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Early Incidents in the Mississippi Territory
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Napoleon Bonaparte had turned his eagle eye to the rich province of Louisiana, and it was ceded by Spain to France. He contemplated its occupation, with a large army, and probably entertained designs of conquest against portions of the United States; but, becoming deeply involved in wars with the whole of Europe, he reluctantly relinquished these intentions, and ceded Louisiana to the United States for sixty millions of francs. Governor Claiborne, with a large number of emigrants, who had already flocked to Natchez from all parts of the Union for the purpose of occupying Louisiana, sailed down the Mississippi, with Wilkinson and his forces, and took formal possession of the city of New Orleans, in behalf of the United States. He had been appointed the Governor of the Louisiana Territory. He left the people of the Mississippi Territory duly impressed with a deep sense of obligation for his valuable public services. Cato West, the Territorial Secretary, discharged the executive duties until his successor arrived.
The distance of Natchez from the Tombigby was so great that Congress authorized the President to appoint an additional Superior Court Judge for the benefit of the people settled upon that river. The Hon. Harry Toulmin was selected. He was born at Taunton, in England, the 7th April 1766, and descended from a learned and respectable family. He became a pastor of the Unitarian church, at Chowbert, in Lancashire, in 1788, where he occupied a prominent position, officiating before a congregation of a thousand hearers. Becoming an object of suspicion to the government, it determined to silence not only his efforts, but those of every other person who indulged in an independent expression of opinion. Frequently threatened with personal injury, and often surrounded by mobs, who extended their violence to his private residence, as well as his church, Mr. Toulmin determined to seek a land where all religious opinions are tolerated. Landing at Norfolk, Virginia, he proceeded to Winchester, where he had the misfortune to lose two of his children. The year following, he became the President of Transylvania University, of Lexington, the duties of which he discharged for four years. He was then Secretary of State of Kentucky for the long period of eight years, and wrote most of the public documents of that day. Having pursued the study of law and attained great proficiency in it, he compiled a code of laws for Kentucky in the most satisfactory manner. A fine writer, an excellent scholar, an amiable man, and a delightful fireside companion, Judge Toulmin won upon the hearts of his friends and engaged the confidence of the public. He came to Alabama by way of New Orleans, settled at a cantonment near Fort Stoddart, and afterwards removed to the courthouse, which he called Wakefield, in memory of Goldsmith’s good vicar. His first court was held in the fall of 1804, he having been diligently engaged for several months previous in arranging the judicial department of Washington county. There was no newspaper here, and Thomas Malone, the clerk, advertised libels against boats for smuggling in a New Orleans paper, published by Bradford & Anderson.
Fort Stoddart was now a prominent post. Captain Shaumberg retired from the command, which was assumed by Captain Schuyler, of New York, who had the command of eighty men. Lieutenant Reuben Chamberlain, now of Mobile, arrived at this station in June, as paymaster. Edmund Pendleton Gaines was then a Lieutenant under Captain Schuyler. Here the Court of Admiralty was held, for it was a port of entry.1
Robert Williams, of North Carolina, appointed to succeed Governor Claiborne, arrived at the town of Washington, Mississippi, and partook of a public dinner, at which the Honorable Thomas Rodney presided. His staff consisted of William Scott, William B. Shields, William Woolridge and John C. Carmichael, the first with the rank of colonel and the others with that of major.
Congress having constituted the country upon the Tombigby a revenue district, known as the “District of Mobile,” the most vigilant and annoying system of searches commenced. The people, with just cause, considered it an unnecessary restriction upon a weak and defenseless territory. Not only did Spain exact heavy duties at the port of Mobile upon American merchandise destined for the American settlements above, but the Federal Government, which ought rather to have fostered and protected her wilderness children, also exacted duties from them at Fort Stoddart. These arbitrary revenue laws of Spain and the United States were applied with equal severity also to whatever the persecuted settlers of Alabama chose to export, so that a Tombigby planter, sending his produce to New Orleans by way of Mobile, and exchanging it there for goods and supplies, paid, by the time he reached home, an ad valorem duty of twenty-five per cent. Vessels were required to pass under the guns of Fort Charlotte, and to submit to insult and search. 1805: The Spaniards valued the goods themselves, and imposed a duty of twelve and a half per cent. The Federal Government remonstrated with Spain, in an extensive correspondence, but, we think, with a very ill grace, while restrictions were imposed by herself upon her own people at the port of Fort Stoddart.
