Early Soutwest Mississippi Territory

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There were many families now in the territory west of the Mississippi River that were ready to give the ministers lodging and food.  Sometimes the ministers were rudely repulsed, but usually were able to find welcoming homes in the English, and later the Spanish and French, communities, especially in the SW area of Louisiana where they found many comfortable homes and cordial welcomes.

East of the Mississippi River and extending to the Alabama River was a much larger number of Methodist families interspersed throughout the country.  They generally lived in log cabins and had log churches.  In addition to Randall Gibson and James Griffing, who had been licensed to preach six or eight years, there were other preachers now.  The fact that the crossing of the bottom country was impossible at times, with water covering fifty miles, made the need for a district west of the swamp.  This arrangement was made, with Miles Harper being appointed to serve the Washita Circuit, Thomas Griffin on Rapides, and John S. Ford on Attakapas.  The author speculates that Harper did not spend any time that year on his charge, as no mention was found of him in his territory.

John Ford increased the number of Church members in his widely scattered area, and was remembered fondly for his work that year.

Thomas Griffin's travels were not confined to either Rapides Bayou or the Parish of Rapides.  One of his principal appointments was on Sicily Island, in Catahoula Parish. Griffin wanted only enough food and supplies to do his job, and his father continued to offer him the invitation to return home where his comfort would be insured, along with his siblings.  He had fared pretty well the two years he traveled in South Carolina, but after traveling a thousand miles to N. Louisiana, and spending a year on the Washita Circuit, his purse was empty and the well-worn pantaloons he had on were his last wearable pair.
One evening after nightfall he was threading his way along a dim path toward the hospitable residence of Micajah Pickett, Jr. when his horse fell and threw him over into some thorny brambles which rent and tore his pants until they were no longer wearable with repairs. After remounting and regaining the path, he felt deeply mortified and discouraged at his destitute condition.  "This looks as if my father's prediction has literally come to pass," said Griffin.

He was to the point of giving up and going home to his family.  With these thoughts he arrived at the Pickett's gate, where he related his problem proposing to borrow a pair of pants from him until he could get his repaired.  Mrs. Pickett was informed of his condition and said, "Oh never-mind that, Brother Griffin;  I have made you a brand-new pair, and have been waiting for you to come around to the island and get them."  Griffin substituted his old pantaloons with the new pair, and went on his way, sure that God would provide his needs.

Another story about Griffin is about a man named Tom Paine, who the author calls a pedagogue, who pretended to be a preacher in order to get money from the congregation. Paine was threatened by Griffin and denounced him.  Griffin decided to find out Paine's history and started backtracking with the help of friends.  He found and wrote about his findings.  Paine had been arrested for "shedding blood" in SC, for which he received 39 lashes on his bare back at the district whipping post by the Sheriff.  Paine was next heard of at Natchez Under the Hill where he spent 3 months studying "natural philosophy," per the
author.  He exhausted his money and was evicted from his boarding house when he next assumed the identity of a school teacher, and this is where he met Griffin, who denounced him to the congregation as a crook.  He decided to suffer in silence and adopt the popular opinion that Griffin made a fine preacher.  Griffin was medium height, square built, a little stoop shouldered, muscular, and active, with sallow complexion, a sharp Grecian face.

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Wilkinson Circuit was still quite large, and it took a four week trip to cover it.  The people thought themselves lucky to have William Winans and Ira Byrd to minister to them.

William Winans had light hair and thin beard, a youthful appearance, with studious habits. He read all material, both old and new.  He was "accurately logical" in his preaching.

Ira Byrd was also a student, but was not stereotypical, and differed in his manner from Winans altogether.  He sung, prayed and preached for present effect, loved a noisy congregation, and the triumphant shouts of the converted.  An increase of 174 white and 19 colored members that year was attributed to the two preachers.

Elisha Lott was on Amite Circuit, and Samuel S. Lewis on Pearl River.  They were very successful with an increase of 297 white and 84 colored members.  Their journal was mislaid and did not reach the Conference that year so that the numbers were not recorded until later.  Most of the new members were immigrant families from SC and GA.

