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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 49

This webpage reproduces part of
Fortescue Cuming's
Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country

published in
Thwaites, Early Western Travels, Vol. IV.

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Chapter 51
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[291] Vol. IV
Chapter L
Sulserstown — Washington — Mr. Blennerhasset's — Natchez — Historical sketch of Mississippi territory — Col. Sargeant's — Col. Scott's — Fine country — Mr. Green's.

The road turning more to the S. W. led us through a wood along a high ridge a little broken by hills, descending abruptly on each hand at intervals, with only one small settlement in the six miles to Sulserstown, which is a village of ten small houses, [292]three of which are taverns. After passing it, I observed to the N. W. an extensive cotton plantation, with a good house in a very picturesque situation, occasioned by an insulated hill near it, with a flat plain on the top, cultivated in cotton, supported on every side by a cliff, clothed with wood, rising abruptly from the cultivated plantation below, which beyond the insulated hill, was bounded by a range of broken higher hills, cultivated to near the tops, and crowned with woods.

Six miles more brought us through a tolerably well inhabited  p319 country, to Washington, the capital of the territory, where we stopped at Hill's tavern. — This tavern (as I find is the custom in this country) is kept in a front building by Mr. Hill, assisted by some negro servants, while Mrs. Hill and her daughters live in a detached building in the rear, where I was received by them kindly, in remembrance of their having descended the Ohio and Mississippi in my boat with me.

Before supper I walked through the town, in which I counted thirty scattering houses, including one store, one apothecary's shop, three taverns and a gaol, all in one street on the Natchez road. The dress of some ladies I met in my ramble was tasty and rather rich. Water is well supplied by wells about forty feet deep, and about a quarter of a mile from the east end is a delightful spring, near the bank of St. Catherine's creek, where is a hot and cold bath — the price of bathing is three eighths of a dollar. Wine, liquors, and spirits are sold — and I found three or four companies of males and females, seated in the shade of some spreading forest trees, enjoying the cool transparent water, either pure or mixed to their taste. I was informed that this was a fashionable resort of the neighbouring country, for several miles round, and from Natchez, between which city [293]and Washington a stage coach plies, arriving here every evening and departing every morning.

Hearing a drum beat, on enquiry, I was informed, that it was the evening roll call of three or four companies of foot, at a barrack a little beyond the baths.204

Governour Williams has a plantation adjoining the town, and resides in a neat cottage upon it.

 p320  Wednesday 24th August. — After a sleepless night, I arose early and found it raining, so I breakfasted, and awaited until ten o'clock, when it clearing up a little, I rode three miles in a southerly direction deviating a little to the right of the main road, to a farm rented from Mr. Forman by Mr. Blennerhasset, at whose hospitable dwelling, I was received by Mr. B. and his accomplished and amiable lady with the utmost kindness and politeness.​205 I could not help contrasting their present temporary residence in a decayed cabin, with their splendid and tasty habitation on the Ohio. Blest however in each other, with kindred souls and similar tastes — possessing a noble library, and still a sufficiency left after all their losses, with a well regulated but liberal economy, for all the necessaries, and many of the indulgencies of life.

After dinner I tore myself with difficulty from the social and intellectual feast I was enjoying, and proceeding on my journey through a woody country, and a light soil, I arrived at Natchez a little before dark.

I was much struck with the similarity of Natchez to many of the smaller West India towns, particularly St. Johns Antigua, though not near so large as it. The houses all with balconies and piazzas — some merchants' stores — several little shops kept by free mulattoes, and French and Spanish creoles — the great mixture of colour of the people in the streets, and many other circumstances, with the aid of a little fancy to heighten the illusion, might have  p321 made one [294]suppose, in the spirit of the Arabian Knight's Entertainments, that by some magick power, I had been suddenly transported to one of those scenes of my youthful wanderings. When the illusion was almost formed, a company of Indians meeting me in the street dispelled it, so bidding adieu to the romance of the fancy, I sat down to supper at Mickie's tavern, or hotel, by which appellation it is dignified.

On Thursday the 25th, I arose early, and sauntered to the market-house on a common in front of the town, where meat, fish and vegetables were sold by a motley mixture of Americans, French and Spanish creoles, Mulattoes and negroes. There seemed to be a sufficiency of necessaries for so small a town, and the price of butcher's meat, and fish was reasonable, while vegetables, milk and butter were extravagantly dear.

