The reconciliation seemed to be effected, and the confidence and affection between the sections to be renewed with increased fervor and intensity. There was rejoicing throughout the land. Dissatisfaction only spake from the pulpits of New England, and there only from those of the Puritan Congregationalists. But the public heart had received a shock, and though it beat on, it was not with the healthful tone of former days.
The men of the Revolution were rapidly passing to eternity. The cement of blood which bound these as one was dissolving, and the fabric of their creation was undermined in the hearts of the people, with corroding prejudices, actively fomented by the bigotry of a selfish superstition. A sectional struggle for supremacy had commenced. The control of the Government was the aim, and patriotism was consuming in the flame of ambition. The Government's security, the Government's perpetuity, and the common good, were no longer prime considerations. All its demonstrated blessings had remained as ever the same. Stimulated by the same motives and the same ambitions, the new world and the new Government were moving in the old groove; and the old world saw repeating here the history of all the Governments which had arisen, lived, and passed away, in her own borders. The mighty genius of Clay and Webster, of Jackson and Calhoun, had, for a time, stayed the rapid progress of ruin which had begun to show itself, but only for a time. They have been gathered to their fathers, and the controlling influence of their mighty minds being removed, confusion, war, and ruin have followed.
The men conspicuous in the debates on the Missouri question were giants in intellect, and perhaps few deliberative assemblies of the world ever contained more talent, or more public virtue. At the head of these stood Henry Clay, Pinkney, Rufus King, William Lowndes, Harrison Gray Otis, William Smith, Louis McLean, the two Barbours, John Randolph, Freeman Walker, Thomas W. Cobb, and John Holmes, of Maine.
James Barbour was a member of the Senate; Philip P. Barbour, of the House. They were brothers, and both from Virginia. They were both men of great abilities, but their style and manner were very different. James was a verbose and ornate declaimer; Philip was a close, cogent reasoner, without any attempt at elegance or display. He labored to convince the mind; James, to control and direct the feelings. A wag wrote upon the wall of the House, at the conclusion of a masterly argument of Philip P. Barbour,
"Two Barbers to shave our Congress long did try. One shaves with froth; the other shaves dry."
Of the Senate Mr. Pinkney was the great orator. His speech upon this most exciting question has ever been considered the most finished for eloquence and power, ever delivered in the United States Senate. The effect upon the Senate, and the audience assembled in the galleries and lobbies of the Senate, was thrilling. Mr. King was old, but retained in their vigor his faculties, was more tame perhaps than in his younger years; still the clearness and brilliancy of his powerful mind manifested itself in his every effort. Mr. Pinkney had all the advantages which a fine manly person and clear, musical voice gives to an orator. He spoke but rarely and never without great preparation. He was by no means a ready debater, and prized too much his reputation to hazard anything in an impromptu, extemporaneous address. He listened, for weeks, to King, Otis, and others who debated the question, and came at last prepared in one great effort to answer and demolish the arguments of these men. Those who listened to that wonderful effort of forensic power will never forget his reply to King, when he charged him with uttering sentiments in debate calculated to incite a servile war. The picture he drew of such a war: the massacring by infuriated black savages of delicate women and children; the burning and destroying of cities; the desolating by fire and sword the country, was so thrilling and descriptively perfect, that you smelt the blood, saw the flames, and heard the shrieks of perishing victims. Mr. King shuddered as he looked on the orator, and listened to his impassioned declamation. But when Pinkney turned from the President of the Senate and, flashing his eye upon King, continued in words hissing in whispers, full of pathos as of biting indignation, Mr. King folded his arms and rested his head upon them, concealing his features and emotion from the speaker and the Senate. For two hours the Senate and galleries were chained as it were to their seats. At times so intense was the feeling, that a pause of the speaker made audible the hard and excited breathing of the audience, catching their breath as though respiration had been painfully suspended and relief had come in this pause. When he had finished and resumed his seat, there was profound silence for many seconds, when a Senator in seeming trepidation rose and moved an adjournment.
Mr. Pinkney was in every respect a most finished gentleman, highly bred, only associating with the first men and minds of the country; courteous and polished in his manners, and scrupulously neat in his dress, which was always in the height of fashion and always of the finest and most costly materials. He never came to the Senate but in full dress, and would have been mortified to find a mite of lint upon his coat, or a dash of dust upon his boots.
