This first book-length, annotated edition of Gaines' Reminiscences provides a fascinating glimpse into the early history of the Mississippi-Alabama Territory and antebellum Alabama.
The two sections of the Reminiscences of George Strother Gaines form one of the most important primary sources on the early history of
Alabama and Mississippi. The Reminiscences cover the years 1805 to 1843, during which time Gaines served as assistant factor and then factor of the Choctaw trading house (1805-18), cashier of Tombeckbee Bank in St. Stephens (1818-22), a merchant in Demopolis (1822-32), and finally a banker and merchant in Mobile (1832-43). In addition, Gaines played a key role in Indian-white relations during the Creek War of 1813-14, served a two-year term in the Alabama Senate (1825-27), led a Choctaw exploring party to the new Choctaw lands in the West following the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830-31), and served as the superintendent for Choctaw removal (1831-32).
Gaines dictated his Reminiscences in 1871 at the age of eighty-seven. Part of the Reminiscences, referred to as the "first series," was originally published in five issues of the Mobile Register in June-July 1872 as "Notes on the Early Days of South Alabama." Nearly a century later, the first series and the previously unpublished second series, "Reminiscences of Early Times in Mississippi Territory," were published in a 1964 issue of the Alabama Historical Quarterly as "Gaines' Reminiscences."
In this first book-length edition of the Reminiscences, James Pate has provided an extensive biographical introduction, notes, illustrations,
maps, and appendixes to aid the general reader and the scholar. The appendixes include additional unpublished primary materials-including interviews conducted by Albert James Pickett in 1847 and 1848 that provide further information about this important early pioneer and statesman.
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About the Author
James P. Pate is Dean of the School of Arts and Letters and Professor of History at Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
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The Reminiscences of George Strother Gaines
Pioneer and Statesman of Early Alabama and Mississippi, 1805â"1843
By James P. Pate
The University of Alabama PressCopyright © 1998 The University of Alabama Press
All rights reserved.
Introduction from the Mobile Register, June 19, 1872
Col. George S. Gaines
In our issue of today our readers will find the Commencement of "Reminiscences of Early Times in the Mississippi Territory," written by the above named gentleman. We propose to follow this first installment in our Sunday paper until we lay before our readers the whole of the "Reminiscences" thus far written.
They were prepared by Col. Gaines during the summer of last year, at the request of Percy Walker, Esq., and by him presented to the "Franklin Society."
The manuscript consists of some sixty pages, and as they relate to this immediate section of county, and describe incidents and characters connected with the history of Mobile and the states of Alabama and Mississippi more than half a century ago, the "Reminiscences" cannot but be welcomed by our fellow citizens.
The aged author has, we are pleased to hear, promised to continue them whenever his health will permit. This paper, of which we print the commencement this morning, embraces the period between 1805 and 1815, and the narrative will be found of interest, especially to those whose memories lead back to the times when Mobile was a Spanish dependency, and could boast no higher dignity than that of a village of fishermen.
Let us say a few words about the author. In years agone, ere reverence for the truth, the inflexible integrity, the scorn of ill-gotten wealth and the almost equal contempt for undue fondness for self, combined with the high courtesy, the delicate consideration for others, which formed the standard of character of the Southern gentleman, had been crushed down with all their other ideals, it would not have been necessary to tell an Alabamian or a Mississippian who George Gaines was, the just, pure man, the friend and counsellor of the redman, the wise and faithful pioneer of civilization in Mississippi Territory—the patriarch of two States.
Mr. Gaines is a North Carolinian by birth; but with the salvo said to be dear to every North Carolinian heart, he was born "close by the Virginia line"; by a comical chance a family of nine or ten children, all born in the same house, were about equally divided North Carolinian and Virginian, as they happened to be born at one or the other end of the house, for the parental dwelling stood midway on the State line.
Col. Gaines unites in himself the bluest blood of old Virginia-Preston, Pendleton, Strother, etc.
