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|Port Gibson's founder -- Sam Gibson -- arrived in Natchez before revolution|
While Anthony Hutchins was settling in Natchez country in the 1770s, so was a man named Sam Gibson, who later founded Port Gibson. Hutchins made his home at an abandoned Natchez Indian village south of Natchez known as White Apple.
Gibson settled near the Natchez settlement at first and then moved northward to what is now Claiborne County and settled along Little Bayou Pierre.
These two men came from South Carolina at around the same time. They had long been American colonists under British rule and each moved here in the years shortly before the revolution began.
In the heart of each man was a spirit of independence. Each was compelled to seek a home far away from the brewing conflict in the colonies. They were like many Americans during the period who didn't like government and were determined to live their lives the way they wanted.
One Spanish official said Americans had a roaming spirit and were always moving toward the sunset. They "cross the forests alone for one month" with a "little flour and corn in a sack...with the carbine he kills oxen and deer to eat, defends himself against the Savages; dampened corn takes the place of bread; with trunks of trees, crossed over each other in the form of a square, he builds a house and even a small fort impregnable" for protection from Indians.
"When a family gets tired of one area, it moves to another and settles there..." Expansion was never ending, said the Spanish official, and both the British and the Spanish, which were vying for control of the continent, feared this attitude of westward migration that was so deeply ingrained in the psyche of Americans.
Sam Gibson, who was born in South Carolina in 1748, came to Natchez in 1772 when he was 26 years old. Shortly after arriving here, he married another South Carolina native, Rebecca Cobun, the daughter of another immigrant to Natchez.
At this time Natchez was part of the British colony of West Florida, headquartered in Pensacola. Gibson started with a 100-acre land grant along Coles Creek. British terms for Gibson and other early settlers who were not military veterans allowed 100 acres for every family, according to historian Dunbar Rowland, "50 for every other man, woman or child in the family, including negroes, and as much more as deemed advisable, not to exceed 1,000 acres."
A settler was required to clear and cultivate three acres of each 50 acres he received or clear and drain three acres of swampland. On each 50 acres he was to raise three head of cattle until three acres were cleared. He was to build a home -- "one good dwelling house to contain at least 20 feet in length and 16 feet in breadth..."
GIBSON'S HUNTS DOWN THIEVES
When the Spanish took possession of Natchez country in the late 1770s, the terms didn't change much. The Spanish wanted the colonists to grow crops, develop trade and make Natchez into an economic power. They also wanted Natchez to be a wall against American expansion.
Gibson and his neighbors were required to perform some civic duties under the Spanish. He always did his part, displaying early on a strong spirit of community.
Sometimes Gibson was called upon to help appraise property and there were occasions when he served as an executor of an estate. He was also required to help maintain law and order, and once when a group of thieves began to steal "clothes, goods, firearms, horses, saddles, bridles, and other" items from settlers, "contrary to the peace and public tranquillity," Gibson and others formed posses and hunted the men down.
The leader of the thieves in one case, James Armstrong, had terrorized the countryside in 1786, stealing and plundering. Over a seven-day period, he and six other men, including his son, had robbed four homes, including that of Don Manuel Texada, the first victim. Texada confronted the man in the act of stealing two horses and was told by Armstrong that if he or anyone tried to stop him he'd "take out his heart." (Texada built a home in Natchez in 1792 that still stands today on the corner of Wall & Washington downtown.)
Two posses, each with about 10 men, were formed on order of the Spanish military governor, Carlos Grand Pre. Gibson, according to Spanish documents, said he and his men saw "horse tracks leading towards the plantation of James Armstrong" on Cole's Creek which they followed "until within five hundred paces of his house."
Gibson and a few of the men, on foot, advanced to within two hundred paces of the house and saw Armstrong's wife "in the cow pen, milking, and Armstrong himself near the pen, watching..."
Armstrong spotted Gibson, who quickened the advance and shouted for him and his men to surrender.