At that time the United States Senate was the most august and dignified body in the world. What is it to-day? O tempora, O mores! In the House, the palm of oratory was disputed between Mr. Clay and Mr. Randolph. Their styles were so different, and both so effective, that it was difficult to distinguish by comparison, to which belonged the distinction of being first. Mr. Clay was always collected and self-possessed—he was, too, always master of his subject; and though he was a ready debater, he never made a set speech upon any important subject without careful preparation. He was not easily disconcerted; courageous, with a strong will, he feared no intemperate opposition, and was never restrained from uttering his sentiments and opinions of men or measures. He was kind and generous, until aroused or offended and, then, was merciless. His sarcasm and invective upon such occasions was withering, and his vehemence daring and terrible. No man of his day had a mind better balanced than Mr. Clay. His judgment was almost always correct; his imagination brilliant, but always under the control of his judgment; his memory and preceptive faculties were wonderful; his education was defective, and the associations of the West had not given that polish to his manners which distinguishes men of education, reared in educated communities, and associating always with polished society. Mr. Clay had been at the most polished courts of Europe, and was familiar with their most refined society; but these he visited in mature life, after the manners are formed, and habit made them indurate. He had long been familiar, too, with the best society in his own country and, by this, had been much improved. Still the Kentuckian would sometimes come through the shell, but always in a manner more to delight than offend; besides, Mr. Clay set little value upon forms and ceremony. There was too much heart for such cold seeming, too much fire for the chill, unfeeling ceremony of what is termed first society.
Mr. Clay's manners partook much of the character of his mind and soul. They were prompt, bold, and easy; his eloquence was bold, rough, and overwhelming.
Like all men of genius, will, and self-reliance, Mr. Clay was impatient of contradiction. The similarity in this regard, between Jackson, Clay, and Crawford was wonderful. They were equally passionate, equally impetuous, and equally impatient—all being natural men of great powers and limited education. To say they were self-made, would be paying the Almighty a left-handed compliment. But to say they assiduously cultivated His great gifts without much aid from the schoolmaster, would only be doing them unbiased justice.
Randolph was classically educated. He had enjoyed every advantage of cultivation. Socially, he had never mingled with any but refined society. The franchise of suffrage in Virginia was confined to the freeholders, thus obviating in the public man the necessity of mingling with, and courting the good opinion of the multitude. The system, too, of electioneering was to address from the hustings the voters, to declare publicly the opinions of candidates, and the policy they proposed supporting. The vote was given viva voce. All concurred to make representative and constituent frank and honest. While this system existed, Virginia ruled the nation. These means secured the services of the first intellects, and the first characters of her people. The system was a training for debate and public display. Eloquence became the first requisite to the candidate, and was the most powerful means of influence and efficiency in the representative. Randolph had been thus trained; he had listened to, and been instructed by the eloquence of Patrick Henry, in his early youth, and in later life had met him as a competitor on the hustings. He had grown up by the side of Edmonds, Peyton Randolph, George Mason, and Thomas Jefferson. In his very youth he had excited the wonder and admiration of these great minds. He was sent into the Congress of the United States almost before he was qualified by age to take his seat; and at once took position by the side of such men as William B. Giles, William H. Crawford, James A. Byard, and Littleton W. Tazwell. His style of speaking was peculiar; his wit was bitter and biting; his sarcasm more pungent and withering than had ever been heard on the floor of Congress; his figure was outre; his voice, fine as the treble of a violin; his face, wan, wrinkled, and without beard; his limbs, long and unsightly, especially his arms and fingers; the skin seemed to grow to the attenuated bone; and the large, ill-formed joints were extremely ugly. But those fingers, and especially the right fore-finger, gave point and vim to his wit and invective.
In his manner he was at times deliberate, and apparently very considerate, and again he was rapid and vehement. When he would demolish an adversary, he would commence slowly, as if to collect all his powers, preparatory to one great onset. He would turn and talk, as it were, to all about him, and seemingly incongruously. It was as if he was slinging and whirling his chain-shot about his head, and circling it more and more rapidly, to collect all his strength for the fatal blow. All knew it would fall, but none knew where, until he had collected his utmost strength, and then, with the electrical flash of his eye, he would mark the victim, and the thundering crash of his vengeance, in words of vehemence, charged with the most caustic satire, would fall upon, and crush the devoted head of his scarce suspecting foe. I remember, upon one occasion, pending the debate upon the Missouri question, and when Mr. Randolph was in the habit of almost daily addressing the house, that a Mr. Beecher, of Ohio, who was very impatient with Randolph's tirades, would, in the lengthy pauses made by him, rise from his place, and move the previous question. The Speaker would reply: "The member from Virginia has the floor." The first and second interruption was not noticed by Randolph, but upon the repetition a third time, he slowly lifted his head from contemplating his notes, and said: "Mr. Speaker, in the Netherlands, a man of small capacity, with bits of wood and leather, will, in a few moments, construct a toy that, with the pressure of the finger and thumb, will cry 'Cuckoo! Cuckoo!' With less of ingenuity, and with inferior materials, the people of Ohio have made a toy that will, without much pressure, cry, 'Previous question, Mr. Speaker! Previous question, Mr. Speaker!'" at the same time designating Beecher, by pointing at him with his long, skeleton-looking finger. In a moment the House was convulsed with laughter, and I doubt if Beecher ever survived the sarcasm.
