Early Soutwest Mississippi Territory

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In 1800 the territory covered by the itinerant preacher Tobias Gibson, in the Mississippi Conference was Adams, Warren, part of Claiborne and Jefferson counties.  There were several considerable settlements on the waters of Coles Creek, Jefferson County, MS, where Societies existed from a very early period. Mr. Gibson formed a Society in Claiborne County, six or eight miles southeast of Port Gibson, consisting of the families of Gibson, Newman, Coburn and Tabor. Gibson preached to the families settled about Grindstone Ford, on Big Bayou Pierre,and about Rocky Spring. He also organized a church at St. Albans on the south side of Big Black River, a mile or two below the Port Gibson and Vicksburg road which crossed at Hankerson's Ferry. The Ferry was used by barges, keel and flat boats coming from the Mississippi River, so it was an important sending and receiving point for early settlers. Not many years later, the public wagon roads were cut out to the River above and below the Big Black so that St. Albans was superseded as a shipping point. It was abandoned quickly by the first settlers, the locality thought to be sickly.  St. Albans was the home of John Griffing's brother Gabriel Griffing, who was married to Hannah Coleman, Penelope's sister and granddaughter of Rev. Sam Swayze. Hannah's children were Jeremiah, Gabriel, Hannah and John Griffing.

The Griffings of St. Albans moved to Prairie Jefferson in NE Louisiana. They are, at the time of the book, being planned for another book about the early history of Louisiana Methodism.

Mr. Gibson crossed Big Black and visited the settlements around Warrenton, on the waters of Bogue de Sha and Big Bayou. Here he found another branch of the Gibson family, where Mr. Gibson would retire in later years. The first members of the church in Warrenton [Warren Co., MS] were Stephen Gibson, William Lewis, and Jonas Griffing, who built" a plain but commodious house for public worship, about one and a half miles east of Warrenton, which was long known as "Hopewell" in Warren County.  Hopewell was kept as a place of worship until 1822.  The settlement being barred on the west by the Mississippi River, had extended eastward until it became necessary to build a more central church.  They selected a narrow oak ridge of thin land, called Red Bone in order to distinguish it from the cane fields. They built a plain log church about 1814 on land owned by Moses Evans, and called it Bethel (the dates look weird, but are, according to the book, correct).

At Bethel: John Sellers lived nearby and served as class leader. He was the brother of Rev. Samuel Sellers. Members who joined were Thomas Galloway, Charles Henderson, Russell Smith, Jonathon Guice, George Selser, and the Helms. About 1832 the log church was succeeded by a commodious frame building, and much later a substantial brick edifice.  Even though the Federal soldiers vandalized and defaced and destroyed much of its furniture, Bethel continued to grow.

About 1823 a little class was organized higher up on Big Bayou, known as Gibson's Schoolhouse, built by Hon. James Gibson, Tobias' nephew. It was succeeded six or eight years later by another school and church by Lum's Campground, and by Asbury Church. In 1824, another was built near Bogue de Sha at the ample dwelling place of  a venerable Christian lady named Hyland.

About Tobias Gibson, who came from SC to the Natchez Mission about 1801, with Mr. Stith Mead as presiding elder.  Mr. Stith never visited the territory, as such a thing was not expected, so Tobias reported his travels to him.  The territory boundaries at that time were Walnut Hills on the north and "the line of demarkation on the south."  The area around Natchez was intolerant of Protestants and exclusively Catholic.  The first Baptist preacher there had to flee the country and stay away from his family for 3 years to avoid being sent
to the silver mines in Mexico for life as a penalty for preaching "Jesus Christ and him crucified".  John Hannah, another Baptist preacher said something "rude against Catholicism" and was assaulted and beaten in the streets of Natchez by a mob and thrown into prison until his release which was demanded by the  American population.  Rev. Adam Cloud, the first minister of the Protestant Episcopal Church who came to Natchez was imprisoned, then banished from the country, his property confiscated.  Mr. Gibson sent his report to the MS Conference at Camden [Madison County] on Jan 1, 1802, and listed 100 members that had been converted, an increase of 20.

