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The Mississippi Territory and the Southwest Frontier, 1795-1817

The Mississippi Territory and the Southwest Frontier, 1795-1817

Robert V. Haynes
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 432
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    The Mississippi Territory and the Southwest Frontier, 1795-1817
    Book Description:

    Originally inhabited by Native American tribes, territorial Mississippi has a complex history rife with fierce contention. Since 1540, when Hernando de Soto of Spain journeyed across the Atlantic and became the first European to stumble across its borders, the territory has been the center of passionate international disagreements. After numerous boundary shifts, Mississippi was finally admitted as the twentieth state of the Union on December 10, 1817.

    In The Mississippi Territory and the Southwest Frontier, 1795--1817, Robert V. Haynes does more than recount history; he explores the political and diplomatic situations that led to the formation and expansion of the Mississippi Territory. Extensively researched and exceptionally written, Haynes details critical events in Mississippi's rich history, such as ongoing border violence, the arrest of infamous traitor Aaron Burr, and the bloody Creek War.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7372-6
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-6)

    In 1798, when Congress created Mississippi Territory, the United States was a young nation, struggling to forge unity at home and respect abroad. President John Adams was in his second year of office, having succeeded the much-admired and beloved George Washington, who had placed the country on a promising footing by resolving its internal fiscal problems and by pursuing a policy of neutrality toward foreign belligerents. Lacking his predecessor’s charisma and political acumen, Adams tossed the nation into an undeclared naval war with revolutionary France, and polarized the public. In response, he persuaded Congress to embark on a costly preparedness...

  5. CHAPTER 1 From Province to Territory
    (pp. 7-26)

    Late on the evening of March 29, 1798, U.S. commissioner Andrew Ellicott learned through a “confidential channel” that Spain planned to evacuate Natchez. After a restless night, Ellicott awoke at four o’clock the following morning; dressing quickly, he hurried to Fort Panmure in time to witness the last contingent of Spanish soldiers marching toward the river. Finding the gate to the fort open, he entered and climbed to the parapet, where he observed “the pleasing prospect of the gallies and boats” sailing downstream toward New Orleans. Before daylight, they were out of sight. Later that day, Ellicott watched gleefully as...

  6. CHAPTER 2 “His Yankeeship”
    (pp. 27-48)

    On Monday, August 6, 1798, as the boat bearing Winthrop Sargent, first governor of Mississippi Territory, docked at Natchez landing, a throng of curious people waited to get a glimpse of “his Yankeeship.” Despite Sargent’s wish to make a favorable impression, he was too ill to disembark, and for two days he remained on board not sure whether he would survive.¹ Peter Bruin and Captain Guion then escorted Sargent to Concord, the fashionable mansion of former Governor Gayoso, where he spent another week convalescing.²

    Whether the sick and exhausted Sargent recognized it or not, he faced a daunting assignment. He...

  7. CHAPTER 3 Frontier Democracy, Republican Style
    (pp. 49-70)

    Governor William Charles Cole Claiborne and his new bride, accompanied by her sister, arrived in Natchez on October 23, 1801. The journey from Nashville was longer and more tedious than the youthful governor of twenty-six had envisioned due to fierce winds and “the low state of the Cumberland, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers,” making navigation “somewhat difficult.”¹

    The new governor’s challenges were not those of Sargent. He needed to rally Mississippians behind the policies of the newly elected and popular President Jefferson and correct the mistakes of his despised predecessor. Unfortunately, it was a time of learning for a young and...