At the time Mr. Clay came into Congress, Randolph had no rival upon the floor of the House. He had become a terror to timid men. Few ventured to meet him in debate, and none to provoke him. Mr. Clay's reputation had preceded him. He had before, for a short time, been in the Senate. He was known to be the first orator in the West, and the West boasted Doddridge, Humphrey Marshall, John Rowan, Jesse Bledsoe, John Pope, and Felix Grundy.
It was not long, before these two met in debate upon the subject of the national road. Randolph opposed this measure as unconstitutional, denying to the General Government any power to make any improvements within the limits of any State, without the consent of the State. Mr. Clay claimed the power under that grant which constituted Congress competent to establish post-offices and post-roads. The discussion was an excited one. Mr. Clay was a Virginian, but not of Randolph's class; besides, he was not now from Virginia, and Randolph chose to designate him a degenerate, renegade son of the Old Dominion. He had been reared, as Randolph, a Democrat of the Jeffersonian school. In this he was an apostate from the ancient faith. Randolph fully expected an easy victory, and no man upon the floor was more surprised than himself, at the bold, eloquent, and defiant reply of Clay. Between them the combat was fierce and protracted. Randolph had the mortification of seeing Western Virginia moving with Clay, and the entire representation of the Western States joining with them. Clay was triumphant. The measure became a law, the road was built, and a monument was erected to Mr. Clay in Western Virginia, and by Virginians. It stands in a beautiful valley, immediately on the road's side. From that time until, as old men, they met in mortal combat upon the banks of the Potomac, they were rivals and enemies.
Randolph was rancorous in his hatred of Clay. In proportion as Clay rose in the estimation of his countrymen, did Randolph's hate increase. Clay sprang from the plebeian stock of his native Virginia. He had come as the representative of the rustics of Kentucky. He was not sanctified by a college diploma. He boasted no long line of ancestry, and yet he had met, and triumphed over, the scions of a boasted line—had bearded the aristocrat upon the field of his fame, and vanquished him. This triumph was followed up, in quick succession, with many others. He was now the cynosure of the nation, and the star of Randolph was waning. His disregard of Randolph's proposition, to withdraw from Congress and denounce the Union, and his success in effecting this compromise, sublimated Randolph's hatred, and no opportunity was permitted to pass unimproved for abuse of him as a politician, and as a man.
William Lowndes, after Clay, exercised more influence in the House than any other man. He was a South Carolinian, and of distinguished family. His health, at this time, was failing: it had always been delicate. Mr. Lowndes was comparatively a young man. He was remarkably tall: perhaps six feet six inches. He stood a head and shoulders above any man in Congress. His hair was golden; his complexion, clear and pale, and his eyes were deep blue, and very expressive. He had been elaborately educated, and improved by foreign travel, extensive reading, and research. As a belles-lettres scholar, he was superior even to Mr. Randolph. Very retiring and modest in his demeanor, he rarely obtruded himself upon the House. When he did, it seemed only to remind the House of something which had been forgotten by his predecessors in debate. Sometimes he would make a set speech. When he did, it was always remarkable for profound reasoning, and profound thought. He was suffering with disease of the lungs, and his voice was weak: so much so that he never attempted to elevate it above a conversational tone. So honest was he in his views, so learned and so unobtrusive, that he had witched away the heart of the House. No man was so earnestly listened to as Mr. Lowndes. His mild and persuasive manner, his refined and delicate deportment in debate and social intercourse captivated every one; and at a time when acrimonious feelings filled almost every breast, there was no animosity for Mr. Lowndes. His impression upon the nation had made him the favored candidate of every section for the next President; and it is not, perhaps, saying too much, that had his life been spared, he, and not John Quincy Adams, would have been the President in 1824. He would have been to all an acceptable candidate. His talents, his virtues, his learning, and his broad patriotism had very much endeared him to the intelligence of the country. At that time these attributes were expected in the President, and none were acceptable without them. Mr. Lowndes in very early life gave evidence of future usefulness and distinction. His thirst for knowledge, intense application, and great capacity to acquire, made him conspicuous at school, and in college. He entered manhood already distinguished by his writings. While yet very young he travelled in Europe, and for the purpose of mental improvement. Knowledge was the wife of his heart, and he courted her with affectionate assiduity. An anecdote is related of him illustrative of his character and attainments. While in London, he was left alone at his hotel, where none but men of rank and distinction visited, with a gentleman much his senior; neither knew the other. A social instinct, (though not very prominent in an Englishman,) induced conversation. After a time the gentleman left the apartment and was returning to the street, when he encountered the Duke of Argyle. This gentleman was William Roscoe, of Liverpool, and author of "The Life of Leo the Tenth."
"I have been spending a most agreeable hour," he said to the Duke, "with a young American gentleman, who is the tallest, wisest, and best bred young man I have ever met."
"It must have been Mr. Lowndes, of South Carolina," replied the Duke. "He is such a man, I know him and I know no other like him. Return and let me make you his acquaintance." He did so, and the acquaintance then commenced, ripened into a friendship which endured so long as they both lived.