Some dates and places from the minutes of the SC conferences:

From 1784 established pastoral charges west of the Allegheny Mountains in E. Tennessee
May 13, 1788 Holston, KY
Oct. 20, 1796 Baltimore
The Natchez Country was added after 1799 when Mr. Gibson was appointed missionary, possibly as late as 1802. Miami and  Scioto, OH were added in 1804 Jan., 1802 Camden SC, presided over by William McKendree

The territory became almost too much for Mr. Tobias to travel the 600 mile area and minister to alone. His health began to decline, and his nature became "overtaxed."  He sought a helper to minister to "these lambs in the wilderness."  He decided to go in search of help.  He took a light wardrobe, umbrella and blanket, some traveler's bread, and dried "venison or beef", materials for making coffee and a small sack of corn for his horse, and
started on his journey about the 10th of September, 1802 from the settlement of Rocky Spring, [Claiborne Co, MS].  He was soon in the almost unbroken forest of the Choctaw Nation.  He headed north on the Natchez and Nashville Trace, then northeast for Colbert's Ferry, on the Tennessee River, a few miles below the Muscle Shoals, and from thence, by way of Nashville to Strother's meeting house in Sumner county, northwest of  the town of Gallatin, where the Western Conference was to meet on the 2nd of October, 1802. He did not make the Eastern Conference on Cot 1, as he had earlier sent in his report.

On his trip he stayed at wayside inns "kept by the Indians and half-bloods" when he could find one, and when he could not, he stopped about dark near water, provided for his horse by feeding him from his saddle blanket the corn he carried.  He made a fire with steel, flint and a punk, and ate his frugal meal.  After his devotions, he used his saddle bag for a pillow and slept, aware of the danger.  Once he reached Strother's, he met Francis Asbury, the bishop of the Methodist Episcopal Church.   Asbury was afflicted with rheumatism and had to be carried to and from meetings.  Mr. Gibson listened to preaching by William McKendree, Learner Blackman, Lewis Garrett, John Page and others at the Conference.  He reported 85 white and two colored members of the Natchez Circuit, a decrease of 13 for the year.  He made his plea for help in traveling his territory, and was assigned Moses Floyd, of Georgia. The Natchez territory was reassigned, placing it in the Cumberland District with John Page aspresiding elder. The Cumberland District included:

Nashville- Thomas Wilkerson and Levin Edney
Red River- Jesse Walker
Barren- James Gwinn and Jacob Young
Natchez- Moses Floyd and Tobias Gibson

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Because of his poor health, Tobias agreed to become the secondary itinerant.  He would not agree to be "superannuated" and left the conference without an appointment in bitterness toward the church.  After his work and sacrifice to be turned out by the church without pastoral home or pastoral relationship with the church, was a great hardship.  His predominant desire after this decision was to "cease work and live," according to the author.  However, Mr. Gibson continued to labor for the Church, as he had always done, feeble as he had become.

The trip home was uneventful for Mr. Gibson and Mr. Floyd.  They were entertained by members in Tennessee, and after crossing at Colbert's Ferry, they plunged into the wilderness of the Chickasaw and Choctaw, taking the mail route to the white settlements south of the Choctaw.  They made their way to the settlement above Rocky Spring across Big Black to where Tobias' brother Stephen Gibson lived, near Warrenton.  After a short stay to rest and have their wardrobes refitted, they visited every settlement to the southern extremity of the territory on the north boundary of West Florida.

The settlements soon learned to esteem Mr. Floyd, a man of medium size, rather spare, fair complexion, high forehead, mild and benevolent countenance, soft and agreeable manners, rather feeble preaching voice, with good style and delivery, clear and logical.  The burden of the territory fell on him and his already pale face, and failing strength soon told that the burden was more than he could bear.

The author says the time is now 1803.  Mr. Floyd had kept a journal of his travels but it could not be found at the time of the writing of the book.  Nor could he locate a sentence from the pen of Mr. Gibson about the past year, so he turned to the memories of a few still living members for history of that time.  He notes the emigration of a considerable number of Protestant families, mostly from the Southern Atlantic States, into the territory.  Settlements were made on the Mobile and Lower Tombigbee Rivers, higher up on the Tombigbee,
northeast of the Choctaw Nation, in what became Marion County, in Alabama and Lowndes and Monroe Counties in MS, and Lowndes and Madison County in N. Alabama.  The author says some historians put this emigration as later than 1803, but he knows there were people enough on the Lower Tombigbee in the spring of 1803 to keep a transient preacher busy several days in visiting the different neighborhoods.

