The Concordia Sentinel
by Stanley Nelson
RANCHING, HONEY, VAGRANTS, OPIUM, ALCOHOL, HORSE RACING IN LATE 1700s
Calvin Smith, the son of a preacher from New England, came to Natchez when the American Revolution broke out in 1776. Later as an old man, he told Mann Butler about his first glimpse of Natchez.
"The town of Natchez consisted of 10 log-cabins, and two framed houses, all below the bluff," he told Butler, who wrote about Smith's recollections in 1838. "The bank of the river extended between three and four hundred yards to the edge of the water, at an ordinary stage.
"There were six or eight families, and four mercantile establishments, in a small way. The latter consisted of one Barber, his two nephews in one firm, James Willing was a second, Hanchett & Newman a third, and (James) Brommart a fourth.
"At this time no settlement existed between Natchez and St. Catherine's creek. On the latter there were only 20 families settled. The site of the fort was overgrown with forest trees which would have measured two and a half feet through. There were likewise several iron guns lying about, which were supposed to have been left by the French.
"The whole site of the present city of Natchez was, in 1776, a thick canebrake. The country settlements were quite sparse and scattered. Next to the settlement on St. Catherine's creek, there were on Second creek, about 15 families scattered from its junction with the Homochitto for 10 miles up the stream.
"At Ellis's Cliffs there was a solitary settler — Richard Ellis; and his brother William was the only settler south of the Homochitto. He lived at the point of high land, between Buffalo creek and the Mississippi...
"Thus the Jersey settlement lay next south of the one upon Second creek, on the northern side of the Homochitto, and contained 10 families.
"Cole's Creek settlement (to the north) embraced eight families; Petit Gulf, (now Rodney,) and Bayou Pierre settlements contained about six families; Black River settlement embraced about six families; and but a solitary settler, by the name of John Watkins, lived at the Walnut Hills, now the flourishing city of Vicksburgh. Thus 78 families composed the white population of Mississippi..."
Butler wrote that the "nearest white settlements out of the present state of Mississippi, to the Natchez, were at Point Coupée and Oppelousas, some eighty or a hundred miles distant, and on the opposite side of the Mississippi river. Natchitoches and Washitaw (Ouachita) settlements were two hundred miles, and the Post of Arkansas (20 miles northeast of Dumas) an old French settlement, was 300 miles distant. No roads existed through the interior; there were paths to the Choctaw towns, and thence to the Tennessee; there was likewise a trace to Pensacola."
Butler also reported that "in 1782 the first two flat boats, loaded with flour, and owned by persons of the name of Tomlinson and Hyzen, arrived from the upper waters, at Natchez. The cargo consisting of eight hundred or one thousand barrels, was all bought by the government at $40 per barrel."
BIGGEST RANCHER OWNED 1,500 HEAD
By the late 1780s ranching was growing in Natchez and the biggest rancher, Col. Anthony Hutchins, who had served as a British colonel, raised about 1,000 cattle and 500 horses in what is now southern Adams County. Hutchins was also one of the largest landowners in Natchez country.
He first settled here in 1772, building a home about three miles from Ellis Cliffs on the Mississippi. He acquired through grants from the British about 1,000 acres in 1772 on Second Creek and 434 acres in 1773, also along the creek. In 1789-90 during Spanish rule, he acquired 1,366 acres through a grant, 242 acres on Cole's Creek in 1795 and added 2,146 acres west of Cole's Creek.
In the 1790s, Spanish Gov. Manuel Gayoso met with livestock producers to discuss some of their problems. One big issue was the attacks on cattle and horses by panthers and bears. Gayoso put a $5 bounty on the scalps of these animals which seems to have relieved the problem in time.
Other issues were stray cattle and fencing. There was a huge wilderness for livestock to get lost in. Gayoso decided to have pens constructed throughout the Natchez area and named citizens from the region to construct these corrals to help ranchers recover their lost livestock. Once a stray animal was penned, notice was sent throughout the district.
Fencing guidelines were also imposed as were instructions on branding cattle.
Other problems were caused by vagrants and criminals who lived in the woods under the pretense of being hunters. Most were little more than cattle rustlers. To combat this problem, Gayoso imposed laws forbidding men from hunting at night by torch light or from hunting with "set guns" rigged to fire by the trip of a wire.
Settlers were forbidden to hunt on their own lands without permission from their local "alcalde" (justice of the peace), although most landowners ignored these rule.
ORCHARDS, BEEHIVES, POPPIES, LEATHER
Cameras didn't exist then but if you could have taken photos of the various farms around Natchez this is what you would have seen, according to historian Benjamin L.C. Wailes:
"Bacon, beef, butter and poultry were plentiful.
"Orchards were on a large scale and the fruit better than at present.
"It was a common sight to see one hundred bee hives in a farm yard. Beeswax and honey were articles of export.
"The medicinal roots and herbs, rhubarb, ginger, pimento, saffron, hops, the opium poppy, were grown in the gardens.
"Many planters tanned their own leather. Shoes were almost always made on the plantation, ether by a workman belonging to the place, or by a man hired to do the work.
"Gentlemen and ladies were clad in homespun. Even the bridle-reins, girths and saddle-clothes were made at home."
TOBACCO CRISIS & FARM ECONOMY
During the 1790s, Hutchins, the rancher and farmer, wrote a petition to the Spanish authorities seeking economic relief for farmers. His plea came at a time when the tobacco crisis pitted the planter against the merchant. Planters, said Hutchins, were in a "distressed condition." His letter on behalf of the farmers provides a vivid snapshot of Natchez in 1792:
"The king caused a proclamation to be issued that, for a limited time, he would receive all the tobacco they could produce at ten silver dollars per hundred. In going into this culture, we had to provide the necessary implements and the charges thereon were enormous.
"Wrought iron implements were charged at the rate of six reals a pound. Salt, fifteen dollars, often eighteen and twenty dollars a barrel. Osnaburgs (a coarse fabric), needed in shaping our tobacco into carrots, were charged at six reals but more generally at one dollar a yard. And so with all articles indispensable to the plants.
"Most of our lands were uncleared. Few of us possessed much stock. When our crops fell short many of us had no other resources.
"The few that had open and well-stocked farms had this advantage, that when their tobacco failed they could sell their corn at one dollar a bushel, pork at ten dollars per hundred, and beef at six dollars and a quarter."
Hutchins said that when the king stop buying tobacco that the value of all other produce was "so reduced" that it now took "exclusive of interest, one hundred percent more of the same produce to pay the same debts that it did four years ago.
"The merchants last year gave notice that they would take corn at half a dollar a bushel, beef at four dollars per hundred and cotton at twenty-five dollars per hundred, in payment of debts...
Now, he said, the merchants "encourage us to go into the culture of indigo, cotton, tobacco and corn, and after all the expense of preparation, they decline to take our produce unless they regulate the price..."
HORSE RACING POPULAR SPORT
Horse racing became enormously popular in Natchez during Spanish rule.
Mann Butler wrote that the "monotony of provincial existence was now broken by the amusement of horse racing, introduced by the Tennesseans into the district. These races were run, or in jocky phrase 'came off,' at St. Catherine's Creek, in the neighbourhood of Natchez."
Not only were the men passionate for the sport, but so were women. In fact, attending a horse race became the fashionable thing to do.
The consumption of "spirituous liquors" was also part of the activities. Even Gayoso, who loved wine and Havana cigars, would take a hard drink during races.
"The military guard always attended these tempting scenes of publick enjoyment, for the provident purpose of committing any disturbers of the peace of his Calholick Majesty, to the calaboose (jail)," wrote Butler.