents, destroying the popularity of the members who voted for the act, and elevating to power its most violent opponents, yet the four companies paid up the whole of the purchase money, and believed themselves secure in their vast fortunes, because the bill stipulated that the acts of no subsequent legislature should affect their title.

Washington was astounded at the Yazoo sale, and laid before Congress copies of the bill, using this language in reference to it: "These acts embrace an object of great magnitude, and their consequences may deeply affect the peace and welfare of the United States. "The two houses of Congress adopted a resolution instructing the Attorney-General to investigate the title of Georgia to the lands sold.

The Legislature of Georgia again convened in the winter,

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with a new governor and a new body of members, except those who voted against the Yazoo sale. General James Jackson, a distinguished partisan officer of the revolution, was at the head of the new organization. He had canvassed the State, and, from the hustings, denounced the extraordinary measure, while, with his able pen, he produced several severe pamphlets upon the subject. He introduced a bill for the repeal of the Yazoo sale, which declared it "null and void." It was adopted, and received the signatures of Jared Irwin, the new Governor, Thomas Stephens, Speaker of the House, and Benjamin Taliaferro, President of the Senate. In the midst of the largest procession ever known in the land, the records of the Yazoo act were expunged, and, to show the indignation of its opponents, the bill itself was consumed, in the streets of Louisville, by fire from Heaven.1

But, in the meantime, hundreds had emigrated to the Tombigby and the Mississippi, establishing themselves in those distant and isolated regions, intending soon to occupy the lands which the companies had proposed to grant them. In this respect, the Yazoo sale was a great blessing. It contributed to throw into that wild region, a population of Georgians, whose activity, ability and enterprise better fitted them to seize, occupy and bring into cultivation a wilderness, mark



1. They held sun-glass over the paper until it was consumed by the fire thus generated. The Yazoo act may be seen, together with all the votes upon it, and an account of the excitement which it produced, in Public Lands, vol. 1, pp. 120-144. Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 551-656-561. Georgia Digest of 1798, pp. 557-558.

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out towns, people them, build female academies, erect churches and hold courts than any other people.

1796: By an arrangement between the President and the Georgia authorities, Benjamin Hawkins, of North Carolina, George Clymer, of Pennsylvania, and Andrew Pickens, of South Carolina, repaired to Colerain, upon the St. May Mary's river, where they met James Jackson, James Simms and James Henricks, agents for Georgia. The object was the formation of a treaty of peace with the Creeks, and the cession to Georgia of the lands between the Oconee and the Ockmulgee. A full delegation of Indians, consisting of twenty Kings and seventy-five Chiefs, together with three hundred and forty warriors, soon arrived. Seagrove, the Creek Agent, suggested the propriety of moving the council from Coleraine to Muscogee, a short distance off, which was accordingly done. There, the Chiefs, after marching under the United States flag, performing the eagle-tail dance, smoking with the commissioners, and engaging in other ceremonious preparations, began the council. The first day was occupied with the speeches of the commissioners, who gave a full exposition of the views and wishes of the President. On the following day, General Jackson, on the part of Georgia, made a long speech, in which he pointed out the faithless observance of their treaties with his State by the Creeks, and exhibited two schedules of the property which they had stolen, amounting to the value of one hundred and ten thousand dollars, which he demanded to be restored. The Indians listened with profound attention, and when he had concluded, they

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adjourned for the day, the Big Warrior, who had lately become a prominent Chief, facetiously remarking, "I can fill up more paper than Jackson has done, with a list of similar outrages of the Georgians upon my people."

A treaty was concluded, between the Chiefs of the whole Creek nation and the Federal commissioners, the former ratifying the New York treaty, and pledging themselves to carry out its provisions, and to assist Spain and the United States to run their line. They also stipulated to allow the government the right to establish posts upon the territory between the Ockmulgee and Oconee, allowing to each five miles square of land; but they positively refused to cede any of this territory to Georgia. The United States stipulated to allow the Creek nation two blacksmiths and two strikers, with tools and iron, and to distribute immediately six thousand dollars' worth of goods among those who were present.

