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|Uncle Forman, nephew led 100 down Mississippi to Natchez country|
During the winter of 1789-90, Samuel Forman of Monmouth, New Jersey, assisted his uncle, Ezekial Forman, in a journey down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers to Natchez country where Ezekial planned to settle and grow tobacco.
Samuel, who called Ezekial "Uncle Forman," was 24 and grew up during the Revolutionary War where he watched American and British troops battle and witnessed some of the defining moments of the founding of the country. The Forman family was well-connected and well respected.
Uncle Forman's traveling party included about 100 people -- the Forman family, associates and some 60-plus slaves. Samuel maintained that the slave families were kept whole by his uncle and that father, mother and children were never separated.
The story of this journey to Natchez and others events in Forman's life are told in his memoir, "Narrative of a Journey Down the Ohio and Mississippi in 1789-90," published in 1888.
Flatboats were built and outfitted for the trip. Samuel described all as "floating houses" and said the largest boat was a 70-ft. "keelboat, decked over, with a cabin for lodging purposes, but too low to stand erect." All possessions, including Uncle Forman's "handsome coach horses and carriage" were packed onboard. "The bed and bedding lay on the floor, and the insides lined with plank to prevent the Indians from penetrating through with their balls, should they attack us. We had a large quantity of dry goods, and a few were opened and bartered in payment for boats and provisions."
During the journey one morning, Samuel said a large flock of wild turkeys were spotted flying in the woods along the shore. A blacksmith asked Uncle Forman if he could go ashore and kill some for supper. The man took a small boat, his rifle and "a favorite dog" with him. "But he had not been long on shore," Samuel recalled, "before he ran back to the river's bank, and made signs for the boat to come and take him on board. When safely among friends, he said that he came to a large fire, and from appearances, he supposed a party of Indians was not far off. He, however, lost his fine dog, for he dared not call him."
On the journey, the party had to deal with swift currents, sawyers and snags, river bandits and adverse weather conditions. But after weeks and more than a 1,000-mile journey, Natchez country was in view.
At Bayou Pierre, the travelers found a small settlement where around that time future president Andrew Jackson, then a young man in his 20s, was operating a small store and courting his future wife, Rachel Donelson. "At Bayou Pierre," wrote Samuel, "lived Colonel (Peter Bryan) Bruin, of the Virginia Continental line, who, after the war, took letters to General Washington to the governor of that country while it belonged to Spain, and secured a fine land grant. I once visited Colonel Bruin...That section of country is remarkably handsome, and the soil rich. The colonel's dwelling-house was on the top of a large mound, and his barn on another, near by."
A day after landing at Bayou Pierre, the party reached Natchez landing. Wrote Samuel: "When out little fleet of five boats first came in sight of the village of Natchez, it presented quite a formidable appearance, and caused a little alarm at the fort; the drum beat to arms, but the affright soon subsided...
"Natchez was then a small place, with houses generally of a mean structure, built mostly on the low bank of the river, and on the hillside. The fort was a handsome, commanding spot, on the elevated ground, from which was a most extensive view up the river, and over the surrounding country. The governor's house was not far from the garrison.
"Uncle Forman had at first hired a large house, about half-way up the hill from the landing, where he lived until he bought a plantation of five hundred acres on the bank of St. Catherine's creek, about four miles from Natchez. This he regarded as a temporary abode, until he could become better acquainted with the country. The place had a small clearing and a log house on it, and he put up another log house to correspond with it, about fourteen feet apart, connecting them all with boards, with a pizza in front of the whole. The usual term applied to such a structure was that it was 'two pens and a passage.' This connecting passage made a fine hall, and altogether gave it a good and comfortable appearance...Boards were scarce, and I do not remember seeing any saws or grist-mills in the country. Uncle Forman had a horse-mill, something like a cider-mill, to grind corn for the family use. In range with his dwelling he built a number of negro houses, some distance off, on the bank of St. Catherine's creek."
Not long after arriving a number of new settlers in Natchez fell ill. Samuel said 1790 "was a very sickly one for unacclimated persons in the Natchez country. All our family adults had more or less fever, and fever and ague. Uncle Forman was severely affected with gout -- a lump almost as big as a small hen's egg swelled out at one of his elbows, with something of the appearance of chalk. Poor Betsey Church was taken with a fever, and died in a few days; a great loss to the family, having been a valuable and much respected member of it for many years. I was the only adult of the family who was not confined to the house with sickness."
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