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Story Archives: Trying times for Hutchins' clan & the perilous journey to the Natchez frontier
|Trying times for Hutchins' clan & the perilous journey to the Natchez frontier|
Conceived on his father's farm in the high hills of Santee, South Carolina, north of the Santee River, John Hutchins was born in the wilds of Natchez country in July 1774.
His mother, Anne, and his father, Anthony, were born in New Jersey. When conflicts between the colonists and the British intensified and moved toward war, Anthony Hutchins and some of his neighbors determined to leave.
Anthony's brother, Thomas, had explored the lower Mississippi River Valley and was familiar with Natchez country. Anthony likely learned from Thomas about its great potential for agriculture and wealth. Great Britain also held the province of West Florida, which included Natchez, which was far from the brewing war in the 13 colonies. Since Anthony Hutchins and his neighbors were loyal to England they determined to make the big move rather than take up arms against their neighbors who wanted independence.
Mississippi historian Dunbar Rowland said the "the people of South Carolina...were involved in serious difficulties, with promise of actual warfare between the revolutionists and the settlers of the back country, who in considerable measure adhered to the king." Neighboring Georgia's condition was said to be that of a civil war, dividing colonists who favored revolution and those who opposed it.
At this time, wrote Martin W. Sandler, in his 2008 book -- "Atlantic Ocean: The Illustrated History of the Ocean That Changed the World" -- the American colonists, though torn apart by the brewing revolution, enjoyed a thriving economy, the fastest-growing in the world: "Colonial industry was expanding and a distinct culture had arisen. It was not an American culture, but a British American culture. On all levels, colonial politics, and government were based on English models. Throughout the colonies, the prevailing social values were also English. On the eve of the events that were to profoundly change both the New World and the Old, the proudest boast of most of Great Britain's American subjects, was that they were Englishmen."
INDIAN ATTACK ON HOLSTEIN RIVER
Hutchins' slave, Toney, who was taken by force from Africa in chains, loaded on a slave ship and sold to Hutchins' father on the auction block in Charleston, S.C., recalled when the neighbors arrived at the Hutchins' home one night and held a "long talk" to plan their flight. Hutchins had scouted Natchez country previously, picked a location to settle and obtained a land grant at the West Florida capital of Pensacola.
A description of Hutchins was given to one of his granddaughters by Toney years after both Anthony and Anne were dead and buried in one of the Indian mounds located at White Apple. Hutchins' granddaughter, Alice, said Toney described her grandfather as "a small man...a passionate man," his eyes were gray, his face "sharper than round," and his temper "terrible."
Toney said Anne Hutchins was a pretty young woman, had been courted by British soldiers, but had fallen in love with Anthony Hutchins, a veteran of the French and Indian War (1754-1763). They married, began a family and Anne was four months pregnant when their journey to Natchez began.
Hutchins and his neighbors traveled over the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Holstein River, where they built flatboats and along with white families and slaves, loaded cattle, horses, hogs, corn, meat, supplies -- all their possessions -- and headed out. At Mussel Shoals on the Tennessee River, Toney said they were attacked by Indians, who historian Dunbar Rowland identified as Chickamauga Cherokee pirates, the "worst Injuns" Toney said he ever saw in his long life.
One of the boats loaded with hogs grounded and had to be abandoned as the passengers fled after a fierce fight. Anthony Hutchins was shot in the back by one of the Indians hidden in the woods. He recovered, but he carried the lead to his grave.
They soon entered the Ohio River and then the Mississippi where at New Madrid, a black man living there called Hutchins to the side one night and warned him that a group of men was preparing to kill them and steal their property. Hours later, alarmed by the news, the Hutchins' party slipped off in the darkness, and made the journey to Natchez without facing any more serious threats.
SURVIVING ON BEAR, VENISON & CORN
All the while, Anne Hutchins, like other mothers in the party, white and black, struggled to keep her family safe and alive. Toney said they landed in May at the mouth of Cole's Creek about 25 miles north of Natchez. While some of the travelers remained there, Hutchins and his family journeyed on to the mouth of St. Catherine Creek, which was then located about 10 miles south of Natchez on the northern edge of the White Cliffs, becoming known at the time as Ellis Cliffs after the family that settled there in the l760s.
At Natchez, Anne, now seven months pregnant, set up house in a small cabin at White Apple Village along Second Creek, 12 miles southwest of the Natchez fort. Their home was located on a long ago abandoned village site of the Natchez Indians (along Hwy. 61 South just north of Sibley). Just weeks after she began unpacking her few belongings and getting things in order, she gave birth to John -- the first Hutchins born in the Natchez wilderness.
In South Carolina, they lived in a settled region. In Natchez, they were frontiersmen, isolated, facing almost daily encounters with friendly and hostile Indians as well as outlaws. All worked to survive -- white and black, men, women, girls and boys. This was the time before cotton and the cotton gin fueled an economy on the back of slave labor that produced the big plantation wealth of whiskey-sipping gentlemen and hoop-skirted women.
The Hutchins and their distant neighbors lived in a paradise of beautiful hills and hollows, crystal clear streams teaming with fish, and virgin forests where the wildlife -- big game and small -- thrived. Here, John Hutchins became a man.
