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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 51

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 53
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Tour to the Western Country

[303]  p331  Vol. IV
Chapter LII
Enter West Florida — Fine country — Don Juan O'Connor — A whimsical egarement — Capt. Percy — Bayau Sarah — Doctor Flowers — Don Thomas Estwar — Mr. Perrie's — Thompson's creek — Bad road — Beautiful plain — Montesano.

A mile and a half farther, in a S. E. direction, the road crossed the demarkation line, which divides [304]the Mississippi  p332 territory from the Spanish province of West Florida, at the first house from Pinckneyville, and the last subject to the United States. The line runs along the parallel of the 31st degree of north latitude. It was cut forty feet wide, but it is now scarcely perceptible, from the rapid growth of trees and shrubs, in the short space of seven or eight years since it was opened, under the direction of Mr. Ellicot, commissioner on the part of the United States, and major Minor on the part of Spain.213 I was now in the district of New Feliciana, in the Spanish province of West Florida. A wagon road through a naturally fine country, with some small plantations at distances from half a mile to a mile, brought me in eight miles to Don Juan O'Connor's. This respectable old gentleman, to whom I carried a letter of introduction, has a fine  p333 estate, and is building a very large and commodious house, which, when finished, he intends for the residence of his family now in Philadelphia. He is held in great estimation by the government, and throughout the country, where he many years exercised the office of Alcalde, or chief magistrate of the district; but resigning it on account of his increasing age, he has been succeeded by his neighbour, Capt. Robert Percy, formerly of the British navy, a gentleman perfectly well qualified to execute the office with becoming dignity and propriety. I remained three days with Mr. O'Connor, at his friendly solicitation, visited by, and visiting the neighbouring gentry of this rich and hospitable country, during which time a laughable incident happened. Accompanying Mr. O'Connor to Capt. Percy's, a distance of only two miles, through the lands of the two gentlemen, Mr. O'C. conducted me through the woods by a bridle path, instead of keeping the main road, for the purpose of seeing some of his people, who were sawing timber. After riding in different [305]directions for some time without finding them, he at last gave up the attempt, saying we would now take a path which would soon bring us into the road. The sun being overcast, the old gentleman soon lost his direction in a labyrinth of cattle paths, by which we got involved sometimes in a thick cane brake, and sometimes in a copse of briars. I saw he was astray, but without seeming to perceive it, I followed him, chattering on indifferent subjects. At last despair of extricating us conquering his shame of acknowledging himself lost in his own woods — he suddenly exclaimed, "Where is your pocket compass?"— I answered that accompanying him so short a distance on his own ground, I had not thought it necessary to bring it. "You should always carry it in this country," exclaimed he, a little pettishly. "What course  p334 do you wish to go?" said I — "N. E." replied he, "ought to bring us into the main road." — "Well," said I, "let us leave the mossy side of the trees on our left shoulder." Following my advice, we soon heard some one at a distance singing loudly. We took the direction of the voice, and soon afterwards found the wagon road, after wandering above two hours in search of it. Mr. O'Connor's relating the story good humouredly at Capt. Percy's did not prevent his being rallied a good deal about it, and it spreading, became a standing subject of laugh against him, among his surrounding friends. The day after this, as I was accompanying Mr. O'C. and some of his neighbours to a militia muster, my horse took fright, at my suddenly raising my umbrella during a shower, and plunging violently, he threw me on my head, but without doing me any other injury than dirtying me all over. On Thursday, 1st September, I left Mr. O'Connor's after breakfast, with the intention of pursuing my journey, but calling at Capt. Percy's, he said it was his birth day, and that I must spend it with him, [306]and that he had sent for Mr. O'C. for the same purpose. This was truly an agreeable day to me, it being devoted to social converse without ceremony, while the well regulated and liberal domestick arrangements of the amiable and well informed lady of our friendly host, recalled to my mind the elegant refinement I had so often enjoyed in the society of her fair countrywomen, during my residence in Scotland. To her engaging native manners, Mrs. Percy adds the advantages of a long residence in London, where she seems to have grafted on her native stock, such exotick knowledge only, as could farther expand a mind, already adorned both by nature and art.

