Early Soutwest Mississippi Territory

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At the end of 1826, the itinerant preachers voted to be moved to other areas after one to three years in one circuit, especially if the climate was unhealthy.  Blackman and Barnes had been on their circuit for three years, Pattison, Bowman, Cloud and Lasley for two years each. To be fair to the preachers, it was allowed that they be returned to their homes near the
central portion of the territory as defined by the Western Conference.  The people hated to give the preachers up, but admitted to the justice of  their transfers to the place of their youth.  The preachers sympathized with the flocks they were leaving, but were thrilled to go home to their own countries, family, and homes.  The author says as far as he knows, "Not one of this company ever returned to Mississippi in a pastoral relation."  When Mr. Lasley was local, and advanced in years, he visited Mississippi twice on secular business, and while there delighted his old acquaintances with sermons and songs thirty six years later.

The author remembers one short visit he received at this home about 1842 from Rev. Lasley.  Jonathon Jones' wife (Phebe Griffing Jones) was quite ill, of which she informed Lasley upon his arrival.  After a glorious prayer session, Lasley told her she would recover, and she did.

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The following is a supplement to Chapter IX, which we just covered.   It is an "Autobiographical narrative of Rev. Learner Blackman's itinerancy in the Territories of Mississippi and Louisiana from  November 1804 to January 1808".  I will not present it word for word, as much of the information has been covered.

Long after writing the preceding chapter, the author received from Mrs. Susan P. H. Drake, widow of the late Rev. Benjamin M. Drake, D.D. of the Mississippi Conference, the original manuscript narrative of Rev. Blackman's travels in Mississippi and Louisiana.  Dr. Drake had been collecting documents on Methodism since 1834, with the intentions of publishing reminiscences of the itinerancy.  It is presumed that Dr. Drake received the document from the family of Learner Blackman.

"Many circumstances conspired to discourage myself and colleague, Brother Gibson was dead, Brother Harriman was sick, Brother Floyd had located, Societies were small.  The loss of Tobias Gibson was very sensibly felt throughout the Territory.  No man of our order had been so highly esteemed - probably no man was so worthy of esteem."

"As discouraged as we were, we formed a four weeks' circuit as soon as we could, for in consequence of Brother Harriman's affliction, there were no appointments published for us".

"It took us eight or nine weeks to complete our circuits.  At the end of the first year we formed three circuits in the Mississippi Territory, calling the upper one Claiborne, the center one Natchez, and the lower one Wilkinson".  Blackman says he and Barnes helped form several Societies below the Homochitto.  Blackman's first year was peaceful. He "studied hard late and early".  When he arrived in the Territory he "found that more zeal was "necessary," as well as more grace, to reconcile himself to the hardships.  He says the Gibson connection was uniformly kind to the preachers, as well as the Nemans and Fosters, along with many others, and that their names would long be precious to him.

Blackman says that his life was sometimes endangered while crossing the deep waters in the Territory.  About the first of January, he crossed Big Bayou Pierre at the Grindstone Ford, "where it swam my horse about four rods".  His saddlebags floated away and lodged in some brush, and his books became damaged by water.

The people were a mixed multitude from every part of the United States. "Many scape-gallows settled in the Territory who were disaffected to our Government in time of the Revolutionary War, and many who had committed Capital offences [sic] took refuge here at an early period; but most of them had to leave the Territory when the Government of the United States superceded [sic] that of Spain.  But the older settlers in the Mississippi territory, who are respectable in many respects, are so rich that they are above religion and religion is above them".

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John Jones [the author] says this narrative is written on plain, unruled letter-paper, stitched together to make thirty two pages.

Learner Blackman says the old settlers in the Mississippi Territory were so rich that they " lived sumptuosly [sic] every day, and are clothed in purple and fine linen".  He said he was afraid they would not wake to a proper sense of their condition till they saw scorching flames all around them.

The author goes on to say that the poor of the country were mostly very ignorant, so that it was difficult to make an impression on their mind about religion."  The black people, who are very numerous, are very wicked".  He says the worst of them were sent to Mississippi from the Carolinas and Virginia and sold for money. And that a few of the old ones embrace religion and do honor to the cause in the Territory, while not many of the great, not many of the poorest class of society, not many of the black people submit to religion.

Toward the latter end of the year many new inhabitants form the Southern States settled on the Amite River, Beaver, Comite and Thompson's Creek.  Many had not settled there long enough to grow a corn crop when Mr. Blackman first visited them, their cabins were small and smoky, provisions were scarce.  To their credit, Mr. Blackman said these families "Deranged their households by a move of seven or eight hundred miles".

Mr. Blackman suffered "cholera-morbus" on one of his travels to the Catahoula Settlement. It came upon him suddenly from lack of water, and bad conditions.  He recovered quickly and continued to the Washita Post, twenty miles from the Washita River, where he had trouble understanding directions from the French, got lost and had to return and hire a guide "for the first mile to put me on the right way".