Wrote historian Joe Gray Taylor in his book, "Eating, Drinking and Visiting in the South": "These first settlers on a frontier had no choice but to depend upon game for subsistence, at least until they could clear a patch of ground and plant corn and vegetables. They much preferred buffalo to other meat, so long as it could be had; buffalo were never overly abundant east of the Mississippi." The French leader Bienville, on his journey down the river from Canada in 1699, reported seeing buffalo on the east side of the river above present day Baton Rouge.
"The hump and the tongue were favorite cuts," said Gray, "but almost the entire animal except offal (the Indians ate intestines) was devoured. Even after the meat was gone, the pioneer heated the leg bones in the coals of his fire, cracked them open with an axe, and relished the marrow."
Thirty years later, to the west, the Comanches were still dependent on buffalo as their principal food. Indian agent John Sibley said in his report to Congress on the Red River in 1805 that the Comanche, who caught and tamed wild horses, hunted "the buffalo on horseback, and killed them either with the bow or a sharp stick like a spear, which they carry in their hands...It is said that the man who kills a buffalo catches the blood and drinks it while warm; they likewise eat the liver raw, before it is cold, and use the gall by way of sauce."
In Natchez country in the 1770s, the frontiersmen survived on bear meat, corn and venison. Gray said the "black bear had an important part in the frontier economy. Until hogs could be established, bear fat was almost the only shortening available for cooking; it also might fuel a smoky, evil-smelling lamp, serve in a pinch as a lubricant, or provide dressing" for a young man's hair "before he went courting. Bear fat might be stored in a block of wood hollowed out into a sort of a barrel, or it might be hung from a peg in a deerskin bag. The bears' tanned hide might serve as a warm wrap in cold weather, as a bed cover, or as a rug. Hungry people would kill a bear any time they could, but in the spring the bears were poor and strong to the taste; in the fall they were fat and at their best."
An Indian tribe John Sibley identified as "Conchattas" (Coushattas), who lived on the east bank of the Sabine River in western Louisiana in the early 1800s, were known as "good hunters." Sibley encountered a small party of these Coushatta hunters -- 15 men, women and children -- on their way back from a bear hunt. "They told me they had killed one hundred and eighteen..." They also told Sibley they had come across a trader on the Sabine who had killed 400 deer and earned 40 cents per skin.
Toney taught John Hutchins how to hunt. During one winter, John said they killed 107 bear between Natchez and the Homochitto River and so many deer and turkey they couldn't keep count.
THE BONES OF ALL RACES
When the Hutchins arrived in Natchez country, there were very few people living here. In 1767, the Spanish built a fort in Concordia three miles below present day Vidalia. When Acadian settlers arrived in 1768, the population of the fort and the Acadian settlement totaled about 200.
In January 1768, one of the early British land grantees in Natchez was Daniel Clark, an Irishman, who, like Hutchins, served the British during the French and Indian War. Well-connected to the British West Florida military and political structure, Clark received two grants of 3,000 and 2,000 acres respectively, located three miles below the Natchez fort, or directly across the Mississippi from the Concordia fort.
Although Clark wasn't settled there, historian B.L.C. Wailes noted in the 19th Century that Clark's land was located along St. Catherine Creek, which flowed at the time southward from below Natchez to above Ellis Cliffs. Some of Clark's land "had been in part cleared and improved under the French government" decades earlier.
The Hutchins homestead was located three miles east of the Mississippi and like all frontiersmen, they planted corn, which historian Joe Gray Taylor called "the staff of life on the southern frontier; most southerners depended upon corn as a major part, if not the most important part, of their nourishment until World War II."
Anne Hutchins could serve parched corn on her table, or pound it into coarse meal with a mortar and pestle and make "unleavened hoe cake or ash cake to bake on the hoe blade or a board before the fireplace...she could boil the meal in water and make corn meal mush." With "an ash hopper and leached out lye, she could soak the dry grains and make 'big hominy.' Then she could dry the big hominy and pound it into 'hominy grits,' a favorite southern dish to this day. Ordinarily years passed after people came to the frontier before they ate breadstuffs made from any grain other than corn."
In the years to come, Anthony Hutchins would be in and out of Natchez as events involving three nations -- England, Spain and later the United States -- affected life here. During the days, months and even years Hutchins was gone, John Hutchins found strength and love from his mother and siblings. He also found much love and care from Toney, who although a slave, was so devoted to the Hutchins' family that on many occasions he risked his life for them.
When an old man, living in a small cabin at White Apple, Toney often pointed out to visitors that Anthony and Anne were buried atop one of the Indian mounds along Second Creek in eyesight of his home. As Hutchins' manservant for most of both men's lives, Toney was usually by Hutchins' side and when Hutchins was away, Toney worked alongside Anne Hutchins, who once saved Toney's life when plunderers attempted to hang him.
In his 19th Century book -- "The Memories of Fifty Years" -- W.H. Sparks quoted the Hutchins' granddaughter:
"He (Toney) shall never want while I have anything...His heart is as tender as his conduct is void of offense." When he died, Alice said Toney would be buried beside Anthony and Anne, explaining that "there are no distinctions in the grave; white skin and black skin alike return to dust, and the marl of the earth is composed alike of bones of all races..."
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