This 1836 woodcut view of a comet as it lights up an American sky. In ancient times comets were beheld with feelings of awe as the harbingers of political convulsion, a statement that can truly be used to describe the comet which illuminated the skies in 1811.
Photo by: Courtesy Photo
Ten-squat-a-way, or Open Door, was called “the Prophet.” In 1811, he and his brother, Tecumseh, tried to organize a great confederation of Native Americans including the Chickasaws and Choctaws of Mississippi. This 1830 drawing by George Catlin shows Ten-squat-a-way “holding his medicine or mystery fire in one hand, and his ‘sacred string of beans’ in the other.”
Photo by: Courtesy Photo
November 26, 2011 10:12:00 PM
Annus mirabilis is Latin for "year of wonders." It is most recognized as the title of a poem by John Dryden about the miraculous year of 1666. However, there was also such a memorable year in the history of Mississippi. It was the year 1811.
To celebrate the bicentennial of the Mississippi Territory in 1998, the Old Capital Museum in Jackson featured an exhibit not on the year 1798, when the Mississippi Territory was established, but on the events of 1811. That was truly a year of wonders, though few people realize just what a watershed year it was.
I have again been reminded of that year in its bicentennial as friends from New Orleans to Paducah, Ky., prepare to celebrate the historic voyage of the steamboat Orleans from Pittsburgh to New Orleans. It was the first steamboat on the Mississippi River and the forerunner of steamboats on the Tombigbee and Alabama Rivers. However, the voyage of the Orleans was not the only event of note that year.
In 1810 John Pitchlynn moved to Plymouth Bluff (Columbus Lock and Dam West Bank) and operated what amounted to a branch of the Choctaw Indian Agency at his residence. By 1811, the Spanish, who then controlled Mobile, Ala., were stopping the shipment of American supplies up the Tombigbee River. In response the United States opened a supply route from Pittsburgh to the Tennessee River, to Pitchlynn's and thence to U.S. posts such as St. Stephens, Ala.
It is significant that this early transportation of goods by flat or keelboats on the Ohio and Tennessee Rivers, then by pack horses down to Pitchlynn's and then by agency keelboat or canoe down the Tombigbee constituted the introduction of commercial intermodel transportation into the Tombigbee Valley. Interestingly in January 1812, John Kincaide, who was transporting supplies to and from Pitchlynn's, filed a claim for $40 for a horse that suddenly stumbled and died of injuries while on government business in late 1811. This was a time of upheaval in more ways than imagined.
On the night of Dec.15, 1811, the steamer Orleans was on her maiden voyage down the Mississippi and about 70 miles from New Madrid, Mo., when the earth suddenly trembled and then opened up. It was an earthquake so terrible that for a while the Mississippi River turned red and flowed backwards. The New Madrid Earthquake of 1811 is still considered an epic example of the force of nature.
Was the earthquake felt in what is now the Golden Triangle area? I have not seen any record of effects being felt in this area but then what might have caused Kincaide's horse to suddenly stumble and be injured at that same time.
Also in 1811, the great Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, visited to the Chickasaw, Choctaw and Creek Nations. At an 1810 council of the Shawnee Nation at what is now Vincennes, Ind., Tecumseh objected to Indian lands being sold to intruding settlers. With his brother Ten-squat-a-way (Open Door), who was called "the Prophet," at his side he responded, "What sell a country; why not sell the air, the clouds, and the great sea, as well as the earth? Did not the Great Spirit make them all for the use of his children?"
Tecumseh's plan was for a grand Union of Native American peoples to counter the ever increasing expansion of Euro-American settlers. He first presented his plan to the Chickasaws who rejected it. He then traveled south to the Choctaw Nation.
He crossed Tibbee Creek near where present day Highway 45 Alternate crosses it below West Point, to avoid John Pitchlynn's residence at Plymouth Bluff. Tradition says that he was met there by Choctaw Capt. Tisha homa who was called "Red Pepper." Red Pepper was known as a man of peace and lived southwest of Columbus near the present site of the Weyerhaeuser plant. He died there in 1835.
The Choctaws held several councils with Tecumseh, one being near present day Brooksville. At the last of the councils his plan was rebuffed after an impassioned speech by the Choctaw statesman and warrior, Pushmataha.
Tecumseh departed and proceeded to the Creek Nation where he was more warmly received. The Creek Nation split as to whether or not support Tecumseh's proposal and a Creek civil war ensued. That civil war expanded to include the settlers in the Tombigbee/Alabama River Valley and became the Creek War phase of the War of 1812.
All the while the night sky was lit up by the great Comet of 1811. From the Orleans to the New Madrid Earthquake, to John Pitchlynn's Choctaw Indian Agency, to Tecumseh's visit and finally to the illuminating display by the great comet, 1811 was truly a year of wonders in Mississippi.
Rufus Ward is a local historian. Email your questions about local history to him at [email protected]
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]