When he reached the post he found the whole Company had gone to a ball at Mr. George Hicks'  new residence, about thirty or forty yards from the tavern he kept.  He was asked by Mr. Henderson whether he would walk up to the house to the ball-room.  Mr. Blackman told him in the first place he was very tired, in the second place that for more than nine years he had considered such things the foolishness of folly.  In a little while a young man came in and called Mr. Blackman by name.  He had known him when he traveled the Licking Circuit in
Kentucky.  Blackman said he if had been known in this country, he would have gone in and broken up the ball by "praying and exhorting among them," but he decided to be prudent and went to bed, resting well until a row broke out at the ball in the middle of the night and "such awful swearing my ears never heard before.  The very words seemed to re-echo with horrid blasphemies".

The next morning Blackman went up to Col. Morehouse' s settlement in Prairie Mer Rouge, after having made an appointment to preach at Bayou de Seard on his return.  He was kindly treated at Morehouse's, "though some said he was a bad man."  Blackman then traveled fifteen or twenty miles below him to Judge McLaughlin's, who lived on Bayou Bartholomew, on the head of Bayou de Seard Island.  He thought the Judge was rather vain and haughty, but he and his family were kind.  On his return, he came to Mr. George Hicks' residence and tavern again, where the ball had been held.  He preached at Mr. Gibson's, in the community, and nearly all of the settlement came to listen.  Then he went about fifty miles and stopped to camp in the piney woods.  There had been rain, and it was damp so he could not make a fire. The sand flies bit him and poisoned his hands and face at such a rate that he looked next morning like he was broken out with measles.  The next night he reached Catahoula again,
thankful that he had escaped the wild beasts of Louisiana forests, such as wolves, bears and panthers.

The next Sunday he went with Elisha Bowman to a two day meeting in Avoyelles settlement, at Mr. Baker's residence.  Mr. Baker had a fine family, was a kind man, but "one of the worst drunkards" Blackman had ever met.

After the meeting, he returned by mouth of Red River to the Mississippi Territory. In December of 1805 Blackman had an attack of inflammatory fever that confined him for a month in the Jersey Settlement at the home of Mr. G. Swayze.

The next year passed with much the same in his travels, but 1807 was much more difficult, "occasioned by the bad conduct or a woman who came from the State of New York, by the name of Miller, wife of Smith Miller."   She and her husband were both Methodists.  She had great gifts of zeal, and manifestations of religion that for two years she attracted as much attention as the preachers until she left her husband and ran away with a wicked man to the Spanish Country, causing persecution to the other Methodists in the area.

On January 1808, having finished his work in Mississippi, he and five other ministers mounted their horses for the Wilderness.  They had a comfortable trip until the last day when it snowed nearly all day.  They rode about forty miles to the white settlement of Mr. Dobbins. They were nearly frozen, traveling in snow a foot deep, and trudging through roads soaked by freezing rains.  Three of the company were Methodists, and the other three "were civil gentlemen but not professors of religion."

Two days later we reached Franklin, where Blackman stayed two or three days with Major Murray; and then Brother Newman who was going on to Pennsylvania as Blackman started for Ohio.  Blackman was going through New Jersey to visit his parents, then to Baltimore to the Conference in May.  He rode through Kentucky to Ohio and rested a few days with his brother in law, Jack Collins, on the Little Miami, in Ohio.  He reached his fathers house in New Jersey, in Gloucester County, the first week of April 1808. This trip was about 1600
miles, and he had not been to his father's home in six years.  Several of his brothers and sisters were small when he left, and he was surprised to find they had "grown out of my knowledge."  He would not have known them had he met them out as strangers.  Blackman tried to comfort his aging parents about their worries over his travels, and though he seemed not to be affected by leaving them, he could hardly articulate a word, and was overcome upon bidding them farewell.  He headed for Philadelphia, where he spent several days preaching in the churches of that city.

Blackman reached Baltimore the day before the two week conference was to start.  William McKendree was elected and ordained as Bishop, Blackman was appointed to the Holston District in East Tennessee as Superintendent.  He had hoped to be assigned to Philadelphia. He traveled to Holston with McKendree and Frederick Stier, who went on to Cumberland from there.

