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|Magical waters of Second Creek; Indian Tom leads Hutchins to White Apple|
In 1772, four years before the American Revolution, Anthony Hutchins explored the wilderness of Natchez country. He was looking for a place to settle.
Records of his birth are conflicting, but he was already closing in on 50 years of age when he arrived here, an old, old age almost 240 years ago. He was the son of an English father and a French mother, who immigrated to America from England, settling first on Long Island, New York, and later in New Jersey where Anthony was born.
At some point, according to historian John Q. Anderson, Hutchins moved to South Carolina where he married 21-year-old Ann White, the daughter of an Irish father and an American mother. For three years Hutchins served as a sheriff and was succeeded by one of his deputies.
Being a friend of his former deputy who became the new sheriff, Hutchins had previously co-signed a financial note for the man. When the man defaulted on repaying, Hutchins was forced to sell his own property to pay the debt, leaving him in a fragile financial state.
His son, John Hutchins, wrote a narrative of his father's exploration of Natchez and the family's settlement here: "Having the prospect of a large family with but a slender support he determined to try his fortune in a new country and with that view he left my mother and children and came by land to Natchez, sometime in the year 1772."
Hutchins first chose a location to live on the bank of St. Catherine Creek near Natchez, which was then a sparse settlement of a few frontiersmen, some living on outlying farms, traders and a handful of Natchez Indians who had survived the war with the French more than four decades earlier.
"The (Natchez) country at that time was a wilderness, yes," wrote John Hutchins, "it was a dense and almost impenetrable canebrake..." In many places, the cane was 12 feet high.
Not long after choosing a spot to settle on St. Catherine, Anthony Hutchins met a Natchez Indian. The two men became friends and John Hutchins said his father began calling the man "Indian Tom." Soon Anthony Hutchins and Indian Tom became inseparable.
INDIAN TOM COMES OUT OF HIDING
Indian Tom had only recently shown his face to white men around Natchez country. That's because the British, instead of the French, now held possession of Natchez following the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
Years earlier in 1729 the Natchez Indians had rebelled and engaged in a war with the French. But the French prevailed, wiping out most of the Natchez population in a battle waged near Sicily Island. A few of the surviving Natchez, says historian Jim Barnett, remained in their homeland but out of sight of the French.
"I have long believed that a number of the Natchez remained in the area after the war with the French," said Barnett, who is director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. "While the French were in possession, they would have killed any Natchez Indian they came across. But now with the English in control, the few Natchez still living here came out of their hiding places. The French had not been very diligent in getting too far out from Fort Rosalie in the years between the Natchez rebellion and 1763, so it would have been easy for some surviving Natchez to have remained here."
The British renamed the old French fort known as Rosalie to Fort Panmure. By September 1766 some 60 British troops occupied Fort Panmure, but to save money, the government withdrew the soldiers two years later, a disappointment to the few settlers who felt greatly unprotected from hostile bands of Choctaws who ranged over this area.
For the next few years, Fort Panmure was primarily a trading post where settlers could bring their cotton, tobacco and other goods for exchange or sell with traders.
Barnett said the Natchez "saw themselves as allies" of the British and Indian Tom would have felt perfectly at ease in establishing a relationship with Anthony Hutchins, who had permission from the British government to settle in Natchez. The British governed the Natchez district from the headquarters of West Florida in Pensacola.
When the West Florida government was formed by the British, Hutchins' brother, Thomas Hutchins, a British officer, was hired to survey Natchez country. This is likely how Anthony learned of the great opportunities offered for settlement here.
"Natchez was probably still an active trading post for deer skins but not an area the Choctaw would have visited to trade that often since they did most of their trading in the Pensacola, Mobile and Memphis areas," said Barnett. Yet by some reports 2,000 Indians, mostly Choctaw, would hunt the Natchez wilderness every winter and seek shelter at Fort Panmure where they traded.
This was Natchez when Anthony Hutchins made friends with Indian Tom, who quickly pointed out that Hutchins had made a poor choice in considering St. Catherine Creek as the place to stake his claim for settlement.
Indian Tom predicted that Hutchins would die there and should leave. He offered to show Hutchins a location where the land was richer and where the water was like a fountain of youth and "if he drank of it" a man would "live always."
Hutchins' followed Tom on a 12-hour walk through thick cane, high hills and deep hollows to the former site of White Apple Village, where the Natchez tribe under Prince White Apple once lived. The place was located three miles east of Ellis' Cliffs along beautiful Second Creek.
All of Natchez country was an enchanting landscape described by the occasional visitor during this time as a paradise with fruit orchards planted by the French decades earlier still growing, of lush, green meadows in open fields in the forest, of crystal clear creeks teaming with fish.
LOCATIONS OF WHITE APPLE
Barnett said there were three White Apple Village sites, each occupied at different times -- one near Washington, one in Franklin County and the one where Hutchins settled more than two centuries ago. Archaeologists identify the Hutchins' location as the Mazique mound site, named after a prominent African-American family from southern Adams County who once owned the land.
There are two big mounds on the site which borders Second Creek on the east side and the northbound lane of Hwy. 61 South on the west at Sibley. The site is about nine miles south of the bridge over St. Catherine Creek along Hwy. 61 South in Natchez, and just three and one-half miles south of William Dunbar's Forest Plantation.
While there is no evidence the water from Second Creek has magical qualities, something Indian Tom seemed to suggest, Anthony Hutchins lived into his 90s before death overran him. For a man to live such a long age then, particularly in the wilderness and rough world of frontier Natchez, seems an almost supernatural feat. Maybe it was the water.
There at the site of White Apple Village Hutchins opened "a small piece of land and building a few low cabins, he left his plantation in the care of Indian Tom" and four apprentices and returned to South Carolina for his family.
Months later, early in 1773, Hutchins began the journey to Natchez with his wife and children. Historian Anderson said in addition to the family, the Hutchins' party included three slaves, wagons, saddle horses and horned cattle.
"Along the route through Georgia," says Anderson, "they camped in a family tent and had milk and fresh meat from their own livestock." In May 1774, after an arduous three-month journey, the family was settling into its new home. Anderson says "in response to letters written back to South Carolina others eventually came until about 15 (South Carolina) families were scattered over an area of one hundred miles."
On July 26, 1774, John Hutchins, the man who would later write about his and his father's exploits in Natchez as a gift to his grandchildren, was born. The Hutchins' family became one of the first to permanently settle Natchez country and their pioneering adventures would become legend. They were true frontiersmen like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett -- they explored and settled a wilderness, overcame enormous hardships, befriended and battled Indians.
Anthony and Ann Hutchins' children -- nine in all, John being the first born in Natchez -- would all live to maturity, an amazing fact in a day when many children died in infancy or while very young. It was also a day when many women died as a result of giving birth, but Ann, tough as nails and afraid of nothing, outlived her husband.
A few older readers may remember that in the 1940s Jefferson Davis Dixon built a museum and established a tourist site there that he called White Apple Village. The dilapidated building still stands but the site is so overgrown with trees and vegetation that it's difficult to see in the winter and almost impossible in the summer.
The arrival of the Hutchins' clan in the 1770s marked big changes in Natchez country. This family, and a handful of others, would dig deep roots and become influential. Anthony Hutchins would be involved in every major event, battle and squabble for the next 30 years.
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