Early Soutwest Mississippi Territory

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Johnson had been brought up with only a limited education, being raised by parents who cared more about his safety than educating him.  He suffered much anxiety about the matter of preaching, and decided to leave KY and come as an adventurer to the far-famed Natchez Country, and did so soon after he attained the age of majority.  He lost his religion on the trip, and decided not to renew his church relations when he arrived there, or even profess to be religious.  In 1805 he moved to Spring Hill, and joined the church again, due to the instruction of Rev. Newet Vick.  "Thomas Owens and the Baldridges put the harness forthwith on young Mr. Johnson", and led him into the active service.  He married Miss Deborah Spence Baldridge, who in 1808, in company with John J. Robertson and Thomas Owens Jr., also joined the church.  In 1883, Mrs. Deborah Baldridge Johnson was 85, and attending Spring Hill Church.  Both Robertson and Owens became ministers.

John C. Johnson was licensed to preach in 1812.  He was riding into town to preach in Fayette one Sunday, when his neighbor Major-General Thomas Hinds sent his wagoner to town for some purpose.  Mr. Johnson and Major Hinds were members of  the Masonic fraternity, as well as friends and neighbors.  Mr. Johnson sent Major Hinds word that he "would send an officer for him early tomorrow morning to come in and account for this public violation of the laws of his country".  Major Hinds was not a religious man but thought highly of Johnson.  The Major was in Fayette early the next morning, and apologized to Johnson, promising not to let his team be unnecessarily employed on a Sabbath again.  The friendship was not interrupted.

Mr. Johnson desired to enter the itinerancy but limited means and a rapidly growing family deterred him until autumn of 1844, when his children were mostly grown, and he had "acquired a competency" for his family.  He was by then, 63 years old, when he applied.  In two years he was received into full connection.  On Sept. 3, 1851 he was attacked by typhoid fever, and died on the 30th.  He left numerous descendants in the area, including a son Rev. WIlliam B. Johnson, who cared for his mother until she was 85.

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In the meantime, Elisha W. Bowman is a missionary in New Orleans and Opelousas.  New Orleans had about 12000 inhabitants at this time, all classes, an amalgamation of all races of all men;  all shades of complexion, some perhaps could not be found anywhere else on the continent.  The majority were French and Spanish, "and universally Roman Catholic or infedels".  When Louisiana was retroceded to Spain in 1762, the Spaniards were anxious to have the rich delta on the margin of the Mississippi River settled with an agricultural population from the Balize to Natchez, and for this purpose offered all manner of inducements to adventures of all classes to locate on the lands and engage in cultivation.  As a general rule, these were unmarried men, and there being but few white women near, the "decoyed the Indian women into a state of concubinage wherever they could".  "Hence the origin of that class of Creoles in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana with straight black hair, high foreheads, sharp noses and thin lips.  Many of these brunettes are handsomely formed and have beautiful countenances".

"Another class of Creoles, in the same territory, originated with a cross between the Spaniard and the African negress".  In order to increase agriculturists on the coast, the Spaniards had 3000 African slaves imported into Louisiana and sold at a low rate to the small planters on the coast.  All the available women of this large importation were reduced to a state of concubinage by their owners, and hence that class of Creoles with wavy hair, low foreheads, flat noses, and thick lips, with other characteristics of the African race".

The Anglo-Saxons found in New Orleans by Mr. Bowman were almost as inaccessible as the French, Spaniards and Creoles, except in language.  They had gone there for the single purpose of making their fortunes and had little interest in religion.  Sundays were the appointed days of going to shows, theaters, masquerades, dancing parties, horse races, military parades, and all sorts of sensual pleasures.  Mr. Bowman soon left the city for Opelousas.  He made his way through the overflowed region with great difficulty and exposure, until he reached the Attakapas Country.

The author has a copy of a letter written by Rev. Bowman to Rev. William Burke, then of Lexington, KY dated 1-29-1806.  In it, Mr. Bowman talks of his travels from Baton Rouge, the Spanish garrison, down river two hundred miles to New Orleans.  He describes the cypress swamps.  He says he found a Rev. Chase from Baltimore,  an Episcopalian already preaching to the few Americans there.  He mentions a Mr. Watson as "the gentleman to whom I was recommended by Mr. Asbury, had already left the city early in the fall, and gone home to Philadelphia".  He says he went to the Governor who promised him protection, and the city was at his service.  But when he came to the church to preach Sunday, he found the doors locked and the house inaccessible, with a few drunken sailors and Frenchman about the walk, so he preached to them in the open air.  After several Sundays like this, running out of money and unable to sell his horse for forty dollars (his expenses were two dollars a day for him and the horse,) he decided to go to a settlement two hundred miles northwest to preach.  He left on the 17th of Dec. 1803, traveled fifty miles upriver and crossed a river that forces itself out of the Mississippi, and runs into the sea in a southwest direction, down which river he traveled fifty miles, then turned west fifteen miles through a swamp to the lake. "Here the mosquitos liked to have eaten up me and my horse".  He hired two Spaniards for thirteen dollars and a half, to go with him across the four lakes and a large bay with him to a small island where he saw an old Spaniard boiling salt.   He landed a little south of the mouth of the River O'Tash where a few Frenchmen were living and a few Americans scattered along the bay and river, who came there during the American war "but not for the good deeds that they had done".   He now had three dollars left.

