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Story Archives: A journey from Bruinsburg to Greenville in 1808
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|A journey from Bruinsburg to Greenville in 1808|
From 1807 to 1809, Frotescue Cuming traveled through Ohio and Kentucky, journeyed down the Mississippi and rode a horse through Natchez country.
He kept a journal and it was later published under the title: "Sketches of a Tour to the Western Country." This diary offered a detailed description of Natchez country, with information on some of the people, their farms and plantations, from Port Gibson all the way to Fort Adams.
On Aug. 22, 1808, Cuming visited the property of Judge Peter Bruin, the first territorial judge in Mississippi. Bruin's family came to Natchez country from Virginia during Spanish rule and were provided a huge land grant along Bayou Pierre on the Mississippi side of the river. The community became known as Bruinsburg and Lake Bruin bears the name of this long time judge.
Bruin battled the bottle like many men of the era only to lose his judgeship over that problem not long after Cuming's visit. In fact at almost the very time Cuming journeyed through Natchez country, Congress had received a memorial by representatives of the Mississippi Territory government charging that Bruin was so "addicted to drunkeness" that he should be impeached. Yet, at the same time, Bruin was so well known in the region, said Cuming, that his name "opens every door."
The ruins of the antebellum home Windsor, located near Alcorn University, stand on the old Bruin property. Cuming said in 1808 that Bruin had recently sold much of his land along with "a claim to about three thousand acres of surrounding land...reserving to himself his house, offices and garden."
In the community of Bruinsburg, Cuming found a good landing on the high bank of Bayou Pierre. Located there was a cotton gin, a tavern, the house of an overseer of a local plantation and the judge's dwelling. Travelers journeying by land followed this river road to Natchez.
The community had been divided into lots for the development of a town, but the land overflowed almost every rainy season and a local man had bought most of the lots and planned to plant cotton on the site. There, Cuming was joined by a Presbyterian missionary, whom he doesn't identify by name, for part of the journey southward.
For the first two miles together, the men traveled through the river bottom which was "inundated annually by the back waters of Bayou Pierre, which overflows all the neighboring lands for forty miles from its mouth, when its current is checked by the rising of the Mississippi."
Soon they ascended a hill, and came upon the plantation of a man named Smith. They traveled a mile through the open woods on a "dry ridge" until they reached Robert Cochran's "fine plantation." Although a "thunder cloud was rising," the two men declined an invitation from Cochran "from the stile" for a meal.
Another mile down the road, the missionary headed west while Cuming followed "the lower Natchez road, which runs nearly parallel to the Mississippi, on the ridges behind the river bottoms."
As the thunderstorm neared, Cuming spurred his horse but didn't get far before he was "deluged with torrents of rain, accompanied by as tremendous thunder and lightning as I ever had before witnessed, and a heavy gust of wind at the same time, blew down several trees in every direction close round me." The winds, lightning and thunder spooked the horse, but Cuming, with great difficulty, managed to keep the animal under control.
Three miles farther "and half through the storm," Cuming arrived at Glascock's small plantation where "I fortified against a chill with a glass of gin presented to me by the good lady of the house, who also regaled me with some fine peaches."
Soon, he continued on in his wet clothes and before he advanced a mile along the road, the rain returned and he took shelter on the farm of a man named Hopper. While the country became more broken, Cuming said the "soil improved," but the road degenerated to a bridle path through the hilly woods which at intervals was "intersected by cattle paths."
A mile from Hopper's farm, Cuming stopped at a cabin, which he learned once served as a school house. A man named Ostun was living there and Cuming found the settler working in a shed in front of his cabin. An immigrant from South Carolina, Osten was living with his family in the old school house while looking for "an eligible situation for a settlement."
A shoemaker by trade, Ostun repaired Cuming's boot, while discussing his "intentions, hopes and expectations." Ostun was embarrassed to tell Cuming that "he had no shelter to offer me for myself or my horse...(the) old little cabin let the water in at almost every part." Cuming tried to pay Ostun for repairing his boot, but he would accept no pay.
