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Story Archives: The Company of Military Adventurers
|The Company of Military Adventurers|
Among the groups of settlers arriving in Natchez country in the months prior to the American Revolution was an organization of New Englanders known as "The Company of Military Adventurers."
The group was led by a beloved veteran by the name of Phineas Lyman and the venture, wrote Mississippi historian Dunbar Rowland, "caused a good deal of excitement in New England at the time."
Phineas Lyman was a Connecticut native, born in Suffield in 1715. He worked as a weaver, operated a general store, became a lawyer and served in the legislator. By the time he reached his late 20s he was a leader in the colony. When the French and Indian War broke out in North America in 1754, and the global Seven Years War, Lyman was placed in command of Connecticut troops serving under the British flag.
In 1762, Lyman was the commander of American colonial troops attached to British regulars in the capture of the key Spanish port at Havana. The fleet that arrived at Cuba included 180 vessels. Afterward, Lyman was praised for his long service to the crown. Once world peace was achieved, he and some of his comrades focused their attention on Natchez country.
According to Jack Elliott, an archaeologist and lecturer at Mississippi State University: "The geopolitical conditions for the birth of the Natchez District were set by the 1763 Treaty of Paris by which England received Canada, Spanish Florida, and all of French Louisiana east of the Mississippi River, except the Isle of Orleans. The Isle and Louisiana west of the river were ceded to Spain. Out of its newly acquired territories, England organized two provinces, East and West Florida."
The Natchez District was in West Florida, Pensacola the capital. Elliott reports that Natchez country "occupied a narrow strip of land that was bounded on the west by the Mississippi River. Located primarily on loess-covered uplands, the District began at the 31st parallel of latitude, or as more commonly recognized, the Loftus Cliffs (Roche d'Avion and later known as Fort Adams) on the Mississippi, and stretched northward to the mouth of the Yazoo River (Vicksburg), beyond which lay the vast bottomlands of the Mississippi Delta.
"On the east, the District was only nebulously defined by the eastward extent of settlement from the River. In 1777 the British signed a treaty with the Choctaws in which the tribe agreed to give up their claim to land in the District which effectively established an eastern boundary. This boundary was surveyed the following year by Joseph Purcell. After the United States took control of the District in 1798, the eastern boundary was resurveyed in 1802-1803 by General James Wilkinson."
"Today, the Natchez District corresponds to the Mississippi counties of (south to north), Wilkinson, Adams, Jefferson, and Claiborne, and parts of Amite, Franklin, and Warren."
In this region, wrote historian and geographer Benjamin L.C. Wailes in the 19th century, numerous grants were made from January 1768 to September 1779 by the governor of West Florida. He said those in Natchez country were "chiefly made to officers of the British army and navy, and in many instances of large dimensions."
Historian Rowland explained that there was a distinction "to be made between the grants to persons about to occupy lands themselves, and those who obtained patents with the purpose of organizing speculations of colonies, and a third class who were given patents as a token of the royal appreciation. The last class usually received a mandamus (royal order) from the king, while the ordinary applicant presented a petition to the governor and council at Pensacola, and received a warrant of survey, directed to the surveyor-general. Upon the proper return from the surveyor a patent was issued."
Anthony Hutchins, who settled along Second Creek 12 miles below the Natchez fort, and Sam Gibson, the founder of Port Gibson along Bayou Pierre in Claiborne County, are examples of settlers who personally visited the land office at Pensacola to acquire grants. Each man came to Natchez country with others but sought grants individually.
1760s TO 1770s
The largest chunk of real estate given to one man went to the military veteran Amos Ogden, who traveled to London and received a "royal mandamus" -- an order by the crown -- for about 25,000 acres in 1772. Ogden sold much of this property -- about 19,000 acres -- to the brothers Samuel and Richard Swayze and other pioneers who came from New Jersey. Many of these families settled on the Homochitto in what is now southern Adams County.
Wrote Elliott: "British military occupation of the District began on September 29, 1766, when a detachment of 60 men of the 21st Regiment of Scottish Fusiliers arrived at Natchez to garrison the fort, now renamed Fort Panmure. It was the same year that the government of West Florida began to make land grants in the Natchez District. The first was made on May 26 with others following at an increasing frequency. Most seem to have been made in the vicinity of the fort. Many of the land grants involved thousands of acres of land and were given to prominent Englishmen. Most of these large parcels were never settled or improved."
But the British soon removed its military force from Natchez due to economics, and appointed two settlers to operate a trading post for peltries from the confines of the fort. A short time later, in an effort to appease the scattered settlers with some degree of protection, the British sent cannon and ammunition.
While the trading post flourished for a while, the men in charge -- one a man named John Bradley -- begged West Florida authorities for military protection. Bradley worried about Choctaws -- 14,000 strong at that time in what is now the state of Mississippi. Parties of Choctaw often traded at the fort and sometimes demanded presents, part of a longtime European policy.
In early 1771, as the British continued to ignore Bradley's pleas, a party of 18 Choctaws "armed and painted for war" surrounded the fort, placed guards at all points and held Bradley and two other men as prisoners inside. In the meantime, another group "broke into the store and took from thence every thing they could lay their hands upon and breaking to pieces what they could not carry away..."
Elliott wrote of the event: "Bradley managed to send word of his plight to neighboring farms" by an unnamed black man, apparently "a worker at the trading post. Eventually a group of local settlers...were able to rescue Bradley and, following a gunfight, recovered many of the trade goods. Perhaps out of fear of a large scale retaliation by the Choctaws, most if not all of the settlers in the vicinity of the fort constructed a raft and floated down river to Bayou Sara (St. Francisville). The trading post was not reestablished at the fort."
As peace returned so did the settlers -- followed by a steady stream of new settlers.
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