On August 30,
1813, the Creek Indians, enraged at
attacked Fort Mimms in southwest Alabama. News of the attack, and
the ensuing massacre of several hundred white men, women, and children,
spread throughout the territory. The following manuscript describes reactions
of settlers in the Jefferson County area of Southwest Mississippi.
Those who at the present day dwell in
cities, or in the midst of an old and well established civilization, cannot
appreciate the trials, privations, and dangers incident to a frontier life
seventy-five [now 185 years] ago.
Immediately after the Spanish cession
of the Mississippi Territory to the United States there was a steady tide
of immigration, chiefly from Georgia, the two Carolinas, and Virginia,
which in a brief space of ten years swelled the population from 10,000
to more than 40,000, exclusive of Indians.
The lands in Jefferson County, being
very fertile, well watered and heavily timbered, were rapidly entered and
occupied by a class of men well fitted to pioneer a healthy civilization,
and develop the wealth of our newly acquired possessions. Log cabins
were speedily erected, cane cut down, trees converted into rails, and these
again to fence a few acres of ground, where, following the plow, corn sprang
up, as if by enchantment, yielding a rich harvest as the reward of energy
In a few years, the face of the country
was entirely changed, and if the wilderness did not "blossom as the rose,"
fields of cotton, fine horses, cattle and hogs testified that the laborer
had been richly rewarded for his voluntary sacrifice of his "old home,"
and the associations of his youth.
Jefferson County was nominally composed
of five districts as well defined as its boundaries. The southwest
district was known as the Maryland settlement, of which Judge WOOD was
the representative; to the northwest, Dr. Rush NUTT, Asa HUBBARD
and James MAGILL stood sponsors for the Gulf Hill; Willis McDONALD,
John BOLLS, Asa WATKINS, and Kinsman DIVINE represented the north central
division; Isaac ROSS, Randal GIBSON, and Nathaniel JEFRIES, the Rid
Lick settlement, while in the southeast the Scotch had formed a colony.
The Gaelic language was spoken by many of them, perhaps at this day they
read the Bible in that language, for my old friend Daniel SINCLAIR, himself
a Highlander, says that Gaelic was the language spoken by Adams in the
Garden of Eden. Here were CAMERONS, McCLUTCHIES, McINTYRES, TORREYS,
and a host of other names, that give unmistakable evidence of their nationality.
Jefferson County in
In the process of time, towns and villages
sprang up on the main line of travel, affording such facilities for trade
and commerce as the limited wants and resources of the country required.
Greenville, Union, and Selsertown were located at convenient distances
from each other, on the Old Robinson Road, and continued to flourish for
many years, until, antagonized by the increased production of cotton and
the demands of commerce, they ceased to be a necessity, and gradually passed
away, leaving scarcely a trace of their former existence.
In 1813, August
30th, the Creek Indians attacked Fort Mimms, and as it was negligently
protected, nearly all the inmates, soldiers, women and children, said to
number of 550, were put to death.
The news of this
massacre spread rapidly in Mississippi, as nearly all the soldiers who
defended the fort were from that Territory, and I might add that a majority
of them were from Jefferson County. The danger was so threatening
that Governor HOLMES, on his own responsibility, called for volunteers
to form a battalion of mounted men to be composed of one company from each
of the counties of Adams, Wilkinson, Amite, and Jefferson.
The massacre of
Fort Mimms occurred on August 30, and the battalion called out by Gov.
HOLMES reported for duty on the 23rd of the following month, and at once
hurried to the seat of war. This was the famous Jefferson Troop designated
at the War Department as dragoon, commanded by Major Thomas HINDS, which
subsequently became prominent in the Indian war, and the Battle of New
Orleans in 1815.
The heavy drafts
made upon the sparsely settled territory left it in such a defenseless
condition, that, had the Creeks followed up their success at Fort Mimms
and formed, as they desired, a juncture with the Choctaws, they would have
swept over the country with the destruction of a tornado.
Rumors that an
advance had been made by the Creeks, and that in their progress they had
been joined by the Choctaws, began to be whispered around, at first so
vague that they could be traced to no reliable source, but in a few days
assuming a form to which fear gave an impulse that resulted in a panic
that I can only attempt to describe from the recollections of more than
75 years ago.
The report of
massacres by the Indians, and an advance by them on the white settlements,
came to our neighborhood through James H. WATSON, who, on the previous
day had been to Port Gibson. He gave immediate notice to the neighborhood,
and though many doubted, it was deemed prudent to adopt the necessary precautions
for the security of the women and children.
hastily made to send them to Washington [Adams County], where a few companies
of volunteers were stationed, ready at a moment's notice to move wherever
their services were required. By the time the non-combatants were
to move, the Indians were said to be at Rocky Springs [Claiborne County],
18 miles above Port Gibson, and the next breeze had wafted them to the
Grindstone Ford [on Bayou Pierre]. Some farsighted people could even
see the smoke of Colonel BURNETT's house, a distance of seven miles.
