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|Washington's oath, a bear cub & land on Ellis Cliffs|
Men with remarkable backgrounds and remarkable futures came to Natchez during the late 18th century, including Samuel Forman, a 24-year-old New Jersey native who was 11-years-old when the American Revolution broke out.
Samuel's brothers were members of the Monmouth, N.J., militia and were involved in a number of battles against the British. Samuel helped his uncle and a party of 100 people locate in Natchez after a journey down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers during the winter of 1789-90.
In Louisville, Kentucky, Samuel briefly operated a store and while there bought a six-week-old bear cub that he "chained in the back room" of his store. "When I went down the river," Samuel wrote in his account of the trip -- "Narrative of a Journey Down the Ohio and Mississippi in 1789-90" -- "I took him (cub) along to Natchez." But more on that later.
Samuel lived in Natchez for only about a year. His purpose was to get his uncle and others safely to Natchez and then return home. While here, he got to know many of the settlers in Natchez -- Spanish Gov. Manual Gayoso, the Anthony Hutchins family on Second Creek, William Dunbar who was just then preparing to move to Natchez, the Richard Ellis family at Ellis Cliffs and others. While here, Samuel shared with them his stories of the American Revolution and other events.
The Forman family, like many who survived the war, suffered during the conflict and faced great adversity. Young Samuel Forman seemed to be present at many key events in the country's history.
He saw men wounded and killed during the revolution, heard the screams and cries of the dying, and watched Gen. George Washington lead on the battlefield. He observed the British army evacuate New York at the end of the war and soaked in the glory of the "grand celebration" when men "of all avocations of life" marched in a parade through the streets. He watched Washington preside during the Convention of 1787 when the constitution was written.
Not long after Samuel left Natchez to return home, he had a close up view of Washington's second inaugural in Philadelphia during the winter of 1792-93. He stood within six feet of the President as he took the oath of office and recalled that "every eye seemed riveted on the great chief...When Washington completed his own name, as he did at the conclusion of the ceremony, it made my blood run cold."
Once arriving in Natchez, Samuel's Uncle Forman secured property along St. Catherine's Creek four miles from Natchez near the future village of Washington. Afterward, Uncle Forman asked his nephew if he intended to seek a Spanish land grant. Samuel answered no, adding, "I told him my father was loath to let me come away, and I promised that I would return if my life was spared me."
A man's word was about all he owned in those days and Samuel knew full well how lucky he was to have made the dangerous journey down the Ohio and Mississippi rivers with his life. Few parties made the trip without losing comrades along the way. Helping him to navigate one flatboat down river were three men, one an "old sailor." The men followed the current "except when passing islands, when men must all beat their oars. I believe the old sailor, while on board, was a little deranged. After I discharged him at Natchez, he was found, I was told, in the woods dead."
Uncle Forman advised his nephew that if he didn't intend to stay and settle that it would be best not to acquire land. For one thing, Uncle Forman didn't want to get on the bad side of Spanish Gov. Gayoso. When the Spanish provided land grants, they expected the grantees to settle on the property, clear the land, plant crops and contribute to the growth of the community. If Samuel Forman took government land and then sold out, Uncle Forman said "it might give umbrage (offense) to the governor."
But unexpectedly, William Dunbar showed up at the Forman place one day looking for Samuel. Dunbar was then living to the south in the Baton Rouge area. He didn't move to Natchez until 1792. Dunbar was the surveyor-general for the Spanish, well-connected to Gayoso and did much work on behalf of the Spanish government, receiving land as payment.
Dunbar told Samuel that on direction of the governor he had surveyed and mapped a tract of land on Samuel's behalf. He then presented him a bill for $60 for the service. Stunned, Samuel told Dunbar he "had not asked for land, nor had Governor Gayoso ever said any thing to me about land, nor did I want any."
Dunbar explained that the survey included 800 acres of prime property located near Richard Ellis at Ellis Cliffs south of Natchez. He described the land as "the most valuable tract...in the district," and featured a "beautiful stream of water, with a gravelly bottom -- rare in that country..."
After some thought, Samuel decided to pay the bill and accepted the paperwork Dunbar had prepared. "The largest quantity that the Spanish Government gave to a young man who settled in that country was two hundred and forty acres, so the governor showed much friendship by complimenting me with so large a grant," he said.
One likely reason of the generosity was that Uncle Forman had brought 100 people with him, including 60 slaves, bringing in the numbers the Spanish were seeking. Yet Samuel never settled the land, nor did he get to enjoy the company of his pet -- the bear cub he acquired in Louisville and brought with him to Natchez.
"When twelve or fifteen months old," wrote Samuel, "he (bear) became very saucy; I only could keep him in subjection. When he became too troublesome, Uncle Forman had him killed, and invited several gentlemen to join him in partaking of his bear dinner."
|Frank Morris Murder Series|