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|When the U.S. Attorney General kept up with Natchez|
In January 1807, Ceasar A. Rodney was appointed U.S. Attorney General by President Thomas Jefferson. This was during the time former Vice-President Aaron Burr was arrested in Natchez country for treason.
In the months ahead, Ceasar Rodney was busy handling the prosecution of Burr in addition to his other duties as Attorney General. Like others in the nation, the AG was always interested in what was happening in Natchez country, the most exciting place to live in all of America in the early 1800s.
But his interest in Natchez was more personal. His father -- Thomas Rodney -- was a judge on the Mississippi Territory Supreme Court. On a regular basis, the judge wrote his son about the happenings in the territory and about his own personal life -- from growing a garden, to his social affairs to his frequent bouts with fever and chills. (Judge Rodney was said to be something of a hypochondriac.)
In the summer of 1807, the attorney general found in his daily stack of mail a letter from his father, who lived in the territorial capital of Washington, six miles northeast of Natchez.
SICKNESS AND ATTENTION
"My dear son," the 63-year-old judge wrote on June 29, 1807, "I was taken very unwell on Wednesday evening. Had as violent a bilious attack as ever I had in my life and a high fever all night. Two to three of the young gentlemen sat up with me all night in the course of which so much bile went off that my fever left me next morning. But my puking and purging continued moderately for a day or two.
"All of the gentlemen and ladies of town and from the country (when they heard I was ill) came to visit me and offered anything they could do for me. But as I know the cause of these attacks, I let them have their way and only encouraged the discharge of bile.
"I took nothing but a puker and after that a little sweet oil and sugar to settle the stomach and render the operation of the bile in the bowels more mild." (A "puker" was a medicine taken to make him throw up. It was taken orally and included such liquids as calomel, jalep, rhubarb or sulphate of magnesia.)
By Thursday he felt "quite easy but took nothing to eat till Saturday when a small degree of appetite returned and yesterday (Sunday) I left my room and went down stairs."
That evening he united in marriage Sarah Frieland and B. R. Grayson, a Supreme Court clerk and secretary.
Later, Rodney felt "quite restored and clear of any complaint," trusting that he would "remain clear for the remainder of the hot summer" (considered the sickly season). But he said "reputable families are flocking to this country and many of them incline to settle in this town as a place of health till they get use to the climate."
He wrote his son on Aug. 13, 1807, however, that he had another bout of sickness, though brief. He said that having "gone out of town the evening before last to marry Judge Matthews of the Orleans territory to a young lady in our neighborhood I had to return in the night when the air was very damp so that I got cold and was very unwell yesterday. Yet I had to sit with a smart fever on in an assembly of the people at this town where the most respectable people in the territory were assembled to consider the late outrages of the British..."
GOV. CLAIBORNE; THE DROUGHT
War between Great Britain and the U.S. seemed imminent and New Orleans appeared vulnerable to attack. It was feared that at worse a British victory there would open up the Mississippi River and that Natchez could soon witness a British naval fleet, the best in the world, docked under-the-hill. But a more immediate fear was that a British blockade would halt U.S. trade, leaving those boats loaded with produce and other goods stranded at the Natchez landing.
On August 24, the judge wrote his son that William C.C. Claiborne, governor of the Orleans Territory of Louisiana and former governor of the Mississippi Territory, was in Natchez.
"He (Claiborne) intended to set off for Orleans this morning, probably to prepare the quota of troops required...He thinks Orleans a very defensible place against the British but as he is not much acquainted with tactics I told him I was induced, though I had never seen the city, to think otherwise as it is accessible on many points and the ground all low."
Rodney said British possession of New Orleans would have a devastating effect on commerce throughout the west with the "Mississippi being the only outlet for all their produce."
On September 1, on a hot, dry day, Rodney wrote Ceasar that it "has been more sickly in this town and its neighborhood this season than I have ever known it before, owing probably to a severe drought which has continued for four months."
Rainfall had been so rare that Rodney doubted two inches had fallen for weeks.
"The crops of cotton...therefore will be very small here," he wrote.
To avoid sickness, Rodney said he had been "avoiding the sun in the day and the dews at night, but cannot keep quite well for this is the season of the year that always is most likely to affect me. I had a severe headache Sunday night but it has got better and by care I hope I shall avoid being laid up."
On September 15, Rodney wrote that thanks to pleasant weather he had "recovered" his health, and on October 18 he wrote that former Mississippi Territory Judge Seth Lewis, now a judge in Orleans Territory, was riding the circuit recently when someone killed his horse and threatened to kill him.
AARON BURR & POLITICS
Later in October Rodney dined with Gov. Claiborne and his wife in the home of Col. John Ellis, speaker in the Mississippi Territory Assembly, whose plantation was located near Natchez not far from the Mississippi River. When the topic of Aaron Burr came up, Rodney said Claiborne didn't hold his tongue.
"The governor declared he was so fully convinced of the treason of Burr and his party that every man of them ought to be hung." Claiborne was leaving town the next day with his wife to visit her family and announced that he would be visiting "the Federal City" (Washington) later in the fall with intentions of resigning his position.
"His situation seems to have become very disagreeable to him by the great abuse and opposition he has met with," Rodney wrote Ceasar. "I some time ago...observed to you that these Western Governments required men of military character and experience in state affairs to govern them. Such would command respect and traitors would not consider it so easy to stir up mischief in the western country."
Meanwhile, Rodney said Mississippi Gov. Robert Williams "has lost all the confidence of the Republicans (Jefferson men) and is treated with such abuse and disrespect by them that he has no asylum but among the Federalists (anti-Jefferson) which in a few years bids fair to completely Federalize this territory." (His prediction didn't come true.)
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