Blue eyes, of a peculiar languid expression; yellow hair, lank and without gloss; with a soft sunny sort of complexion, seems ever to indicate physical weakness. Indeed, pale colors in all nature point to brief existence, want of stamina and capacity to endure. All of these combined in the physical organization of Mr. Lowndes, and served to make more conspicuous the brilliancy of his intellect. It has been said, consumption sublimates the mind, stealing from the body, etherealizing and intensifying the intellect. This was peculiarly the case in the instance of Mr. Lowndes. As the disease progressed, attenuating and debilitating the physical man, his intellectual faculties grew brighter, and brighter, assuming a lucidity almost supernatural. At length he passed from time while yet young, leaving a vacuum which in South Carolina has never been filled. His death was at a time his services were most needed, and as with Clay, Jackson, and Webster; his death was a national calamity.
Conspicuous among the remarkable men of that era was Louis McLean, of Delaware. He belonged to the Republican school of politics, and was a very honest and able man. He combined very many most estimable traits in his character; open and frank, without concealment; cheerful and mild, without bitterness, and with as few prejudices as any public man. Yet he was consistent and firm in his political opinions and principles, as he was devoted and tenacious in his friendships. He was extremely considerate of the feelings and prejudices of other people—had a large stock of charity for the foibles and follies of his friends and political antagonists. In social intercourse he was quite as familiar and intimate with these as with his political friends. Difference of political principles did not close his eyes to the virtues and worth of any man, and his respect for talent and uprightness was always manifest in his public and private intercourse with those who differed with him in opinion. His was a happy constitution, and one well fitted to win him friends. Personally, with the exception of Mr. Lowndes, he was perhaps the most popular man upon the floor of the House of Representatives. The influence of his character and talent was very great, and his geographical position added greatly to these in his efforts upon the Missouri question. His speech was widely read, and no one found fault with it. It was a masterly effort and added greatly to his extended fame.
In the character of Mr. McLean there was a very happy combination of gentleness with firmness. He carried this into his family, and its influence has made of his children a monument to his fame; they have distinguished, in their characters and conduct, the name and the virtues of their father. It may be said of him what cannot be said of many distinguished men, his children were equal to the father in talent, usefulness, and virtue.
The Administration of Mr. Monroe saw expire the Federal and Republican parties, as organized under the Administration of John Adams. It saw also the germ of the Democratic and Whig parties planted. It was a prosperous Administration, and under it the nation flourished like a green bay-tree. He was the last of the Presidents who had actively participated in the war of the Revolution. To other virtues and different merits, those who now aspire to the high distinction of the Presidency must owe their success. There must always be a cause for distinction. However great the abilities of a man or exalted his virtues, he must in some manner make a display of them before the public eye, or he must of necessity remain in obscurity. War developes more rapidly and more conspicuously the abilities of men than any other public employment. Gallantry and successful conflict presents the commander and subalterns at once prominently before the country; besides military fame addresses itself to every capacity, and strange as it may seem, there is no quality so popular with man and woman, too, as the art of successfully killing our fellow-man, and devastating his country. It is ever a successful claim to public honors and political preferments. No fame is so lasting as a military fame. Caesar and Hannibal are names, though they lived two thousand years ago, familiar in the mouths of every one, and grow brighter as time progresses. Philip and his more warlike son, Alexander, are names familiar to the learned and illiterate, alike; while those who adorned the walks of civil life with virtues, and godlike abilities, are only known to those who burrow in musty old books, and search out the root of civilization enjoyed by modern nations. They who fought at Cannae and Marathon, at Troy and at Carthage, are household names; while those who invented the plough and the spade, and first taught the cultivation of the earth, the very base of civilization, are unknown—never thought of. Such is human nature.
The war of 1812 had developed one or two men only of high military genius, and the furor for military men had not then become a mania. Abilities for civil government were considered essential in him who was to be elevated to the Presidency. Indeed, it was not so much a warrior's fame which had controlled in the election of the previous Presidents, as their high intellectual reputations. Washington had rendered such services to the country, both as a military man and a civilian, that his name was the nation. He had been everywhere designated as the father of his country, and such was the public devotion, that he had only to ask it, and a despot's crown would have adorned his brow. John Adams, Jefferson, and Madison had no military record; but in the capacity of civilians had rendered essential service to the cause of the Revolution. Their Administrations had been successful, and the public mind attributed this success to their abilities as statesmen, and desired to find as their successors, men of like minds, and similar attainments. Crawford, Calhoun, Clay, John Quincy Adams, and Lowndes, had all of them given evidences of eminent statesmanship, and the public mind among these was divided. At the time of the death of Lowndes, this mind was rapidly concentrating upon him, as more eminently uniting the desired qualifications than any other.
