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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 50

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 52
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[298]  p326  Vol. IV
Chapter LI
An Indian monument — Col. Hutchins — Second creek — The Homochito — Buffaloe creek — Long uninhabited wilderness — Remark on overseers — Wilkinsonburg and Fort Adams — An old friend — Mr. Carey's — Capt. Semple's — Pinckneyville.

Leaving Mr. Green's, I soon after past Mrs. Hutchins's on the left, in whose cotton field, at some distance from the road I observed an Indian mound or barrow, similar to those which one so often meets with in the vicinity of the Ohio, and of which I have been informed great numbers are in this country. Mrs. Hutchins is the widow of a col. Hutchins, who was a half pay British officer, had considerable landed property, was very hospitable, and had great influence in the political business of the territory, which by the manner he used it, acquired him the character of an ambitious monarchist.210

This and all the neighbouring plantations are called the Second creek settlement from a rivulet of that name which  p327 flows from the eastward towards the Mississippi. The soil is much superiour to that near Natchez, and the farms are generally the best improved in the territory. I observed a very handsome coach under a shed near Mrs. Hutchins's cottage, which was the only one I had seen in this country.

The road led from hence southerly through pleasant open woods, with very few plantations in sight, [299]eight miles, to Greaton's tavern on the right bank of the Homochito. After putting up my horse, I joined Mr. Greaton in fishing, he providing me with a rod and line — I was unsuccessful, but he caught some delicate catfish, and four fine carp, about a pound and a half each. A thunder shower interrupting our sport, we returned to the house, supped on our fish, coffee, and bread and butter, and retired for the night.

The Homochito is a beautiful little river of clear water, and a sandy bottom, here about fifty yards wide. It falls into the Mississippi ten or twelve miles from hence, on its banks ten miles higher up, is a fine thriving settlement, called the Jersey settlement, from the inhabitants having generally emigrated from that state; and 10 miles still higher or more north easterly, the lake road from Orleans to Natchez crosses it.

Friday 26th, I was ferried across the Homochito by an old Spaniard, in a flat which he hauled over by a rope leading through two rollers fixed on the gunwale. I found the country hilly, but the road was pleasant, and the soil rich, though thinly inhabited. I had eight miles to Mrs. Crosby's, a remarkably fat widow, who keeps a tavern and receives the toll of a bridge over Buffaloe creek, which is a deep, slow and muddy little river, joining the Mississippi, six or seven miles from hence, through a long and extensive swamp. My fat landlady made breakfast for me, while my horse was feeding, after which I pursued my way to the left of  p328 the swamp, mounting into a hilly country, covered with a thick cane brake, through which a wagon road is cut in a S. W. direction eleven miles, without settlement, house or water, in all that distance, so that it is both fatiguing and dreary. I emerged from the hills and canes over a small creek, at a fine plantation of a Mr. Percy. My horse being fatigued, I stopped to request a little [300]fodder for him, which was accorded with a very ill grace by the overseer, the proprietor residing at Washington. And here I will remark that the overseers of plantations in this whole territory, are for the most part a rough, unpolished, uncouth class of people, which perhaps proceeds from their being made use of literally as negro drivers, to keep those unfortunate wretches to their work in the field, and to correct them for all real or supposed offences. — They do this with their own hands, and not as in the sugar colonies, by one of the slaves themselves, appointed for that purpose and called the driver. This renders them callous to every thing like sentiment or feeling, and gives them a roughness and abruptness in their manners, which is extremely disagreeable and disgusting. A good road with a ridge of hills called Loftus's heights on the left, and the swamp which commenced at Buffaloe creek on the right, leads from hence to Fort Adams in a distance of six miles, there being a few plantations on both sides of the road, those on the right joining the swamp, and the left hand ones being on the broken land beyond the cliffs and hills.211

Fort Adams or Wilkinsonburg is a poor little village of a  p329 dozen houses, most of them in decay, hemmed in between the heights and the river. The fort from whence it derives its first name, is situated on a bluff overhanging the river, at the extremity of the ridge of Loftus's heights. It is about one hundred feet above the ordinary level of the Mississippi, which is not more than three hundred yards wide here, so that the fort completely commands it, with several small brass cannon and two small brass howitzers mounted "en barbette." The fort which is faced with brick, has only a level superficies large enough for one bastion, with a small barrack inside, the [301]whole of which is commanded by a block-house a hundred and fifty feet higher, on the sharp peak of a very steep hill, which in time of war might serve as a look out, as well as a post, as it commands a most extensive view over the surrounding wilderness of forest, as well as the meanders of the river for several miles.