Next day, Friday, 2d September, my worthy host and  p335 hostess, after exacting a promise from me, that I should make their house my family's home, until fully provided in one myself, should I choose that part of the country for my future place of residence, accompanied me on my way, fording Bayau Sarah, which is about thirty yards wide, to the plantation of Mr. Sweezey, a mile distant, where a child being dangerously ill of a fever, Mrs. Percy had for several days before, and even nights, aided the disconsolate mother in the duties of nursing, while her humane and friendly husband prescribed and dispensed the necessary medicine in the absence of the physician — none living nearer than six or eight miles. Indeed he adds the gratuitous practice of physician and apothecary to the office of chief magistrate, and he is equally useful in each department to the surrounding country, while his amiable lady performs the part of a real Lady Bountiful, with judgement and true benevolence. Capt. Percy rode with me about five miles farther, to shew me a tract of land he had in his disposal, on which he wished me to settle, and another, the property of Mr. Cochran of Bayau Pierre, which had [307]been offered for sale. He then bade me adieu, and I went on alone, passing Mr. Sterling's and doctor Bruin's, and proceeding to the southward four miles farther, I arrived and stopped at doctor Flowers's. The doctor was absent, but Mrs. Flowers did the honours of her house to me, with the most pleasing attention, and he returning home in the evening confirmed the kind welcome I had received, and to which I was in no other way entitled than, in addition to my being a stranger (which about Bayau Sarah seems to be a general passport to hospitality) I had a letter of introduction from my valuable and respected friend, judge Bruin, whose name, where he is known, opens every door.

 p336  The next two days were spent chiefly at doctor Flowers's, and in riding about the neighbouring country, during which I visited Mr. William Barrow, who has a very handsome house, a noble plantation of about four hundred acres of cotton all in one field, and a hundred and fifty negroes. I also accompanied the doctor to pay my compliments to Don Thomas Estevan, lately appointed commandant of New Feliciana, with full powers to act for the governour. He received me very politely, and appeared to be a man of pleasing manners, and good general information, although I was informed that he had risen from the rank of a private in the army, to his present situation. That, however, is a very common thing in the Spanish service, where merit is sure of being rewarded, without the aid of money or great connexions, notwithstanding the character for pride which that nation is taxed with.214

On Monday, the 5th September, I proceeded on my tour, crossing Alexander's creek, an inconsiderable stream, and having a good road to the eastward, through a forest abounding with that beautiful and majestick evergreen, the magnolia or American laurel, six or seven miles to Mr. Perrie's. He was [308]absent until supper time, previous to which I amused myself with walking about his fine plantation, and the best garden I had yet seen in this country. A letter from doctor Flowers insured me a friendly reception, and I passed the night here.

 p337  Mr. Perrie is a native of Fifeshire in Scotland, was a millwright, by which profession, aided by an advantageous matrimonial connexion, he now possesses a hundred negroes, and is alcalde of the quarter — yet he would gladly remove to the land of his nativity, if he could do it conveniently. Tuesday 6th, a good road through open woods brought me in six miles to Doyle's, from whence, fording Thompson's creek, (a fine little river sixty yards wide) I stopped at Horton's tavern, on the opposite side. Mr. Murdoch, the proprietor, from whom Horton rents the house and adjoining plantation, but who reserves a room for himself, having seen me at Mr. O'Connor's, politely asked me to stay breakfast, after which I proceeded. All the tract of country from Pinckneyville to near Thompson's creek, being watered by Bayau Sarah, or some of its tributary streams, is most generally known by the name of the Bayau Sarah settlements, and is part in the United States and part in the Spanish territory. It is esteemed as the finest soil, the best cultivated, and inhabited by the most wealthy settlers, of any part of the Mississippi territory or West Florida, but the land appeared to be liable to have its soil washed away, so as to lose it entirely in a few years after clearing it, on all the declivities. It is on the whole however, a charming country. My road now led through a thick wood, much impeded by copse and briers, and it being a dead flat, the whole of it was a complete slough, in some places deep enough to mire my horse to the saddle skirts for several hundred yards together, so that I made slow progress, for the first six miles, in an easterly [309]direction, which had been the course of the road from doctor Flowers's. I met a man on foot, of a very suspicious appearance, labouring through the mire. He was a stout active fellow, very ragged, and his face disfigured by a large scar across his  p338 mouth. I passed him however peaceably, and soon after leaving a Mr. Carter's plantation on the right, I entered the most beautiful plain I had seen in this country. It was a savanna or prairie, about six miles long, and from half a mile to a mile wide, skirted by woods, and a few plantations, and abounding with clumps of oak, ash, mulberry, poplar and other indigenous trees, affording between them beautiful vistas of various character, while large herds of cattle and horses appeared here and there, to enliven the scene, which had additional interest from two men galloping after and noosing some wild horses. I stopped and dined at the house of Richard Dewal, esq. on the plain. Mr. Dewal is an Englishman, and alcalde of the quarter. He was absent, but Mrs. Dewal received me with politeness and hospitality. Leaving the plain, the road soon became as bad as possible, to be capable of being travelled. Three and a half miles of it brought me to Droghen's plantation in a wretched solitude, from whence I had five miles farther of equally bad road, without an inhabitant to Fridges, a Scotchman. In the next three miles I passed three plantations, and then came to the bank of the Mississippi at Mrs. O'Brien's very pleasantly situated farm, from whence is a view down the river past Montesano to Baton Rouge. A mile farther, parallel to the river bank, brought me to Montesano. This has been lately laid out for a town by Mr. Wm. Herreis from London, who is the proprietor, but I do not think he will succeed in his plan, as the country around is not sufficiently inhabited to support a town, and besides it is too near [310]to Baton Rouge, the seat of government, of the western division of West Florida. There is some prospect of his succeeding better in a saw and grist mill he is erecting, which is to be wrought by steam. It is on a large scale, and a vast deal of money has already been laid  p339 out on it (I have been informed, upwards of thirty thousand dollars) yet it does not seem to be in great forwardness.215

