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|Natchez country pioneers during British days in 1770s; venison/potato casserole|
Were it not for abundant wildlife in the primitive forests of Natchez country, settlers like Anthony Hutchins would have had a difficult time feeding their families in the days and weeks after their arrival in the 1770s.
"For several years we were almost without bread, or milk or butter," said Hutchins' son, John, who grew up on the Natchez frontier. The Hutchins' favorite dish in the early years was a casserole made with potatoes which were boiled, mashed and minced in equal parts with dried and pounded venison and baked before a fire with bear oil mixed in.
"There was not one man in the country with money enough to buy a barrel of flour," said John Hutchins. "We had to join purses to do so and divide the flour according to sums paid. Flour was very high and scarce."
He said the price of flour in New Orleans was $25 a barrel, the freight to Natchez $5. A print blanket cost $4, a pound of brown sugar sold for 50 cents, a pound of coffee 75 cents and a pound of tea, a whopping $12. A barrel of salt cost $20.
Hutchins was one of many American colonists who had served during the French and Indian War, a battle that began in 1754 and pitted the French against the British for control of North America. Each had Indian allies.
By the late 1760s and throughout the 1770s, many men like Hutchins had two major reasons for uprooting their families from established settlements and coming to the wilderness of Natchez -- economic and political.
Great Britain was victorious over the French and a treaty was signed in Paris in 1763 ending the battle for North America, while Spain emerged, with France out of the way, as England's lone contender for control of the continent. But by the early 1770s, disputes between the Americans living in the 13 colonies and the British government were growing.
Some of the men who had fought for the colonies under the British government in the French and Indian War decided to depart the British-controlled American colonies to the north, and start a new life in the British-controlled province of West Florida, which stretched from Pensacola, the capital, westward to the Mississippi River and Natchez.
In the months prior to the outbreak of the revolution, the colonies had become the backbone of Great Britain's economy, which was nearly ruined following the French and Indian War in North America and the Seven Years War in Europe. The colonies, with more than two million people, were growing rapidly, the population having doubled every 25 years during the previous half century.
One in five ships entering English ports brought goods from the American colonies and many towns in England thrived just by manufacturing and producing goods ordered by colonists.
THE LURE OF LAND AND OPPORTUNITY
With the American Revolution looming, the British saw the need to develop West Florida and especially Natchez, which sat on the Mighty Mississippi between the colonies to the northeast and the Spanish to the south at New Orleans and to the west in Louisiana.
Pensacola, the capital of West Florida, was a town of several hundred homes and a fortress which included cannons, government offices, a council chamber for the political representatives to the province, quarters for officers and barracks for privates.
One of Capt. George Johnstone's major duties as governor of West Florida was to attract settlers and one of the best ways he had to do this was to offer land and opportunity. What better men to draw than those who had served the military during the French and Indian War, men who could endure hardship and had proven loyal to the crown. The program enacted was approved by the British government.
Of course some grants provided by the Crown were based solely on politics. One of the first and biggest grants went to one of Gov. Johnstone's drinking buddies back in London -- Archibald Montgomerie -- who had the fancy English title of Earl of Eglington. He received a grant of 20,000 acres located on Pine Ridge in Adams County.
Historian Light Townsend Cumming said Montgomerie never left London, never attempted to settle his grant and that years later his heirs were unsuccessful in earning title from U.S. land commissioners in the years after Natchez became American.
One of the largest grants given in the Natchez area went to Capt. Amos Ogden, who served during the French and Indian War. Ogden sold 19,000 acres of his 25,000-acre grant, known as the "Ogden Mandamus Grant" of 1768, to the brothers Richard and Samuel Swayze of New Jersey, neighbors of Ogden.
In 1772, the Swayzes and some of their neighbors -- 15 families in all -- settled along the Homochitto in the Kingston area of Adams County. Known as the Jersey Settlers, they prospered and exemplified the type of settlers the Crown was seeking -- families who would make the region home, raise crops and multiply the population. The Swayzes are also credited with organizing the first Protestant church in Natchez country.
Other military men like Ogden took advantage of the opportunity offered through the British grants. Any retired officer, such as Anthony Hutchins, any private, or any man who served in America against the French or England's Indian enemies qualified. A field officer was eligible for 5,000 acres, a captain, 3,000; staff officer, 2,000; non-commissioned officer, 300; and private, 100.
Each grant was recorded at British government offices at Pensacola. Anthony Hutchins received an initial grant of 1,000 acres on Second Creek in present day Adams County on Sept. 21, 1772, and got an additional 434 acres in 1773. His homestead was at White Apple Village, a deserted Natchez Indian settlement along Second Creek, located 12 miles from Fort Panmure (Rosalie) on the Mississippi at Natchez.
ENTERPRISING & INTELLIGENT MEN
Even after the Spanish took possession of Natchez from the British during the American Revolution, Hutchins continued to amass land through grants until he owned more than 5,000 acres by the time the American government arrived in 1798. In addition to his English grants, Hutchins received Spanish grants of 1,000 acres on Second Creek in 1788, 800 acres along the Mississippi River in 1789, 586 acres along the river in 1790 and 2,146 acres on Cole's Creek the same year.
Hutchins and others were a tough bunch of frontiersmen who endured hardships, near death experiences and conflicts that left many men cowering in the shadows.
Historian John F.H. Claiborne in his 19th Century history of Mississippi said England's policies during the 1770s "attracted a class of enterprising and intelligent men who, after the peace of 1763, had been drifting about. Immigration rapidly set in, consisting at first, of disbanded officers and soldiers.
"The troubles and dissensions between the colonies and the mother country were growing serious. Great diversity of opinion existed among the colonists, and especially in the Carolinas." Anthony Hutchins was one of many who immigrated to Natchez from South Carolina.
Said Claiborne: "Many persons loyal to the Crown, but unwilling to take part against the people among whom they lived, embracing, in numerous instances, their kindred and even their own households, sought refuge in West Florida," including Natchez, "from the distractions of home."
Claiborne said "rather than strain their hands with kindred blood," these men "renounced home, comfort, society and position for an asylum in the wilderness" of Natchez country.
Here, these frontiersmen staked their claim with little more than the shirts on their backs, and a few supplies, as well as two important implements -- an ax and a hoe. The lucky ones made it all the way here on a flatboat or by land with a few head of cattle.
They built cabins, cleared land and planted crops. When Hutchins began raising corn, his son, John, said if "we wanted meal we had to grind it in a wooden mortar after night; the day was spent in clearing land, or hunting wild game to supply our table...My father built the first grist mill in Mississippi: everyone in the country came to see it and to praise it. It gave signs of better times, of better living..."
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