The Georgia agents were offended with Seagrove, with the Indians, and with the Federal commissioners. They presented to the latter a protest, in which they accused them of June having disregarded the interests of Georgia. They brought charges against Seagrove, who, they contended, influenced the Creeks not to cede the lands as far as the Ockmulgee. The Federal commissioners denied these allegations. Seagrove and Jackson became great enemies, and afterwards fought a duel.1

Washington had despatched Thomas Pinckney, as Envoy


1. Indian Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 586-616.

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Extraordinary, to Madrid, who there concluded, with the Prince of Peace, a treaty, in which the King of Spain stipulated that the southern boundary of the United States should be the line of 31, from the Mississippi to the Chattahoochie, thence down the middle of that river to its junction with the Flint, thence direct to the head of the St. Mary's river, thence down the middle of that stream to the Atlantic; that all Spanish posts and inhabitants, found north of this boundary, should be removed within six months after the ratification of the treaty, and the American posts and inhabitants living south of it, should also be removed within the same period; that the navigation of the Mississippi, from its source to the Gulf, should remain free for the commerce of the subjects of Spain and the citizens of the American Union; that both powers should cultivate peace with the Indians for mutual benefit and protection; that, hereafter, Spain should not form treaties of alliance with Indians living upon American soil, nor the Federal Government with Indians living upon Spanish territory; and that Spanish and American commissioners should mark the boundary, before the expiration of six months, after the ratification of the treaty.1

Colonel Andrew Ellicott, who had remained upon the Oconee so long, to no purpose, awaiting a favorable opportunity to run the line according to the New York treaty, was now transferred by Washington to Natchez, as one of the commissioners to mark the boundary between Spain and the



1. Foreign Affairs, vol. 1, pp. 553-559.

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United States. He reached Natchez, by way of the Ohio, and immediately commenced negotiations with Don Manuel Gayoso de Lemos, commandant of Fort Panmure, Governor of the Natchez dependencies, and commissioner on the part of Spain. But Carondelet had determined not to comply with the treaty, affecting to consider it made by his sovereign as a "court finesse," until he could settle his European difficulties, when he would wholly disregard it, and hold on to his posts east of the Mississippi. He again began to intrigue with the Western American population for the dismemberment of the Union, through his emissary, the notorious Powers. General James Wilkinson, then at the head of the Western American army, who had long been the intimate friend of Carondelet, and had received from him private and exclusive privileges of trade, which were highly beneficial to him as a Western planter, was suspected of secretly advancing these ends. Meanwhile Lieutenant McLeary, with an American force, unfurled the Federal flag upon the heights of Natchez. He soon afterwards marched to Fort Panmure, and demanded its surrender, agreeably to the treaty. But Gayoso, who had placed it in complete repair, and had strengthened it with artillery and men, refused to evacuate it. The Spanish posts at Walnut Hills and Baton Rouge were all strengthened, by the order of Carondelet. An angry correspondence ensued, in which Ellicott remonstrated against this conduct, as conflicting with the letter and spirit of the treaty. Gayoso justified himself upon the ground that the Choctaws and Chickasaws, whom he had hired to surround

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Natchez and make threats, intended to attack the Natchez settlements, in consequence of the presence of the American troops. While these things were going on Lieutenant Percy Smith Pope arrived at Natchez with forty men, which were added to the American force. Gayoso remonstrated against the presence of these troops, entrenched within sight of Fort Panmure. Their flag was an eyesore to the Spaniards. He desired their removal to Clarksville, but Ellicott refused. May Various reasons were given by the Spaniards for not evacuating the country, one of which had some foundation, and that was the descent upon New Orleans contemplated by Western American citizens, who had joined the British of Canada for that purpose. One of these men was Governor Blount, of Tennessee, whom the United States Senate, of which he was a member, unanimously expelled for endeavoring to enlist Western men in such an enterprise. Colonel Hutchens, Mr. Ripelge, and other prominent citizens of the Floridas, it is asserted, were also concerned in the contemplated invasion. But this soon blew over, and other excuses for delay were invented by Carondelet and his subordinate commandants. These things served to irritate the Natchez population, which had greatly increased, and desired the expulsion of the Spaniards. Ellicott constantly urged Gayoso to begin the running of the line, but never could get him to appoint a time. The people became tumultuous, and Gayoso, dreading the consequences of an outbreak, issued a proclamation, announcing that the treaty would ultimately be complied with. They refused to listen to his promises, and the excitement became