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John Phipps was popular on the Claiborne Circuit.  His report was misplaced by the Secretary at the Conference, which shows he was in attendance that year.  Claiborne Circuit this year embraced all of Warren and Claiborne Counties and a large portion of Jefferson County.  There was quite an advanced religious movement this year in Jefferson County in a settlement called Red Lick, which took its name from a buffalo and deer-lick on a hill of red clay.  The land was good there, and lots of well-to -do families decided to settle there, most from South Carolina.  The names of Simms, Hill, Ross, Irwin, Gibson, Barnes, Burns, and Newman are among these family names.  Their usual preaching place was called Beech Hill, a neighborhood academy and church under one roof.  Nothing of Beech Hill, a few miles from the Randall Gibson home, remained at the time of this book. It was on a hill of gurgling spring water where many battles were fought, and it was also the burying ground of many in the area.

Two prominent members of Beech Hill were Col. Eli K. Ross and Col. John L. Irwin, who were both rather fond of military affairs and took active parts in the war, both firm in their religion.

Col. John Irwin acted as class leader and steward a large part of his religious life.  He was a man of fine personal appearance, educated and intelligent.  He had an elegant residence which he opened to the itinerant preachers.  His wife was known for being cheerful, industrious and pious.  Long after the war he was in constant demand at the battalion and regiment headquarters for his superior military skills.  He also filled the most responsible civil and judicial offices in his county.  After losing his first wife, he married Miss Lucy Vick of Vicksburg, daughter of Rev. Newet Vick.  After the marriage he left Jefferson County and lived a while in Carroll County. In the autumn of 1836 he was living in Spring Hill, not far south of Granada.  He finally settled in Vicksburg where he died.

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Col. Eli K. Ross joined the church with John Irwin.  Ross was tender-hearted and sincere, but timid enough to believe he did not possess religious gifts he could share, even in family prayer at home.  He lost his first wife about the time he joined the church, and was left with a family of 3 sons and 4 daughters.  Two of his daughters were grown, and joined the church the same day he did.  They attended to his home, and his residence soon became a noted
stopping place for the ministers, including Bishop McKendree and Rev. John Menifee.

About 1819 Col. Ross moved to Prairie Mer Roughe in Morehouse Parish, Louisiana where he met and married Mrs. Elizabeth Henderson.  His residence was central on the prairies and soon a log church was erected there.  He filled the office of steward in the church and took great interest in the teaching of children, training them from baptism as long as they attended the church there.  His own children were considered remarkable in their decorum and sobriety in public places.  His home was the resort of politicians, professional and worldly gentleman.

In 1829 or 1830 three of his children attended a camp meeting in Warren County at Wren's Chapel, the youngest daughter, and a son becoming saved.  Soon after that, he began family worship regardless of who was staying there at the time.  His younger children by his first wife were still living at home, along with his youngest step children.  None of them had ever heard Col. Ross pray until then.  He died at the residence of his youngest son by his first marriage, Major Ross of Bastrop, La. on Bayou Bartholomew on Jan. 21, 1843, age about 70.  All of his nine children and four step children became Church members.  As of 1873 all were dead except two sons and one daughter.

Ross' only living daughter had been the wife of an itinerant preacher for 45 years, at the time of this book, having been brought up in the Church.  She  was not saved until 1826 when she attended a meeting by Rev. Alexander Talley and John Jones at Jeremiah Griffing's residence.  She was still alive in Oct. 1873.  She never would consent for her husband to relocate, even though there were no funds for her support, and she often fixed up old deserted shanties by her own labor for a home.  In 1834 her family had exhausted their resources and could not pay their current expenses of the present year, and to make matters worse, she and her husband were sent to a poor broken down circuit to rebuild it.  Her husband became depressed with no prospect of supporting his wife and only remaining child, deciding to give up his itinerancy and find a job.  His wife would not agree, so they continued to plod along in poverty and belief in God.  He held two revivals soon after that and was rewarded with enough money to pay all of his debts and go to his district the next year with $500 to start on.  His children were educated equal to any other, and he was satisfied with his life in his old age. His wife's resolution not to let him quit added 39 years to his itinerancy.

Col. Ross had  one grandson, Rev. H. B. Kemp, who was for several years before his death a local preacher in Morehouse Parish.  Rev. John A. B. Jones  was also his grandson.  The wife of Rev. Thomas S. Randle was his granddaughter.  His descendants were scattered over Mississippi and Texas.

