Ask Rufus: Two hundred years ago today, Samuel Edmondson rode into history

August 31, 2013 11:51:03 PM

Rufus Ward - [email protected]


Two hundred years ago today Samuel Edmondson, riding "hellbent for leather," passed this way warning John Pitchlynn and others of death and destruction. 


On Aug. 30, 1813, Creek Indians had attacked Fort Mims in the Tensaw area north of Mobile, burning the fort and killing almost 300 men, women and children. The next day Edmondson was dispatched from the fort at St. Stephens (across the Tombigbee from present day Jackson, Ala.) to Nashville to appeal to Gen. Andrew Jackson to bring the Tennessee Militia to the aid of the Tombigbee settlements and save them from destruction by the Creeks. 


In 1813, east Mississippi and west Alabama were still Indian Territory. Running north and south on the west side of the Tombigbee was a road known as the St Stephens Trace. It connected the Chickasaw villages at the Natchez Trace (present day Tupelo) with the St. Stephens settlement and Mobile. A scattering of Euro-Americans (including William Starnes near present day Macon and John Pitchlynn at Plymouth Bluff), mixed bloods and Indians lived at intervals of about a day's ride along the road. 


The horror of the opening of the Creek Indian War phase of the War of 1812 at Fort Mims that August day is best shown through a letter written by Mississippi Territorial Judge Harry Toulmin a few days after the destruction of the fort: 


"The dreadful catastrophe, which we have been some time anticipating, has at length taken place. The Indians have broken in upon us, in numbers and fury unexampled. Our settlement is overrun, and our country, I fear, is on the eve of being depopulated." 


It was in that atmosphere, a day after the Fort Mims massacre, that George Gaines -- Choctaw Indian Factor at St. Stephens -- knew he had to send a plea for help to Andrew Jackson and Tennessee Governor William Blount. However they were 450 miles away in Nashville. In the best American tradition, Gaines asked for a volunteer to ride express to Nashville and get help. He then turned and looking at Samuel Edmondson said, "If I could induce a cheerful man to go as express to Nashville, Tenn., I have a fine horse ready and can manage by writing to persons I know on the path to have a fresh horse ready for him every day." 


Edmondson agreed to go. 


Gaines recalled Edmondson's ride in an 1872 newspaper article: 


"Mrs. Gaines said that she would prepare provisions for him. I immediately sat down and wrote letters to General Jackson and Governor Blount, communicating the massacre of Fort Mims and the defenseless condition of our frontier, appealing to Gen. Jackson to march down with his brigade of mounted men and save the Tombigbee settlement and property in my charge. I was personally acquainted with the General, also Governor Blount. I wrote a letter to Charles Juzon and William Starnes at Oknoxubee; John Pitchlynn, mouth of Oktibbeha; George James, residing at or near the present Egypt (M. & O. R. A.); Jim Brown, Natchez road; George Colbert, chief of the Chickasaws, Colberts' Ferry and others beyond the Tennessee river requesting them on the arrival of Mr. Edmondson to furnish him with their best horse and take care of the horse he would leave until his return from Nashville, then bring or send me their bills for payment. (Each of the persons named was in the habit of visiting the trading house for supplies of salt, coffee, sugar, etc.) This task occupied me nearly all night. In the morning, Mr. Edmondson, with provisions, a well-filled purse, etc., etc., set out for Nashville." 


Edmondson rode day and night and with speed that amazed all he arrived in Nashville and delivered the letters to Blount and Jackson. Gaines described the reaction when his letter was read; "Jackson rose up from the perusal & walked rapidly across the floor saying, 'By the eternal, these people must be saved.'"  


Jackson, though suffering from a shoulder recently shattered by a gunshot in a fight with the Bentons, took command of Tennessee troops on Sept. 24 and assembled 2,500 calvary and infantry. Nine days later Jackson rode at the head of the army into Indian territory and into the hearts of the people of he South. 


In 1819, Samuel Edmondson was appointed Captain in the Alabama Militia and then disappears from history. What little we know is that sometime after 1820 Edmondson moved to Lowndes County settling about eight miles southeast of Columbus near the Pickensville Road (Highway 69) and married Jane Martin. They had four children -- sons Powhattan and Robert Tecumseh -- and daughters Mrs. James Halbert and Mrs. Jere Dowsing. By 1850, Edmondson was living with his daughter in the Halbert home (between Highway 69 and New Hope.) Samuel Edmondson died at the Halbert home in 1869. 


After 1869, Edmondson disappears from history to the extent that we do not even know where he was buried. Historic records and accounts give three different cemeteries reportedly having his unmarked grave. They are all located in southeastern Lowndes County and are the Ellis, Brownlee and Murrah's Chapel cemeteries. To add more confusion, in 1926 the Bernard Romans Chapter of the DAR decided to place a historic marker at the site of Edmondson's unmarked grave in the "cemetery of Murrah's Chapel". However, without any recorded explanation the marker was placed in the nearby Brownlee Cemetery. 


Samuel Edmondson's 450 mile ride to Nashville 200 years ago, though now little remembered, had a tremendous impact not just on local history but national history as well. William Love summed it up in 1903 when he said, "Had this ride occurred in New England, instead of Mississippi Territory, doubtless some Longfellow would have made it as memorable as that of Paul Revere."

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]