  8. CHAPTER 4 An “Insidious Junto”
    (pp. 71-84)

    While the acquisition of Louisiana pleased some Mississippians more than others, residents of Natchez were especially elated. Hailing the purchase as the harbinger of a boundless future, they made plans to take advantage of the largesse, confident that it was no longer possible for a hostile nation to impose injurious duties upon their commerce or endanger their security. Moreover, the purchase laid the foundation for the district’s cotton boom, ushering in an unprecedented period of peace and prosperity.¹

    On the other hand, residents along the Tombigbee River in the eastern half of the territory, known locally as the “Bigbee” District,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 A Territory in Transition
    (pp. 85-102)

    By late spring of 1805, Robert Williams, never known for patience, became apprehensive as he awaited the arrival of his commission as governor. Rumors of his appointment were commonplace, but since he had heard nothing officially, he wondered if Jefferson had changed his mind.¹ He remained in a state of uncertainty until early May, when his commission arrived in the federal mails, well known, along the frontier, to be notoriously sporadic and frequently unreliable.²

    Flattered by Jefferson’s display of confidence, Williams accepted with two caveats, both relating to his work as land commissioner. First, he wished to remain commissioner for...

  10. CHAPTER 6 Ruffians along the Border
    (pp. 103-118)

    As the settlers in Natchez District began to reflect on their first decade under American rule, they had good reason for optimism. The population had grown steadily, if not sensationally, the economy was vibrant enough to encourage the more affluent to import foreign wines and fashionable household furnishings, and their closest neighbors no longer seemed to be the threat they once were. Nonetheless, not everything was so rosy. The competence of their political officials, both elected and appointed, failed to keep pace with the signs of progress. Bitter partisan feuds, intense personal rivalries, and anxiety over land titles continued to...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Security and Settlements
    (pp. 119-138)

    In the aftermath of the transfer of Louisiana in late 1803, relations between the United States and Spain worsened along both sides of the international boundary. Although Spanish officials acquiesced in the transfer, they considered Napoleon’s actions duplicitous. Congress’s decision in 1804 to authorize a customhouse at Mobile encouraged Spain to restrict the introduction of contraband and to reimpose a duty on foreign goods passing through Mobile, including military supplies for Fort Stoddert and provisions for the trading post at St. Stephens.¹

    The western boundary of the Louisiana Purchase was another pressure point. After the Americans claimed the entire coastal...

  12. CHAPTER 8 “Some Dark Mysterious Business”
    (pp. 139-166)

    On January 10, 1807, Aaron Burr, the territory’s most illustrious visitor, made a third and final visit to Natchez.¹ For the past year his name had been linked to an assortment of schemes ranging from establishing a settlement in Louisiana to heading a conspiracy to dismantle the Union and seize Spanish Mexico. Moreover, he reportedly had the ear of other prominent adventurers whose alleged talents for intrigue and skullduggery matched his own.²

    The reasons for these rumors were as apparent as the person associated with them was infamous. Early on, Burr was known as a man on the rise. Both...

  13. CHAPTER 9 The Williams Imbroglio
    (pp. 167-186)

    Aaron Burr left a long shadow. What some called “Burrism” came to dominate territorial politics for some time. To be sure, Governor Williams’s feelings toward Burr were both protean and puzzling. At times he thought Burr only a misguided patriot; otherwise, he considered him guilty of misprision, or worse. The same ambivalence characterized the attitudes of others, who, like Judge Thomas Rodney and Secretary Mead, vacillated between approving Burr’s avowed aims while questioning his character.¹

    Rodney was not the only person to follow Burr’s trial closely, and like most stalwart Republicans, he rallied behind Jefferson’s efforts to disgrace the “arch...

  14. CHAPTER 10 Changing of the Guard
    (pp. 187-202)

    Governor Williams’s second term began as contentiously as his first had ended. In dismissing the legislature for a third time in a span of four months, he opted to dissolve both houses rather than merely prorogue or recess the lower one. His reason for doing so was transparent to everyone, although he justified it by the previous legislature’s failure “to provide for the printing of the laws and journals of the session.”¹ For his second term to be successful, he needed a compliant General Assembly, and the best way to secure it was to replace the current body and elect...

