Early Soutwest Mississippi Territory

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Jones says that up until now we have given attention to only what was called the Natchez Country, a narrow strip in the south-western corner of the Territory, because up until then it had no existence elsewhere in all the vast Territory of  Mississippi.  But this year some little camp-fires were being kindled in the Alabama part of the Territory. Lorenzo Dow had been visiting the area since 1803, low down on the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers, preaching "in his peculiar way."  From his journal the author notes a considerable settlement called Tensaw, in the upper part of what later was called Baldwin County.  He says that Dow then went by the way of the "Cut-Off" to the west side of the Tombigbee, where he found another thick settlement later called Columbus, then sparse settlements above for about seventy miles in what was later called Madison and surrounding counties in the Tennessee Valley, all of which he visited and preached to the settlers.  No other preacher had visited these fertile valleys until 1808.  The majority of these settlers were of English descent, and came from Georgia and the Carolinas, a fair proportion having been Methodists who looked to the old South Carolina Conference for ministers.  The Easley family settled in the early period near the Tombigbee in the upper part of what was later called Clarke County. At the time of the Creek war of 1812-15, there was a fort called "Ft. Easley," in honor of this family.  Matthew P. Sturdevant was appointed to the "Tombeckbee" circuit,  as the name was spelled and pronounced, by the South Carolina Conference on Dec. 28,1807.  Joshias Randle was the presiding elder, though no record shows that he made the journey through the wilderness inhabited by treacherous savages, to visit this attached outpost.

Matthew Sturdevant was admitted to the Virginia Conference in 1805, and traveled three years as an itinerant, then transferred to the South Carolina conference where he stayed five years, two of them being spent on the Tombigbee settlements.  In 1812 he located, but in 1813, he re-appeared in the Virginia Conference.  After that, the author lost all knowledge of his whereabouts.

William McKendree was elected to the General Superintendency in Baltimore and his loss was great for the Western Conference.  It was with pride that this pioneer conference could produce such a worthy person, that they let him go and wished him well.

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The author tells us how the traveling preachers obtained needed supplies on their travels, according to the steward's books:

  The staple products of the country for exportation wee indigo and tobacco, but they were being rapidly superseded by cotton, which soon became the basis of all monetary transactions, which came about in this manner:

Some man in the community would erect a cotton-gin, and pack cotton for market, known as a gin-holder.  The planters would haul their cotton to the gin, have it weighed by an enormous basket made for this purpose.  The gin-holder would give the planter a receipt for so many pounds of seed cotton delivered to his gin.  With this receipt, calculated at the current market value of cotton, he would pay his principal merchant, the merchant either assuming the payment of other little outstanding debts, or handing him any balance in his favor in Spanish silver coin.  Any member or patron of the Church wishing to pay his preacher so much money, would deposit to his credit with the gin-holder so many pounds of seed cotton, and take the gin-holders receipt in favor of the preacher.  With this receipt, the preacher could make his purchases, or if he was going away he could exchange it with some friend in the community for its par value in Spanish silver coin.  The author says that in most cases the only trouble the preachers had with money, was the want of it.  Their salaries were very small, and often not fully paid.  Had it not been for exacting economy, supplemented with private gifts principally in the form of clothing, they would have suffered greatly for the  most ordinary necessaries of life.  Their life consisted of poverty, privation and toil.

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The statistics for 1808 showed a decrease of 56 whites and an increase of colored  by 21, totaling 279 white and 101 colored members.

Of the six preachers sent to the Mississippi District in 1808, Young, Travis, Axley and Browning left at the end of the Conference year and did not return.  Only Jedidiah McMann and Anthony Houston remained another year.  At the Conference on October 1, 1808 held for the year of 1809, in Liberty Hill, Williamson County, Tennessee, just south of Nashville,
appointments were as follow:

Mississippi District- John McClure, P.E.
Natchez- Thomas Hellums
WIlkinson- Jedidiah McMinn
Claiborne_ Anthony Houston
Opelousas- Benjamin Edge
Washita- Isaac McKowen

McClure was admitted to Conference in autumn of 1803 and had traveled for five years, Hellums was admitted in 1805 and had traveled three years.  Edge had been in the work four years, now in elder's orders.  McKowen just admitted this conference, had just graduated to deacon's orders.

The South Carolina Conference provided Michael Burdge, who had been admitted on trial recently to be in charge of the Tombigbee circuit, with Sturdevant to be a sort of general missionary, visiting the new and destitute settlers that he could reach, mostly on the Chicasawhay River, west of the Tombigbee, about Mobile, and up the western side of the Alabama River.