Phipps left the country after only a year or so, but was credited for his conversion of the two Colonels.

Lewis Hobbs was already emaciated by incurable consumption, a lovely sweet spirited man. He labored among the people of New Orleans, a city of about 18,000 mostly French, Spaniards and Creoles, most of them Catholic.  He only reported an increase of 6 white and 20 colored members that year.

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The most exciting and dangerous work this year was on the Tombigbee Circuit.  Up until then most of the people here were in three localities, each remote from each other, with extensive Indian Tribes intervening.  The largest of these settlements was in the vicinity of Natchez, extending up the river to Walnut Hills, and east to Pearl River.  The next largest settlement was in the Tennessee Valley with Madison County at its center.  The other was on either side of the Tombigbee including the annexed ports of Florida near Mobile Bay,
and embraced the counties of Clark, Baldwin, Mobile and Washington.  West of these settlements there was sparse population in the counties of Jackson, Green, Wayne, Harrison and Hancock.

What was called generally the settlements of the Tombigbee comprised about seven or eight thousand people.  The country was rapidly filling with an enterprising and thrifty population, but breaking out of the Creek war this year, which threatened the existence of all whites, had the immigrants panic-stricken for the last half of the year.  The War between the U. S. and England, and the British in Canada had instigated the old chief Tecumseh and his brother the Prophet with about 30 warriors from the Wabash, to visit the larger Southern tribes for the purpose of arousing them against the American settlers.  They succeeded in forming a large war party of Creeks, promising them supplies, arms and ammunition if they would go right to work destroying the white population.  These promised supplies were sent from the British fleet then cruising in the Gulf of Mexico, through the Spanish command at Pensacola, so that by mid summer the Creeks were ready to fight. Many of the whites left their crops in the fields, with their stock of horses, cattle and hogs, clothes, bed and furniture; and fled for their lives to the Chickasaw settlements.  Some continued on west to Natchez.  Twelve or fifteen forts and block houses were built, several of which were west of the Mobile and Tombigbee.  But most were in the Fork between Tombigbee and Alabama rivers.

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Some of the stockades were so completely filled that many families had to camp outside of the walls, with whatever temporary defenses they could erect.  As the sick season came on, with the cramped conditions, many were lost, and others moved to forts that could protect them.  On August 30, 1814 Fort Mims was attacked, and after a six hour battle was captured by the ferocious Chief Weatherford and about 700 warriors.  The entire white population was slain, which consisted of about twenty respectable families killed outright while the rest, mostly women and children, were burned in the blockhouses.  About 250 whites were killed, and about the same amount of Indians.  On Sept. 1st, two families of twelve persons were murdered in the Fork, near Sinkfield's Fort. About 70 Indians attacked the Fort the next day for about two hours, losing 10 or 11 of their own, and capturing seven dragoon horses that were tied outside the Fort.  One man and one woman were killed, and one small boy injured.

The next day the Indians abandoned their attempt on that fort and, attacked Fort Madison. This fort contained about 1000 souls including 220 soldiers belonging to Col. Carson's command.  On the same day two men were wounded near the fort.  A detachment of soldiers in pursuit of the predatory Indians was ambushed with considerable loss at Horse Creek. Among the slain were two brothers of Rev. Thomas Griffin.  The Indians went on a rampage, murdering and burning every white dwelling and destroying everything valuable that they could not convert to their own use.  They killed or drove off the stock.  The country below and above the two forts at Mt. Vernon was abandoned except for a few posts for the sentries. Two of the itinerant preachers, Richmond Nolley and John Schrock, had to labor that year in these circumstances.

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Richmond Nolley was born in Brunswick County, VA.  Soon after his birth his parents moved to GA, where they both died soon after.  Richmond was taken into the family of Captain Lucas, a merchant of Spain, Georgia who owned a store, and who was a worthy Methodist. Lucas had grown up in the camp-meetings in Sparta, GA under the direction of Lovick Pierce.  Lucas' daughter was saved, and so was Richmond Nolley during a meeting at Smyrna.  Richmond returned to his clerkship at Lucas' store a changed young man until the end of the following year when he was admitted on trial on Dec. 28, 1807.  He labored there for four years until graduation to elder's orders.  He was then sent to Tombigbee.  He was two years in the Alabama settlements before going to Attakapas.