It was about this very time that General Jackson's name began to attract the public as a prominent candidate. Mr. Calhoun was ready to retire from the contest, and it is very probable his friends would have united in the support of Lowndes, but he being out of the way, they united upon Jackson. When Jackson was first spoken of as a candidate, most men of intelligence viewed it as a mere joke, but very soon the admiration for his military fame was apparent in the delight manifested by the masses, when he was brought prominently forward. That thirst for military glory, and the equally ardent thirst to do homage to the successful military man, was discovered to be as innate and all-pervading with the American people, as with any other of the most warlike nations. Had the name of Jackson been brought before the people six months earlier than it was, he would, most assuredly, have been triumphantly elected by the popular vote. It would be fruitless to speculate upon what might have been the consequences to the country had he been then chosen. Besides, such is foreign to my purpose. I mean merely to record memories of men and things which have come under my eye and to my knowledge, for the last fifty years, and which I may suppose will be interesting to the general reader, and particularly to the young, who are just now coming into position as men and women, and who will constitute the controlling element in society and in the Government. To those of my own age, it may serve to awaken reminiscences of a by-gone age, and enable them to contrast the men and things of now and then.
FRENCH AND SPANISH TERRITORY.
SETTLERS ON THE TOMBIGBEE AND MISSISSIPPI RIVERS—LA SALLE—NATCHEZ— FAMILY APPORTIONMENT—THE HILL COUNTRY—HOSPITALITY—BENEFIT OF AFRICAN SLAVERY—CAPACITY OF THE NEGRO—HIS FUTURE.
About the year 1777, many persons of the then colonies, fearful of the consequences of the war then commencing for the independence of the colonies, removed and sought a home beyond their limits. Some selected the Tombigbee, and others the Mississippi River, and, braving the horrors of the wilderness, made a home for themselves and posterity, amid the rude inhospitalies of uncultivated nature.
There were, at that time, small settlements of French and Spanish adventurers upon these streams, in different localities. La Salle descended upon Canada, and, taking possession of Louisiana in the name of the French king, had created among many of the chivalrous and adventurous spirits of France a desire to take possession of the entire country, from the mouth of the Saint Lawrence to that of the Mississippi. Nova Scotia, called Acadia by its first settlers, and the provinces of Canada, were his already, and France desired to restrict the further expansion of the English colonies, now growing into importance along the Atlantic coast.
The vast extent of the continent and its immense fertility, with its mighty rivers, its peculiar adaptation to settlement, and the yielding of all the necessaries and luxuries of human wants, had aroused the enterprise of Europe. Spain had possessed herself of South America, Mexico, and Cuba, the pride of the Antilles. The success of her scheme of colonization stimulated both England and France to push forward their settlements, and to foster and protect them with Governmental care. After some fruitless attempts, the mouth of the Mississippi had been discovered, and approached from the Gulf. The expedition under La Salle had failed to find it. The small colony brought by him for settlement upon the Mississippi, had been landed many leagues west of the river's mouth, and owing to disputes between that great and enterprising man and the officer commanding the two ships which had transported them across the Atlantic, they were mercilessly left by this officer, without protection, and almost without provisions, upon the coast of what is now Texas. La Salle had started with a small escort, by land, to find the great river. These men became dissatisfied, and not sharing in the adventurous and energetic spirit of their leader, remonstrated with him and proposed to return to their companions; but, disregarding them, he pressed on in his new enterprise. In wading a small stream, one of the men was carried off by an alligator, and a day or so after, another was bitten and killed by a rattle-snake. Terror seized upon his men, and all their persuasions proving fruitless, they determined to assassinate him and return. They did so, only to find the colony dispersed and nowhere to be found. After many hazardous adventures they reached the Arkansas River, and descended it to its mouth, where they proposed preparing some means of ascending the Mississippi, and thus return to Canada. Fortunately they had been there but a few hours, when a small boat or two, which had been dispatched from Canada to look after the colony so long expected, arrived, and, learning the unfortunate issue of the enterprise, took on board the party, and returned up the river. They reported the colony destroyed, and it was not until many years after, that it was discovered that those left on the sea-side had been found, and conveyed to the Jesuit Mission, at San Antonio, where they had been cared for and preserved by the pious and humane missionaries.
Subsequently a colony was located at Boloxy, on the shore of the lake, and thence was transferred to New Orleans. Mobile, soon after, was made the nucleus of another colony, and from these two points had proceeded the pioneers of the different settlements along these rivers—the Tombigbee and the Mississippi. It was to these settlements or posts, or their neighborhoods, that these refugees from the Revolutionary war in the colonies had retired. Natchez and St. Francisville, on the Mississippi, and St. Stephen's and McIntosh's Bluff, on the Tombigbee, were the most populous and important.