Blackman attended a camp-meeting on the 18th and 19th of January on the Carter's Valley Circuit, where he preached.  He became debilitated, with heavy work pressing on his mind, and traveling through the highlands and mountains of Holston.  He was reappointed to Holston at the next Western Conference, and while crossing the Stone's River he became sick and fainted, which happened often in his life.  Shortly afterward, he took a chill and a violent inflammatory irritation of the stomach for about 10 days.  Upon leaving there,
he would become dizzy when his horse went downhill.  He was very weak, the weather was cold but he rode on to Mr. Lewis' in Jonesborough.  When he got to Mr. Howell's there was no ferry-boat and he was perishing with cold and illness.  He started off up the river to a friend's house where he "got pretty good entertainment but felt very weak."  On the morning of the 27th he crossed the river that did not understand managing a canoe.  He helped him all he could, but they went about a half mile below the landing.  He walked to Brother Howell's and was ready to faint when he got there.  Brother Howell got his horse over by making him swim, cold as it was.  After resting a while, he felt better and rode on to Brother Moore's, where Brother Moses Black lived.

Learner Blackman died by drowning on June 7, 1815.

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This year the Western Conference was held in Chilicothe, OH on Sept. 14,1807, in the beautiful valley of the Scioto River, situated on its right bank, about forty five miles north of the Ohio River at Portsmouth.  "Anyone may see by tracing the route on the map what a horseback journey the Mississippi preachers had to make through the Wilderness, and entirely across the States of Tennessee and Kentucky, with the additional forty five miles in Ohio, in order to reach the seat of the Conference."  The General Conference was set for Baltimore, May 6, 1808 at this conference.  Blackman, Barnes and Bowman attended to present the needs of the Mississippi and Louisiana circuits.  "The Bishop was seriously embarrassed by the lack of preachers to supply the ever increasing demand" in those areas. He agreed to appoint a presiding Elder and a preacher for each circuit, "and they must all be single men, as no provisions were made for the sustenance of married preachers."   The Bishop "had been scanning Jacob Young, a promising preacher for five years' standing."  The appointments were for the following:

Mississippi District- Jacob Young, P.E.
Natchez- Richard Browning
Wilkinson- John Travis
Claiborne- Jebidiah McMinn
Opelousas- James Axley
Washita- Anthony Houston

Browning and Axley had traveled three years and " were in deacon's orders."  Travis had traveled alone one year on a boundless missionary circuit called Missouri.  McMinn was still on trial, but with men like Randall Gibson and James Griffing to help him, it was believed that he could meet the demands of the people.

There was a "spice of eccentricity" about Mr. Axley, along with enough defiance in his temperament to face any opposition in his work, along with physical and moral qualifications for the frontier itinerant, as well as "an admixture of attractive wit," which increased his notoriety and popularity.  Many of the preachers during this time demonstrated these same qualities that the author wondered whether they all copied the same leader, followed the
prompting of their natural temperament, or if they were raised quickly in the Conference because the qualities were recognized in all of them with these fascinating gifts, that excited the public mind an attracted attendance.  Axley was remembered everywhere he preached.

Anthony Houston, promoted to elder at this conference, had been for four years in the work, was experienced and qualified for the remote and isolated outpost at Washita.

At the close of the Conference Mr. Young gave notice for all of the Mississippi and Louisiana preachers to meet him at Cage's Bend, on the Cumberland River, about twenty five miles above Nashville, at an appointed time.  Once there, they spent two or three days making preparations to pass through the Wilderness between Nashville and Natchez. They rode to Liberty Hill, where they united with Rev. James Ward, and Rev. Joseph Oglesby to hold a camp meeting.  Then they rode on to Franklin and tarried a few days with Major
Murray and Rev. Lewis Garrett while making provisions for their trip.

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From the "Autobiography of Rev. Jacob Young," the author shares some of their travels:

The preparations for the trip consisted of the expense of an additional horse and pack-saddle for the purpose of carrying cooking and eating vessels, a large and excellent cloth tent provided by William McKendree, and other baggage not convenient to carry on their riding horses.  Provisions included ground coffee, parched corn ground fine then mixed with sugar, dried beef tongues, sea-biscuits, along with what else they could carry for their comfort.

The first day they rode about thirty miles, taking the usual route on the Nashville and Natchez Trace.  They camped about sunset, tied their horses to trees, kindled a fire and proceeded to cook supper.  One of the group who had been left behind for some reason, caught up with them there.  Their cooking vessels consisted of a camp-kettle and large coffee-pot, their table furniture of Britannia tumblers, and a few spoons to which they added their pocket knives and wooden forks of their own making.  Then they set up their tent, laid their pallets, and after prayer enjoyed a refreshing night's sleep.  They arose early, fed their horses, cooked and ate breakfast, and rode forty miles to Colbert's ferry on the Tennessee River.  They intended to cross over the river that night so they could turn their horses out to graze, and wished to have the river as a boundary to prevent their escape.  They hailed the ferryman but he declined crossing that night, and told them to return in the morning.  Finding they could not cross the river, they camped on its bank, fed their horses, put on a couple of bells, and turned them into a canebrake.  They could not carry enough food for the horses, and could not always find feed, so they determined to train them to graze near camp at night.