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Elisha Bowman traveled 80 miles up the River O'Tash to a large French Settlement, passing only a few American homes, then a small tribe of Indians, crossed the Vermillion Ricer, which ran in a southwestern direction, and reached Opelousas the next day.  He said he
"had a fine sea breezes here".  He came to the Catholic church and was surprised to find a pair of "race-paths" at the door.  He found a few Americans who "were swearing with almost every breath" and he reproved them.  They told him that the priest swore as much as they did, as well as dance and play cards on Sunday night after mass.  Mr. Bowman was surprised to find that the priest " also keeps a race-horse! -in a word, practices every alumination ". He told them if they did not quit swearing that they and their priest would to to hell together.

About 20 miles away he found a settlement of Americans, who had settled there "about the time of the American War".  He said they were perishing for lack of knowledge and he had to "learn them to sing" and how to worship.  He moved on about 30 miles to a small settlement of English people, "who were in as great a state of ignorance as the above", but he got as many together as he could and preached to them.  At this time there was unrest with the people about the Spanish government and the Spaniards were "fortifying themselves all around the coast".  He says 3/4 of the people, which he said were French, hoped they would get this country, though he did not.  He described the land as level and mostly prairies, rich in cattle, an average of 1 to 3 thousand head per farmer, and you could easily carry on your back all that you could find in their homes.

Mr. Bowman says it is now January 20, 1806, and from the quantity of rain that has fallen on the low land, there is great flooding.  He has to swim through creeks and swamps when he travels, and some days is dripping wet from morning to night, after swimming while holding his horse's bridle a hundred feet or more.  His horse's legs are skinned and rough to his hock joints, and Mr. Bowman has rheumatism in his own joints.  He says that he heard that there was a considerable settlement  of Americans about 80 miles away, but the floods prevent him from reaching them.

That concludes Mr. Bowman's personal notes at this time, but the Author, Mr. Jones, says that everywhere Mr. Bowman traveled he had to inquire as to his whereabouts, ask for directions, state his business, and ask permission to preach.  Some welcomed him, others treated him coldly and repulsed him.  Some of the French families were in possession of considerable property, and there were French  and Spanish peasants who lived in inferior cabins with "a mud chimney and puncheon floor," having a stock of cattle, mustangs, and hogs, with wild game to supply their wants.  Mr. Bowman ranged the country between Vermillion Bay and Catahoula.  He managed to bring 17 members into the church that year, despite his hardships.

This year the Methodist congregation had an increase of 134 white and 20 colored members, a total of 283 white and 92 colored members from the three circuits.

September 20, 1806 saw the next Conference in Green Co., TN at Ebenezer Church. Learner Blackman attended it, with either Mr. Pattison or Bowman, the author is not sure which.  He gave a summary, including the fact that the Griffing family of St. Albans had removed to Prairie Jefferson, in Washita Parish in NE Louisiana, where they needed a preacher.  He also needed one in Prairies Mer Rouge, on the Island de Seard, at Washington, and in the pine hills west of Washita Parish.  Elisha Bowman was appointed in charge.  Moses Floyd was making preparations to retire in Prairie Jefferson, also.  The Mississippi preachers were all reappointed.  In addition, John Tarver went to Claiborne with Nathan Barnes.  Caleb W. Cloud went to Natchez, William Pattison to Wilkinson, Thomas Lasley to Opelousas, and Bowman to Washita.  (Note "the author said the original name was spelled Ouachita").

On his return from the Conference, Mr. Blackman "may have taken the Government road laid off from Natchez by way of the Tombigbee and Tellico Rivers through the Cherokee Nation to Knoxville" and reached home earlier than previously.  Mr. Blackman occasionally visited New Orleans, but no other arrangements were made for that territory at this time. Rev. Jacob Young, who succeeded Blackman, noted that Blackman had gone "to West Florida, and often visited New Orleans".

New Orleans was a hard place, as was all of the Spanish and French settlements in Louisiana and the Floridas.