When the line of demarcation was established by Ellicott and the Spanish commissioners, those inhabitants, chiefly Spaniards, old British subjects and Tories–living in the Natchez district, retired below the line, within Spanish jurisdiction, as the reader has already seen. Notwithstanding that General Wilkinson then entered into a convention with the Governor of Louisiana, for the mutual surrender of deserters, and both sides adopted wise measures to prevent border disturbances, yet much prejudice and ill-feeling continued to exist between the American settlers and Spaniards. No serious outbreaks, however, occurred until after Louisiana was surrendered to the United States. A controversy then arose, in relation to a strip of country lying between the line of 31° on the north, the Bayou Iberville on the south, the Mississippi on the west, and Pearl river on the east. This had been organized by the Spaniards, into a district, called the “Government of Baton Rouge,” and placed under the control of Don Carlos de Grandpre. It comprised the posts of Baton Rouge, Manchac, Thompson’s Creek, and Bayou Sara. A controversy also arose in relation to the country bounded by the Perdido on the east, Pearl River on the west, the line of 31° on the north, and the Gulf of Mexico on the south, which was the Spanish “Mobile district.” The United States contended that these two districts should have been surrendered at the same time that the island of New Orleans and the country west of the Mississippi were given up; that Bonaparte, in his treaty with Spain, acquired the whole of the Louisiana which belonged to France before 1762; that, when subsequently he ceded Louisiana to the United States, he ceded all which he had acquired from Spain, and, of course, the Baton Rouge and Mobile districts were included, for they once belonged to French Louisiana. Spain met these arguments by assuming the positions, that, just before the close of the American revolution, she became herself engaged in a war with England; that she took from Great Britain, by conquest, the Baton Rouge district, and that of Mobile, which was then a part of West Florida; that, in 1783, Great Britain confirmed these to her by treaty; that, since then, she (Spain) had always considered these districts as a part of Spanish West Florida; that Bonaparte only ceded to the United States Louisiana, not embracing, of course, the Baton Rouge and Mobile districts.
The people of the Mississippi Territory, believing that the American government was right in the controversy, were impatient to occupy the rich lands in the Baton Rouge district, and were loud and open in their denunciations of the Spaniards. Border troubles commenced. Lieutenant John Glasscock, a subject of Spain, placed himself at the head of twelve Spanish light-horse, crossed over the line two miles into the Mississippi territory, seized William Flannagin and his wife, and forcibly carried them fifteen miles, into Spanish territory. Here, finding that they were not the persons whom the authorities wanted, he turned them loose, to make their way back on foot, having retained their horse. This first open violation of American rights was followed by one more serious. Many citizens of the Union had settled already in the Baton Rouge district, while others lived near the line, ready to enter it when a suitable opportunity offered.
Among the most conspicuous of the latter class were Nathan, Reuben and Samuel Kemper, sons of a Baptist preacher, who emigrated from Loudon, Virginia, to Ohio. They came to the Mississippi Territory in 1803, and established themselves at and near Pinckneyville, within a few miles of the Spanish line. Men of strong frontier sense, with a pleasing appearance and fine address, the Kempers were well suited to the times and were dreaded by the Spaniards. They had acquired lands in the Baton Rouge district, under Spanish grants, which they knew would enrich them could the country once be occupied by Americans. Beginning to exert their influence, with an end to the expulsion of the Spaniards, Governor Grandpre determined to seize and imprison them. Sept. 3 1805: He despatched a company of kidnappers to the house of Nathan Kemper. They arrived there at 12 o’clock at night. They were Lewis Ritchie, Minor Butler, Abraham Horton, James Horton, Dr. Bomer, Henry Flowers, Jr., and McDermot, who were in disguise, and were citizens of the Mississippi Territory, but accomplices in the schemes of Grandpre. Seven Negroes were also in company with them. The party were armed with guns and clubs, and provided with ropes. They forced the door, entered the room in which Reuben Kemper was sleeping, dragged him from his bed, beat him with clubs, and then tied him. Some of them at the same time dragged Nathan Kemper from the bed, in which he was sleeping with his wife, who received some blows from their clubs in the scuffle, one of the kidnappers crying out, “If she utters another word I will kill her!”