Mr. Young was the first to arise in the morning before daylight.  Finding his horse near the tent, but not the others, he felt uneasy and after dressing, walked down river to the canebrake where he met the pack horse returning alone.  He sounded an alarm to the others.  While some made breakfast the others looked for the lost horses.  They found one more but four were still missing.  As soon as it was light Mr. Young and Mr. Houston mounted their horses and started back on the Nashville Trace.  They soon found the tracks of the horses, seeming to be traveling at a rapid pace.  They hastened their own pursuit, meeting two men who had seen the horses traveling at a quick step.  About twenty miles further, Young and Houston found where the horses had left the road, perhaps in direct route to their former homes.  Annoyed, the pursuers traveled the hard ground on the high pine ridges, finding it hard to locate tracks on the hard ground.  Discouraged, in an uninhabited country, without paths or landmarks to guide them, they decided to give up rather than get lost.  The settlements were still seventy miles away, and they needed new horses.  They were riding on a high ridge, when Young looked over his shoulder toward a loft summit on a pine ridge, and saw one of the horses rise up from a recumbent posture and stretch himself. They hastened across the ravine, and found all four horses, which they roped, two together. They returned to camp sometime after midnight, travel worn and hungry. They took the precaution of tying the horses to trees, and cutting the cane to bring to the horses.  The river being quite wide, the ferryman remarkably slow, having to make two trips, it was nearly dark the next day before they all got across to the other side of the river.

They camped that night on the bottom near the river.  Several of the company, led by Mr. Young concluded to give Col. George Colbert, the proprietor of the ferry, an evening call. Mr. Colbert was a half blood, his father being a Scotsman and his mother a Chickasaw.  He had two wives who were sisters and daughters of the famous Cherokee Chief, Doublehead. Colbert was a man of considerable talents, and very shrewd and wicked.  He and a brother "had a large farm on the river, upon which they were working about forty negroes."   Mr. Young bought some corn, fodder and pumpkins for their horses, and had to pay an extravagant price.  They sat down to a social chat with the Colonel and were quite amused at his shrewdness and native wit.  "Where are you all going?," inquired this haughty man of the Wilderness.   "To Natchez," replied Mr. Young.  "What are you going there for?"  "To Preach" replied Young.  Colbert burst into a merry laugh and said " Ah, Natchez people great for preach, but they be poor, lazy, thieving, bad people."  The preachers tried to defend their profession but to no purpose.  Colbert then asked "where are you from?"  Mr. Young answered "Kentucky" to which Colbert responded, "Kentuckians are bad people, and white men are worse than Indians everywhere, though they have much preaching and much learning.  The Indians never knew how to steal, get drunk and swear until the white men learned them.  We want no preaching in our country.  We are free and intend to keep so."

The men proceeded the next morning, sober-faced, grave looking men, accompanied by heavily laden horses, attracting the notice of Indians and half-bloods on the way.  The first four days of their duty indicate what the rest was like.  In due time, the "clerical corps" emerged from the Wilderness at the white settlement to the south of Indian Territory, disposed of their pack-horse, re-adjusted their travel equipage and way-soiled apparel, and each headed toward their individual circuits to begin the four to six week trek to complete their territories.

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By the May Annual Conference, there was a decrease in white and an increase in colored members reported, except in some areas like Spring Hill, where the first series of camp-meetings had commenced in 1806 and were still kept up at that time.  Lorenzo Dow was again transiently in the country, and this year attended the Camp meetings, where he was instrumental in the conversion of a plain, modes, but substantial youth, by the name of Gabriel Scott.  The writer says that in his youthful days, he often heard Mr. Scott speak of Mr. Dow as his spiritual father.  Scott was modest and diffident, and had in his early manhood a very limited education, which he greatly improved by constantly reading the standard literature and theology of his church.  In after-years he married Miss Abigail Griffing, youngest daughter of John Griffing, Esq., by his first marriage.  The author doubts that two more congenial young Methodists were united in holy wedlock.  He says the couple entered heart and hand into all of the duties implied by their solemn Church covenant.  Religion was their constant theme.  While industrious and frugal at home, they found time to attend all them meetings within their reach, from the timid young members' select prayer meetings of both sexes, to lead in singing and prying and giving public expression to their religious feelings.

Early in 1822, the author John Jones attempted his first public prayer in their home, and in August of the same year, by special request of Mr. Scott, he delivered his first public exhortation in the Scott's home.  He says that quite a number of young men intending to enter the ministry from that neighborhood, including William M. Curtis, Johnaton C. Jones, William H. Watkins and others, did their first practicing in the way of oral prayer and exhortation in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Scott.  He says the Scotts left a numerous posterity, nearly all of whom are members of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  He says that if no other good was accomplished at the camp meeting that year than the conversion of Gabriel Scott, taken in consideration with the results, it was worth infinitely more than all the labor and expense of holding the meeting.

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