Elisha Bowman bade adieu to his fellow laborers east of the Mississippi, and crossed the river at Natchez, making his way through Sicily Island to the Wahita River, and ascending the trail to the post at Washita, which was then selected as the parish site, the name superseded by that of Monroe, which it bears at the time of this writing (1887).  The settlement was described as quite a rising city on the east bank of the Washita, the most beautiful river in Louisiana, and the country described as variegated-looking to Mr. Bowman in 1807.  "First came the beautiful Lake of Concordia, with its shoals of fish, lounging alligators, and flocks of wild fowl;  then dense canebrakes;  next the open swamp with watermarks on the trees twenty feet above his head;  then the bridgeless lagoons and bayous with half floating bottoms of bottomless mud;  small rivers and fordless creeks without ferries, with here and there a beautiful prairie as well defined by the surrounding forests as a well ordered cotton or sugar plantation at a later period".

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It is now 1807.  "Mr. Elisha W. Bowman has acquired some skills and knowledge of the methods of overcoming the natural hindrances of the land in his travels." When having to pass through an overflow of moderated depth for a mile or two, he would reverse his stirrups so as to elevate the feet nearly to a level with the pommel of his saddle, then taking his saddlebags across his shoulder,proceed on his journey by observing the blazes on the trees on either hand.When coming to the smaller bayous, he would turn his horse, "Charley," in towallow through the mud and water as best he could, while he walked a log withsaddle and saddlebags on his shoulder.  Encountering the larger streams, he would draw a few logs to the waters edge, fasten them together with a grape-vine, and having launched them, would add a tier of reversed logs of sufficient height and buoyancy to keep him out of the water (called a ChoctawLog by early settlers as the Choctaw hunters taught them to make the raft);  "then turning his horse through with bridle carefully tucked up to prevent any entanglements with foot of limb, he would deposit himself and equipage in the center of his raft, and with a stick for a paddle he would soon reach theother shore."  Sometimes Charley would scamper off when he reached the shore,and leave his master to trudge several miles through the mud with histraveling equipage on his back.

"Why Bless the Lord, here is Brother Bowman", exclaimed Aunt Hannah Griffing, as he rode up to her cabin in the Prairie Jefferson.  "How in the world did you get across the Bonnida?"  "Ferried myself over on a Choctaw Log of my ownconstruction, Sister Griffing". This answer explained the whole process. Numerous families of French peasantry lived in this area, mostly poor and unlettered, speaking a foreign language, and being Roman Catholics by inheritance. They were however, hospitable to strangers according to their
ability, would come to meetings and sometimes ask a Protestant preacher to preach their funerals.  The new American settlers were of a better class than the original settlers here, in the Red River and Attakapas portions of the territory, according to the author. They did not mob, threaten or even rudelyinsult preachers. They actually looked upon preachers as good and importantpeople.

Mr. Bowman traveled his long and solitary route between settlements.  Water fowl of every plumage belonging to the climate, and fish of various sizes were seen everywhere, as well as a "dray-load" of turtles mounted on logs, alligators of all sizes and in great numbers often seen floating with eyes andnose above the surface, or basking in the sun;  in yet unbroken forests and prairies were seen herds of deer feeding on the grass or gracefully bounding
away at pleasure.  Sometimes he would meet in his path a bear, panther or wolf, catamount or smaller vermin.  They generally parted company as suddenly as they met, with no harm done beyond a mutual fright.  This amiable and gifted young man left home and country, sustained these hardships, and gave up any chance of wealth in his quest for lost souls.

The author allows us to follow Mr. Bowman to a few of the neighborhoods that were established and gives us some names and history.  First, he was at Washita, where he was treated cordially and given respect.  On Bayou de Seard, not far from the post at Washita, the family of a worthy citizen named GeorgeHook, encouraged him to preach in their home, which was a notable stoppingplace for the itenerants.  Several of the family became Methodist, includingGeorge's daughter Elizabeth Hook, who was Elizabeth Sterling at the time ofthe book.  She was born there in 1800, and always lived there. She was 74 whenthe author last saw her, still a Christian.

The author says that at an earlier day, Mr. Bowman had visited a settlement on the upper end of Island de Seard, on or near Bayou Bartholomew and Washita River.  Prominent among the American families was Judge McLaughlin and his family.  He was not and never became a church member, but he opened his housefor the entertainment of the first and all subsequent ministers to the time of his death in 1826.  McLauglin's wife had two sisters, Misses Jane and NanyMorrison, who became church members along with every member of the Judge'sfamily except himself.  The author says most of the family died young as a
result of the humid atmosphere where they were raised.

Next, Mr. Bowman visited Prairie Mer Rouge, where a family of Baptists, by the name of Barlow lived. The family was very cordial and most of the younger members became prominent Methodists.