Nolley was six feet or more, very thin, pale and wan complexion.  He denied himself food to crucify the flesh.  He was overly scrupulous in his study and other duties, never allowing himself enough sleep.  He traveled everywhere, preaching publicly and going house to house in his zeal, on his way when he crossed the Alabama.  None could escape his preaching, even the boy who attended his horse or brought him firewood on the trip.

In late 1827, while traveling the Marengo Circuit adjoining and just north of the Choctaw Corner settlement in Clarke County, Nolley noticed a newly made wagon path, and following it, met a large immigrant family arriving from abroad.  The lady and children were beginning preparations for a fire to cook their first meal in what would become their home, and the man was just detaching his team from his wagon.  Nolley's ominous salutation and round breasted coat proclaimed him as one of the dreaded Methodist preachers.  The man said, "What! Have you found me already?", saying the preachers had become so plentiful around him in Virginia that he fled from their noise and full to Georgia, where the preachers got his wife and daughter into their church anyway.  The he came to this new land and flattered himself that it would be a long time before they bothered him there.  Nolley told him he had better accept their presence, that if the farmer got to heaven he would doubtless find many of them waiting for him there, too.  The man responded, "I give it up.  The wife and children are about the fire.  Go and do what you came to do, and let me go on with my work," which Nolley did.

The second year of Nolley's time on the Tombigbee were the most perilous, but he labored on from fort to fort.  He made no compromise with the weather, and went about his business regardless of the danger.  If his horse became disabled, he threw his saddlebags across his shoulder and traveled on foot.  While he denied himself, he was a remarkably sweet spirited man, very non-combative, but persistent.

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John Schrock was a man of opposite temperament to Richmond Nolley.  He was called the "son of thunder" in his preaching, but was sympathetic and would weep for the people closely shut up in the forts.  His closely guarded belligerence would have put him on an equal footing with an antagonistic Creek warrior.  While on a visit to a fort, there was an alarm of pending attack.  Shrock rushed to the commander and requested to be armed and posted at one of the port-holes, saying he would show the people he could fight Indians as well as preach.

The dangers for Shrock and Nolley were constantly present except when they visited the Chickasawhay settlements.  At the end of the year they were requested by the Conference to be present at the home of Rev. Newet Vick near Spring Hill in Jefferson County, about five miles SW of Fayette and about two miles NW of Spring Hill, on Nov. 1st.  Mr. Nolley was careful to secure appointments to preach the whole trip of two hundred miles, so that no time would be lost.  He would preach at night, at the end of a day's ride.  As they met with hindrances on the trip, they did not arrive until late at night most days.  People traveled great distances to hear him preach, and as they were made to wait so late, would spend the night with their hosts.  The lady of the house would get all of her bedclothes and spread them over the floor.  The men would retire until the ladies selected their sleeping spaces, then returned to occupy their portions.

The first night they had just gone to sleep when the preachers arrived.  One of the families arose, helped the preachers feed their horses, invited them to their fire and showed them their appointed sleeping places.  Mr. Schrock was for going to bed, but Mr. Nolley said no. He had an appointment to fill that night, and he would do so.  He stood up by a chair, and after singing and prayer, announced his text and preached to a congregation covered up in their beds around him.

In Whites, or Adams's settlement on the headwaters of the Amite River, they arrived to find a prominent man had just died.  Nolley was requested to preach his funeral.  After inquiring about the man, Nolley's sermon started, "And in hell, he lifted his eyes, being in torment."

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The statistics that year showed an increase of 574 white and 235 colored members, notwithstanding the disintegration of many Societies due to the Creek War.

The Conference commenced on Nov. 1st 1813 at the home of Newet Vick, for the first year as the Annual Conference, as the Bishops had decided earlier.  With the Creek War, and the added agitation of the Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee Indians, it was doubtful which side they would take.  They appeared to be loyal to the whites at the time, but they were savages and seriously feared.  Neither Bishop came to the Conference, as the Tennessee Conference was unwilling for them to make the trip for fear of the Indians.

