Sunday, January 29, 2017

First Settlers of Jackson County, Florida

Campbellton Baptist Church, Florida's oldest Baptist church
in continuous operation, dates from before the War Between
the States and stands near the Spring Creek settlement site.
The first American settlers of Jackson County arrived pushed down from Georgia and Alabama before 1820. 

The following is excerpted from my book:  The History Of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years.

The smoke had barely cleared from the First Seminole War when the first settlers began to make their way back to the rich lands they had explored with Andrew Jackson in 1818. It was a risky proposition at best. The area that would become Jackson County was still Spanish territory at the time and there was the possibility of violent confrontation with Native American warriors still angered over their losses in the war.

Despite such dangers, however, several dozen frontier families had appeared in the area by 1820. Their initial settlements were along Spring Creek in the Campbellton area, on the Ekanachatte site at Neal’s Landing and along the Apalachicola River south of the Native American towns of Tomatley and Choconicla.

Based on these locations, it appears that the first settlers probably took advantage of fields that had already been cleared by Native Americans. The Chacato village of San Antonio had been located in the area of the Spring Creek settlement and its old fields had been resettled by a party of Creeks from Pucknawhitla by 1778. These fields were undoubtedly still clear of heavy timber in 1820 and it would have been relatively easy for the first settlers to clear away any second growth and underbrush and begin farming.

A section of the old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road can still be
seen between Malone and Campbellton. It connected the Spring
Creek settlement with the Irwin's Mill Creek settlements on the
Chattahoochee River.
The same was true at the Ekanachatte site, which had been abandoned for less than two years. Extensive fields had been cleared over the fifty year history of the village and these were now literally “open for the taking.” In addition, Irwin’s Mill Creek flowed year round and provided sufficient force to turn the wheels of watermills, a fact that eventually led to its modern name.

Some of the names of these first settlers are recognizable in Jackson County today. The Spring Creek settlement, for example, included John Williams, James Falk, William T. Nelson, Abraham Philips, Benjamin Hamilton, Owen Williams, Micajah Cadwell, Joseph Parrot, John Ward, Nathan A. Ward, William Philips, James Ward, Andrew Farmer, Robert Thomas, John Hays, Samuel C. Fowler, Nathaniel Hudson, Wilie Blount, Moses Brantley, Robert Thompson, Guthrie Moore, Stephen Daniel, John Gwinn, John Jones, Allaway Roach, Henry Moses, Joel Porter, Simeon Cook, James C. Roach, John Smith and Presley Scurlock.[i]

Their farms stretched from Holmes Creek on the west across the present site of Campbellton and then down Spring Creek to its junction with the headwaters of the Chipola River. To the south their lands extended about as far down as today’s Waddell’s Mill Pond, while to the north other settlements extended across the Alabama line.

None of these farms were the large plantations for which Jackson County later became known. The largest had around 40 acres in cultivation, but the average settler farmed less than 15 acres. It was a start, though, and qualified each of them to later claim 640 acres after Florida was ceded by Spain to the United States in 1821.[ii]

1823 map of the Jackson County area.
The settlement at Irwin’s Mill Creek, then called “Conchatty Hatchy” or “Red Ground Creek,” included Joseph Brown, William Brown, Joseph Brooks, William Chamblis, James Irwin, Adam Kimbrough, William McDonald, William H. Pyke, George Sharp and Allis Wood.

Down on the Apalachicola, meanwhile, were Charles Barnes, Adam Hunter, John H. King and Reuben Littleton. These men all lived along the stretch of the river between Tomatley and Ocheesee Bluff, where Thomas and Stephen Richards had settled.

Other settlers known to have been in Jackson County prior to 1821 included James Dennard, Jonathan Hagan, John Hopson, Hugh Robertson, Joshua Scurlock and Robert Sullivan, all of whom settled along the upper Chipola east of the Spring Creek settlement, and William Pyles who staked a claim at Blue Spring.[iii]

Blue Springs (or Jackson Blue Springs) was a landmark for
early settlers and Native American residents alike.
Despite the tensions that must surely have existed, incidents between the early settlers and the Native Americans still living in Jackson County seem to have been rare. Econchattimico had assembled a group of several hundred followers at Tocktoethla, but following the destruction of Ekanachatte did all he could to preserve peace with the whites. 

So too did Mulatto King, who assumed permanent leadership of both Tomatley and Choconicla following the death of Yellow Hair. The villages grew considerably following the war due to the arrival of refugees from the destroyed town of Attapulgas in what is now Decatur County, Georgia. Mulatto King welcomed these displaced individuals and allowed them to settle on lands adjacent to his villages.

In truth, the Native Americans living in Jackson County between 1819 and 1821 probably lived much better than their white counterparts. While the early white settlers were struggling to build crude log cabins and clear fields, many of the Native Americans – particularly those of Tomatley – enjoyed a prosperity that they had spent years developing. 

Claims later filed by many of these people indicate that they owned cabins, houses, mills, orchards and fields. A woman named Polly Walker, for example, reported that she owned a dwelling house, two cabins and an orchard of 32 fruit trees. Joe Riley owned a house and improvements valued at $1,150, a substantial amount for the time. Econchattimico reestablished himself at Tocktoethla by clearing 73 acres of land and building a cabin, corn crib, shed, three log cabins, a summer house and two mills. His fields were surrounded by fences built using 14,280 rails.[iv]

 [i] Claims to Land in West Florida, December 10, 1824, American State Papers, Public Lands, Volume 4, pp. 61-63 (Hereafter ASP Public Lands).
[ii] Ibid.
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] List of Claims of Appalachicola Indians who have emigrated West of the Mississippi River, November 11, 1838, Bureau of Indian Affairs, M234, Roll 290, Frame 299.

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