How these vague
reports originated will never be known. Like the "three black crows,"
they grew as they proceeded, until the alarm became universal. As
nearly all the young men capable of bearing arms had gone to the seat of
war, few capable of making a defense were left to protect their homes and
families, but they were of a class who, if then did not recklessly seek
danger, did not shirk from the conflict where there was occasion to test
As the danger
was considered imminent, runners were dispatched in every direction warning
the inhabitants and directing them to seek safety in flight. Such
as were capable of bearing arms collected in small squads and repaired
to a rendezvous which had previously been agreed upon, where they could
devise the best means of defense.
I was then a small
boy, and remember well the alarm and consternation that nearly all suffered
when it was announced at the door of the schoolhouse, the "Indians are
upon us," and ordering us all to go home in "double quick", and by the
shortest route. Some were overcome by fear, wept and raved, while
others, of whom I was one, rejoiced at the prospect of a holiday.
Be this as it may, we all hurried home to find out mothers in tears and
Such effects as could be removed had
been thrown into the wagon, while articles more cumberous were removed
to a place of comparative safety in the surrounding cane breaks.
Looking back after a lapse of 75 years to that period of gloom and
apprehension, I can barely restrain a smile at the ludicrousness of the
scenes presented on that occasion; and yet it is the smile of sadness,
for of the hundreds who met that day capable of defending their homes,
not one survives to relate the story of fear and flight; they are
all gone, and of the younger members of the Hegira, two old ladies, now
living near where the old field school house stood, are the sole representatives.
These visions of by-gone years come over the memory like the dim shadow
of some fleeting cloud that, for a moment, intercepts the sun, without
obscuring his light.
The early settlers of Mississippi, like
a majority of emigrants to new countries, were a hardy, industrious and
independent class of men, and though not blessed with a superfluity of
golden treasure, they possessed in abundance the material that constitutes
the wealth of a nation vis: pigs, poultry, and children, sustained
by industry, economy and perservence.
It happened in the honored neighborhood
of my birth that the supply was ample, especially of children. This,
however, is a digression, for while I have been moralizing, the oxen have
been yoked and put to the wagon; baggage and children have been tumbled
in promiscuously and without any regard to the comfort of the latter, horses
have received their cargo of livestock, two or three being mounted on each;
and now the cavalcade is underway - if I may use that term which applied
Our faces were turned towards Washington,
a distant 25 miles, this being our promised land; but in vain did
we look for the cloud that was to conceal our flight from the enemy.
The day was bright and beautiful; the sun smiles on its course cheerily,
and the whole aspect of nature was so mild and placid that if fear had
not overcome every other emotion, the outpourings of many a heart would
have been offered up in gratitude to the Author who had been so bountiful
in the dispensation of His blessings. At a distance of two miles
from home two roads met at a place then and now known as the "Raccoon Box."
At the Raccoon Box, our party was joined
by 20 or more families, all on their way to headquarters. Carts,
wagons, children, horses and dogs were so promiscuously thrown together
that the elderly dams found much difficulty in keeping together their numerous
After much confusion and any amount
of loud talking, the caravan finally began to move. The road was
narrow, scarcely permitting the passage of two wagons abreast, but it frequently
happened that the driver in the rear fancied he heard an unusual noise
which might not be a savage yell of delight, and would make a bold attempt
to pass to the front, but the attempt was rarely successful, as those in
the van were not willing to give any advantage to their less fortunate
companions who had to close the long lines of this heterogeneous procession.
The scene was ludicrous beyond description.
Here three white-haired urchins were pelting an old plow horse into a fast
walk; while there a young mother, similarly mounted, was carrying
ne child in her lap while two others were holding on desperately to avoid
a fearful tumble; while further on a rickety old cart drawn by two
stalwart oxen was loaded with beds, boxes and children thrown together
by chance - the latter crying lustily to be released from their vile
imprisonment while the rod was occasionally applied to keep them quite.
Being a good walker then, as in later years, I avoided the ills to which
many of my own age fell heir.
When the alarm was first given, many
of those who were able to make a defense met by previous agreement at a
point known as Clifton, the present residence of Israel COLEMAN, which
is on the old Robinson Road leading from Natchez to Nashville.
Here in the forenoon of that eventful
day, so long remembered by many as an epoch in their lives, about a doze
of the neighboring farmers met for consultation. It was decided that
a part of this force should proceed without delay win the direction of
Port Gibson, where they had no doubt of meeting with reliable information.
Let me here remark that many of those
present on that occasion did not believe the truth of the report, but acted
from providential motives in sending the women and children to a place
of security, while, if true, they would be in a position to arrest the
advance of the Indians long enough to give the fugitives time enough to
reach their destination.
