Roads in Mississippi
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Source: Rowland, Dunbar, ed. Mississippi, Comprising Sketches of Counties, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, in three volumes. Vol. 2. Atlanta: Southern Historical Publishing Association, 1907. pages 566-571

Roads. The building of adequate roads is essential to the proper development of any region. During the period of more than a century covered by the French, British, Spanish and early American occupancy of the so-called Natchez District, the ocean, rivers and streams afforded the chief and, indeed, almost the only means of reaching its isolated settlements. One of the first concerns of Mississippi territorial authorities was to open up overland routes of travel to the older settled regions of the United States in the East, and to New Orleans on the South. This policy was regarded as an urgent military necessity in those troublous times, as well as a commercial and economic good, and an important means of attracting new settlers.

Natchez Trace. The earliest and the most famous of the public highways which traversed the present State of Mississippi was the so called Natchez Trace. Its origin is interesting. As soon as the Spaniards finally evacuated the Natchez District, and immediately after the organization of the Territorial government of Mississippi, the Federal authorities empowered General Wilkinson, then in command of the United States troops at Natchez and Fort Adams, to enter into certain negotiations with the Indian tribes south of Tennessee. One of the principal objects of the opening of public roads and mail routes, from the settlements of the Natchez District, to the frontier settlements of Tennessee and Georgia, thereby facilitating intercourse and trade and promoting emigration to the new Mississippi Territory. All the vast region extending north and east of the Natchez District for nearly 500 miles to the distant white settlements on the Cumberland River, Tenn., and to those on the Oconee, in Georgia, was undisputed Indian territory, with the single exception of the limited area on the Tombigbee and Mobile rivers, to which the Indian title had been extinguished by France and England in former years. The Natchez District was remote and difficult of access. Intercourse with the United States was by the laborious ascent of the Mississippi and Ohio rivers to the Kentucky and Tennessee settlements, or else over the lonely Indian trace which led for five hundred miles through the lands of the Choctaws and Chickasaws, to the Cumberland river. In pursuance of these plans, the Treaty of Chickasaw Bluffs was concluded Oct. 24, 1801, whereby the Chickasaws conceded to the United States the right "to lay out, open, and make, a convenient wagon road through their land, between the settlements of Mero district in the State of Tennessee, and those of Natchez in the Mississippi Territory . . . and the same shall be a highway for the citizens of the United States, and the Chickasaws." Also the Treaty of Fort Adams, concluded Dec. 17, 1801, with the Choctaws, whereby that nation consented "that a convenient and durable wagon way may be explored, marked, opened, and made through their lands; to commence at the northern extremity of the settlements of the Mississippi Territory, and to be extended from thence, until it shall strike the lands claimed by the Chickasaw nation; and the same shall be and continue forever a highway for the citizens of the United States and the Choctaws.

In November, 1801, Gen. Wilkinson asked the Assembly, through Gov. Claiborne, to immediately appoint commissioners to mark a route for a permanent highway from Grindstone Fork by way of Fort Adams to the line of demarcation, whereupon he would build the road, as it was needed "for free communication to the sea for succor, or retreat in case of exigency."

The road from the national boundary to Natchez was laid out in 1802. The governor's journal shows that Hugh Davis and John Collins were two of the commissioners and James Patton a marker. South of Natchez, this road ran close to the river to a station called Tomlinson's, 16 miles distant, thence via Homochitto Ferry, 4 miles, Buffalo bridge 10 miles, Fort Adams 16 miles and Pinckneyville 11 miles.

April 21, 1806, Congree appropriated the sum of $6,000 for the purpose of opening the road through the Indian country in conformity to the above treaties.

In 1815, a committee of Congree, appointed to enquire into the expediency of repairing and keeping in repair, the road from Natchez to Nashville, reported in favor of an appropriation for that purpose, stating that the subject was then unusually interesting "from the efforts of the enemy to seize upon the emporium of an immense country, as well as other positions in the same quarter, of less, though great importance to the United States. So long as the war continues, New Orleans and other adjacent parts will be liable to invasion, and will, of course, require no inconsiderable force for their defense. During such a state of things, it is highly desirable, indeed necessary, that good roads should facilitate the transmission of intelligence, as well as the march of troops and transportation of supplies, when a passage by water may be too tardy, or wholly impracticable." An appropriation bill was passed in accordance with the recommendations of the committee.