Nathan was also severely beaten and well secured with cords. The brothers begged to know what they had done. A voice answered, “You have ruined the Spanish country!” The party gagged them by placing large sassafras roots in their mouths. Then tying a line around their necks they were made to run before the horses of the kidnappers, and were conducted to the Spanish line. At the same time a branch of this party had entered the tavern of Samuel Kemper at Pinckneyville, the proprietor of which they seized, beat with clubs, gagged and pinioned. In running along by the side of a horseman, this prisoner, unable to keep up, fell to the earth, and was cruelly dragged an hundred yards by a rope around his neck. He, too, was conducted to the Spanish line, where all three of the unhappy brothers were delivered to Captain Solomon Alston, who conveyed them with a guard to the Tunica Landing, where they were placed in a boat, also guarded, which was ordered to transport them to Baton Rouge. In the meantime a Dr. Towles, who had been visiting a patient, hearing of the outrage early in the morning, galloped his horse to Point Coupee, informed Lieutenant Wilson, the commandant at that place, who, with a file of soldiers, rescued the Kempers and captured the Spanish guard. They were all sent to the town of Washington, and the affair was legally investigated by Judge Rodney, and the parties were discharged. It, however, created much excitement, and Governor Williams formed a strong patrol, composed of two companies, at the head of which was Colonel John Ellis. After some sharp correspondence between the governor and Colonel Grandpre, the people became quiet, and border troubles ceased for a while. However, this shameful treatment of American citizens produced some excitement in Washington city, and John Randolph, of the committee of foreign relations, reported a bill for the raising an army to repel and punish Spanish aggressors. But the friends of Jefferson’s administration refused to adopt it.2
Nothing but an Indian trail led from the Oconee to the Alabama River at Lake Tensaw. The houses of accommodation were few, kept by Indians and half-breeds, and were of the most indifferent kind. None of the rivers were provided with 1805 ferryboats, nor were the creeks bridged. The Federal Government, desiring to open a better avenue to the new country, obtained from a delegation of thirty Creek Chiefs and warriors, then at Washington city, the right of using a horse-path through their country, along which the Chiefs agreed to establish ferries and bridges, and to open good houses of accommodation. The Cherokees, at Tellico Blockhouse, granted the right for a mail route from Knoxville to New Orleans by way of the Tombigby. July 23: The United States also acquired more territory from the Chickasaws, who ceded about three hundred and fifty thousand acres, lying in the bend of the Tennessee, a very small portion of which, in the shape of a triangle, fell into Alabama and was afterwards formed into the county of Madison.3 At Mount Dexter, the Choctaws ceded to the government five millions of acres, commencing at the Cut-Off, at a point half way between the Alabama and Tombigby, running north to the Choctaw corner, west to Fulluctabuna Old Fields, thence across the Tombigby to the Mississippi settlements, thence south to Ellicott’s line, and east along that line back to the Cut-Off.4
Thus the whole southern portion of the present State of Mississippi was thrown open to the Americans. The new purchase was soon formed into three counties–Marion, Wayne and Greene. A population from Georgia and Tennessee poured into the magnificent forest north of the Tennessee, about “Hunt’s Spring,” which had been obtained from the Chickasaws, as just mentioned. The population of the Mississippi Territory had much increased, Natchez had become a large town, where boats going down and up the great river landed and traded, while the crews engaged in fights, drunkenness, gambling, and all kinds of debaucheries. It was the greatest thoroughfare in the whole forest world, and was decidedly a most abandoned place.
The subject of education was not neglected, and Jefferson College had been established at Ellicott’s Spring, in the vicinity of the town of Washington. Many improvements, in the way of houses, farms and new towns, gave the territory an air of civilization.
I have consulted some biographical notices of the life and character of Judge Toulmin–Conversations with Major Reuben Chamberlain, of Mobile, and Thomas Malone. ↩
American State Papers, Boston edition, vol. 5, pp. 103-124. Also historical MS. notes in the possession of E. T. Wood, of Mobile. ↩
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