The original name of the Tombigbee was Tombeckbee, named by the Indians.  Ignorance of the Indian language caused the settlers to mispronounce and spell it incorrectly.  The author says Tombigbee means nothing but an uncouth name imposed on a noble river.

New Families:
Emigrant families also began to locate south of the Choctaw Nation and in West Florida.  In the fall and winter of 1803, several worthy Methodist families came to what is now the southern part of Jefferson County, MS and settled a neighborhood they called Spring Hill, the name of all succeeding churches and campgrounds in that locality for at least the next 70 years.  Of these families, some were that of Thomas Owens and his wife Francis, from South
Carolina, near Charleston.  Their son, known as Little Tommie Owens was a member of the church for 55 years, and because of his pleasantry and native wit, was considered "the light and life of the Conference sessions, a favorite both with preachers and people."  The Sr. Thomas united with the Baptist church in Salem, near his new residence since he found no Methodist church, until new families moved in, at which time he joined their group.

The next family in order of time, was the Baldridge family, from Orange County, NC.  There were 5 brothers and 5 sisters, the dates of their birth ranging form 1777 to 1801.  Two of the family, Mary and Samuel, died in childhood.

Another family came from Sumter District, SC,  the John J. Robertson family.  Also the Abner Marble and "his most excellent wife" Rachel Hamberlin Marble, who moved to Spring Hill with other family members.

Then there were the brothers, George and Ismy Forman, from the Western Florida area which at the the time of the writing of the book, was in the eastern parishes of Louisiana. They became the leaders of the newly formed congregation, the Society headed by Thomas Owens Sr., in the early years of Spring Hill, "an eligible lot near a good spring," where the meeting house was built.  Thomas Owens, Edward Forman, John J. Robertson and " his ever-faithful and goldly colored servant Caesar," Theophilus Marble, George and Ismy Forman built the church using axes to cut the timbers, hew the logs, built pulpits and other appendages.  This church became the headquarters of the Natchez territory.
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The author speaks of the "sudden and comet-like appearance of the Rev. Lorenzo Dow," who was born in Coventy, Tolland County, Connecticut on Oct. 16, 1777.  He followed Rev. Hope Hull of New England into the ministry, "after a fearful struggle with ignorance, sin and unbelief," and licensed to preach in 1798.   After two appointments from the Conference he was discontinued, but "traveled on foot and horseback and preached oftener by day and night than almost any other man in the Connection", despite losing his license.  He traveled the continent and the British Isles making converts for the Methodist church.

On a trip from Georgia to the Natchez country in 1803, after many trials getting through the Creek Nation, Mr. Dow found a "thick settlement, and then a scattered one, 70 miles in length" up and down the Tombigbee River, not far above its conjunction with the Alabama. He then traveled westward through the southern part of the Choctaw Nation to the Natchez settlements, where he met Moses Floyd, and delivered to him several letters from relatives in Georgia.  He also gave him letters of recommendation from high members of Church and
State, which induced Mr. Floyd to ask him to preach  at all important points of his extensive pastoral charge, no doubt grateful for the help.  Dow became the third " Methodist circuit-rider", as they were often called. He went south from Natchez, preaching at Kingston, Loftus Heights (later called Fort Adams), Pinckneyville, and down to the line of West. Florida.  He returned to Natchez, then on to Kingston where he sold his watch to buy land to build a church on.  He then sold his coat for funds to travel and preach, going up country to Pine Ridge, at Washington, to Selsertown, and at Callendar's meeting house near the residence of the late Col. P. B.. Harrison.  Upon leaving there, he went to Bayou Pierre on Big Black where he preached the funeral sermon of a niece of Tobias Gibson.

Lorenzo Dow left his horse with "Brother Gibson and took a Spanish race-horse, which he was to be responsible for, and remit him the money by post, when it should be due, on my arrival in Georgia in November."

