The early settlers of Lake St. John
by Stanley Nelson - posted Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013 @ 1:51 pm
Twelve days before Christmas in 1803, the first territorial governor of Mississippi crossed the river into Louisiana. He traveled to the west side of Lake St. John and there began improving land he hoped to one day own.
A native of Massachusetts, Harvard graduate, veteran of George Washington's army during the Revolutionary War, 45-year-old Winthrop Sargent had been appointed governor by President John Adams in 1798. He served until 1801.
Sargent's early days as governor were spent in the old Spanish mansion of Concord, which served as his office and home. Both his wife and only child had died in 1790, but shortly after arriving in Natchez he married a local girl, who was rich in money and land. They bought and expanded a home they called Gloster Place, later known as Gloucester, located on Lower Woodville Road.
During his four years as governor, Sargent's secretary was John Steele, also a veteran of the revolution who served under Washington as well. Steele suffered a gunshot wound at the Battle of Germantown in Pennslyvania in 1777.
When Sargent traveled to New England in 1801, Steele, then 46, served as acting territorial governor for a few months. An interesting quote on Steele is found in the journal of Thomas Jefferson, who served as vice-president under Adams. Jefferson wrote on May 3, 1798:
"The President some time ago appointed Steele, of Virginia, a commissioner to the Indians, and recently Secretary of the Mississippi Territory. Steele was a Counsellor of Virginia, and was voted out by the Assembly because he turned tory. He then offered for Congress, and was rejected by the people. Then offered the Senate of Virginia, and rejected."
Steele, a lifelong bachelor, and Sargent were close friends and in late 1803 were among the first to build cabins, clear land and plant crops along Lake St. John.
On December 9, 1803, according to Congressional land records in the American State Papers, Steele sent five men "up the river Mississippi in a skiff, and went himself by land" to Lake St. John.
On Dec. 11, Steele "commenced improving the survey of eight hundred arpents (677 acres) granted him by Don Joseph Vidal (the Spanish commander at the Post of Concord in present day Vidalia.)"
On Dec. 13, "Colonel Sargent's people arrived" and Steele "pointed out to them the proper place to commence an improvement upon his (Sargent's) survey of eight hundred arpents," which adjoined Steele's. Later in the day, Sargent arrived at a camp set up on Steele's property, along with some workmen.
By Dec. 23, Sargent and Steele "had completed each a comfortable cabin, and had cut a considerable quantity of cane and timber, and on the evening of that day, returned to Natchez" for Christmas.
In February, the two men and their workers were back "cutting, clearing and preparing for crops." By late April, they returned to Lake St. John by water, entering the lake "through the Bayou Argent." At this time "they planted each a crop on their respective improvements."
After clearing and fencing 38 acres, Sargent planted corn and squash, which by June was considered "a very promising crop."