I do not recollect the names of all
who participated in this movement; but I do know that Daniel FRISBY,
Thompson B. SHAW, Kinsman DIVINE, Asa WATKINS, Robert B. FARLEY, and Henry
LEDBETTER were of the number.
It is not necessary for me to tell all
they saw and heard on the road. A bear leisurely crossed the road
in front of them, and though the temptation was strong to give him the
penalty of bullet, policy protected him.
ARRIVING AT PORT
About nine miles from Port Gibson, they
found Robert TRIMBLE and one of his Negro men overhauling the armory and
putting all their available artillery in good fighting trim, the old gentleman
vowing that he would stand a siege, with the chance of having his house
burned, sooner than flee before an imaginary event. Proceeding on
their way, they reach Port Gibson to find it almost deserted; only
a few of the inhabitants were to be seen, of which number Mr. Ben SMITH
was one. He was one of the principal merchants of the place, and
was well known to the fighting party from Jefferson County. Mr. SMITH
did not believe that there was a shadow of truth in the report, "but gentlemen,
if you are of a different opinion, walk in and supply yourselves with powder
and lead; and as your courage may have sunk a little below fever
heat, I have some good old 'Bourbon,' - walk in and help yourselves - while
you are getting up steam I will play 'leather breeches,' for I know that
some of you will want to dance, as soon as the whiskey has taken effect."
Mr. SMITH was an amateur fiddler. I have often heard him play and
witnessed the dancing of the men of that day in his back room. Here,
in more peaceful times, he and Mrs. BLENNERHASSET, of Aaron BURR notoriety,
were in the habit of exercising their skill on the violin, and rumor says
that he could put as much Bourbon under her belt as the best drinker in
With this whiskey and ammunition, our
party, fully satisfied that there were no hostile Indians on this side
of the Tombigbee River, took leave of Mr. SMITH, and hurried to overtake
their families, and just at sundown cam up with them near Greenville.
Many of those who had taken flight in the morning, still impelled by fear,
did not pause 'till they reached Washington, while all of those from our
neighborhood turned back; but as it was some distance to their homes,
the women found shelter under the hospitable roof of the father of the
Rev. John C. JONES, whilst the youngster bivouacked under the broad canopy
of heaven, from whence the bright starts shone down on their quiet slumbers,
after the fatigue and excitement of day, which was long remembered by many
who now sleep beneath the cold earth, their very names, perhaps, forgotten
by the present generation.
As I write of
what happened in my own neighborhood, I shall only go out of the county
to relate two trifling, but well authenticated, incidents. Shdrach
FOSTER fled with his household to a dense cane brake, and could with difficulty
be restrained from killing a child, whose cries, he feared, might guide
the Indians to his place of retreat. He killed his dog and threatened
the life of the first one who spoke above a whisper.
William B. BLANTON,
on his way home, overtaken by night and Bourbon, turned his horse loose,
and after groping in the dark for some time took refuge in a hollow log,
where he slept soundly till after sunrise, when, to his surprise, he discovered
that the log was not ten feet from the road, from which he could have been
in full view, had the Indians or any one else passed that way.
Such are some of the effects of fear,
one of the strongest impulses of our nature, and the least under the control
Though no immediate danger was apprehended
from an invasion of the Indians, it was deemed prudent to adopt measures
for future security. A meeting was held by the neighboring farmers,
at which it was determined to erect, in some central location, a fortification
sufficient for the protection of the women and children, and for the common
safety of the settlement, generally. In furtherance of this object,
they met and erected four block-houses, which were protected by strong
palisades, much after the style of the present picket fence, though much
higher and of stronger materials. The fort occupied a gently swelling
ridge, but in the hurry it was forgotten that the spring which furnished
the only water supply was about fifty feet outside of the fortification,
and that in the event of a siege it would be inaccessible. This was
an oversight, but it was cured by time, as the Indians never made their
appearance. I was present when the first tree was cut down, and saw
the last picket planted. This was in the winter of 1813-14.
In 1815. the Tennessee troops bivouacked
one night at Fort Shaw, which made it holy ground. It was the first
and last fortress that ever arose obedient to fear or patriotism in Jefferson
For several years, on one of the block-houses
was used for educational purposes, and here the young idea was taught to
shoot, under the inspiration of the birch, which at that day was regarded
as a necessary promoter of mental and moral culture. Subsequently
the houses were pulled down and converted to other uses, the land was subjected
to the plow and a this day  few, from their personal recollections,
could point to the spot where, in 1813-14, Fort Shaw proudly waved the
Starts and Stripes. Of those who assisted in its erection, not one
survives. Two old ladies living hear where the fort stood and the
writer and believed to be the last survivors of that eventful period, in
this special neighborhood.
When this article was published forty
years ago  it was approved by two of the best traditional historians
in the country and pronounced true.
John A. WATKINS, Col.
486 St. Charles Ave.
New Orleans, April 10, 1890