Major Beasley, and most of his men who were slaughtered at the downfall of Ft. Mims, were from Jefferson County.  The few who survived gave a warning about traveling the border counties of Jefferson, Claiborne and Warren.  These were bordered on the northeast by the Choctaw, who had the habit of visiting and camping inside the white settlements.  It was known that two of the Choctaw chiefs, Pushmataha and Mushulatuvve in the SE quarter of the nation, had engaged to cooperate with Gen. Claiborne against the Creeks and Muskogees, but a large part of the tribe was yet undecided whether they would yet be "inveigled into Tecumseh's Southern League."

Near the time of the first Mississippi Conference, a report was issued "entirely from the misapprehension of a negro man" that large numbers of Choctaw were entering Claiborne County with hostile intentions, this report getting into circulation one evening in Port Gibson.  Runners were dispatched in all directions and the alarm sounded.  In less than 24 hours hundreds of families left their homes for the road to Washington and Natchez, the purpose of putting the women, invalids and children in safety, that all men might bear arms.  The mistake was quickly discovered by Major Elijah L. Clark  who lived right on the Indian border east of Port Gibson, and runners were sent to overtake the travelers.  The refugees returned, but soon erected stockades and were watchful.  After the war ended the author visited one of these stockades not far from Spring Hill in Jefferson County at Bowles settlement.  It was on an elevated ridge, built of small logs twelve to fifteen feet long, square openings for portholes higher than a man's head, with a tier of logs on the inside for the men to mount and fire, then step down to reload out of danger.  This stockade was never used, but permitted to stand until it decayed.

Twenty five years later the author reviews the Conference Journal as he writes.  He describes the Journal as resembling the old Hagerty Bible, which the itinerants used, about 7 1/2" x 6" to fit in a saddlebag, covered strongly with pasteboard with leather back and corners, very worn and faded with use.  After the Journal of 1823, he reviews the youthful ministry of Bishops Roberts and Soule as they presided over 40 or 50 years of itinerants.

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The Nov. 1st 1813 Conference was held in Newet Vick's home with the families of the Baldridges, Marbles, and Formans helping with the preachers' horses and supplies.  It was attended by Samuel Sellers, John Phipps, Miles Harper, William Winans, Lewis Hobbs, Thomas Griffin and John S. Ford.  A letter from the Bishops who could not attend appointed Samuel Sellers president.  Rules for the conference were adopted.

Admitted on trial were Simon Gentry, Jonathan Kemp, Thomas Owens, Peter James and Josiah Daughtry.  They were all admitted at the first hearing except Thomas Owens, because of his "unusual flow of wit and humor," and his ill health and extreme body weakness.  Some of the preachers thought he could never be a good preacher with his joking ways.  Little did they realize what they feared as an outcropping of wit and pleasantry would make him the almost universal favorite of Bishops, preachers, and the people alike for the next 50 years. Ira Byrd did not object to Owen's humor, as it was spontaneous, but feared that his health would make it impossible for him to serve two years in the itinerancy.  Owen's body  was light, his complexion sallow and pale, a sickly looking young man. When his case was reviewed soon after, he had already made an increase of eighty souls to the church.  He was then admitted on trial as a temporary measure that would last 55 years.

Elisha Lott was continued on trial. John Phipps, John I. E. Byrd and John Schrock were in Deacon's orders, and William Winans, John S. Ford and Thomas Griffin were elected elders. Miles Harper located, and Lewis Hobbs was placed on the supernumerary roll.

Lewis Hobbs was then a wasted form with pale face "tinged with a hectic flush."  He was to remain with his friends in Mississippi until the following summer, and if he was then able, he would make his way home to Georgia to die among his relatives.  There were no public conveyances of any kind to take him home.  The British fleet was on the Gulf, and the Creek war was raging.  When the time came, he had to go on horseback.  He reached home in June, and expired on the 4th of September of that same year.

With no record of the circuits they worked, the Journal states that Solomon Boykin, George Fletcher, Randall Gibson and Roswell Valentine, local preachers, were recommended for deacon's orders.  Fletcher and Givson were elected, but the others had not yet been examined before the Conference.

