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|Stories of early Natchez from a slave named Toney; his role in Revolt of 1781|
Some of the best histories of early Natchez came from the voices of black men and women who had served a lifetime in bondage. One of the most vivid glimpses of the late 1700s came from the first slave ever purchased by Anthony Hutchins, an early Natchez pioneer.
The slave, Toney, had a role in some of the most exciting times in this region's history. When he came to Natchez in the 1770s with the Hutchins' family there were Indians here -- a handful from the Natchez tribe, and hundreds of Choctaw. When Toney arrived the British held Natchez, then the Spanish took over during the American Revolution and finally the Americans in 1798.
Toney had been living in the same cabin on the Hutchins' family home place for about six decades when interviewed by William H. Sparks, who later wrote a book called "The Memories of Fifty Years." Sparks penned the book, which included the early history of Natchez country -- published in 1870 -- at the requests of three judges. (One of the judges was highly-respected James G. Taliaferro, who lived in Harrisonburg in Catahoula Parish, was vilified when he opposed Louisiana's succession from the Union prior to the Civil War, and went on to serve on the state Supreme Court.)
When Sparks interviewed Toney in the 1800s, he found the old man sitting on a stool beneath a catalpa tree outside his cabin, located near two large Indian mounds along Second Creek at an abandoned Natchez Indian village known as White Apple. The site parallels Hwy. 61 South, about nine miles from the present day city limits of Natchez, three miles east of Ellis Cliffs.
Historian Jim Barnett of Natchez says the original White Apple Village was located at the Foster Mound site near Washington. But he said when Native Americans moved to new settlements they often carried the name with them. Barnett thinks the mounds at the Hutchins' home place, known by archaeologists as the Mazique site, were abandoned by the ancestors of the Natchez around A.D. 1200, some 500 years before the Europeans arrived here.
Toney at the time of the interview was around 100 years of age, had white hair and was, said Sparks, "very fat." He bore marks of his tribal home in Africa -- "seams in both cheeks, cut by the knife..." He survived Anthony and his wife, Anne Hutchins, by many years and was the only person who lived on the home place for quite some time, although the Hutchins' children and grandchildren visited the family cemetery and Toney quite often.
TONEY WAS FROM THE OLD COUNTRY
Toney was purchased by Anthony Hutchins' father in South Carolina in the years prior to the American Revolution. Hutchins' father died two years later and Anthony Hutchins' became Toney's master. Toney said he was "a great big boy" when he was taken from Africa -- the "old country." He held his hand four feet above the ground to display his height when he debarked a slave ship in Charleston. He said he was just big enough to plow.
A veteran of the French and Indian War in North America, Hutchins, born in America to an English father and a French mother, was a man with deep loyalty to England. He and a number of others like him in South Carolina were unsure what to do as rebellion began to brew in the 13 colonies.
These men didn't want to take up arms against their neighbors and their own families. As the conflict grew, the debates became heated and at times sparked violence. Toney said Hutchins met his future wife, Anne White, during these tense days. Toney described the young Anne as "a pretty gal." He said the couple courted and soon married.
Not long after starting a family, Toney said "Gen. Washington's war...drove off" the Hutchins family and others. In the days prior to the Revolutionary War, Toney recalled a meeting was held. Hutchins and some of his neighbors, "afraid of the war" on the horizon, wanted to remain neutral.
Anthony Hutchins and some of these neighbors, taking advantage of a British land grant program to colonize West Florida, which included Natchez, migrated to this region. Hutchins first explored the land, settling on the White Apple village site below Natchez. He returned for his family. On their journey here, the pioneers faced many hardships.
Toney said there were conflicts with hostile Indians and that Anthony Hutchins was shot in the back in the woods during one encounter. Hutchins "was buried" years later with that bullet still in his back, said Toney.
While Hutchins moved to Natchez, his brother, Thomas, who had earlier surveyed Natchez country for the British, took the side of the Americans in the revolution. Mississippi historian Dunbar Rowland said Thomas Hutchins was imprisoned for six weeks in London in 1779 "on the charge of maintaining correspondence with Benjamin Franklin, then in France" representing the colonies.
Toney's first impressions of Natchez were of a wild, unsettled region where the forest had "the biggest trees" he'd ever seen and "big canes," some towering 30 feet in height, covered the hills. Deer were everywhere, he said.