The ridge of hills near Natchez, bounds the prospect to the northward, but there is nothing for the eye to rest on, not even a plantation to be seen, as they are all veiled by the surrounding forests, the gloom of which is heightened by the idea, that a principal portion of the vast tract in sight, is nothing but an unwholesome swamp, which will cost thousands of lives before it can ever be made habitable, or fit for cultivation. This is experienced in a great degree at Fort Adams, which on account of its insalubrity, is deserted by its garrison, a subaltern with a platoon being left in it, to guard the pass, and prevent smuggling — while the garrison inhabits a pleasant cantonment in the hills towards Pinckneyville, about five miles distant. A path descends gradually from the block-house to the town, along a very narrow ridge, about the middle of which is the burying place of the garrison, the graves of the officers being conspicuous by head stones with the name, rank, and time of decease. Two or three are interred here who have been shot  p330 in duels, to which barbarous custom they are much addicted in the American army.

There are two gun boats moored a little above the fort, which, with the long view up the river, and the flat country on the opposite bank put me in mind of the river Shannon at Tarbet in Ireland; to which however it is far inferiour in breadth as well as in magnificence, and variety of scenery. The unhealthiness of its scite is probably the reason that [302]Wilkinsonburg does not prosper, notwithstanding it is the capital of a county, and is a post town.

I put up at Marsalis's tavern, where my old and esteemed friend, doctor H—, lodged. I found him confined by a severe attack of the dysentery, which however did not prevent his giving me a cordial and a joyous welcome. Notwithstanding the poverty of the place, Marsalis gave us a tolerably good supper, according to the custom of the country, of coffee, bread and butter, sliced bacon, and a fine dish of gaspar-goo, the best fish I had yet tasted of the produce of the Mississippi.

Saturday, 27th — My horse being foundered, doctor H — accommodated me with another very good one, and after breakfast I proceeded on a good road to the south-eastward. over the most broken and hilly country I had yet seen in the territory, it leading sometimes along the brink of some high and steep precipices, but is kept in good order by the troops encamped in the neighbourhood. At four miles I kept to the left towards Pinckneyville, instead of turning to the right to the camp, at a mile's distance, as I intended to visit it on my return. I passed two small plantations near the forks of the road, they being the only ones between Wilkinsonburg and Mr. Carey's, which was three miles farther, the country becoming gradually less broken.

Mr. Carey, to whom I had a letter from H—, received me with cordial hospitality, but there was nothing strange  p331 in that, he being a native of Erin, that country so noted for this now unfashionable virtue.212

[303]After dinner I went half a mile farther to Capt. Robert Semple's, brother to my friend Steele Semple, Esq. of Pittsburgh. He was formerly a captain in the United States' army, and is now owner of a very fine plantation, where he resides, living in a style of well regulated, gentlemanly taste and liberality. — From him and his amiable lady I experienced a most friendly reception, and remaining with them until next morning (Sunday, 28th) I proceeded on my route, going back to Mr. Carey's. Keeping his plantation on the left, two miles S. S. E. brought me to Pinckneyville. On arriving at Mr. Carey's yesterday, I had got out of the broken hilly country, and I was now in one of alternate plains and gently sloping hills affording fine situations for plantations, mostly occupied. Pinckneyville is a straggling village of ten houses, mostly in decay, and some of them uninhabited. It is situated on a pleasant sloping plain, and the surrounding country is comparatively well cultivated. It has a little church, a tavern, a store and a post-office.

The Editor's Notes:

210 Colonel Anthony Hutchins, of New Jersey, joined the Sixtieth Infantry and served under General Amherst in the French and Indian War. Retired on half-pay, he settled first in North Carolina, then removed to Natchez in 1772, forming a plantation twelve miles therefrom, at White Apple village. During the Revolution he was a persistent Tory, and headed the party which recaptured Fort Panmure in 1782. Upon the advance of the Spaniards, Hutchins escaped through the woods to Savannah, going thence to London. He was only permitted to return after several years of exile. Upon the installation of American government, Hutchins promptly took the oath of allegiance, dying shortly after (1804) at an advanced age. — Ed.

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211 Loftus Heights was so named from the Indian attack made therefrom in 1764, upon the British troops under Major Loftus, who were going to secure the Illinois country. The detachment was obliged to retire to New Orleans. Fort Adams was built by the orders of Wilkinson in 1798, and the American troops from Natchez and Vicksburg removed thither. — Ed.

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212 Curran, in one of his celebrated speeches, thus beautifully described the native hospitality of his country: "The hospitality of other countries is a matter of necessity, or convention; in savage nations, of the first; in polished, of the latter: but the hospitality of an Irishman is not the running account of posted and ledgered courtesies, as in other countries; it springs like all his other qualities, his faults, his virtues, directly from the heart. The heart of an Irishman is by nature bold, and he confides; it is tender, and he loves; it is generous, and he gives; it is social, and he is hospitable." — Cramer.

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