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Rufus Ward: The old Plymouth settlement

 

An 1867 engraving of Peter Pitchlynn from his 1834 portrait painted by George Catlin.

An 1867 engraving of Peter Pitchlynn from his 1834 portrait painted by George Catlin.
Photo by: Courtesy Graphic

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

A reader has asked about the old Plymouth settlement on the West Bank of the Columbus Lock and Dam. That site is one of the more picturesque and historic sites in Mississippi. There are many legends about Plymouth Bluff and the settlement that had been there. Some of the legends are nothing but tall tales while others have a factual basis. One story had Andrew Jackson passing through there. He never did, but in October 1814, Davy Crockett was there. The National Park Service even lists Plymouth as a significant War of 1812 military site that needs further investigation. 

 

The most interesting document related to Plymouth that I have seen is a letter written by Peter Pitchlynn, which is in the Western History Collection of the University of Oklahoma Library. Peter was the son of John Pitchlynn, the longtime U.S. Interpreter for the Choctaw Indians. During the 1860s, Peter became chief of the Choctaw Nation. He is one of the most interesting individuals to come out of Lowndes County.  

 

The Pitchlynns moved to Plymouth Bluff in 1810 when Peter was about 4 years old. In 1813, a Creek Indian civil war merged into the ongoing War of 1812. The resulting Creek Indian War pitted British-allied Creeks against what became an alliance of the United States, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees and even some Creeks. In response to the erupting conflict, John Pitchlynn in 1813 built a fort, later named Fort Smith, at Plymouth Bluff.  

 

Peter wrote a letter in 1846 reminiscing about those uncertain days of his childhood at Plymouth: 

 

"None were more exposed than we were to the tommahawk & scalping knife of the Creek Indians (being) then the fartherest settlement toward the Creek nation who you know had espoused the cause of England -- which brought them in conflict with the Choctaws as well as the people of the United States. Twice had they come to attack us, but finding we were forted and probably from a belief we were very strong in numbers they retired without making an attack upon us. -- One time Mother fled with us the children to Yakmittubbe''s about ten miles off (near the present day Golden Triangle Airport). -- the alarm was great, brother James came up in full speed (father was not at home) with news that he had heard the war hoop of the Creek Indians -- brother Joseph remained in the fort, being some four years older than myself -- He said that if he was not able to fight he could run bullits for those who could fight -- Mother cried when she left him, but not without encouraging him to be brave -- upon which Joseph painted his face and said he would die defending the fort ... how vivid are the recollections of my youth. I can without the least mental effort see the old homestead as she appeared during the war, -- and the war fires blazing on her hills, the war dance, the war talks and many a brave and na humma (noble Choctaw warrior), long dead now rise up in my mind -- What brave noble fellows they were. They had come to the protection of my father, and family, and would have fallen & died around our little fort ere they would have allowed a Muskoke (Creek) reaching us with their Tommahawks."  

 

With so much emphasis on the Civil War period, people tend to overlook earlier events that have so greatly contributed to the creation of the place called Columbus. Such were the impressions left by the events of 1813 that it is from that time that the saying "The Lord be willing and the creek don''t rise" is said to have originated. It referred not to a flooded stream but the Creek Indians. Exhibits documenting much of this region''s early history can be seen at MUW''s Plymouth Bluff Center. 

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native and a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at rufushistory@aol.com.

 

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