  15. CHAPTER 11 Transformation of a Territory
    (pp. 203-218)

    During its first decade, Mississippi Territory underwent considerable change, especially in Natchez and its environs, which dominated territorial affairs before 1812. The region quickly outgrew its boorish traits, acquiring the early characteristics of a mature society. The economic and social changes accompanying the transformation from a remote outpost to a bustling river port had repercussions throughout the territory. Beneficiaries of a decade of prosperity from cotton production, the early inhabitants created a flourishing society reminiscent of that enjoyed by their ancestors either in the seaboard South or in Old England and Scotland.¹ No longer concerned primarily about self-sufficiency, they began...

  16. CHAPTER 12 Natives and Interlopers
    (pp. 219-240)

    Although relations between white settlers and southern Indian tribes were generally peaceful in the first decade of the nineteenth century, they were not always so tranquil. During the American Revolution, the southern colonies were the scene of considerable unrest as Indian nations, with few exceptions, either rallied behind the British or stayed neutral.¹ Whenever possible, southern tribes took advantage of the war by playing one rival against the other in order to extract favors in exchange for their support or noncommitment.² As a result, portions of the southern frontier, from Virginia to Georgia, experienced sporadic, and often fierce, fighting between...

  17. CHAPTER 13 Manifest Destiny
    (pp. 241-260)

    With the appointment of David Holmes as the fourth and last governor of Mississippi Territory in the summer of 1809, changes were in the air. Not only did Holmes’s placid personality help to suppress the partisan rancor that before had characterized territorial politics, but his arrival also coincided with national and international issues arising from Spanish presence in the Floridas and British and French interference with American trade on the high seas. During the next few years, he would face three major crises: rebellions in Spanish Florida, an uprising of Creek Indians, and a British invasion. In June 1809, when...

  18. CHAPTER 14 The Mobile Question
    (pp. 261-282)

    Between 1803 and 1811, unrest along the international boundary was just as prevalent above as below the line. To Bigbee settlers, acquisition of the coastal plain between the Pearl and Perdido rivers, especially the port of Mobile, was as important to them as possession of New Orleans was to inhabitants of Natchez District. Without free and unhampered access to the seas, neither district could prosper, and, as Judge Thomas Rodney declared, Tombigbee Settlement faced ruin. Failure to address this question was a source of steady irritation to the residents of Washington County.¹

    Their resentment was widespread and deep-rooted. From the...

  19. CHAPTER 15 The Creek War
    (pp. 283-314)

    While Spain continued to attract the territory’s attention, its officials also began to take note of restlessness among the Indians, especially the Creek and Seminole.¹ Although relations between Natives and white intruders still appeared peaceful, there was reason to believe that the traditional conflict between a hunting culture and an agricultural society was about to escalate.

    As the territory’s population increased with the steady flux of immigrants, the Anglo population grew at a faster rate than that of the Natives. Because the federal government, as late as early 1808, had not begun selling public lands, a sizeable number of Anglos...

  20. CHAPTER 16 Holmes Sweet Holmes
    (pp. 315-332)

    The territory badly needed a respite from a decade or more of incessant wrangling, and residents hoped its newly appointed governor, David Holmes, was the person to provide it. There was good reason for this optimism. Although “confined with a fever” that lasted for “about thirty days” upon his arrival in “the last days of June,” Holmes immediately addressed the General Assembly, and he was pleased by what he saw. “The business,” he reported, “was conducted with great harmony.” Determined “to avoid taking a part in those little collisions” that had led to his predecessor’s downfall, Holmes pledged “to cherish...

  21. CHAPTER 17 Statehood
    (pp. 333-346)

    By the time Mississippians sought statehood, the process for adding new states was well established. Between 1789 and 1815, five states had joined the original thirteen, and of these only Vermont and Kentucky had not followed the process laid out in the Northwest Ordinance of 1787. The others (Tennessee in 1796, Ohio in 1803, and Louisiana in 1812) had learned the rudiments of self-government by serving an apprenticeship under a territorial government.¹

    To be sure, the Northwest Ordinance became a model for westward expansion. Unlike the British Empire, where colonies rarely advanced beyond their original status, this ordinance provided a...

  22. Notes
    (pp. 347-418)
  23. Index
    (pp. 419-432)
  24. Back Matter
    (pp. 433-433)