Natchez, in latitude 31° 33′ N. — longitude 91° 29′ W. of Greenwich, contains between eighty and one hundred dwelling houses, as nearly as I could enumerate them. It is situated on a very broken and hilly ground, but notwithstanding the irregularity and inequality of the surface, the streets are marked out at right angles, which makes them almost impassible in bad weather, except Market street and Front street which are levelled as much as the ground will permit. A small plain of a hundred and fifty yards wide in front of the town rising gradually to the edge of the high cliff or bluff which overhangs the river, veils the view of that interesting object from the inhabitants, but at the same time contributes to defend the town from the noxious vapours generated in the swamps immediately on the river banks, yet not so effectually as to prevent its being sometimes subject to fevers and agues, especially from July to October inclusive, when few strangers escape a seasoning, as it is called, which frequently proves mortal. The surrounding country at a little distance [295]from the Mississippi, is as healthy as most other  p322 countries in the same parallel of latitude. The landing, where are a few houses immediately under the bluff, is particularly fatal to the crews of the Ohio and Kentucky boats, who happen to be delayed there during the sickly season.

Though Natchez is dignified with the name of a city, it is nevertheless but a small town. It is however a place of considerable importance in consequence of its being the principal emporium of the commerce of the territory, and of its having been so long the seat of government, under the French, English, and Spaniards, which caused all the lands in the vicinity to be cultivated and settled, while those more remote were neglected, though in general a much better soil. There is a Roman Catholick church, which is an old wooden building in decay, and there is a brick meeting-house for either Presbyterians or Anabaptists, I am not sure which. These, and an old hotel de ville, or court-house, are the only publick buildings the city boasts, except it be an old hospital, now fitting up as a theatre for a private dramatick society. Several of the houses are new and very good, mostly of wood, and I am informed many (more than half) have been added within the last four or five years. Fort Penmure,º206 on the edge of the bluff is now in ruins, but the situation, and the extent of the old ramparts, prove it to have been a post of considerable consequence. It effectually commands the river, without being commanded itself, and the view from it is very extensive, particularly over the flat swamps of Louisiana, on the opposite side of the Mississippi.

 p323  The first permanent settlement on the Mississippi was made in 1712, and notwithstanding many misfortunes, particularly the failure of the celebrated Mississippi company, founded by John [296]Law, during the regency of the duke of Orleans, the settlements extended in 1727 to Natchez, and a fort was erected there. In 1731, the Indians, disgusted with the tyranny and cruelty of the French colonists, massacred most of them, for which, in the following year, the French took ample vengeance, almost extirpating the whole Natchez race. The few who escaped took refuge amongst their neighbours the Choctaws, where becoming naturalized, they soon lost their original name. The French kept possession of the country until 1763, when it was ceded to the British. It continued under the British government until 1779, when it was surrendered by colonel Dickson the commander of the British troops at Baton Rouge, to the Spaniards under Don Bernando de Galvez. In 1798, in consequence of arrangements between the United States and the government of Spain, the latter gave up all claim to the country east of the Mississippi to the northward of the 31st degree of north latitude, in favour of the former, who erected it into a territorial government, under the name of the Mississippi territory.

Proceeding to the southward from Natchez, I passed some tasty cottages, and deviating a little to the right of the main road, in two short miles I came to colonel (late governour) Sergeant's handsome brick house.​207 The road led  p324 through a double swinging gate into a spacious lawn, which the colonel has formed in the rear of the house, the chief ornament of which was a fine flock of sheep. The appearance of this plantation bespoke more taste and convenience than I had yet observed in the territory. Riding half a mile through the lawn, I left it by a similar gate to the first, and a quarter of a mile more of an open wood brought me to colonel Wm. Scott's, to whom I had a letter of introduction.

[297]He received me according to his usual custom with kindness and hospitality, and presented me to his lady and to governour Williams, with whom he had been sitting at breakfast. I was invited to join the breakfast party, and I spent an hour very agreeably. The colonel had been a captain in the United States' army under general Wayne, and on his arrival in this country, he married a lively, genteel French woman with a handsome fortune. He quitted the army, and joining the militia, he is now adjutant general of the territory. He is a fine, dashing, spirited and friendly Irishman, and has only to be known to be esteemed.208

I forbear mentioning my opinion of the governour, as the curse of party pervades this territory, as well as every other part of the United States, and any opinion of a publick character, would not fail to offend one or the other party.

After resisting a pressing invitation to prolong my visit, I proceeded on my journey, passing several fine and well cultivated plantations, the most conspicuous of which were Mr. Burling's, Sir Wm. Dunbar's, Mr. Poindexter's and  p325 Mr. Abner Green's.​209 I had now come twelve miles, and it being excessively hot, I stopped at Mr. Green's to request some fodder for my horse, to which Mr. Green obligingly added an invitation to dinner to myself. After dinner, Mr. Green invited me to look at his garden, which was very spacious, and well stocked with useful vegetables, and understanding that I had been in the West Indian islands, he made me observe some ginger in a thriving state, and the cullaloo or Indian kail, also some very fine plants of Guinea grass, which he proposes propagating. There was some  p326 Guinea corn, and another kind of corn with a similar stalk and blades, but bearing its seed in a large close knob, at the extreme top of the stalk. That beautiful shrub the pomegranate, which, though scarce, seems natural [298]to this soil and climate, was in great perfection, and several beds were occupied by very fine strawberry plants, which are also scarce in this country.