"I'll surrender with my rifle," Armstrong shouted and he took cover inside his house. Gibson's party heard Armstrong ordering his men to take up their arms and defend themselves at all costs.
As Gibson led the men closer to Armstrong's house, Armstrong appeared at a window and shouted, "Come on and try it."
Shortly afterward he and the others fled out a back window. Gibson ordered Armstrong to surrender but instead he fired at the posse.
"I then gave the order to fire," said Gibson. As gunfire erupted, "Armstrong fell dead and his son James fell also being badly wounded." The other men were eventually caught and Armstrong's son, with two bullets in his head, was taken to Spanish hospital on the Natchez bluff. He died after providing Spanish authorities an account on his dad's reign of terror.
Such was the life of criminals and the law-abiding citizens of frontier Natchez.
In the late 1780s, Samuel Gibson moved to present day Claiborne County and received three Spanish land grant totaling about 1,400 acres. This included about 850 acres on the south bank of Bayou Pierre. He had received other grants at Natchez and also bought property in other locations.
But he made his home on the property that became known as Port Gibson.
Here, with slave labor, he cleared land from the primitive forest where cane grew as high as 40 feet in places. Gibson's daughter, Ann Gibson Minor, who died in 1863, and Rose Davenport, a former slave on the Gibson plantation, provided accounts of the Gibson's life.
According to historian Laura D.S. Sturdivant, Ann Gibson "used to tell of bears, wolves, and panthers prowling about the clearing around their home...With the help of his slaves, Mr. Gibson began to clear away the trees and to cultivate the...fertile soil, rich and black with the decay of centuries of vegetation. A town grew up around 'Gibson's port,' which was incorporated on December 9, 1811, as Port Gibson."
BEES, BEARS & FRUIT ORCHARDS
Once the land was cleared, said the former slave Rose Davenport, who was born in 1803 and was still alive and a free woman in 1887, everything the Gibsons ate grew wild, was cultivated or hunted with the exception of sugar, tea and coffee.
Wrote Sturdivant, "They cultivated a variety of food crops, principally those of corn, rice, potatoes, wheat, and buckwheat -- the later chiefly for the benefit of Mrs. Gibson's bees, for she had many hives producing honey. Near the house they planted a large orchard bearing quantities of peaches, figs, plums, apples, chestnuts, and a melon patch.
"Their herds furnished the source of milk, butter, and cheese which Mrs. Gibson made in her own presses, and fresh meat. Mrs. Gibson also cured hams and bacon, rendered her own lard, dried fruits, and was a famous housekeeper."
They raised beef and pork and "wore garments made of home-grown cotton and wool, the spinning and weaving done under Mrs. Gibson's supervision. This industrious lady even prepared the starch used on the place from a flinty kind of corn raised expressly for that purpose on a special plot."
At White Apple, 12 miles southeast of the Natchez fort, the Hutchins family also made their own clothes. Said John Hutchins, the son of Anthony and Anne Hutchins: "Clothing and covering were scarce and such as we had was of the coarsest and roughest kind made by our mothers and sisters from the spinning wheel and the loom.
"As soon as we had opened land enough for the purpose of raising bread there were cotton patches planted for clothing, the seed was picked out at night and carded and spun and woven on a loom, stuck up in an outdoor cabin on fork and stick...If we went to visit a neighbor it was generally on foot, when the ladies would fill their aprons with cotton to amuse themselves with on the road by picking out the seed; then, we had no gins, our looms were made with great simplicity and any farmer boy could make a spinning wheel. All the looms and harness were made at home."
Sam Gibson was 69 years old when he died at Port Gibson in 1817, just a few days after Mississippi moved from a territorial government to one of a state. He had lived under three governments -- British, Spanish, American.
And like Judge Peter Bryan Bruin to the west at Bruinsburg along Bayou Pierre and Anthony Hutchins to the south at White Apple, Sam Gibson defied great odds by surviving and prospering in Natchez country.
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