Ask Rufus: Upcoming Bicentennials of Mississippi and Columbus

August 17, 2013 9:16:19 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Some recent discussions about the Mississippi statehood bicentennial celebration in 2017 brought to mind that 2017 is also the bicentennial of the first house built in Columbus. In 1817, Mississippi was admitted to the Union as the 20th state and settlers were moving into the newly-opened upper Tombigbee River valley.  


The founding of Columbus involved a series of settlements and events stretching from 1810 to 1821. Among the most significant events were the completion of Andrew Jackson's Military Road survey and the construction of a house at its Tombigbee crossing in 1817. That site became Columbus. 


The Mississippi Territory was created in 1798 and encompassed the area that now includes both Mississippi and Alabama. The territory had been petitioning Congress to be admitted as a state since before the War of 1812, but it was not until 1817 that admission to the Union was approved. The Territory, however, was split in half with Mississippi being the western half and Alabama the eastern half. Alabama did not become a state until 1819 and the actual state line survey was not completed until late 1820. 


The first Euro-American settlements in northeast Mississippi occurred at Cotton Gin Port on the Tombigbee (near present day Amory) after the location of a government cotton gin there for the Chickasaw Indians in 1801 and John Pitchlynn's (Stennis/Columbus Lock and Dam west bank) in 1810. In 1817, the route of the Military Road being built at the suggestion of Andrew Jackson was being surveyed. John Pitchlynn recommended that the location of the road's Tombigbee crossing be at a site four miles south of his residence. It was the place he said that Indians preferred to cross the river at times of high water. 


Captain Hugh Young reported on the location of the Tombigbee crossing to Andrew Jackson in September 1817. Not long after that report was sent to Jackson, a small house was constructed at the site of the proposed crossing.  


The earliest surviving account of the founding of Columbus was published in 1848 by Oscar Keeler who wrote about the town's founding; "In the latter part of the year 1817, Thomas Thomas, a man who had been driven out by the agent as an intruder in the Chickasaw nation, built a small split log hut upon the ground now known as the residence of C.D. Warren Esq." Warren's house stood about where the Columbus Convention and Visitor's Bureau office is now located. 


Although Columbus celebrated its centennial in 1921, a review of Columbus' early history shows 2017 to be a more historically appropriate year in which to celebrate its bicentennial.  




A Columbus timeline 


■ 1810 -- John Pitchlynn, U.S. interpreter and sub-agent for the Choctaw Nation, moved from his Noxubee River residence (near present day Macon) to Plymouth Bluff and established his residence there. 


■ 1813 -- With the beginning of the Creek Indian War and under threat of attack, Pitchlynn fortifies his residence with a palisaded blockhouse. His small fort becomes known as Fort Smith. The fort becomes an important U S military meeting, supply and assembly point during the Creek Indian War phase of the War of 1812. 


■ 1816 -- The Choctaw Treaty of 1816 opened the country east of the Tombigbee River to settlement. 


■ 1817 -- Euro-American settlers begin drifting into the area. The Military Road survey is completed and construction begins. Thomas Thomas builds a small house on the Tombigbee bluff on what is now Third Street above present day Harvey's Restaurant. 


■ 1818 -- Several families settle in the area now included within the present day Columbus city limits and build log homes. Cotton Gin Port becomes the county seat of Marion County, Ala. 


■ 1819 -- In June, several families arrive at the site of what is now downtown Columbus and build houses. Silas McBee suggested the new town be named Columbus. Spirus Roach "occupied and kept entertainment" in the house built by Thomas Thomas. Because of the "peculiarities" of Roach's pointed nose, local Indians call the town "Opossum Town." It is mistakenly believed that the new town is in Alabama as the state line survey had not been completed. The county seat of Marion County, Alabama, moves to the House of Henry Greer (at present day Columbus Air force Base). The first official reference to the "Town of Columbus" is in a Dec. 6, 1819, Alabama legislative act. 


■ 1820 -- The Military road is completed and the U. S. Post Office that was located at Pitchlynn's moves to Columbus. In late 1820 the survey of the state line is completed. 


■ 1821 -- On Jan. 3, 1821, Mississippi Governor George Poindexter announced that "a considerable population on the waters of the Tombigbee formerly attached to Alabama fall within the limits of this state." That area included both Columbus and Cotton Gin Port. On Feb. 9, Monroe County, Miss., was created and on Feb. 10, the Town of Columbus, Mississippi, was officially chartered. 


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]