About these, and under the auspicious protection of the Spanish Government, then dominant in Louisiana and Florida, commenced the growth of the Anglo-Norman population, which is now the almost entire population of the country. There proceeded from South Carolina, about the time mentioned above, a colony of persons which located near Natchez. They came down the Holston, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers, on flat-boats; and after many escapes from the perils incident to the streams they navigated, and the hostility of the savages who dwelt along their shores, they reached this Canaan of their hopes. They had intended to locate at New Madrid. The country around was well suited for cultivation, being alluvial and rich, and the climate was all they could desire; but they found a population mongrel and vicious, unrestrained by law or morals, and learning through a negro belonging to the place of an intended attack upon their party, for the purpose of robbery, they hastily re-embarked what of their property and stock they had debarked. Under pretense of dropping a few miles lower down the river for a more eligible site, they silently and secretly left in the night, and never attempted another stop until reaching the Walnut Hills, now Vicksburg. A few of the party concluded to remain here, while the larger number went on down; some to the mouth of Cole's Creek, some to Natchez, and others to the cliffs known by the name of one of the emigrants whose party concluded to settle there.
These cliffs, which are eighteen miles below Natchez, have always been known as Ellis' Cliffs. In their rear is a most beautiful, and eminently fertile country. Grants were obtained from the Spanish Government of these lands, in tracts suited to the means of each family. A portion was given to the husband, a portion to the wife, and a portion to each child of every family. These grants covered nearly all of that desirable region south of St. Catharine's Creek and west of Second Creek to the Mississippi River, and south to the Homochitto River. Similar grants were obtained for lands about the mouth, and along the banks of Cole's Creek, at and around Fort Adams, ten miles above the mouth of Red River, and upon the Bayou Pierre. The same authority donated to the emigrants lands about McIntosh's Bluff, Fort St. Stephens, and along Bassett's Creek, in the region of the Tombigbee River. Here the lands were not so fertile, nor were they in such bodies as in the region of the Mississippi. The settlements did not increase and extend to the surrounding country with the same rapidity as in the latter country. Many of those first stopping on the Tombigbee, ultimately removed to the Mississippi. Here they encountered none of the perils or losses incident to the war of the Revolution. The privations of a new country they did, of necessity, endure, but not to the same extent that those suffer who are deprived of a market for the products of their labor. New Orleans afforded a remunerative market for all they could produce, and, in return, supplied them with every necessary beyond their means of producing at home. The soil and climate were not only auspicious to the production of cotton, tobacco, and indigo—then a valuable marketable commodity—but every facility for rearing without stint every variety of stock. These settlements were greatly increased by emigration from Pennsylvania, subsequently to the conclusion of the war, as well as from the Southern States.
Very many who, in that war, had sided with the mother country from conscientious, or mercenary views, were compelled by public opinion, or by the operation of the law confiscating their property and banishing them from the country, to find new homes. Those, however, who came first had choice of locations, and most generally selected the best; and bringing most wealth, maintained the ascendency in this regard, and gave tone and direction to public matters as well as to the social organization of society. Most of them were men of education and high social position in the countries from which they came. Constant intercourse with New Orleans, and the education of the youth of both sexes of this region in the schools of that city, carried the high polish of French society into the colony.
Louisiana, and especially New Orleans, was first settled by the nobility and gentry of France. They were men in position among the first of that great and glorious people. Animated with the ambition for high enterprise, they came in sufficient numbers to create a society, and to plant French manners and customs, and the elegance of French learning and French society, upon the banks of the Mississippi.
The commercial and social intermingling of these people resulted in intermarriages, which very soon assimilated them in most things as one people, at least in feeling, sentiment and interest. From such a stock grew the people inhabiting the banks of the Mississippi, from Vicksburg to New Orleans. In 1826, young men of talent and enterprise had come from Europe, and every section of the United States, and, giving their talents to the development of the country, had created a wealth, greater and more generally diffused than was, at that time, to be found in any other planting or farming community in the United States. Living almost exclusively among themselves, their manners and feelings were homogeneous; and living, too, almost entirely upon the products of their plantations, independent of their market-crops, they grew rich so rapidly as to mock the fable of Jonah's gourd. This wealth afforded the means of education and travel; these, cultivation and high mental attainments, and, with these, the elegances of refined life. The country was vast and fertile; the Mississippi, flowing by their homes, was sublimely grand, and seemed to inspire ideas and aspirations commensurate with its own majesty in the people upon its borders.
In no country are to be found women of more refined character, more beauty, or more elegance of manners, than among the planters' wives and daughters of the Mississippi coast. Reared in the country, and accustomed to exercise in the open air, in walking through the shady avenues of the extensive and beautifully ornamented grounds about the home or plantation-house; riding on horseback along the river's margin, elevated upon the levee, covered with the green Bermuda grass, smoothly spreading over all the ground, save the pretty open road, stretching through this grass, like a thread of silver in a a cloth of green; with the great drab river, moving in silent majesty, on one side, and the extended fields of the plantation, teeming with the crop of cane or cotton, upon the other. Their exercise, thus surrounded, becomes a school, and their ideas expand and grow with the sublimity of their surroundings. The health-giving exercise and the wonderful scene yields vigor both to mind and body. Nor is this scene, or its effects, greater in the development of mind and body than that of the hill-country of the river-counties of Mississippi.
