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Jefferson County

by

 E. R. Jones

 

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 Baton Rouge.

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 “Vermont.”

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 today.

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 county.

 

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.

 

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