"It would be unpardonable to neglect noticing the kindness of this plain, honest shoemaker, in a country where benevolence is a virtue not too much practiced," wrote Cuming.
On the advice of Ostun, Cuming found shelter for the night a mile and one-half farther in the "hospitable cabin and fine farm" of James Norris. Norris was also from South Carolina and in front of the "pleasant fire," Cuming enjoyed "a good supper" and "an excellent bed." He learned that Norris' neighbors numbered a half dozen families, most from South Carolina.
At dawn the next morning, August 23, Cuming departed and found that the road opened wide enough for a wagon but was overgrown by weeds. He followed a narrow, crooked ridge where he came to three forks four miles along the way.
He followed the left fork and in a mile entered "some beautiful open woods on a light soil" and came upon a corn field "with no habitation visible." Just beyond that point he crossed the north fork of Cole's Creek. The water came up to his horse's knees.
Though the creek was small and clear revealing a sandy bottom, he learned that during heavy rains "it swells suddenly and becomes a frightful and deep torrent, sometimes impassable for several days." Turning left beyond the creek, he traveled through "an old deserted field, now an arid plain, affording a very scanty pasture of poor grass to a few lean cattle."
In the distance, he heard a rooster crowing and found a small settlement nearby at the edge of a corn field where a hatter's shop was located on the banks of "the middle fork of Cole's creek, a stream in size and appearance similar to the North fork."
He crossed the creek and the road led him past several small plantations. Soon he reached the tiny community of Greenville, the town where the Natchez Trace robbers and murderers Little Harp and May had been hung in 1803 for murdering the most notorious and feared highwaymen of them all -- Sam Mason.
Cuming stayed the night at Green's Tavern in Greenville, then the capital of Jefferson County and "handsomely situated on a dry sandy plain near the middle branch of Cole's creek. It is surrounded at a little distance by small farms and woods, which add variety and beauty to its appearance."
While the community seemed a healthy environment, Cuming said that during the autumn "it is subject to bilious disorders," which was one reason the place seemed to be in "a state of decay." The other reason for the town's decline was "the difficulty of approaching it during floods on Cole's Creek, which happened after every rain, and which in a manner insulate it while they last."
The town, he said, consisted of one a wide street a mile and one-half long running northwest by southeast and intersected by two small streets.
In all, Cuming found 40 "tolerably good houses, many of which are now unoccupied, and offered for sale, at little more than a quarter of their cost in building." There was a small church "for general use of all Christian sects, a small courthouse, a gaol (jail) and pillory, a post office, two taverns, and an apothecary's shop. The town is well watered by wells dug to about thirty feet deep."
The town was named after Gen. Nathaniel Greene who gained fame during the Revolutionary War as one of Gen. George Washington's top officers. In 1802, Greenville was laid out as the seat of Jefferson County.
On September 6, 1802, Mississippi Territory Gov. William C.C. Claiborne wrote U.S. Postmaster General Gideon Granger a letter noting: "I have been requested by a number of respectable citizens, who feel much interested in the subject, to solicit you to establish a post office at the Town of Greenville in this Territory. Greenville is a flourishing little village about 28 miles distant from Natchez, and immediately on the Post road to Tennessee (Natchez Trace). It is situated in the neighbourhood of a compact, populous and wealthy settlement, is the county town for Jefferson County, and the place of holding the Superior Court for Jefferson District.
"The Establishment solicited, should be made, permit me to mention Doctor John Shaw, who resides in Greenville, as a proper person to be appointed Post Master. He is an honest, well informed American who I sincerely believe, will remain faithful to his country, and to any trust that may be reposed in him."
On November 2, Granger wrote Claiborne to inform him that the post office "is established at Greenville, and Doctor Shaw appointed Postmaster."
By 1825, the country seat was moved six miles east to Fayette and the wilderness reclaimed old Greenville.
(Next: Continuing along the lower Natchez Road.)
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