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alarming, when it was ascertained that Gayoso had imprisoned an American citizen, a Baptist preacher, named Hannah, who having taken too much whiskey, had given the Spanish commandant some insulting language. The excitement was great in the country. Public meetings advised violent measures. Gayoso was greatly alarmed, and issued another proclamation, exhorting the people to submit to the Spanish government until the difficulties could be settled, and promising pardon to all who should repent of their misdeeds. The Georgians had never been accustomed to such language as this, and their anger now knew no bounds. Gayoso skulked through the cane, and had an interview with Ellicott, whose room he approached by the back way. By his earnest entreaties, the American commissioner urged the people to become quiet, and he was greatly assisted by Colonel Hutchens, who had much influence with the old English population. He is the same gentleman, it will be recollected, whose property the Spaniards confiscated in 1781, and who made his escape, through the Creek nation, to Georgia.

In the midst of scenes like these, Ellicott was kept in suspense, until the 29th March, when the Spanish fort was evacuated, and all the Spanish troops sailed down the river. He then marched his own troops, and corps of woodmen and surveyors, to Tunica Bayou, and commenced his survey in a dense swamp, upon the eastern bank of the Mississippi, where the line of 31 strikes it. In a few days he was joined by Major Stephen Minor and Sir William Dunbar, commissioners

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on the part of Spain.1 Gayoso was now Governor of Louisiana, and he visited Ellicott's camp, with his military staff, and approved of the work, as far as it had progressed. Spain, as well as the United States, furnished troops to protect the surveyors from attacks of the Indians. These, with the packhorses, woodsmen and laborers, had the appearance of an army. The commissioners met with great difficulties, from thick swamps, creeks, marshes and rivers, all of which they had to go through. The trees were well blazed along the line, and a mound thrown up at the end of every mile. They did not reach Pearl river until the 19th November. There Ellicott left the surveyors, and went down that stream in a canoe to New Orleans. Arranging his business with Gayoso, and purchasing a small vessel, camp equipage and supplies, he sailed to Mobile, and thence up the river of that name until he reached the camp of the surveyors. They had passed entirely through the Choctaw nation without opposition from that people. The line of 31 struck Mobile River six miles below the junction of the Tombigby and Alabama, where several rivers run parallel, forming an immense swamp several miles wide, which was now inundated. By means of boats, they erected signals upon the high lands of either side, and took the necessary observation and distances. These



1. Monette, vol. 1, pp. 517-532. Stoddart's Sketches of Louisiana. p. 89. Marbois' Louisiana, pp, 163-165. Ellicott's Journal, pp 26-176. American State Papers, Boston edition, vol. 3, p. 335.

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signals consisted of flags and tremendous lightwood fires. Ellicott here again left the surveyors, sailed to Pensacola, and lodged at the elegant quarters provided by the hospitable firm of Panton, Leslie & Co. Colonel Benjamin Hawkins, now a prominent Creek Superintendent, left the nation, by appointment, and reaching Pensacola, informed Ellicott that a large number of Creeks were then on their way down, to hold a council. It was decided to meet them upon the Conecuh, where the line would cross. This was in opposition to the suggestion of Governor Folch, who proposed Pensacola, where, it was supposed, he intended to intrigue with the Creeks to prevent the line being run. Indeed the Spaniards generally were opposed to the surrender of so much territory. At Miller's Bluff, Ellicott, Hawkins, Minor, and Colonel Maxant, with several Spanish officers, met the Creeks. These agents of the United States and Spain, addressing the Indians, urged them to assist in running the line, and not to oppose it, all of which they had stipulated to do at the treaty of Coleraine. The Mad Dog, of Tookabatcha, replied, on the other side, and assured the commissioners that their wishes would be complied with, as they now understood that the line was to be run through their territory, by the consent of Spain. The surveyors, to whose party were added two Chiefs and twenty Creek warriors, had reached the Conecuh, and begun the line from thence to the Chattahoochie. Returning to Pensacola, Hawkins and Ellicott learned, to their surprise, that a large body of Creeks were on their way, by an arrangement of Governor Folch, and that the survey would be