"June 20 - Having gotten equipped for my journey through the woods through to Cumberland, which was several hundred miles, and having been informed that a party of men were that morning to start into the wilderness, I intended to go with them, but on my arrival, found they had started the day before;  so I must either wait for more, or go and overtake them.  To wait I durst not, as my appointments had gone to Virginia.  A Kentuckian had some time before, as I was informed, struck and Indian who shortly after died, and the other Indians supposed that his death was in consequence to the blow; and they complained to the Governor, and the Kentuckian was tried and acquitted; wherefore the Indians,  according to their custom, were determined to kill somebody; as they must have life for life; and they had become saucy, and had shot and wounded several on that road, but had not killed any one yet; and it was supposed that some one must shortly fall a victim.  However, I set off alone, and rode the best part of twenty miles, when I saw a party of Indians withing about a hundred feet of me, I was in hopes they would pass me, but in vain, for the first Indian seized my horse by the bridle and the others surrounded me.  At first I thought it was a gone case with me;  then I concluded to get off my horse and give up all in order to save my life; but it turned in my mind that I do, I must return to the settlements in order to get equipped for anotherstart, and then it will be too late for my appointments.  Again it turned in my mind how, when I was in Ireland, somebody would frequently be robbed or murdered one day, and I would travel the same way the day before or the day after, and yet was preserved and brought back  in peace;  and the same God is able to preserve me here and deliver me now as then.  Immediately I felt the power of faith, to put my confidence in God, at the same time I noticed that the Indians had ramrods in the muzzle of their guns as well as in their stocks' so it would take some time to pull out the ramrods and get their guns cocked and prepared up to thir faces ready to shoot.  At this moment my horse started and jumped sideways, which would have laid the Indian to the ground who held the bridele had it not slipped out of his hands.  At the same time the Indian on the other side jumped, seemingly like a streak, to keep fromunder the horse's feet so there was a vacancy in the circle.  At the same time I gave my horse the switch and and leaned down on the saddle, so that if they shot, I would give them  as narrow a chance as I could to hit me, as I supposed they would wish to spare and get my horse. I did not look behind me until I had got out of sight and hearing of the Indians, I was not long going a dozen or fifteen miles, so I overtook the company that day, and told them what I had passed through. They said they had met the same Indians, and a Chickasaw trader who was with them told them that two Chickasaw Indians with him said that the Choctaws which I met informed them that if the Chickasaw trader was not with the Kentuckians they should have taken their provisions from them. When I heard this I reflected if such a small preventive was the only means of saving a party from being plundered, what danger I was exposed to!  And I felt more solemn afterward than when in the midst of these dangers.  About forty eight hours after, a party of twenty-five men were attacked by some ruffians, driven from their camp and plundered of some thousands of dollars, and some of them came near starving before they got in."

"I traveled on several days with the company, but they proceeded so slow that I resolved to quit them; and  thinking I was within about forty miles of the Chickasaw Nation, set off alone one morning in hopes of getting in the same night;  so I traveled on all day as fast as I could conveniently, stopping only once to bait, until I came within about twenty miles of the settlements, and about ten at night came to a great swamp, where I missed the trail, and
was necessitated to camp out without any company-except my horse-fire or weapons of defense; and as I dismounted to fix my bridle and chain together for my horse to graze while fastened to a tree, I heard a noise like the shreiks of women, and listened to know what it might be; and it occurred to my mind that I had heard hunters say that the catamount or panther would imitate the cries of women.  At first I felt some queries or fears in my mind, but I soon said 'God can command the wild beasts of the forest, as well as he can command the Indian';  and I kneeled down and committed myself to the protection of kind Providence, and then lay down and had a comfortable night's rest. The next morning I went on and joined the settlement about ten o'clock, and got some mild and coarse Indian bread for myself, and corn for my horse, and then went on about twenty miles farther, and through the providence of A God, I did not miss my road, though there were many that went in different courses. At length I saw a man dressed like a gentleman. He came up and shook hands with me, and after some conversation invited me to his house, about a mile and a half off; I tarried with him a few days, and had two meetings with some reds, blacks, whites, and half-breeds, and good, I think was done in the name of the Lord. The post came along, and I left Mr. Bullen, the missionary, whom I spent my time with, and set off with him, and in three days and a half
we traveled upward of two hundred miles and came to settlements of Cumberland."

The author says this extract will give the reader some idea of the difficulties and dangers our ministers had to encounter traveling between Mississippi and Tennessee, and also between Mississippi and Georgia, through the Creek Nation.  He says the Chickasaw and Choctaw were friendly to the whites, but local ill-natured excitements against the whites from real or
imaginary wrongs would now and then occur, by with the innocent traveler was likely to suffer that the imprudent and guilty.  He states that the Creek Indians inhabiting that part of the territory embraced in South Alabama were more hostile to the white race encroaching on the lands they claimed, and especially in time of war it was far more dangerous to travel between Natchez and Tennessee.  Another consideration added greatly to the danger of traveling
alone or in small companies along the horse paths through the Indian Nations was that they were ofen infested with lawless white men, who frequently robbed and sometimes murdered travelers for a small sum of money, and tried to make it look like Indians had done their crimes. "This was common until the close of our last war with England in 1815;  so that supplies from abroad, which were mostly from Tennessee and South Carolina", had to encounter the dangers.

