To begin, one must go back to the time when the fertile hills of the
south western part of Mississippi lying east of its grand river, inhabited
by the powerful Natchez Indians, was discovered by French voyageurs
descending the river, and building Fort Rosalie at Natchez, for their
protection. The usual result followed aggression by the whites, resentment
and retaliation by the Indians. About 1720, because an Indian had been
killed by a soldier, most of the white people, were massacred the Indians.
In 1723 several hundred more soldiers were secretly introduced and the
defenseless and unsuspecting Natchez were slaughtered.
On the last day of November, 1729, under the “Grand Sun”
rose again and massacred all the whites, including all the garrison in
Fort Rosalie, so that of seven hundred people, scarcely enough survived to
carry news of the destruction abroad. But the French soon put every
engine in operation to retaliate and aided by fifteen hundred Chickasaws,
the Natchez were totally exterminated, their women and children enslaved
at home and their remaining men sent as slaves to St. Domingo. Thus
utterly perished the once powerful tribe of the Natchez Indians leaving
only their name to the city of Natchez.
After their extermination their country was “no man’s land,” yet
claimed by many people. The British claimed it and made land grants; so
did the French as part of Louisiana, and so did the Spanish as part of
Florida. The state of Georgia claimed it as being included in the
Oglethorpe grant and made a county of it named Bourbon.
The Revolutionary War settled the British claim; the Louisiana Purchase
the French, while, in 1798, the American settlers, many of whom had been
Continental soldiers, induced the Spanish Governor, Don Manuel Gayoso de
Lemas his staff officers and retinue of soldiers to move down the river to
On April 7, 1798, the United States established Mississippi Territory
and on April 14, 1802, bought out all Georgia’s claim thereto, paying
therefore one million two hundred and fifty thousand dollars Into its
state treasury. Congress had in the meantime, by Act of May 10, 1800,
applied the ordinances of July 13, 1787, and of August 7, 1789, made for
the government of the territory northwest of the Ohio also to govern the
Mississippi Territory. Winthrop Sargent was appointed Governor and by
proclamation of April 2, 1799, divided the territory Into two counties,
saying, “the division of which shall be a line commencing at the mouth of
Fairchilds Creek and running direct to the most southern part of
Ellicottville, thence easterly along the dividing ridge of the waters of
Coles and Sandy creeks so far as the present settlements extend, and
thence by a due east line to the territory boundary, the southern division
of which is named Adams and the northern division Pickering.” By act of
January 11, 1802, the name of Pickering was changed to. Jefferson. On
January 27. 1802. Jefferson county was divided as follows: “Beginning on
the Mississippi river at the mouth of Petit Gulf Creek, thence running up.
the main, branch of said creek four miles, or to its source, should that
not exceed four miles; thence by a line to be drawn due east to the
eastern territorial line, and all that tract of country north of the.,
above-mentioned creek and east line, south of the northern boundary of
said territory and east of the Mississippi river shall com pose a county
which shall be called Claiborne. Thus created, by mites and bounds,
Jefferson county, which is today what it was then, a parallelogram in
shape, about fifty miles long, east and west, by about twenty-five wide,
north and south. Its boundaries are mostly natural – Mississippi River on
west, Homochitto River on east, Fairchilds Creek on south and Pettit Gulf
Creek on North.
The white settlers who were generally men of wealth here on
grants from the British, French and Spanish governments, were now, the
country being under the protection and control of the United States,
largely augmented by “people from every nation and every way, for Uncle
Same was rich enough to give every one a farm.”
Many Marylanders settled around Church Hill, so that for
many years District 4 was called the Maryland settlement. Around Union
Church, so many Scotch, that the portion was called Scotland. The Irish
located around Red Lick, while the southern, middle, northern and western
parts of the county was truly cosmopolitan. Rodney as the Pettit Gulf is
now known, was the first home of the cotton plant and from there the
Pettit Gulf cotton seed was distributed all over the cotton country.
These early pioneers men of influence and piety in their
day, bringing their religion with them, and planting churches and schools,
whose influence for good is still felt among their descendants. The first
Protestant Episcopal Church in the Southwest, with Rev. Adam Cloud as
rector, was built not very far from where now stands Christ’s Church at
Church Hill. The Methodists had Spring Hill and various other meeting
houses, for Revs. Tobias Gibson, Newitt Vick, John C. Johnson, J. J.
Robertson and other circuit riders, followed close after these early
settlers. So did the Baptists with Salem and Fellowship churches, while
the Presbyterians had churches at Ebenezer and Union Church.