"We cleared a field and planted corn and indigo," said Toney of their first crops.
One of Hutchins nine children, John, was born at White Apple and was taught how to hunt bear and deer by Toney, who was apparently highly thought of by the entire Hutchins' family. Everyone connected to this family was attempting to survive together during the early frontier days in Natchez.
Toney hunted with a flintlock and roamed the woods as often as he wanted. But he, like members of the Hutchins' family, including women and children, worked the fields, tended the livestock and did all of the chores a farm requires.
TONEY'S COURAGE IN 1781 REVOLT
During the revolution, the Spanish, allied with the Americans, took Natchez and occupied the symbol of power here -- Fort Panmure (Rosalie). A short time later, Hutchins and other British loyalists regained control expecting a British fleet, believed to have been sent from Pensacola, to sail up the Mississippi any day. This is known in history as the Revolt of 1781.
But instead of reinforcements, the five barges seen coming up the Mississippi turned out to be Spanish and included 300 soldiers, many French militia from Opelousas and western Indians. The Spanish commander was Major Mulligan, an Irishman.
Wrote historian Benjamin C. Wailes: "Numerous outrages and several murders" occurred. "Many settlers, who had taken no part in the revolt" left their farms and moved into homes on a temporary basis near the fort. Many of the men who took part in the revolt but unable to escape were shackled, chained and imprisoned in New Orleans.
While hiding in the canebrakes, Hutchins sneaked home long enough to write letters to friends in New Orleans seeking help for his family. Anne decided she would stay at the farm with the children to protect what they had worked and struggled for. Hutchins took off for South Carolina and had to kill and eat his horse on the way to survive in the wilderness.
This was a dangerous time throughout Natchez country. While Spanish soldiers rounded up rebel prisoners and their property, others ran about the countryside stealing and killing. At least 14 men were murdered.
When soldiers arrived at White Apple in search of Hutchins, no one there would reveal his whereabouts. Toney also refused despite the threat of death. Wrote Mississippi historian John F.H. Claiborne in the 19th Century: "They hung him to a tree and left him for dead. As soon as they disappeared Mrs. Hutchins cut him down and with difficulty saved his life."
A short time later, Toney and 12 other slaves were taken from the Hutchins' farm to Pensacola. By now all of West Florida was in Spanish hands. When Toney learned from an Indian that Mrs. Hutchins was alone with her children back home on the farm, he escaped and made his way back to Natchez through the wilderness. Toney's decision to risk his life once again and to return home to aide Anne Hutchins was an act of tremendous courage.
Years later when around 90, Anthony Hutchins died at White Apple in the early 1800s. Ann lived until 1811. During their days in Natchez they became wealthy, built a "big house" at White Apple and prospered under three governments.
When Sparks visited White Apple, Toney was the only person still there although Hutchins' grandchildren regularly visited the place and the family cemetery where their grandparents were buried.
At White Apple one day, one of the granddaughters of Hutchins, Alice, told Sparks: "Very nearly every day I have in my basket here something for the old man (Toney)...yonder by that lightning scarred old oak and those top-heavy pecans is his cabin and has been for more than sixty years."
She showed Sparks the location of her grandparents' home, which was no longer there. "All the buildings have long gone," she said, "save Uncle Toney's cabin. Think of the hopes, the aspirations, the blisses, the sorrows, the little world that once was here -- all gone except Uncle Toney."
During her childhood, said Alice, she would sit at the family cemetery and spend "hours listening to the stories" Toney told of her grandparents until "their very appearance" became "familiar to my vision."
Not long afterward, Toney was found murdered. Historian Claiborne wrote that Toney was apparently killed by a robber for the old man's "little hoard of money."
The Hutchins family buried him in the same cemetery with their grandparents, but there are no markers for any of the three to be found there today. Jim Barnett says one day, with the help of GPS and other technology, the graves of the Hutchins' and Toney might be found.
The Hutchins' home place at White Apple is a site of many human stories -- of the red man, the white man and of a black man named Toney. In the years after his death, the Mazique family, descendants of slaves, would for a period of time own the Hutchins' home place where Toney's old cabin, and Toney, weathered the storms of life.
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