White Traders in the Mississippi Territory #amwriting #histfic #research #Alabama200 #history

I’m musing today about how people seek out better opportunities for themselves and their families. The History of Alabama and Incidentally of Georgia and Mississippi From the Earliest Period (1851) by Albert James Pickett is a fascinating historical document. I learned so much about the development of the state of Alabama and many of the people involved.

One of the questions I originally wanted to answer when I read the book is, when did white people move in to Alabama? I knew it must have been after the American Revolution. After the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, most likely as well. I also wanted to know how contentious—I didn’t know specifics, though I am well aware of the general nature of the conflicts involved—was the actual displacement of the Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and Cherokee? I was surprised to find out that white folks had moved in about when I’d thought.

I talked a few weeks ago here about one massacre at Ft. Mims resulting from the taking of lands and property, combined with foreign nations’ prodding. But were there any peaceful transactions between the natives and the Americans pushing into the area?

The answer, it turns out, is there were some friendly exchanges.

For example, Pickett states that in 1792 (9 years after the end of the American Revolution) there were only a few white inhabitants around Montgomery County, Alabama. But that “All over the territory of Alabama and Mississippi, wherever an Indian town of importance was found, white traders lived.”

These traders would purchase from the Indians “bees-wax, hickory-nut oil, snake-root, together with various medicinal barks” as well as a mean rum called taffai in small kegs and “poultry of all kinds in cages made of reeds” and send them to “Augusta and Pensacola on pack horses, and to Mobile and New Orleans in large canoes.” Pause and consider that last sentence for a moment.

Imagine walking/riding from anywhere in Alabama to Pensacola, Florida, or Augusta, Georgia. For kicks and grins, I checked mileage from my home in Huntsville to Pensacola: 348 miles. To Augusta is 332 miles. Also consider the roads were not paved like they are today, but were mostly dirt/mud depending on weather conditions and rocks. Across mountains and rivers, probably a few swamps, through forests and all kinds of terrain in between. On average, when I take a walk around my neighborhood I walk at a pace of 3 miles per hour. If I were able to keep up that pace, which is highly unlikely over the previously referenced terrain, it would take 116 hours. If I walked 8 hours per day, another unlikely length of time, it would take me 14.5 days to walk to Pensacola. More likely, I’d imagine such a trip would take closer to 3 weeks than 2 weeks. My poor feet… Whew! I’m tired thinking about such a trek.

Also take into account the fact of more hostile encounters between whites and the Creeks, for instance, which would make such a long trip fraught with danger for everyone concerned. In fact, Pickett states that in 1792 “Creeks committed many depredations, pushed their hostilities to the very doors of Nashville” from the Montgomery area.

By December 1801, however, with the influx of people into the Mississippi Territory (later the state of Alabama), one party from North Carolina made the perilous trip through Knoxville, Tennessee, where they made flat-boats and “floated down the [Tennessee] river to the head of the Muscle Shoals [in northwest Alabama], where they disembarked, at the house of Double-Head, a Cherokee Chief.” They continued on foot with all of their “effects upon the horses” south to St. Stephens, a distance on today’s highways of 292 miles. But in 1801 there was “not a solitary direct path” for them to follow. “After a fatiguing march, they reached the residence of Levi Colbert, a celebrated Chickasaw Chief, who gave them the necessary directions.” I share this as one piece of evidence that some of the interaction between the various groups were peaceful and helpful in nature. I’m also blown away by the determination and persistence the emigrants demonstrated in their move from North Carolina to southern Alabama.

It’s fairly common knowledge how events transpired for the Creeks, Cherokees, Chickasaws, and Choctaws. If I could change history, go back and prevent such tragedy and hate and destruction I surely would.

I do take some tiny comfort that not everybody fought each other but traded together, worked together, helped each other. If we, today, can strive to do the same, without judgment or intolerance, the world may benefit. I hope, anyway.

Would you make such a journey as the folks from North Carolina did for a chance at a better/different life? I find myself comparing their trek to that of the refugees from South America into Central and North America. The similarities and the differences. History repeating itself in some ways? What do you think?


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