The treasury was looked into by the committee, and reported $202.18, which was divided pro rata among the deficient preachers, which left $39.18, $30 of which was voted to William Winans to help in on the New Orleans Circuit.  They were to do "a rousing business" on a very small capital.  The appointments by President Sellers and his counsel Miles Harper, and
Secretary William Winans  that year were:

Mississippi District- Samuel Sellers, P.E.
Natchez and Claiborne- Thomas Griffin, Simon Gentry, and Lewis Hobbs, Sup.
Wilkinson- Elisha Lott, Thomas Owens
Amite- John Phipps, Josiah B. Daughtery
Pearl River- John S. Ford, Jonathan Kemp
Tombigbee- John I.E. Byrd, Peter James
New Orleans- William Winans

Louisiana District___  _____  ________. P.E.
Rapides- John Schrock
Attakapas- Richmond Nolley

Washita seems to have been left unsupplied that year, as Moses Floyd, the only preacher in the area, had left Prairie Jefferson and returned to Mississippi.  The Griffings kept the holy fire burning until a preacher was later sent.

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In 1814 the most dangerous circuit was that of Peter James and Ira Byrd, with most of the people still at the forts.  A much stronger military was now present.  Col. Pushmatah, with about 400 friendly Choctaws, was marching upon the Creeks.  General Claiborne was getting ready to leave Pine Level, near St. Stephens and move east toward the Alabama River. General Jackson  with his Tennessee troops was advancing down the Coosa, and the general outlook became encouraging.

When news of the downfall of Major Beasley and his troops of Jefferson County reached Major-General Thomas Hinds, the lion-hearted man reached a frenzy.  He called on his fellow citizens to unite with him to avenge the blood of their slain neighbors, and was soon at the head of a mounted battalion on the way to the seat of the war.  He reported to an embarrassed Gen. Claiborne at St. Stephens, who told Hinds he had no room for his command in the fort, that he was required to keep all of his supplies at the fort for his auxiliary Choctaw who were soon to join him under the order of Col. Pushmatah, and the had no authority to issue orders to Hind's troops, as they were not placed under his command.  Hinds replied that he need feel no embarrassment on his account, that he had not come to Alabama to fort-up and wait for the Indians to find him;  he planned to find them.  He would get his horses and supplies where they were to be found, and he wanted no formality of
regular orders.

Hinds and his troops camped outside the fort that night, while he directed his troops to prepare several day's rations and be ready to start for the Alabama River at dawn on a regular "Indian hunt."  His little battalion embraced a fair proportion of the elite and chivalry of Jefferson County, but also included some recreants who protested the Indian hunt.  Major Hinds immediately gave permission for any to leave who were unwilling to follow him the next morning.  They would not be punished.  A number of men were missing at roll call.

With the remaining force, Hinds marched in the direction of Lower Peach Tree on the Alabama River, in regular military order.  Hinds learned from his scouts that a number of Creeks were on a plantation on the west bank of the river, shelling corn and conveying it in their canoes across the river.  Quietly his force descended like an avalanche on the unsuspecting savages, who were terrified and made faint resistance.  Most of the Indians were slain on the ground, and others shot in the river trying to escape.  It looked savage for the Jefferson County troops to kill the women and children, but they thought of the butchery of helpless women and children at the Fort Mims massacre, and thought of revenge as, "paying the savages in their own currency."

This little known act of the Jefferson County troops struck such terror in the hostile Creeks in the area, that few were ever seen there by the white inhabitants of the Tombigbee again. Major Hinds was known as a prudent but brave and dashing military leader.  His small troop soon became the Mississippi Dragoons, then a regiment, and finally a brigade which he commanded in the vicinity of New Orleans.

In the meantime, General Claiborne advanced to the east bank of the Alabama River opposite Weatherford's Bluff where he erected a large stockade fort called Fort Claiborne. In November, at the head of nearly a thousand Georgians and about 400 friendly Indians, Gen. Floyd crossed the Chatahooche and advanced on the Creeks at the Tallapoosa. In December, Gen. Claiborne marched with a strong force including the friendly Choctaws under Pushmataha, above the mouth of the Cahaba River, where he was effective against the enemy.  The Creeks, surrounded and invaded on three sides were conquered, and almost
exterminated by the last of April, 1814, and on the 9th of the following August a treaty of peace was concluded and signed by the United States and the remaining chiefs.

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