For the most part, these preachers were with little experience, and their efforts were taken negatively, without much success.  Opelousas and Washita lost 10 more members, in the entire district was a loss of 16 more whites and four more colored members.

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The first entry in the old Steward's Book was on Feb. 2, 1805.  "William Foster and Randall Gibson, stewards."  Nearly seventy years later the author shares with us what was recorded there.  At the time of this book, the record was in the possession of the recording steward of Fayette Circuit, Mississippi.  What was then Fayette Circuit was near the center of Tobias Gibson's original circuit, which up to 1806 was the only circuit in the Territory.  As new circuits were set off form either end, the records tended toward the center, until about forty-four years (44 years before 1883), when Reuben B. Ricketts was recording steward of what was then Cole's Creek, then Fayette circuit.  Ricketts carefully transcribed all previous records into a book which he kept until succeeded by John M. Folkes, and next by Benjamin F. Jones.

Just before the war between the States, the Quarterly Conference of Fayette circuit requested Rev. George C. Armstrong, a local elder, to transcribe all previous records into a large, well-bound ledger, procured for the purpose, which Mr. Armstrong did.  In a "laudable attemt [sic] to conceal this precious old record with other valuable documents from the scouts of the Federal Army during the late war, it became so worm-eaten and defaced by mildew as to be in places, quite illegible."  The author says that "if all recording stewards had kept their records as faithfully as Fayette CIrcuit and its predecessors had done, it would be a valuable help to the future historians of the Church".

The future account is from the record of 1809, and does not stand closed on the books. It was entered on August 12, 1809 for the following year:

Rocky Spring, 1400 lbs seed cotton, at $2.50 per 100lbs........$35.00
Hick's Class, 400 lbs      "         "             "...............................$10.00
Clark's Creek, 400 lbs    "         "          ".................................$10.00
Red Lick Class 1100 lbs  "         "            "..............................$27.00
Hopewell, 870 lbs ginned cotton, sold for    ............................$133.75
Hopewell, 330 lbs. in Natchez, unsold  .....................................

Credits , August 12th by cash paid-

Anthony Houston's traveling expenses ............................$9.12 1/2
Same, quarterage................................................................$50.20
Same, in 11 3/4 yards bagging............................................$8.64
Same, 14lbs rope for bailing...............................................$1.46
Same, 200 lbs seed cotton .................................................$5.00
Jedidiah McMinn's traveling expenses  ...........................$1.00
Same, quarterage ...............................................................$14.00
Isaac McCowen, quarterage................................................$47.00
John McClure, quarterage..................................................$38.00
Same, per barks for J. McMinn ..........................................$2.00
Same, for one bottle sacramental wine ...............................$1.00

No more than one man in a town, and in some counties, was allowed to own a cotton-gin. When the seed cotton was weighed into the gin, the gin-holder deducted one tenth of the gross weight for toll, and gave the producer a receipt for the balance.  These gin receipts constituted the paper currency of the country, and the persons holding them were entitled to received from the gin holder who issued them, one fourth of the weight of the seed cotton in lint.  In collecting funds to pay their preachers, the stewards assessed to each Society so many pounds of cotton, to be deposited in such a gin, and the gin receipts were used in the payment of debts or the purchase of supplies, and any balance in Spanish silver.  The receipts were at par value and simply represented so much money.  Another item of financial economy in the steward's book was that of charging the preachers, in settling with them, with the value of all the presents they received in the way of handkerchiefs, hosiery and other wearing apparel, or traveling equipage.  That practice was deleted sometime before Jones wrote this book, though.  Most of the traveling preachers dressed in home-spun clothes, and wore coarse shoes made of home-tanned leather.  Water-boots were not a luxury to be coveted by the preachers, as they traveled in cold and wet conditions.

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At the end of this year, all of the preachers left except John McClure and Michael Burdge.  It seems that though they were reassigned elsewhere, the reports on all of the preachers were good.  Benjamin Edge made the best impression, with his eccentric but earnest ways. He was compared to a strong man knocking down cornstalks, as he preached from his pulpit.

The next Western Conference for 1810 met at Cincinnati, OH on Sept. 30, 1809.  Bishop McKendree, preachers WIlliam Burke, Learner Blackman, and others of great renown preached powerful sermons of hard-fought battles in the field.