It is called only four miles from hence to Baton Rouge, but the badness of the road made me think it eight, perhaps six may be the true distance. I passed some small neglected French plantations on the left on the summit of a range of low hills, which extend from Montesano, while on the right I had a swamp, out of which the cypress has been cut, between me and the river, the road being very bad, through a natural savanna of coarse grass, intersected by deep ravines, and miry sloughs.

The Editor's Notes:

213 Andrew Ellicott was an American engineer of note. Born in Pennsylvania (1754) of Quaker ancestry, he passed his early life in Maryland, devoting himself especially to mathematical studies. In Baltimore and Philadelphia he became a friend of Washington and Franklin; and at their suggestion was employed to define the boundary between Virginia and Pennsylvania, and later that between New York and Pennsylvania. In 1792, he was appointed surveyor-general of the United States. He also assisted in laying out the national capital. While acting as commissioner for adjusting the southern boundary of the United States with Spain, according to the treaty of 1795, Ellicott encountered serious diplomatic difficulties, and alienated a party of the English inhabitants of the Natchez district. Claiborne's animadversions, however, in his Mississippi, seem hardly borne out by the facts. In 1808, Ellicott was appointed secretary of the Pennsylvania land-office; and four years later, professor of mathematics at West Point, where he died in 1820. His journal during his employment in the Southwest, is valuable as a record of conditions in that region. Stephen Minor was a Pennsylvanian by birth, educated at Princeton, and early came west to explore the new country. At St. Louis he was persuaded to convey some dispatches to the governor-general of Louisiana at New Orleans, who, fancying the frank but politic young American, offered him a position in the Spanish army. Minor served the Spaniards with address and fidelity. Taking no advantage of his position, he remained loyal to Spain, at the same time becoming popular with the English-speaking inhabitants of the Natchez district, where he was stationed. He was finally promoted to the governor­ship of Natchez, which he retained until its surrender to the United States (1798), when he became an American citizen, and died at Concord, Mississippi. — Ed.

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214 The province of West Florida was settled during the British occupation (1764‑83), and its population was of the same character as that of Mississippi, to the north of it — chiefly American colonists with an admixture of English, Irish, and Scotch emigrants. Feliciana was not erected into a Louisiana parish until 1811, but under the Spanish régime was made a district subordinate to the Baton Rouge province. In 1810 the inhabitants threw off the yoke of Spain, and declared themselves annexed to Louisiana. William Barrow came to West Florida about 1795, entered land under a Spanish grant, and developed a fine plantation. His descendants have been prominent citizens of the district. — Ed.

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215 It may be observed here that the steam power used by Mr. Herreis (as I am informed) is on the English principle, which is said to cost much more than the improved steam power by Oliver Evans, of Philadelphia which costs for a thirty horse power about three thousand dollars. It is said that a Mr. Cohoon, of the state of New York, has even simplified Mr. Evans's steam principle, so much that a thirty horse power will not cost more than twelve hundred dollars for its complete erection. — Cramer.

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