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|Anthony Hutchins faces war, mob before moving to Natchez country|
Anthony Hutchins was a small man, about five feet tall, and slender, but only a fool would underestimate him.
One of his granddaughters said Hutchins had gray eyes, a face "sharper than round," a "passionate" personality, a penetrating high-pitched voice and a temper that could best be described as "terrible."
He and his wife, Anne, were natives of Monmouth County, New Jersey, and had migrated to Anson County, North Carolina, when Anthony decided to move to Natchez country in the early 1770s. He had served the British in the battle against the French in the North American conflict known as the French and Indian War (1754-1763).
British colonists had populated the Atlantic seaboard, while the land claimed by the French stretched from Canada down the Mississippi to the Gulf of Mexico. As British colonists in America continued to move westward in the 1750s into the Ohio Valley, they clashed with the French over land. Both sides had Indian allies and the long running conflict became known as the French and Indian War.
Hutchins rose to the rank of captain in the 60th regiment, British foot, according to his grandson, historian John F.H. Claiborne. The long war cost an estimated 15,000 lives. For his military service, Hutchins received a "half-pay" pension as a captain.
At the end of the war in 1763, the American colonists became disillusioned with the British government. The financial cost of the war and the global Seven Years War had cost the British greatly and they sought to recover expenses by taxation on the colonies without representation. Hostilities with Indians continued due to white encroachment on their lands and all of the treaties the British made with the Indians were eventually broken.
It was after this war that Anthony settled in North Carolina where he and Anne married. He served as a sheriff in the hilly Piedmont backcountry and was charged with collecting taxes and keeping order for Britain. He lived on the poor side of the North Carolina colony. People there didn't have much contact with the rich plantation owners along the coast.
In April 1768, a mob of an estimated 100 men amassed at the Anson County courthouse to protest unfair taxes and to voice their opposition to county officials, including Sheriff Anthony Hutchins. This showdown was part of what was known as the "Regulator Movement" in which backcountry colonial citizens began to take a firm, and sometimes violent means to earn a say in government. A number of problems were faced by the pioneers in the backcountry. There was no currency, communication slow at best, and landowners were required to travel many miles to pay their taxes, a hardship for poor, independent men who could pay their debts only through the trade of a cow or hog or bear skins.
As sheriff, Hutchins had the responsibility to seize a man's property to settle his government tax debt. Hutchins was named sheriff by the governor on the recommendation of justices of the peace, who were elected. There was no bloodshed that day at the Anson County courthouse in 1768, thanks in a large part to Hutchins, who was praised by the county clerk for "uncommon firmness and assiduity (diligence)" in helping suppress violence even as the mob, armed with clubs, took over the courtroom at one point and held judges as hostages.
This civil unrest was the beginning of the revolution and these tensions only grew worse. Although he was a British pensioner, Hutchins counted friends on both sides of the political spectrum -- both loyalists and patriots. North Carolina was a land divided as were the rest of the colonies. He and Anne had been married only a short time as the troubles mounted and his slave, Toney, recalled the sorrow in his master's face during those days which was a noticeable contrast with the youthful and pretty face of Anne. Toney said one night neighbors visited the Hutchins home and had a "long talk." All, he said, were afraid of the coming war.
The British government, whose West Florida province was headquartered at Pensacola, saw a great need in the late 1760s and early 1770s to settle Natchez, a key point on the Mississippi. Not only did navigation of the mighty river need to be protected, a defensive barrier was needed against Spain which was in possession of Louisiana on the west side of the river and from Lakes Maurepas and Ponchartrain south to New Orleans. The British also saw loyalists like Hutchins, who wanted to escape hostilities along the Atlantic seaboard, as perfect settlers.
In addition to his half-pay pension for his war service, Hutchins was also entitled to a land grant in British West Florida, which included Natchez. Hutchins made a scouting trip to Natchez country in 1772, traveling through hundreds of miles of wilderness. Here, he found only a handful of rugged frontiersmen setting up farms miles apart from one another. He chose a 1,000-acre tract of land on Second Creek, just a few miles to the southeast of the dilapidated old French fort on the bluff high above the Mississippi at Natchez.
Hutchins' son, John, who was born on the Natchez frontier in 1774, said a Natchez Indian, whose tribe had departed the region in 1730 following the war with the French, helped Hutchins open up a small piece of land along Second Creek. They also built a log cabin and a few sheds before Hutchins returned to North Carolina for his family, belongings and some of his neighbors.
Anne Hutchins would give birth to nine children -- six girls, three boys -- all of whom would live to maturity, an incredible feat considering that childbirth was often deadly for the frontier mother and child. Four children were born back east, the rest at Natchez. Anne was made for the frontier, said son John, adding that she "was a woman of high mettle and was not to be discouraged."
As Hutchins returned to North Carolina for his family he knew that there was one key thing he had to accomplish -- he had to make a crop of corn that first summer in Natchez country. Corn and wild game were among the keys to the survival of a frontiersman in the isolation of a wilderness. Of course, he first had to lead his party safely back to Natchez on flatboats through hostile Indian country.
Anthony and Anne Hutchins would enjoy great success in Natchez country. Toney, the African captured and shipped across the Atlantic to a life of bondage in America, was a key to their success. These three would begin carving out a life on the Natchez frontier in 1773, five years before Daniel Boone blazed the Wilderness Road through the Cumberland Gap in Kentucky.
(Stanley Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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