Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Irwin's Mill Creek was Key Area for Early Settlers

By Dale Cox


Irwin’s Mill Creek – When American settlers began drifting across the Florida line into what would become Jackson County in the years following the First Seminole War, one of the areas that immediately attracted their attention was the rich country along the south side of Irwin’s Mill Creek.

Then called Red Ground Creek, this beautiful spring-fed stream rose in the southeast corner of Alabama and flowed down across the border into the northeast corner of Jackson County. Florida was then still Spanish territory and would remain so until 1821, but to these early settlers, the opportunity offered by the high quality land was more than worth the risk of moving into a foreign country.

Several factors attracted early settlers to the area as they began to drift across the line in around 1819. First was the availability of good, clean water. Second, the creek flowed with enough force to power a watermill, one of the few industries essential to life in the early 19th century. Third, the land along the creek was very rich and ideal for farming the types of crops then popular (corn, sugar cane, cotton). Finally, the heavy forests that grew naturally across much of the region had already been cleared away.

For at least fifty years, the area of Jackson County from Irwin’s Mill Creek down to Neal’s Landing on the Chattahoochee River had been the site of the important Creek Indian village of Ekanachatte or “Red Ground.” Established before the American Revolution, this rather spread out town had been supported by fields and pastures along both the river and creek. Ekanachatte had been destroyed on March 13, 1818, during the First Seminole War and its inhabitants had relocated downriver to a new site about ten miles north of present-day Sneads.

The fields and cleared areas were empty when white settlers began to arrive, providing an excellent opportunity for them to build homes and start farming immediately without the back breaking labor of felling old growth trees to clear land.

By 1821, when Florida was ceded to the United States by Spain, Irwin’s Mill Creek had become one of the three largest early settlements in Jackson County. The others were in the Spring Creek area near Campbellton and along the Apalachicola River below Sneads.

Given the opportunity to file claims for land they had occupied while Florida was still a Spanish colony, ten Jackson County residents did so based on farms they had established along the creek between 1819 and 1821. They were Joseph Brooks, Joseph Brown, William Brown, William Chamblis, James Irwin, Adam Kimbrough, William McDonald, William H. Pyke, George Sharp and Allis Wood.

The presence of so many heads of household indicates that the Irwin’s Mill Creek settlement probably had a total population of at least 50 or 60 people.

James Irwin, one of these early settlers, built the mill that provided the creek the name by which it is known today. The ruins of his mill can still be seen and are thought to be the only surviving remains of a structure built in Jackson County while Florida was still Spanish territory.

Note: You can learn more about early settlements in The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years. The book is available online at http://www.amazon.com/, where you can also find the second volume in the set, The History of Jackson County, Florida: The War Between the States.

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