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stopped. Encamping three miles north of Pensacola, these savages demanded presents of the American commissioner, which, from motives of policy, were granted, although he had no agency in assembling them. It was soon ascertained that Folch was secretly using every exertion to defeat the plans of the American government. Ellicott left Pensacola, sailed for the mouth of the Apalachicola, and ascended that river. Reaching the surveyor's camp, he ascertained that the Creeks had been very insolent, hanging upon their rear in large bodies, and plundering their effects. Greatly discouraged by this news, he pushed the survey to the Chattahoochie, where he fortified himself. He sent a runner to the Oekmulgee, for Hawkins, who had left Pensacola. About this time, Captain Minor dismissed his military escort, discharged many of his laborers, according to the instructions of Gayoso, given in May, and became very importunate to set out for the St. Mary's. In the meantime, Hawkins had arrived, and advised the continuance of the work. But a party of Indians advanced, and declared their intention to plunder the camps. Resolutely marching up to them, with the military, Hawkins kept them at bay until 10 o'clock at night, when they promised to remain at peace till morning. All that night, however, the woods rang with their riotous yells, while they threw down the beef-pens, and stole cattle and horses. They cut all the rigging of Ellicott's schooner, and robbed the master and crew, stripping them to their shirts. Fortunately, the cargo had been taken to the camp. The commissioners determined to retreat from Governor Folch's savage banditti. Captain

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Minor, who is believed to have been innocent of any participation in originating these hostilities, set out for the St. Mary's, attended by the American military escort, with the surveyors, who now ceased to work. Ellicott entered his naked schooner, and propelled her, in the best way he could, down the Apalachicola, having saved all his papers and astronomical apparatus. Nearly three years had expired since he landed at Natchez, and he had only been able to mark the line from the Mississippi to the Chattahoochie, in consequence of the duplicity, treachery and opposition of the Spaniards. But the chief object was accomplished, the establishment of the southern boundary of the present States of Mississippi and Alabama. Colonel Hawkins, abandoned by the whole expedition, fearlessly remained several days among the Indians endeavoring to reconcile them.

Approaching the sea, Ellicott found, wrecked upon Fox Point, a schooner of the British navy, commanded by Lieutenant Wooldridge, among whose crew was the celebrated William Augustus Bowles. We left that gifted but bad man in the prison of Madrid in 1792. Knowing his great influence with the Creeks, the King of Spain often sent persons of his Court to the prison, with offers of military titles and pay if he would abandon his allegiance to the English interest, join that of Spain, return to the Floridas and contribute to strengthen the colonies with his warrior forces. But the proud and unyielding Bowles spurned these offers. The Court then confined him in elegant quarters, and surrounded him with servants, sparkling wines and rich viands,

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with the hope of engaging his affections; but this treatment answering no purpose, he was threatened with transportation to the Island of Manilla, in the distant Pacific. Still unyielding, he was ironed and sent there in a vessel, where he remained until February 1797. He was then despatched back to Spain, but on the way, hearing of the war between that power and England, he escaped at Ascension Island, and reached Sierra Leone, where the English Governor gave him a passage to London.1 Mr. Pitt and the Duke of Portland provided for his necessities in a munificent manner. He left England in the schooner in which he was now wrecked, with which he had for some time preyed upon the commerce of Panton and Spain in the Mexican Gulf. General Bowles addressed Ellicott a polite note, inviting him to the wreck, where the latter repaired and was entertained with kindness. He and Bowles were of mutual assistance to each other--the one supplying the perishing crew with some American stores, and the other giving him charts and valuable directions in relation to the navigation around the Florida peninsula. Bowles had repeated conversations with Ellicott, in which he avowed his hatred of the Americans and his hostility to Spain, and declared his determination to visit his vengeance upon the latter in incessant attacks upon the Florida posts at the head of the Creeks, whom he termed "My people."

Ellicott sailed from the wreck to St. Marks, where he lodged in the house of the commandant, Captain Portell,



1. Du Lac's Voyage dans les denux Louisianes, pp. 466-470.

and was agreeably entertained by his fascinating wife. Having repaired his schooner, he sailed around the peninsula, and went up the St. Mary's to the camp of the surveyors, where he found all had arrived safe, and where, in conjunction with Minor, he determined the point of the line of 31, and there erected a large mound. Thus ended this protracted and disagreeable business.1



1. Ellicott's Journal, pp. 180-278. Also his Appendix, p. 83. The Indians who broke up the survey belonged to the towns of Tallase, upon the Tallapoosa, and Ufaula, upon the Chattahoochie.

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