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Ask Rufus: 1818, A Year of Changes

 

The settlements in the Tombigbee Valley in 1818 by Sam Kaye.

The settlements in the Tombigbee Valley in 1818 by Sam Kaye. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Rufus Ward

 

The first structure built in Columbus was a log house erected in the late fall of 1817, but it was not until December 1819 that the new settlement was officially recognized as a town. In the Tombigbee River Valley 1818, the year that was in between, was a transitional year. 

 

The stage for settlement was set by a series of events beginning in 1814 with the end of the Creek Indian War and the transfer of Mobile, with access to the Gulf, from Spain, to the United States. Next there were the Choctaw and Chickasaw treaties of 1816 which ceded their lands east of the Tombigbee to the U S. Then, in September 1817, the survey of Andrew Jackson's Military Road was completed to what would be its Tombigbee crossing at the future site of Columbus. 

 

From Mobile northwest to Cotton Gin Port (near Amory) and northeast to the Falls of the Warrior River (Tuscaloosa) a new country had opened to settlement. Along the Tombigbee, Warrior and Alabama rivers towns were founded and rapidly grew. Some, such as Columbus and Tuscaloosa, thrived while others such as Coffeeville are but shadows of their former glory. Some, such as Cotton Gin Port, are no more. 

 

In the Alabama Department of Archives and History is a letter written in 1818 from Benjamin Hatch to W. Whitfield which describes many of the Tombigbee settlements.  

 

"Mobile Town," he said, was much improved and had filled up with "Yankees" who were "industrious and enterprising." Blakely, across the bay and nine miles above Mobile, was quickly growing. Up the Tombigbee about 50 miles from Mobile the site of "Ft. Stoddert" had been laid off as the Town of Florida. 

 

Next up the river was Jackson which had a "few good buildings, four-to-six merchants" and an academy. Within six miles of Jackson were eight saw mills and five grist mills. Across the river and a little north was St. Stephens. It was a town experiencing what would be a short-lived boom period. St. Stephens had about 500 houses and "16 to 20 stores of merchandise." There was also a printing office and an academy. A bank was to soon open and the Steamboat "Alabama" was under construction there. 

 

The next town north was Coffeeville which had "three stores and a few good buildings." Farther up river, "a French Town (Demopolis) at the mouth of the Black Warrior is nearly started." Up the Warrior was a town at the "falls of the Black Warrior" that had not been otherwise named. The town, which was later named Tuscaloosa, already contained 32 stores. Towns such as Ft Claiborne, and Cahaba (which would serve as Alabama's early capital) were also springing up along the Alabama River.  

 

At what was considered the head of navigation on the Tombigbee was Cotton Gin Port. It was situated where the Gaines Trace, an early road, crossed the river. Though the site was first mentioned as a temporary French fort in 1736 and the location of a government cotton gin in 1801, there was no permanent resident there until Levi Colbert built a house in 1814. Colbert, a prominent Chickasaw, built his house on the bluff on the west bank of the river. With the opening of Indian lands east of the river, four families arrived in late 1816 and settled on the east bank across from Colbert's house. This was the beginnings of Cotton Gin Port which was the first Euro-American town in north Mississippi. 

 

John Pitchlynn had established a residence at Plymouth Bluff (Stennis Lock and Dam west Bank) in 1810 but there was no one living on the east side of the river where Columbus would later develop. In 1817 other settlers began arriving in the lands east of the Tombigbee. The McBee family settled just east of present day Columbus in late 1817.  

 

The first structure built on the site of Columbus was a log house constructed in the late fall of 1817 by a man commonly known as Thomas Thomas. It was built where the recently completed survey of Jackson's Military Road crossed the Tombigbee. In 1818 Gideon Lincicum and his family moved into the area and settled about where the boat landings are located on Wilkins-Wise Road. Lincecum recalled no one living on the site of Columbus when he arrived, but did recall killing a large buck at what is now the intersection of Main and Market streets. It would not be until 1819 that the site of Columbus was settled and the town was established. 1818 was a year of transitions through out the Tombigbee Valley.

 

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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