These hills are peculiar. They are drift, thrown upon the primitive formation by some natural convulsion, and usually extend some twelve or fifteen miles into the interior. They consist of a rich, marly loam, and, when in a state of nature were clothed to their summits with the wild cane, dense and unusually large, a forest of magnolia, black walnut, immense oaks, and tulip or poplar-trees, with gigantic vines of the wild grape climbing and overtopping the tallest of these forest monarchs. Here among these picturesque hills and glorious woods, the emigrants fixed their homes, and here grew their posterity surrounding themselves with wealth, comforts, and all the luxuries and elegances of an elevated civilization. Surrounded in these homes with domestic slaves reared in them, and about them, who came at their bidding, and went when told, but who were carefully regarded, sustained, and protected, and who felt their family identity, and were happy, served affectionately, and with willing alacrity, the master and his household. In the midst of scenes and circumstances like these grew women in all that constitutes nobility of soul and sentiment, delicacy, intelligence, and refined purity, superior to any it has ever been my fortune to meet on earth.
Here in these palatial homes was the hospitality of princes. It was not the hospitality of pride or ostentation, but of the heart; the welcome which the soul ungrudgingly gives, and which delights and refines the receiver. It is the welcome of a refined humanity, untainted with selfishness, and felt as a humane and duly bound tribute to civilization and Christianity; such hospitality as can only belong to the social organization which had obtained in the community from its advent upon this great country.
The independence of the planter's pursuit, the institution of domestic slavery, and the form and spirit of the Government, all conduce to this. The mind is untrammelled and the soul is independent, because subservient neither to the tyrannical exactions of unscrupulous authority, or the more debasing servility of dependence upon the capricious whims of petty officials, or a monied aristocracy. Independently possessing the soil and the labor for its cultivation, with only the care necessary to the comforts and necessities of this labor, superadded to those of a family, they were without the necessity of soliciting or courting favors from any one, or pandering to the ignorant caprices of a labor beyond their control. Independence of means is the surest guarantee for independence of character. Where this is found, most private and most public virtues always accompany it. Truth, sincerity, all the cardinal virtues are fostered most where there is most independence. This takes away the source of all corruption, all temptation. This seeks dependence, and victimizes its creatures to every purpose of corruption and meanness.
Under the influences of the institutions of the South, as they were, there was little of the servile meanness so predominant where they were not, and the lofty and chivalrous character of the Southern people was greatly owing to these institutions, and the habits of the people growing out of them. The slave was a class below all others. His master was his protector and friend; he supplied his wants and redressed his wrongs, and it was a point of honor as well as duty to do so; he was assured of his care and protection, and felt no humility at his condition. The white man, without means, was reminded that, though poor, he was above the slave, and was stimulated with the pride of position as contrasted with that of the slave; his political, legal, and social rights were unrestrained and equal with those of the wealthiest. This was the only distinction between him and the wealthiest in the land, and this wealth conferred no exclusive privilege, and its acquisition was open to his energy and enterprise, and he gloried in his independence. He could acquire and enjoy without dependence, and his pride and ambition were alike stimulated to the emulation of those who shared most fortune's favors.
The beneficial influences of the institution of African slavery were not only apparent in the independent and honorable bearing and conduct of the Southern people, growing from the habit of command, and involuntary contrast of condition, but upon the material advancement and progress of the country. The product of slave labor, when directed by a higher intelligence than his own, is enormous, and was the basis of the extended and wealth-creating commerce of the entire country. These products could be obtained in no other manner, and without this labor, are lost to the world. The African negro, in osseous and muscular developments, and in all the essentials for labor, is quite equal to those of the white race; in his cerebral, greatly inferior. The capacities of his brain are limited and incapable of cultivation beyond a certain point. His moral man is as feeble and unteachable as his mental. He cannot be educated to the capacity of self-government, nor to the formation and conducting of civil government to the extent of humanizing and controlling by salutary laws a people aggregated into communities. He learns by example which he imitates, so long as the exampler is present before him; but this imitation never hardens to fixed views or habits, indicating the design of Providence, that these physical capacities should be directed and appropriated for good, by an intelligence beyond the mental reach of the negro.
Why is this so? In the wisdom and economy of creation every created thing represents a design for a use. The soil and climate of the tropical and semi-tropical regions of the earth produce and mature all, or very nearly all of the necessaries and luxuries of human life. But human beings of different races and different capacities fill up the whole earth. The capacity to build a fire and fabricate clothing is given only to man. Was the element of fire and the material for clothing given for any but man's use? This enables him to inhabit every clime. But the capacity to produce all the necessaries and luxuries of life is given only to a certain portion of the earth's surface; and its peculiar motions give the fructifying influences of the sun only to the middle belt of the planet. The use of this organization is evidenced in the production of this belt, and these productions must be the result of intelligently directed labor.
