Ask Rufus: Newspapers tell our history

November 6, 2011 1:13:00 AM

Rufus Ward - rufushistory@aol.com

 

People have often asked me where I find some of the little known events of history that I have written about. The answer is easy: The newspaper. Accounts of the settlement of what is now Mississippi have been published since articles on the French colony at Biloxi first appeared in French and English papers in 1699. 

 

The earliest article that I have found that directly relates to Northeast Mississippi was published in 1736. "The Gentleman's Magazine" of London, in its September 1736 issue, published a letter from South Carolina as "Indians Beat the French." It was an account of the fighting occurring at what is now Tupelo between the French, with Choctaw assistance, and the Chickasaws with English assistance. 

 

Other early regional accounts included "The London Gazette" of Aug. 7, 1781, printing the "Articles of Capitulation and Surrender of British West Florida to Spain." The paper also included a letter relating to General Nathanael Greene and the fight against the British at Ninety-Six in South Carolina. 

 

Early Columbus settler William Cocke appeared in newspapers some twenty years before he moved to Columbus. "The Diary of London's Register, of Nov. 29, 1792, published a letter from Cherokee Chief Hanging Maw criticizing Cocke for comments he had made about the Cherokees. 

 

Accounts of the settlement and creation of the Mississippi Territory also appeared in many newspapers. The New York Spectator on June 13, 1798 has the act of congress to organize the Mississippi Territory. In the United States Gazette for the Country, of Oct 25, 1805, appeared a letter from Mississippi Territorial Judge Toulmin at St. Stephens titled "Some Account of the Tombigbee Settlement." It included the meaning of Tome Supplement to the Independent Chronicle on May 2, 1808, which contains a copy of the Treaty of Mount Dexter which had been signed between the United States and the Choctaw Nation (south west of present day Macon) in 1805. . 

 

There are many newspaper accounts of the Creek Indian War which was a phase of the War of 1812. In August of 1813, The War, a New York newspaper, contained reports from the Creek town of Tookaubatchee that there were conflicts among the Creeks and that "Prophets" were threatening "to make thunder, earthquakes and sink the earth." This was shortly after the great New Madrid Earthquake of 1811-1812. A letter from Andrew Jackson published in the March 1, 1814 issue of The War cites the conduct of William Cocke.  

 

On Dec. 25, 1816, the United States Gazette reported that the Choctaws had signed a treaty granting the United States possession of their lands east of the Tombigbee River and allowing navigation of the Tombigbee. This was the land cession that included the present site of Columbus. The National Intelligencer carried a report on Sept. 18, 1817 that the Mississippi Territory had proposed a state constitution and proposed the capital of the new state be at Monticello. 

 

A copy of the Mobile Gazette and Commercial Advertiser -- that had belonged to John Quincy Adams -- told on July 21, 1819 of Meshulectubbee (Mashulatubbee of near Brooksville) and Peachland (John Pitchlynn of Plymouth Bluff) consulting with Choctaw Chiefs on a possible treaty. 

 

The construction of the Military Road can even be tracked in old newspaper accounts. The upper part of the Military Road was described as completed in the Sept. 25, 1819 Niles Weekly Register. On June 17, 1820 the road was almost complete. Then on September 30, 1820, the Weekly Register had a lengthy article on the opening of and the description of the Military Road from Nashville to New Orleans. The article includes an almost travel guide-type description of the road. 

 

One of the first news accounts actually mentioning the Town of Columbus is in the June 27, 1820, New Hampshire Patriot & State Gazette. It listed a new Post Road (mail route) in Alabama as running from Tuscaloosa by Marion County Court House to Columbus. 

 

By the mid-1820s, articles about the Columbus area become more common and include the obituaries of noted Choctaw Indian leaders such as Pushmataha and Hummingbird, along with accounts of the Mayhew Indian Mission. By the mid-1830s, articles are common and the Mississippi agent for the New Yorker was even Henry Gibson, who lived at the Choctaw Agency (southeast of Starkville). Gibson also owned property adjacent to the present day Golden Triangle Aerospace Industrial Park. It's interesting how the area's past can be so connected with its future. And the story was even then told in a newspaper. 

 

Rufus Ward is a local historian. Email your questions about local history to him 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.