Along the Natchez Trace, six miles apart, were settlements
for the entertainment and protection of travelers, for this was a rough
country then, the noted robbers Murrell and Macon and their gangs
frequently holding up, robbing and even murdering, the unwary. First in
order, twelve miles from Natchez, six from Washington, the territorial
capital where the southern line of Jefferson crossed the trace was
Selsertown. Six miles north on Coles Creek was Uniontown, where Warner
and Shackleford had a a tanyard and shoe factory. Next, six miles away,
was Cable’s Tavern and Hunt’s store, called Huntley, Odoms Orchardville
until by act of February 21, 1805, the town was named Greenville, in honor
of General Nathaniel Green, of Revolutionary fame. With just a reference
to the only other settlement in the county, Shankstown, with its suburb of
Coonbox, I will tell of Greenville, the first county seat, its courthouse,
jail, etc. It was laid out on lands of executors of David Odom, lands of
Abijah Hunt and F. L. Claiborne, and a map thereof is recorded in the back
part of Book A of Jefferson county records. By act of January 27, 1802,
Wm. Erwin, Thomas Green, William Moss, Jacob Stampley and Greenleaf, as
commissioners, were appointed to contract for and receive titles to two
acres of ground from executors of David Odom, or other proprietors of
land, near Hunt’s store, on Middle Fork of Coles Creek, for use of
Jefferson county, on which to erect courthouse, jail, pillory and stocks,
and said place is fixed upon for such purpose.
Drury W. Brazeale, Henry D. Downs, Armstrong Ellis, Robert McRay and
Robert Cox, by the same act, were appointed trustees for the regulation of
said town, vested with full power for that purpose, and in case of the
death or removal of any one of them the others could appoint a successor
by instrument of writing under their hands some other person or persons
being an inhabitant and householder in said town. By act of December 8,
1815 Thomas Hinds, James K. Wood, David Hunt, David Ker and Isaac Dunbar
were commissioners to build new jail and pillory on the site of the former
jail and to raise funds for such purpose a tax equal to one-halt of the
territorial tax was levied for 1816-1817.
Courts were held on the fourth Mondays of April and October of each
year. It grew to be a town. of. several hundred inhabitants, was the
center of the intelligence and wealth of the county at that time. Gov.
David Holmes lived on his plantation on Coles Creek, about two miles west,
and Governor Cowles Mead on Chubbye Fork, four miles north.
Cato West. Territorial Secretary, and at one time acting Governor,
lived, died and was buried on his plantation, Sunshine, on Coles. Creek.
Mrs. Rachel Robards, wife of Andrew Jackson (It was about her he killed
Don M. Dickinson in a duel), had a small farm on the Trace, a mile and
one-half southwest of Greenville, and it was In her home they were
married. The spring located in the lower end of her garden was for many
years known locally as Jackson’s Spring. It and the waterway was
surrounded by very luxuriant mint, some of which mixed with something else
inspired the Democratic orators at a grand barbecue near old Greenville in
1876, in the dark days of reconstruction.
Thomas Hinds, a native of Tennessee owned a farm Home Hill, one mile
and a half south of Greenville on the Stampley town road, where he was
quietly leading the life of a farmer until the massacre of Major Beasley
and his company from Jefferson county at Fort Mims, on the Tombigbee
river, roused all that martial spirit, which after wards made him famous.
Collecting as many men as he could, he went out after the Seminole and
Creek Indians, who had committed the massacre, and not liking the
inertness of Major Dade of the regulars, who made light of these “squirrel
hunters,” he, with his company, fell upon the Indians at Horseshoe Bend
and so exterminated them that their power was forever destroyed. In the
war of 1812 Hinds again called, out the “squirrel’ hunters,” forming the
Jefferson Dragoons, which held Jackson’s left flank at the battle of New
Orleans with such coolness and fortitude, though not firing a gun, as to
win from Jackson the expression, “that such coolness, firmness and
fortitude was the terror one army and the admiration of the other.
General Hinds’ subsequent history, as Commissioner with Jackson, buying
out the Choctaw and Chickasaw Indians at Dancing Rabbit Creek treaty,
creating the State of Mississippi, the empire county being named for the
one and the capital of the State for the other, is familiar history.
Another company from this county, commanded bi Col. Ely K. Ross, a native
of South Carolina but a resident of Red Lick, known as the Mississippi
foot soldiers participated in the Battle of New Orleans, behind the
breastworks and cotton bales and are justly entitled to share in the
glories of that triumph of American arms. These two commands, for they
were nearly regiments, were disbanded on the Courthouse square in old
Greenville at a grand barbecue on Jackson’s return march after the Battle
of New Orleans, as told by an eye-witness.