At an early age he removed with his father to Tennessee, from thence he was appointed Indian Agent and Factor for the United States to the Indians in Mississippi Territory. From that time (then under 20 years of age), to the present, when in two or three months he will number eighty-nine years, his life has been one constant and unbroken series of kind deeds, wise council and active, enlarged thought for the good of his people. With remarkable and admirable business qualifications, he brought to his intercourse with the haughty and suspicious savages a consideration for their rights, a deference for their habits and feelings, and an unvarying politeness that won their entire confidence, their perfect trust, until his simple word became their law, and his sympathy and kindness their abiding reliance. The part Mr. Gaines acted in the early history of Mississippi Territory, and subsequently, upon its division into the States of Alabama and Mississippi, was one of untiring interest and of great advantage to the young communities in which he was equally at home. His position as Indian agent had brought him in contact with the leading men of both States; his influence was either directly or indirectly felt in every measure of public importance for a long term of years, in fact, until the bouleversement of the war so strangely and anomalously altered men's relations to the soil they claim as their own.
Here in Mobile we are largely indebted to him for the accomplishment of the most important and gigantic work that has been achieved in the States of Mississippi and Alabama—the Mobile and Ohio Railroad. Originating in the active and far-seeing mind of one man, and persistently kept before the public by him until he made zealous converts to his scheme. Among its most active and efficient champions was Mr. Gaines, who devoted time and means to its accomplishment; he not only canvassed the State of Mississippi at different times to that end, but he spent entire sessions of the Legislature in Jackson for the same purpose, urging it upon the members day after day, never absenting himself until his task was done. For several years he was President of the Branch of the State Bank at Mobile, and in that, as in his other public trusts, kept his hands clean, and no one ever questioned his integrity.
Not the least remarkable thing about Mr. Gaines is his admirable style of composition, so Addisonian in its purity and finish, and replete with the grace and tender humor of Charles Lamb. One ponders and inquires whence is derived the charm and beauty of style in the composition of a frontiersman, actively and constantly engaged, now in sharp lookout for the pecuniary interest of Government (for large transactions involving great amounts of public property were entrusted to him); again military duty, guarding his home and his neighbors from the cruel and stealthy savage, and then off on a negotiation to some distant tribe to secure its adherence to the Government in a time of great peril and uncertainty.CHAPTER 2
Notes on the Early Days of South Alabama
Not long since the venerable George S. Gaines, now verging on to 90 years of age, and who moved to St. Stephens in the year 1805, deposited with the Franklin Society of Mobile some notes on the early history of Mobile and its vicinity. Thus, in the deep twilight hours of his life, when no longer able to use his pen, Mr. Gaines has dictated to an amanuensis the notes in question. We have found these notes of so much interest that we begin today to give them serial publication in The Register. We are indebted to the kind permission of the Franklin Society for the privilege of doing so:
Among the various means employed by the United States Government at the beginning of the present century to civilize and improve the condition of the Indian tribes within our borders was the establishment of trading houses for the accommodation of each of the large tribes, where the Indians could obtain necessary articles of merchandise, at reasonable prices, in exchange for their peltries, furs and other produce at full value.
Joseph Chambers, Esq., of North Carolina, was appointed United States agent to the Choctaw Trading House, and established it at Fort St. Stephens on the Tombigbee river in 1803. Mr. Chambers was appointed a commissioner, with Robert C. Nicholas, of Virginia, to settle land claims in what was then called the "Tombigbee Settlement," in the Mississippi Territory.
In the latter part of 1804 I was invited by Mr. Chambers to come to Fort St. Stephens and take charge of the Trading House, as his Assistant, with the understanding that he would resign after I became thoroughly acquainted with the business, and recommend me as his successor. I was then residing at Gallatin, Tennessee, in the employment of Messrs. John and Robert Allen, merchants. I gave up my situation with them, notified Mr. Chambers of my acceptance, and arranged to leave for St. Stephens in March, 1805, where I arrived by the slow routes of the Cumberland and Mississippi rivers to New Orleans, thence via Mobile, in a small Spanish schooner to Fort Stoddart—the balance of the distance by land. The day after my arrival at St. Stephens, being familiar with the business of a retail store, Mr. Chambers gave me charge of the Trading House, his time being occupied in the discharge of the duties of Register of the Land Office, and member of the Board of Commissioners for settling land claims.