Appointments were:

Mississippi District- John McClure, P.E.
Natchez- William Houston, Miles Harper
WIlkinson- Isaac Quinn Claiborne, Samuel Sellers
Opelousas- John Henninger
Washita- Hezekiah Shaw

Two of the above, Miles Harper and Samuel Sellers were destined to play a conspicuous part in Mississippi Methodism in later years.  Harper was admitted to the Conference in 1804, and had traveled five years.  He was medium sized, compactly built, well proportioned, of attractive personal appearance and capable of great endurance, a natural orator, with a voice that was "round, full, clear and distinct, and unusually pathetic," but "bold and intrepid" in
the discharge of his duties.

The last five years had been called the Great Revival for Methodist and Presbyterian itinerants through Kentucky and Tennessee.  The two denominations drew up an agreement which they called "the Christian union", which did not suit Mr. Harper at all.  He thought the union league was made use of to turn over an undue share of the patronage and fruits of those revivals that swept through the area to the Presbyterian Church, and he basically went against them by preaching the Methodist doctrine, no matter what either church said or
did.  Eventually the union was dissolved anyway, and Harper became conspicuous for the stand he had taken for the Methodist Church.

Of  Samuel Sellers, the author says he will tell us later in the book.  Isaac Quinn had traveled three years before coming to Mississippi, and showed more than ordinary promise.  John Henninger had been in the work two years, and proved to be the most zealous, reliable and useful.  Hezekiah Shaw had three years standing in the Western Conference when he was assigned to the Washita post.  At the end of the year, these preachers reported an increase of 149 members, even with the scarcity of the Protestant settlers.

John W. Kennon, colleague of Michael Burdge on the Tombigbee, had traveled three years before coming to the country.  He belonged to an excellent and talented family.  Two of his brothers - Charles L. and Robert L. Kennon- were also itinerant preachers.  Robert became very important in Alabama history.  John Kennon, after three years in the itinerancy, married, located and settled in Amite County, where he died in a few years.  He left a lovely little family to mourn loss of husband and father.  The family later moved to Madison County,
where in the autumn of 1836 the author witnessed the conversion of his oldest son, Robert W. Kennon on Pleasant Grove camp ground.  Young Robert stood six feet high in the altar next morning to unite with the congregation in singing hymns.  A year later the author says he had the pleasure of introducing Robert to the Conference, where he soon traveled and preached until 1847, when he transferred to the Texas Conference, where he continued to travel and preached as long as the author knew of him.

Pearl River was gained from the Spanish this year, and became part of the Louisiana territory. Up until then, it was a violation of Spanish law to preach there, though some of the itinerants took the chance on occasion.  This became fruitful fields in Mississippi and Louisiana for Methodist and Baptist Churches.  By the end of the year the total number of members in the Methodist circuits was 492 white and 134 colored members.

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The Western Conference for the year 1811 assembled on Nov. 1 1810 at New Chapel, about four miles from Shelbyville, Shelby County.  Bishops Asbury and McKendree were present. The new appointments to the Territory were:

Mississippi District- Miles Harper, PE
Natchez and Washington- Isaac Quinn
Wilkinson- William Houston
Natchez Circuit- Sela Paine and Frederick D. Wimberly
Claibourne- John Henninger
Amite- Hezekiah Shaw
Rapides- Thomas Nelson
Washita- John Jennings
Attakapas- WIlliam Winans
Tombigbee (supplied by the SC Conference)- John W. Kennon and John S.Ford

Sela Paine was admitted to the Baltimore Conference in 1807, transferred to the Western Conference, where he labored four years, received elders orders and was sent to Mississippi, where he traveled the Natchez and Wilkinson circuits before he returned to Tennessee.  He traveled the Holston Circuit for two years before locating, never to return.

Frederick Wimberly was admitted into the SC Conference in 1809, served one year on the Enoree Circuit before traveling to Mississippi with Sela Paine.  The next year he went to Rapides (formed out of the northern end of Opelousas), near Alexandria, on the Red River to serve.  After a year, he returned to Pigeon Creek Circuit in the SC Conference for a year, then he also located.

Thomas Nelson was admitted in 1809, traveled the Ohio White Water circuit in 1810, then  went to Louisiana to travel the Rapides Circuit, and at the end of one year, returned to Kentucky.  He traveled the Ohio circuit for four years before being superannuated.

John Jennings was admitted to the SC Conference in 1809, traveled one year, then was sent to the Washita Circuit for a year before returning to SC.  In 1814 he located in SC.