On to Prairie Jefferson again, where the Griffing family had settled.  They were ready to "make one of Mr. Wesley's original classes of about twelve".  The Griffings were settled in a beautiful and fertile little prairie, isolated from all other communities, with no slave population, and all within the soundof the "meeting horn" at the home of Jeremiah Griffing.

Mr. Bowman them made a general reconnaissance in the pine hills west of the Washita River, and southward through Prairie Boeuff and Sicily Island, to the vicinity of Red River.

Mr. Lasley, working the Opelousas territory, told him "with thrilling interest of a very narrow escape he made during this year, from a solitary lodgment, without food or fire, in the Red River Swamp.  He had crossed the river from the southern side, somewhere below Alexandria, and was making his way along a dim path to the first settlement on the highland. He had to go a considerable distance through an open swamp and then through a dense canebrake.  He wasbelated, night was near, and to make his prospect more gloomy, a dark cloudwas coming up threatening him with a night of storm and rain.  By the time hereached the canebrake, the darkness occasioned by the rising cloud and thenight was so great that he could not find the entrance of the horse path. Whilewith great anxiety, bordering on horror at the probability of having to lodgethat dark and stormy night without fire or weapons of defense, in closeproximity with panthers, wolves, and alligators, he was hastening up and downthe margin of the cane, looking for the entrance of the path, a deer suddenlyjumped up and bounded away, giving his horse a terrible scare.  The horse
instantly wheeled and plunged head first into the overlapping cane.  By the time he had reined in his horse and balanced himself in the saddle, and using his hands to shield his eyes and face from the overhanging cane, he soon reached his destination in safety".  He believed God had put the deer there to scare his horse enough to point him in the right direction.

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There did not seem to be much going on with the settlements east of the Mississippi, except for a decrease of 22 colored members.  Arrangements for the erection of the first Methodist church-edifice in Natchez was underway.  The Spanish government there was not tolerant of Protestants, had beaten, imprisoned and ordered ministers to desist in public worship. When the countrywas given to the United States, ministers became enthusiastic to preach there.
Remember Lorenzo Dow had said in 1803, "there were not three Christians in the town, either white or black".  In 1804 he found it impossible to get the people out to meetings until he got their curiosity excited.  Tobias Gibson had occasionally preached there when he first landed in 1799, but he nor his successors had made much impression on the population.

"Natchez was the center of commerce and worldliness in the Territory, so it was also of irreligion and every form of vice.  Natchez Under the Hill was notorious for drinking, quarreling, fighting, gambling, and patronizing brothels of the lowest order.  Within two miles of Natchez proper was the celebrated St. Catherine race-course, with its usual concomitants of alluring and fashionable vice, which was a place of resort for what were called the upper classes of society."  The land was very fertile, and the agriculturists were all astir to make fortunes.  By the beginning of 1804, a number ofcitizens had determined to build a suitable church.  For this purpose, a lot of ground, north of Main Street, on Fifth - now Union Street - 50 feet front by 160 degrees deep, was purchased of William Barland for the sum of $150, and  a Board of Trustees was settled on, consisting of Rev. Newet Vick of Jefferson County, Dr. Phillip Gorell, David Latimore, Reuben Gibson, William Foster, Rev. Caleb W. Cloud, and Rev. Learner Blackman.  The deed "which is still extant, is dated March 25.1807."  The brick church would cost over $3500 tobuild.

Rev. Vick was in moderate circumstances, with a large family, and lived twentymiles from Natchez.  He was the largest donor, and gave $150 toward the building fund.  A few others gave $100, down to $2 as they were able.  At the end of the collection, such men as William Foster, Dr. William Lattimore, Dr. Gorrell, Rueben Gibson, and many others had to foot the bill.  Mr. Foster gave$767.95 as a loan, which was in doubt of  being repaid.  The church answeredall purposes until 1823 when someone owning an adjacent lot had made an
excavation for the puppies of building a house so near the church that the bank sloughed off and caused the wall of the church to fall.  Soon another and more commodious church was built on the same lot.  Both sides in the war between thestates used the church as a meeting place, until it was sold to the African Methodist Episcopal Church for $9000 in 1873, "the building burned, and one third of the debt was given to the purchasers to build a new church in a moredesirable locality, according to the present architectural style of church-building in cities".

In 1811 The neighboring towns of Natchez and Washington were detached from the old Natchez circuit, and made a separate charge, with Isaac Quinn pastor.  For some reason, the arrangement did not work, and the towns were again reunited on the circuit.  In 1815, it was tried again to separate the towns from the circuit, with Roswell Valentine as pastor, but they were returned to the circuit at the end of the year, and stayed with the circuit until 1823, whenthey were again detached and put in charge of Rev. John C. Burrus, and it wasnot until 1826 that Natchez city was made a separate pastoral charge, withRev. Peyton S. Graves as its first pastor.

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