The Natchez Trace crossed the Tennessee river a few miles below the Mussel Shoals, at "Colbert's Ferry," and thence pursued a southwesterly course through the country of the Chickasaw's and Choctaw's, to the "Grindstone Ford," on the Bayou Pierre; thence ran south and west to Natchez; South of Natchez, we have already seen that it followed the general trend of the river to the line of demarcation; it eventually connected with the various roads leading to New Orleans.

At Nashville, Tenn., this old road connected with the public highway, which ran east to Pittsburg, Penn., via Lexington, Chillicothe and Zanesville. Under the treaties, the Indians expressly reserved the right to establish public houses of entertainment along this route, as well as the control of the numerous ferries. The stations which sprang up along the raod between Natchez and Nashville, and the distances (miles) separating each station from the other, were as follows: Washington, 6; Selsertown, 5; Union Town, 8; Huntley (later Old Greenville), 8; Port Gibson, 25; Grindstone Ford, 8; McRavens, Indian line, 18; Brashear's, 40; Norton's, 12; Chotas, 30; Leffloes, 34; Folsom's, Pigeon Roost, 30; Choctaw Line, 43; Indian Agents, 10; James Colbert's, 10; Old Factor's, 26; James Brown's, 17; Bear Creek, 33; Levi Colbert's, Buzzard Roost, 5; Geo. Colbert's, Tenn. River, 7; Toscomby's, 16; Factor's Sons, 16; Indian Line, 20; Dobbin's, 5; Stanfield's, Keg Spring, 10; Duck River, 8; Smith's, 8; Boon's, 16; Franklin, 8; McDonald's, 6; Nashville, 12. The total distance to Nashville was 501 miles, and the distance to Pittsburg was 1,013 miles.

Undoubtedly, the road through the Indian country in Mississippi was once the old Indian trail leading southwest to the Mississippi river. Down it passed a steady stream of travelers, often men of wealth, journeying to the South in search of land and other profitable investments; up it passed traders, supercargoes and boatmen, from New Orleans, who would make the long return journey overland to their homes 1,000 miles away. They traveled a-foot and on horseback, in small companies for mutual protection, and frequently carried with them rich treasures of specie--the proceeds of their cargoes--packed on mules and horses. Many stories are told of the Mason and the Murel gangs of bandits, who infested this lonesome trail for years.

Natchez to Fort Stoddert. There were three important roads, or horse-paths, which traversed the vast expanse of the Mississippi Territory, during the first few years after its organization. First, the road from the Cumberland settlements through the Chickasaw and Choctaw nations to the Natchez District, and known as the Natchez Trace, (Vide ut Supra); second, the road from Knoxville through the Cherokee and Creek nations, by way of the Tombigbee, to Natchez; third, the road from the Oconee settlements of Georgia, by way of Fort Stoddert, to Natchez and New Orleans. While the first of these roads was the most frequented, the third is important because it first bridged the eastern and western parts of the Territory. In the summer of 1807, "agreeably to an act of the legislature, approved February 4th, 1807, Harry Toulmin, James Caller, and Lemuel Henry had completed the duty assigned them as 'commissioners to view, mark, and open a good road on the nearest route from the city of Natchez to Fort Stoddert so as to intersect the new Creek road (the second road above mentioned) on the line of demarkation east of Pearl river.' This was the first road from Natchez to St. Stephen's. . . . On the 7th of December following, public notice was given that 'the ferry is now complete over the Alabama river, above Little river, and on the Tombigbee, just above Fort St. Stephen. The way is now completely opened and marked with causeways across all boggy guts and branches, so that strangers can travel the road with safety, by observing the three notches, or three-chopped way, which cuts off a great distance in traveling from Natchez to Georgia.' This was the first road opened from the western to the eastern part of the Territory." (Monette, II, p., 380.) It ran east from Natchez by way of the following stations: Washington, 6 miles; Hoggat's, 12 miles; Head of Homochitto river, 40 miles; Bogue Chitto, 58 miles; Monticello, 90 miles; Winchester on the Chickasawhay river, 195 miles; Eastern branch of Pascagoula, 206 miles; Sintabogue river; Fort St. Stephens, 239 miles; Fort Claiborne, 264 miles; Hurricane Spring, 307 miles; Fort Decatur, 33 miles; Point Comfort, 374 miles; Chattahoochee river, 405 miles. The total distance to Milledgeville, on the Oconee river was 545 miles.

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