The Editor's Notes:

204 The seat of government for Mississippi Territory was removed from Natchez to Washington in 1802. Governor Claiborne was authorized to purchase land for a cantonment, and barracks, which was called Fort Dearborn. For an interesting description of Washington at an early day, see Claiborne, Mississippi, pp258‑260. — Ed.

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205 General Ezekiel Forman, of New Jersey, secured a Spanish grant and migrated to the Natchez country in 1789‑90. See his nephew's journal, Narrative of a Journey down the Ohio and Mississippi (edited by Lyman C. Draper; Cincinnati, 1888).

Blennerhassett retired to Mississippi after the Richmond trial, and remained at this plantation, which he called LaCache, until 1819. He was active in public affairs, serving on the committee of safety in 1813. He removed to Montreal, and later returned to England, dying at Guernsey in indigent circumstances in 1831. Attempts were made in 1842 to secure restitution for Mrs. Blennerhassett from Congress, but she died before this could be accomplished. — Ed.

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206 Fort Panmure was the British name of the Natchez Post, which had been called Fort Rosalie by the French. The English garrison found the latter in a ruinous condition when sent to take possession in 1764. Fort Panmure was the scene of a struggle between English Tories and American sympathizers in 1778‑79. See Claiborne, Mississippi, pp117‑124. The historical account of Natchez given by Cuming, is substantially correct. See F. A. Michaux's Travels, vol. III of this series, p254, note 53. — Ed.

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207 Winthrop Sargent was born at Gloucester, Massachusetts, in 1753, and served under General Knox throughout the Revolution. Shortly after he became interested in the Ohio Company of Associates, and in 1786 was appointed surveyor therefor. Upon the organization of Northwest Territory (1787), Sargent was appointed secretary, and continued in this office until chosen governor of the newly-organized Territory of Mississippi (1798). Sargent was a man of ability, a scholar, and a poet; but being a Federalist and of New England austerity, he was unpopular among his Democratic neighbors, and was removed by Jefferson in 1801. He died in New Orleans in 1820. — Ed.

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208 Colonel William Scott enlisted from Maryland, being at first ensign (1795), then lieutenant in the third infantry, and captain (1800). Two years later, he was honorably discharged and retired to Mississippi. He served as lieutenant-colonel of the Thirty-sixth Infantry in the War of 1812‑15.

Governor Robert Williams was a native of North Carolina, and had served in Congress and on a commission for adjusting Mississippi land-titles before he was appointed as governor of the territory (1804). The chief episode of his term (1805‑09) was the apprehension of Burr. — Ed.

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209 These were among the most prominent of early Mississippians. Sir William Dunbar was a Scotchman, who came to America because of failing health, and embarked in the Indian trade at Fort Pitt in 1771. Two years later he removed to West Florida, and shortly after settled at Natchez. Under the Spanish régime he was chief surveyor, and in 1797 boundary commissioner for that power. He was appointed judge of the first territorial court in 1798. Dunbar was a successful planter, and had the first screw-press for cotton, in Mississippi. He also had scientific attainments, and was a member of the American Philosophical Society. He died in 1810, leaving many descendants.

Thayer's Note: Observations of his published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society include meteorological phenomena (see Jacobs, Tarnished Warrior, p195) and his eye-witness sighting of a UFO near Baton Rouge.

Abner Green belonged to one of the most prominent Mississippi families. He was brother of Colonel Thomas Green, first territorial delegate; his father was a Virginian who came to Natchez under the Spanish régime, and was influential in having Georgia assert its authority over this territory. Abner Green was register of probates under the Bourbon County, Georgia, act, and treasurer-general for the territory in 1801. He married a daughter of Colonel Anthony Hutchins, and was regarded as a model planter.

George Poindexter, one of the most able of Mississippi politicians, was regarded by his enemies as one of the most unscrupulous. A native of Virginia, he came to Mississippi in 1802. His first public office was that of attorney-general for the territory, as such conducting the prosecution of Aaron Burr. Having killed Abijah Hunt, a political enemy, in a duel, he was nevertheless exonerated by being chosen one of the territorial judges, which office he conducted with fairness and ability. In the War of 1812‑15, he served as aide to Jackson at New Orleans, and became one of the general's warm partisans, defending him in Congress in 1819. Poindexter was a member of the Mississippi Constitutional Convention of 1817, and the first representative in Congress for the new state (1818‑20). Upon his return home, he was elected governor of the State after a campaign of great personal bitterness, but was defeated in an attempt to secure a second term. In 1830, Poindexter again entered politics, being chosen United States senator, in which position he attacked Jackson with as much spirit as he had formerly defended him. Jackson even accused Poindexter of having instigated an attempt upon his life, but afterwards was convinced of his error. Poindexter retired from public life in 1835, but for twenty years longer continued a career of dissipation and excess. — Ed.

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