Colonel Ross spent the mouth of September, 1840, in this county, within
a mile of General Hinds, and they were very often together, no doubt
recounting campaign stories so dear to all soldiers. Each died in October
of that year. General Hinds at Home Hill, where is his grave; Colonel Ross
at Mer Rouge, La. I have stood with bared head beside the grave of each of
these noted men, for the last one was my maternal grandfather, and for
whom I was named.
Captain Samuel Bullen also commanded a company, stationed at Mobile,
during the war. Subsequently he settled In the. hills three miles south of
Greenville, and with commendable pride for the State of his nativity he
named his real estate holdings :“Green Mountains,” and his oldest daughter
The first cotton gin of the country under the Eli Whitney patent was
built and operated for years at Greenville and the farmers all brought
their cotton to it as “gin receipts” were current coin for all debts, even
for taxes. Many noted men, among whom I will mention David Hunt, John M.
Whitney, Dr. John H. Duncan, Robert Cox and Frank A. Montgomery, set out
in life from old Greenville, but to even partially mention the many others
would require too much, space.
By vote of the people, who wished the Courthouse nearer the center of
the county in 1825. it was located in Platner’s old field and the Court
house Commissioners bought of Henry Platner Jr., 37 acres of land that had
been allotted him from his fathers estate on which to locate the county
site. It was named Fayette, In honor of General Lafayette who was at that
time on his last visit to the United States as guest of the nation. two
acres were reserved on the northern line for the Courthouse square. Four
streets were laid and south, and two east and west, as they all exist
Governor Cowles Mead and Putnam T. Williams, Secretary of State, bought
out Mary Platner’s interest in her father’s estate and laid off Mead
Street from Spring Street to the Academy. Philo Cartley bought the
“Racetrack field” and laid off East Fayette.
The first Courthouse and jail was built in 1825. Soon afterwards were
built the Guilminot house, Carradine’ s residence, the Methodist church,
the old Parsonage and the Academy, all of which are here today remodeled
some what, except the Courthouse, which was torn away and a new one built
in 1880. That one was destroyed by fire a few years ago. The present new
up-to-date one was erected on the same old site. The present jail, the
Presbyterian Church and the wing to the Jefferson County High School were
all built by Weldon Bros. before the war. Of Fayette, its traditions and
its memories much might be written, but I forbear, mentioning only a few
of its more prominent characters.
Charles Clark was a young lawyer here, raised a regiment, the Second
Mississippi, of which he was Colonel, for the Mexican war, came back
alive, but read his obituary in a New On leans paper. He was a
Major-General in C. S. A. and was desperately wounded at Baton Rouge.
Again read another obituary of himself, written by the same man and
published in same paper, but was restored to health and strength again at
Colonel R. H. Truly’ s in Fayette. He was afterwards elected Governor of
the State, making the third one from Jefferson county to have that honor.
Captain V. S. Coffey, recently from Tennessee, raised a company, of
which he was elected Captain, in Fayette for the Mexican war, which became
a part of Col. Clark’s regiment,. and it was disbanded in Fayette after
that war. He also raised a company for the C. S. A., the Thomas Hinds
Guards, and was wounded and captured at Williamsburg, Va., in one of the
earliest battles of the war, and was honorably discharged, never being fit
for service any more.
I can barely make
mention in this memorial that every man or boy in Jefferson county, able
to bear arms at one time or another, was connected with the C. S. A. doing
what they were ordered to do the first and only duty of a true soldier. I
have already mentioned the Thomas Hinds Guards. Those there were the
Charles Clark Rifles, the Rodney Guards, Jefferson Artillery, Cameron’s
Battery, Recruits in Tensas Cavalry, Withers’ Artillery, Captain J. J.
Whitney’s Company, and Captain William Thompson’s Scouts. Seven companies
entire, be sides those in other commands. A splendid record for so small a
When the storms of war were lowering
And the North-men invaded our land
We left our bright and happy homes
A brave, determined band.
How we met them at the riverside,
On the hilltops, red and gory,
And fought with the ardor of chivalry
Is famous now in song and story.
On many a bloody battlefield,
In many a lonely dell,
From the hospital cot and prison morgue
My comrades sleep as they fell;
Yet o’er their graves of lone repose
No pilgrim’s eye is seen to weep,
And no memorial marble throws
Its shadow where my comrades sleep.
Rest brave comrades, rest tho’, not a dirge
Be yours, beside the wailing blast.
Time cannot in oblivion merge
The light your stars of glory cast,
While heave our high hills to the sky.
While rolls our dark and turbid river
Your names and fame shall never die,
Whom Freedom loves, will live for ever.