William Winans, born in Pennsylvania, move to Ohio and was admitted to the Western Conference at Liberty Hill, Williamson Co, TN in October 1808.  In 1809 he traveled Limestone Circuit in Kentucky, then Vincennes in Indiana.  Next year found him traveling through the Wilderness with Sela Paine on horseback on his way to Attakapas, previously called Opelousas Circuit.  He then labored east of the Mississippi until his death.

A new circuit called Amite was formed this year.  It was bounded on the South by Lake Pontchartrain, on the north by the Choctaw Indians, on the west by the Natchez and Wilkinson Circuits, and on the east by any limits where a preacher could reach then settlements of the newly-arrived emigrants.  It lay mostly in the valleys of Amite, Bogue Chitto and Pearl Rivers, both above and below the thirty first parallel of latitude.  This circuit became the most popular and productive one in the Conference, because of the camp-grounds formed there.

This was also the year of the great earthquakes (1811), the center of which seemed to be in NE Missouri, S. Kentucky, and W. Tennessee, but they were felt throughout the S. Atlantic States and Territories.   Along with that, was the presence of a brilliant comet passing at the same time, caused the people to think that the dissolution of our planet was at hand and they became repentant, were happily converted, and many of the earthquake-awakened folks
became the best Christians.

While these natural phenomena caused the growth of religion in the area, the rumors of War caused much unrest.  Many were still living that could remember the Revolutionary War with all of its bloody horrors and sufferings, an opposed another War.  Nevertheless War was declared at the end of the year, and the younger generation "were anxious for the excitement of camp life and military display."  With many of the Territory's men gone off to fight, the
Alabama part of the Territory was literally the seat of the Creek War, and several battles fought between the English and Americans were fought on Louisiana soil, in the vicinity of New Orleans.

Despite the turmoil, the interant ministers continued to travel and preach, except in New Orleans, despite the absence of growing numbers of men.  In S. Alabama they had to do their preaching at the forts amid Indian alarms and massacres.

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One occurrence on The Tombigbee this year [1811] was the accession of Rev. John French.  The author acknowledges Mrs. Mary Martin of Baldwin City, and the daughter of Mr. French, and Mrs. Elizabeth Daniels, also of Baldwin City for valuable dates and facts in relation to Mr. French.  John French was born in Randleton, Antrim County, Ireland in 1766.  He came to America in early manhood and was soon converted by the Methodist Episcopalians.  He entered the Virginia Conference in March, 1805, and traveled North Carolina and Virginia for the next six years, graduating to deacon and elder's orders in that time.  Notwithstanding the opposition of marriage by interant preachers by the Conference, Mr. French married an excellent Christian lady.  The Conference did not make allowances for the support of preachers' families, as they were expected to locate, which he did in February 1811.  He decided to take his family to the Tombigbee, where he would settle in the lower valley of the river.  Fitting up his family caravan, he made his way to the Wilderness, across the Indian wilds to what was later Clarke County, Alabama, where he settled for the remainder of his life, serving as elder to Messes. Kennon and Ford.

French had barely settled in when the Creek War started.  Forts and block-houses were hastily constructed, and all noncombatants hurried inside.  Men able to bear arms were formed into battalions and companies, and drilled and trained to defend the fort.  They were put on regular military duty.  Despite their diligence, every few months some person was murdered by lurking savages, especially on the eastern and northern front.  Houses were burned, plantations robbed, and stock stolen, butchered or driven off.  Mr. French was doing double duty, that of soldier and minister, and was well accepted in both capacities.  In 1813 the war "waxed hot" and Fort Mims was massacred, not a day's ride from Mr. French's settlement. Regardless of the immanent dangers, Mr. French remained steadfast in both duties for the three years until the war ended, and was held in high esteem by the people.

After the war, Mr. and Mrs. French, by industry and economy drew to them all they needed for a good living, and soon their house became the headquarters for itinerant preachers.  One anecdote about Mr. French concerns him finding a drunken man at the altar in a camp-meeting.  Mr. French grabbed the man by his clothes and said loudly "I cast my net for a draught of fishes, and lo, I have caught a frog! a frog! a frog!" shaking the man each time he yelled frog, then depositing the man outside of the alter.  The man forever after wore the
nickname 'the sobriquet of French's Frog."  Mr. French spent about thirty years building up the Methodist congregation.  He eventually became called "Father French" as he became feeble, and died at age 74.  He preached the day before his last illness of bilious fever, which lasted 14 days before he died on August 31, 1840 about 3 O'clock in the afternoon.  Mrs. French survived her husband until September 5, 1848.

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