I fortunately met with Col. Silas Dinsmore, United States Agent of the Choctaws, at Natchez, Mississippi, on my way out. He was en route to New Orleans to purchase supplies for a treaty, which was to be held at St. Stephens, with the Choctaw Indians, in May or June. We travelled together to New Orleans, where we were detained several days, while Col. Dinsmore was making purchases for the accommodation of the treaty. He chartered a small Spanish schooner to transport his purchases to St. Stephens. We both took passage in it, and after a week's voyage reached Mobile. The delay was in part caused by getting aground at "Grant's Pass" (since named). From Mobile we continued our voyage to St. Stephens (Fort Stoddart), and from that place we travelled to St. Stephens on horseback. Col. Dinsmore was an Eastern man (from Massachusetts). He was a scholar, and had travelled a great deal; he was formally a purser in the navy; he possessed a large stock of useful knowledge, and his wit and humor appeared to be inexhaustible, which made him a general favorite; he was energetic and industrious in the discharge of his duties—in fact, he was the "right man in the right place" to aid in carrying out the humane policy of the Government toward the Indian tribes.
In June, 1805, the Indians met at St. Stephens, according to appointment. Gen. Robertson, of Nashville, was associated with Col. Dinsmore as United States Commissioner to hold the treaty, the object of which was to purchase the Indian claim so as to connect the "Tombigbee settlement" with what was then called the "Natchez settlement." A very large number of the Indians attended at the time appointed; and the ample provision made for their accommodation rendered their encampment lively and gay with dances, ball plays, "hide the bullet" and other games of chance.
The old Spanish fort St. Stephens, was located immediately on the bluff of the river; one of the block-houses was in a good state of preservation and was occupied as the store. There was an extensive frame war-house, a room which was used as the land-office; and a frame dwelling, which had been the officers quarters, all enclosed on three sides with pickets and a ditch, the river forming the defences on the fourth. The frame dwelling was occupied as a residence by the United States Factor. The officers of the two companies of United States infantry stationed at St. Stephens, Indian chiefs and their captains, were invited every day by the Treaty Commissioners to dine with them in the Factor's house while the negotiations were proceeding.
Although the Indians seemed disposed to oblige their "Father," the President of the United States, they did not feel authorized to sell, but expressed a willingness to talk the matter over in the fall at Mount Dexter, near the present town of Macon, Mississippi.
I saw much of the Indians during their stay at St. Stephens, which caused both surprise and admiration; they were not such savages as I had imagined. As I have mentioned before, Col. Dinsmore made arrangements for chiefs and their "right hand men," or captains, to dine every day with the Commissioners, officers of the army, and others. The table accommodated forty or fifty persons, half of whom were Indians. The bountiful supplies brought from New Orleans, and cooks furnished by the officers of the army, enabled the Colonel to offer a good dinner each day, with an abundance of wine, which the Indians greatly relished, participating freely in the wit and humor it brought forth. I remember an incident connected with one of those strange and pleasant festivities, which I will relate. A young lieutenant who sat by me became a little troublesome to the old chief, Mingo-Homa-stubbee, by asking a great many questions. It was so arranged that an interpreter sat by each chief for the convenience of conversation. The Lieutenant asked the old man "who was considered the greatest warrior among them?" (There were three great "Medal Chiefs"—Mingo-Homa-stubbee, Mingo-Puck-shennubee, and Push-mattaha). The Chief answered, "I was considered the greatest warrior, but found it was not the case when returning from a visit we paid President Washington at Philadelphia." "How did you make the discovery?" enquired the Lieutenant. "The President sent us in a ship to New Orleans," said the Chief, "and when we were at sea, entirely out of sight of land, a storm came upon us. The waves were so high they seemed almost to kiss the clouds, and the ship rolled about among them until I thought that we would never see the beautiful hills and valleys, forests and streams of our beloved country; and our bones would lie scattered on the bottom of the strange waters instead of resting peacefully with our departed relations. All this alarmed me—I found that I had not the firmness in danger and the utter fearlessness of death of a great warrior, and concluded to go down in the cabin to see how my friend Puck-shennubbee was affected by this (to our party) new and strange danger. And what do you think he was doing?" The description of the storm attracted the attention of every one at the table. The Lieutenant eagerly asked, "What was he doing?" "Why," said the old chief, with a very grave face but a humorous twinkle of the eyes, "Why, he was making love to an old squaw we took along as a cook for us, and he seemed to be as unconcerned about the danger as if he was at home in his own cabin sitting by the fire, and listening to the songs of the winds among the trees!" The roars of laughter that followed this "denouement" drowned Mingo-Puck-shennubbee's indignant denial of it. The Lieutenant did not attempt any further conversation.
