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|Land rich and land poor Natchez settlers in 1700s|
Few men were more crucial to the development of frontier Natchez in the late 1700s than Anthony Hutchins, who arrived from North Carolina on flatboats with his family, slave Toney and possessions in the spring of 1774.
From 1770 to October 1773, West Florida Gov. Peter Chester was allowed to provide land grants to Natchez immigrants from his Pensacola office. Then a part of British West Florida, Natchez at the time had no government office for arriving settlers to visit. So how were they to find and stake their land?
Hutchins first visited Natchez country in 1773 to scout for property and it appears likely that on his way home he went to Pensacola to make his land claim for 1,000 acres along Second Creek southeast of the Natchez fort. At some point, possibly during his Pensacola visit, he was appointed to serve as justice of the peace and chief of magistrates in Natchez, a selection apparently related to his service as a sheriff in North Carolina and his loyalty to the British government. It became his job in Natchez to assist incoming settlers on arrival and soon he became, wrote historian Ethan Grant in the Florida Historical Quarterly in 1996, "the most important person in the area. He directed the locating of families pending the application and granting of lands, and his choice could be critical."
During a brief period from October 1773 to November 1775, the British temporarily suspended the practice of issuing land grants, yet settlers kept arriving from the Ohio Valley and the Atlantic states as the American Revolution fermented. Wrote Grant: "During the hiatus, Hutchins' job was doubly difficult. He was obliged to keep those who were already located in 1773 in place and optimistic that they would eventually get legal title to their property when the land office reopened (in Pensacola). He also had to find land for families arriving later who came expecting land grants. To his credit, there were few complaints from either group, despite his testy personality."
Arriving around the same time as Hutchins and Toney were brothers John and Richard Ellis for whom Ellis Cliffs is named. Originally, it was known as the White Cliffs and was a landmark on the Mississippi, though during the 19th Century the river changed course to the west. The cliffs were occasionally described by writers, explorers and travelers two centuries ago, including William Dunbar, who in 1804 said the "face of (Ellis) cliffs is chiefly white sand" with pine trees growing on the summit, which towered some 200 feet or higher above the river.
On the northern end of the cliffs, the old mouth of St. Catherine's Creek flowed into the Mississippi. By 1792 Dunbar lived six miles to the northeast along Second Creek and five miles north of Hutchins. Hutchins in 1773 had chosen a site to settle on Second Creek three miles to the east of the mouth of St. Catherine's. Nearby lived Richard Ellis, who settled at a place he called Laurel Hill north of the cliffs and about 10 miles south of Natchez . A 1780s plat for for a Spanish land grant displays the surveyor's work and shows boundary lines marked by trees -- cottonwoods, red oaks, white oaks, cypresses, hickories, sweet gums and willows.
Historian Grant writes that Richard and John Ellis, both Virginians, "began on a large scale and grew from there. John arrived at Natchez in June 1773, and in November 1776 received a grant of 1,000 acres. Richard arrived in July 1773, and acquired 3,550 acres on the basis of his family, which included himself, his wife, seven children, and 71 slaves." By the time of Spanish acquisition of Natchez from the British in 1778, the Ellis brothers controlled approximately 20,000 acres.
In 1792, the Spanish took a census. This was the year William Dunbar moved from Baton Rouge to Natchez and established the Forest Plantation. This was also the year that Richard Ellis died.
The census shows that at this time Hutchins owned 8,512 acres and was raising 1,600 head of livestock, including 1,000 head of cattle, 500 hogs and 100 horses. At his death in 1792, Richard Ellis had deeded some of his property to his children although he still owned 5,917 acres.
Toney, the African who as a boy was captured and sold by Africans to white slave traders, arrived in Natchez at the same time as his master, Hutchins, and the Ellis brothers. He may have spent 90 of his estimated 100 years of life in America and more than 40 years of that living in a small cabin on the Hutchins' home place on Second Creek. He outlived his master and his master's contemporaries. Although apparently loved by the Hutchins family and buried in the Hutchins family cemetery, he was as a slave considered tangible, movable property, could be mortgaged or sold, had no legal rights, and could own nothing.
Hutchins' granddaughter, Alice, who seemed to adore Toney, shared a common opinion that slave owners had of their human property. She was quoted by writer William Sparks as saying: "The affectionate memories he (Toney) has of our family...redeems him from the obloquy (disgrace) of his race. His heart is as tender as his conduct is void of offense. He was a slave. God had ordained him for his situation. He had not the capacity to aspire beyond his lot, or to contrast it with his master's."
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