Who do you think should manage Ferriday water?|
Story Archives: Walter Burling and a Mexican doll, the Sabine River & Aaron Burr in Natchez
- 2013 - 300 articles
- 2012 - 856 articles
- 2011 - 635 articles
- 2010 - 1276 articles
- 2009 - 1591 articles
- 2008 - 1763 articles
- December 2008 - 148 articles
- November 2008 - 147 articles
- October 2008 - 183 articles
- September 2008 - 128 articles
- August 2008 - 150 articles
- July 2008 - 143 articles
- June 2008 - 120 articles
- May 2008 - 148 articles
- April 2008 - 147 articles
- March 2008 - 143 articles
- March 27th, 2008 (Thursday) - 31 articles
- March 26th, 2008 (Wednesday) - 1 articles
- March 20th, 2008 (Thursday) - 21 articles
- March 19th, 2008 (Wednesday) - 18 articles
- March 13th, 2008 (Thursday) - 19 articles
- March 12th, 2008 (Wednesday) - 15 articles
- March 11th, 2008 (Tuesday) - 1 articles
- March 8th, 2008 (Saturday) - 1 articles
- March 6th, 2008 (Thursday) - 22 articles
- March 5th, 2008 (Wednesday) - 14 articles
- February 2008 - 146 articles
- January 2008 - 160 articles
|Walter Burling and a Mexican doll, the Sabine River & Aaron Burr in Natchez|
After Fortesque Cuming, a traveler in Natchez country in 1808, enjoyed breakfast with Col. and Mrs. William Scott, and Mississippi Territory Gov. David Holmes in late August 1808, he journeyed southward on horseback.
Cuming kept a journal of his travels, and in it he mentioned that after leaving Col. Scott's place that he soon came upon the plantation of Walter Burling. Cuming didn't write about Burling, other than to mention that his plantation was one of several nearby that were "well cultivated." But we paused here in the middle of Cuming's journey to write about this interesting man -- Burling -- who played a minor role in two related events -- the Sabine Expedition and the Aaron Burr Conspiracy of 1806 and 1807. These became two of the biggest news events in the history of Natchez country.
Burling's name became a part of these stories due to his brief service under Gen. James Wilkinson, commanding general of the federal army. Burling's role in these fast-breaking events began after the Louisiana Purchase when trouble developed in the area between the Sabine River and Natchitoches, a "no man's land" claimed by both Spain and the United States but unoccupied because of this possession dispute.
In October 1805, some 1,300 Spanish soldiers, based in Nacogdoches, Texas, crossed the Sabine and encamped on Bayou Pierre, 50 miles northwest of Natchitoches, which was the U.S.'s most western outpost. A month later, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn ordered Major Moses Porter, the commander at Natchitoches, to be on the alert.
On Feb. 5, 1806, when a small contingent of Spanish troops moved onto an old Spanish outpost at Adais, 14 miles west of Natchitoches, Porter sent Capt. Edward Turner with 60 men to force their evacation, which was done without incident. But in March, the Spanish returned to Adais.
A short time later, Gen. Wilkinson, while in St. Louis, learned from the Secretary of War that Spanish troops were concentrating west of the Rio Grande. The fear was that some of these troops might be forwarded to Nacogdoches.
Wilkinson was ordered to reinforce Natchitoches. The general immediately dispatched three companies there. The rest of his troops were sent to Fort Adams with orders to be prepared for a fast march to Natchitoches if called on. If that happened one company was to remain at Fort Adams.
These events occurred at a time when Louisiana Gov. William Charles Cole Claiborne was organizing the militia in the frontier parishes, including Concordia. Claiborne conferred with acting Mississippi Territory Gov. Cowles Mead while preparing for hostilities. Claiborne wanted to lead the military in pushing the Spanish back across the Sabine before Wilkinson's arrival, but Wilkinson told him to wait and immediately departed St. Louis.
The general's boat docked at Natchez on September 8th, and he quickly met with Gov. Mead. Here he also met and asked Walter Burling to take part in the Sabine Expedition. On September 19th, Wilkinson arrived at Natchitoches, and learned that the Spanish calvary, low on provisions and on forage for their horses, had fallen back to the east side of the Sabine. But forces continued to build on both sides and a battle was shaping up. Now Natchez country faced two crises.