Puck-shennubbee was as remarkable for his modesty and simplicity of manner as Mingo-Homa-stubbee was for his wit and jolity.
The Indians met according to appointment in the autumn of 1805, and our commissioners were successful in the purchase of land to connect the Tombigbee and Natchez settlements. But the strip of land was narrower than was desired by the Government. It was bounded south by "Ellicott's line"; east by the ridge dividing the waters of the Alabama and Tombigbee; north by a line beginning at a point near the northeast corner of what is now called Clarke county, Ala., and crossing the Tombigbee at "Fallectabrenna Oldfield," a few miles below Tuscahoma bluff; and crossing Chickasawha near the present northern boundary line of Wayne county, Miss., crossing Leaf River at or near the northern boundary line of Perry, thence running west to the Natchez settlement. "Ellicott's line" crossed Mobile River a few miles below Seymour's Bluff, striking the Mississippi above Baton Rouge. The Tombigbee settlement in 1805 was composed mainly of a few planters on the river (who were generally owners of large stocks of cattle) and persons employed in the care of the cattle. There was also a small settlement east of the Alabama river, ten miles above its confluence with the Tombigbee, known as the "Tensaw settlement." Mr. Mimms, a man of considerable property, resided near Tensaw Lake, and was surrounded by a pleasant neighborhood composed of the Lingers, Duns, Thompsons, and others. William and John Peirce, merchants, had a store near Mimm's. Of the original settlement I recollect Mr. Bates, who resided at Nanahubba Bluff; Mr. Hollinger, who resided a few miles above, and was one of the largest planters; his plantation was situated on the "Cut Off Island." McIntosh's Bluff was occupied by a Mr. Johnson. Some eight or ten miles above McIntosh's was the small village of New Wakefield, the seat of justice for Washington, the only county in the settlement. In the neighborhood of the village resided the Mungers, Hinsons, Wheats, Baldwins, and other families, names not recollected. Mr. Young Gaines resided about ten miles higher up the river. Major Frank Boykin, a Revolutionary officer, Thomas Bassett, Bowling, Brewers and Callers were Mr. Gaines' neighbors. John McGrew lived near St. Stephens. He owned a plantation on the east side of the river, opposite St. Stephens. Mr. Baker resided on the first bluff above St. Stephens, Col. Bullock and Mr. Womack lived also in the neighborhood.
I had considerable leisure during my first summer at St. Stephens, and wrote a good deal in the Land Office, recording claims, etc., which gave me an opportunity of becoming personally acquainted with most of the "settlers" while they were in attendance at the Land Office prosecuting their claims for land. The various classes of land claims, Spanish warrants of survey, donations by act of Congress to first settlers on public land, preemptions to more recent settlers, brought rich and poor to the Land Office. I remember there were British patents in the Land Office—whether for lands in this or other districts I do not remember, I have no recollection of their being recorded or acted upon by the Commissioners.
At this period our admirable system of State and general government worked well—each independently in its own sphere.
Excerpted from The Reminiscences of George Strother Gaines by James P. Pate. Copyright © 1998 The University of Alabama Press. Excerpted by permission of The University of Alabama Press.
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Table of ContentsContents
Note on the Text
The Family of George Strother Gaines
Introduction from the Mobile Register, 19 June 1872
Notes on the Early Days of South Alabama
Reminiscences of Early Times in Mississippi Territory
Death of a Good Man from the Hayneville Examiner
Appendix A: Gaines to Dillard, Peachwood, 8 August 1857
Appendix B: Conversation with George S. Gaines
Appendix C: 2nd Conversation with Geo. S. Gaines, Spring of 1848
Companions and Associates of George Strother Gaines
Selected Gaines Bibliography