The author states that about that time there were 100 white and two colored members in the Natchez territory, and that nothing unusual occurred that year.  He states that Rev. Moses Floyd was "weak and feeble in his health, so that he was noted for his pale-facedness."  He says Mr. Floyd's disease "was of a flattering character."  His health started to improve as spring advanced and summer came on, and he started to think of marriage to Miss Griffing and a home of their on in Mississippi.  He had watched Miss Griffing for four years until he became satisfied that she was "worthy and well-qualified for the very responsible station of a minister's wife."  He "quietly and prudently introduced the subject to her, and as he met with no repulse, requested her to give it a thoughtful and prayerful consideration."  They agreed to marry when his health improved, but as autumn approached, his health declined rapidly,
and they agreed to dissolve their engagement with a renewed pledge to meet in the afterlife. Miss Griffing survived him but a few months, dying while on a brief visit to Miss Hannah Griffing, where her unknown grave was located somewhere near St.Albans, "not many miles from the grave of the sainted Gibson."

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Tobias Gibson had "but one important task to complete, and that was to provide as best he could for a regular supply of ministerial labor and  oversight in Mississippi after his work should be done."  Given the fact that the charge he had worked was 500 miles from any other pastoral charge, and the fact that only he, Floyd and Dow had ever seen the territory, added to the fact that other ministers had no family or local attachments in the area, he decided to go to the Conference at Mount Gerizim Church, about three miles from Cynthiana, in Harrison County, KY on Oct. 3, 1803, to see if he could find recruits, who would come out only because of sense of duty.  In his fast declining state of health, he decided to make the trip, as it mattered not when or where he fell.  He started early, as his waning health and strength would permit.  The author says, "He sits on a horse of good bottom;  has under him
a pair of well-filled saddlebags, covered with his traveling blanket; to the cantle of his sattled is buckled his overcoat and umbrella, and from the well fitting halter on his horse's head comes the long line, gracefully wrapped around his necd, with which he tethers him out to grass as occasion requires.  His apparel is plain, but neat and substantial, indicating the approach of cold weather. He seems resolved to do, or die in the attempt."  He would ride along in prayer and occasionally sing the favorite hymn of his declining years, beginning:

Vain, delusive world, adieu
With all of creature-good!
Only Jesus I pursue
Who bought me with his blood!
He was cared for by members along the way, all who expressed sympathy for this almost helpless invalid.  Hardly able to sustain his travel-worn and emaciated body, he stood before the Conference, and "in melting language, made known the wants and prospects of his beloved charge, away down South, and west of the great Wilderness, and in glowing accents begged that the ministerial force might at least be duplicated."

Two new ministers were appointed "to the Natchez work" by Bishop Asbury.  They were Hezekiah Harriman and Abraham Moses.  Mr. Harriman had been licensed on trial in 1795, and fully licensed in 1797.  He traveled and preached on circuits in the Baltimore and Virginia areas until 1799.  Mr. Amos was admitted on trial at the start of his work in the Natchez territory, which was at the conference of 1803.  The three returned to the white settlements six or eight miles south of the Choctaw Nation on Jan. 1st, 1804, after traveling the "distance of at least six or eight hundred miles" where Mr. Gibson preached his last sermon, before retiring to the home of his brother Nathaniel's widow on Big Bayou, where his monument stands.

There had been an increase of 60 "colored members" that year, but a decrease of 26 "whites."  This decrease would have been larger were it not for an immigration of families into the area.  A large percentage of the population at this time were Roman Catholics, hostile to Protestants, and a "considerable portion of dishonest bankrupts - robbers, murderers, and scape-graces of all grades, who had fled from justice in the United States and settled here when this country was under a foreign government."  The author says this was
particularly true of Western Mississippi and Louisiana.  Few of these people became reliable members of the Church," and to this day their descendants are the most godless people in the land".  [This was at the writing in 1887.]

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