LOCAL MEN MARCH TO NATCHITOCHES
The Natchez Herald reported that 250 dragoons and mounted infantry, all local men, under the command of Gov. Claiborne's brother -- Ferdinand L. Claiborne -- crossed the Mississippi at Natchez to the Post of Concord on Sunday, October 5, in route to Natchitoches. Men from throughout Natchez country -- on both sides of the river -- volunteered for service.
Walter Burling was on this march. Also volunteering for service was Col. White of Claiborne County, who Gov. Mead identified as "a gray-haired veteran of '76 (the revolution), with the ardor of youth (who entered) the ranks as a private in the mounted infantry. He is old, poor and with a large family."
It was believed that at this time the Spanish had 1,500 soldiers on both sides of the Sabine and that more were on the way. Wilkinson named Burling -- whose plantation Fortesque Cuming saw south of Natchez in 1808 -- as his aide-de-camp.
George Poindexter, a tempermental Natchez politician, was a commander of one of the militia companies sent to Natchitoches. Poindexter said of Burling: "General Wilkinson appointed Walter Burling...then a private in the company of dragoons from the Mississippi Territory, his aid-de-camp, and intrusted him with the negotiation which was pending with the Spanish officers. This gentleman resides near Natchez, and is possessed of an estate which yields him a very large annual income."
While encamped at Natchitoches, Wilkinson received word that Aaron Burr, the former vice-president, was moving down the river with armed men on flatboats with the intention of taking New Orleans and invading Mexico. It was reported later that Burr sent an encrypted latter to Wilkinson about the conspiracy.
Many believed Wilkinson was involved in the Burr plot, but that he turned on the former vice-president for reasons still unclear. Years later, it was proven that at this time Wilkinson was on the Spanish payroll, earning $2,000 per year, the same as his U.S. salary.
While at Natchitoches, Wilkinson dispatched a secret message to President Jefferson alerting him of Burr's intentions. The messenger made a long, hard ride to the nation's capital with Wilkinson's letter "concealed between the soles of a slipper."
On October 29th Wilkinson led his troops on a march to within 25 miles of the Sabine. Anxious to resolve this issue and to return to Natchez to handle the Burr affair, the general dispatched Walter Burling with messages to Spanish officers in Texas with a suggested solution to the conflict. His terms were accepted. All agreed that the Americans would retire to Natchitoches, the Spanish to Nacogdoches, the "no man's land" in dispute would remain a neutral ground and the politicians would negotiate resolution.
The American soldiers and militia were devastated that there would be no fight. Wrote John F.H. Claiborne in his 19th Century book on Mississippi: "The volunteers clamored against the order to retire. The people and the press denounced General Wilkinson, and he was openly accused of having been bribed (by the Spanish). Bribed for what? He had reclaimed and marched over every foot of the country the Spaniards had invaded, and had seen their army retire before him to their own side of the Sabine. And he had carried out the cherished policy of the government and the injunctions of the Secretary of War to avoid, by every means short of dishonor, a collision with Spain."
A THOUSAND RUMORS PREVAILED
Burling later said that in camp at Natchitoches Wilkinson was told that Burr expected help in the armed invasion of Mexico from "important auxiliaries in that country." The general also told Burling that Burr had offered Wilkinson the position of "second in command" of the operation.
Burling added that Wilkinson appeared to be totally committed to diffusing the hostilities along the Sabine in a timely fashion so that the general could turn his attention to stopping Burr's expedition from taking New Orleans. Wilkinson's staff, along with Burling, returned to Natchez by boat on November 11th.
Wrote Claiborne in his book: "When our volunteers got back to Mississippi they found it in a very excited condition owing to the reported movements of Aaron Burr. A thousand rumors prevailed, but the one generally received was that he was descending the river with two thousand men, to seize New Orleans, its treasure and its shipping, and then to invade Mexico. The conquest of Mexico from the Spaniards was a very popular proposition at that day in this section of the country, and had that been the sole object imputed to Burr, he would have found little or no opposition. But the seizure of New Orleans would be an act of hostility to the government of the United States, and the intense Union sentiment and national pride which have always characterized our people, were immediately aroused."
In Natchez, the general was the guest of Stephen Minor at the old Spanish mansion Concord, located on the hill above the tire plant before a fire destroyed it in the early 1900s. Minor was an American who served the Spanish for years and served briefly as the governor of Natchez until the American government took possession in 1798. Because of Minor's service to the Spanish, many viewed Wilkinson's visit suspiciously.
While Minor's guest, Wilkinson conducted his affairs openly. He worked with his full staff of officers, visited with local citizens who called on him and attended his wife, who was ill. When Wilkinson left Natchez for New Orleans, Mrs. Wilkinson remained in the Minor's home in her sick bed.
At Concord, Wilkinson on November 12th wrote Gov. Claiborne in New Orleans about preparations to defend the city from Burr: "...Major Porter...descends (from Natchitcoches) with all the artillery and one hundred men, to be immediately followed by Colonel Cushing with every man, but one company. You are surrounded by dangers of which you dream not. The destruction of the American government is seriously menaced. The storm will probably burst in New Orleans where I shall meet it, and triumph or perish...We shall have one thousand regulars in the city in three weeks...You have spies on your every movement, and our safety and success depend vitally on the concealment of our intentions."
BURLING'S SECRET MISSION
Before leaving Concord, Wilkinson dispatched Walter Burling on a secret mission to Mexico to alert authorities there of Burr's plan. Burling later provided a detailed account of his journey, which supported Wilkinson's apparent patriotic intentions.
But many, like George Poindexter, raised questions about the mission, noting that Burling "left the Mississippi Territory under the pretext of an intention to go to (Mexico) for the purpose of purchasing a number of mules. It appeared to me extraordinary that a man of Mr. Burling's fortune should undertake a project of that kind, and especially as he took no person with him to assist in driving the mules he might purchase to market. The story excited suspicion in the country that he was the agent of General Wilkinson in negotiating with the Spanish government of Mexico, on some dark, mysterious business, which could not bear the light of day."
Wilkinson later said Burling was chosen for this mission because his "zeal and patriotism were unequaled but by the integrity and honor, and his fitness for the undertaking."
INSIDE MEXICAN DOLLS
This mission, which took several weeks, benefited Natchez country in one big way. While in Mexico City, Burling learned that local farmers grew a high quality cotton variety. Burling asked if he could bring some of the cotton seed back to the U.S., but learned that such an act was banned by the government.
But a high-ranking Spanish official told Burling over wine one evening that there was no ban on purchasing as many Mexican dolls as he wished. Puzzled at first, Burling soon learned that the dolls were stuffed with cotton seeds. He purchased several and once back in Natchez, he gave one of the dolls to his neighbor William Dunbar -- the planter, scientist, inventor and explorer. Dunbar's experiments with the seed at his Forest Plantation helped produce a improved variety of cotton seed for local farmers.
By the time all was said and done, both the Sabine Expedition and the Burr Conspiracy fizzled. Burr never made it to New Orleans. He was arrested at Natchez in early 1807, later acquitted of treason in Richmond, Virginia, lived a few years in Europe and died in America in 1837. He was said to be a brilliant man, an attentive listener, and considered women his absolute equal in a time when most men considered such a belief ridiculous.
Wilkinson died in Mexico in 1821 while seeking a Texas land grant. He spent much of his life chasing a dollar and seemed to be constantly buried in debt. His intentions were always cloudy and he was constantly scheming.
The general spent much time in Natchez and Fort Adams during the early years of the Mississippi Territory. He possessed great command of the English language and wrote beautiful letters. Wilkinson County bears his name.
As for Burling, he died with his good name in tact. There was only one little event that shadowed his past. In 1786, Burling killed his brother-in-law in a duel in New York City in the rear of a hospital. Burling had denied the validity of the marriage of his sister to the man despite the fact that the couple had a child. That child, Burling's nephew, came to Natchez to visit the family when he became a man.
When Fortescue Cuming guided his horse past Burling's place, the traveler didn't write a single line about the plantation owner. But Walter Burling was among the men who played a role in the frontier history of Natchez, a region which was then the most exciting place to live in all of the country.
|Frank Morris Murder Series|