The peculiarity of the physical organization of the white man makes it impossible for him to labor healthfully and efficiently for the greatest development of this favored region. Yet his wants demand the yield and tribute of this region. His inventive capacity evolved sugar from the wild canes of the tropics, than which nothing is more essential to his necessities, save the cereals and clothing. He fabricated clothing from the tropical grass and tropical cotton, found the uses of cassia, pimento, the dye woods, and the thousand other tropical products which contribute to comfort, necessity, and luxury; advancing human happiness, human progress, and human civilization.
The black man's organization is radically different. He was formed especially to live and labor in these tropical and semi-tropical regions of the earth; but he is naturally indolent, his wants are few, and nature unaided supplies them. He is uninventive, and has always, from creation down, lived amid these plants without the genius to discover, or the skill and industry to develope their uses. That they are used, and contribute to human health and human necessities, is abundant evidence of Divine design in their creation.
The black man's labor, then, and the white man's intelligence are necessary to the production and fabrication, for human use, of these provisions of Providence. This labor the black man will not yield without compulsion. He is eminently useful under this compulsion, and eminently useless, even to himself, without it. That he was designed to obey this authority, and to be most happy when and where he was most useful, is apparent in his mental and moral organization. By moral I mean those functions of the nervous system which bring us in relation with the external world. He aspires to nothing but the gratification of his passions, and the indulgence of his indolence. He only feels the oppression of slavery in being compelled to work, and none of the moral degradation incident to servility in the higher or superior races. He is, consequently, more happy, and better contented in this, than in any other condition of life. His morals, his bodily comforts, and his status as a man, attain to an elevation in this condition known to his race in no other.
All the results of his condition react upon the superior race, holding him in the condition designed for him by his Creator, producing results to human progress all over the world, known to result in an equal ratio from no other cause. The institution has passed away, and very soon all its consequences will cease to be visible in the character of the Southern people. The plantation will dwindle to the truck-patch, the planter will sink into the grave, and his offspring will degenerate into hucksters and petty traders, and become as mean and contemptible as the Puritan Yankee.
In the two hundred years of African slavery the world's progress was greater in the arts and sciences, and in all the appliances promotive of intelligence and human happiness, than in any period of historical time, of five centuries. Why? Because the labor was performed by the man formed for labor and incapable of thinking, and releasing the man formed to think, direct, and invent, from labor, other than labor of thought. This influence was felt over the civilized world. The productions of the tropics were demanded by the higher civilization. Men forgot to clothe themselves in skins when they could do so in cloth. As commerce extended her flight, bearing these rich creations of labor, elaborated by intelligence, civilization went with her, expanding the mind, enlarging the wants, and prompting progress in all with whom she communicated. Its influence was first felt from the Antilles, extending to the United States. In proportion to the increase of these products was the increase of commerce, wealth, intelligence, and power. Compare the statistics of production by slave-labor with the increase of commerce, and they go hand in hand. As the slave came down from the grain-growing region to the cotton and sugar region, the amount of his labor's product entering into commerce increased four-fold. The inventions of Whitney and Arkwright cheapened the fabric of cotton so much as to bring it within the reach of the poorest, and availed the world in all the uses of cloth.
The shipping and manufacturing interests of England grew; those of the United States, from nothing, in a few years were great rivals of the mother country, and very soon surpassed her in commercial tonnage. Every interest prospered with the prosperity of the planter of the Southern States. His class has passed away; the weeds blacken where the chaste, white cotton beautified his fields; his slave is a freedman—a constitution-maker—a ruler set up by a beastly fanaticism to control his master, and to degrade and destroy his country.
This must bear its legitimate fruit. It is the beginning of the end of the negro upon this continent. Two races with the same civil, political and social privileges cannot long exist in harmony together. The struggle for supremacy will come, and with it a war of races—then God have mercy on the weaker! The mild compulsion which stimulated his labor is withdrawn, and with it the care and protection which alone preserved him. He works no more; his day of Jubilee has come; he must be a power in the land. Infatuated creature! I pity you from my heart. You cannot see or calculate the inevitable destiny now fixed for your race. You cannot see the vile uses you are made to subserve for a time, or deem that those who now appear your conservators, are but preparing your funeral pyre.
THE NATCHEZ TRADITIONS.
NATCHEZ—MIZEZIBBEE; OR, THE PARENT OF MANY WATERS—INDIAN MOUNDS—THE CHILD OF THE SUN—TREATMENT OF THE FEMALES—POETIC MARRIAGES—UNCHASTE MAIDS AND PURE WIVES—WALKING ARCHIVES—THE PROFANE FIRE—ALAHOPLECHIA —OYELAPE—THE CHIEF WITH A BEARD.
The little city of Natchez is built upon a bluff some three hundred feet in elevation above the Mississippi River, and immediately upon its brink. It receives its name from a tribe of Indians once resident in the country; and who were much further advanced in civilization than their more warlike neighbors, the Choctaws and the Chickasaws. The country around is hilly and beautiful, fertile and salubrious. The population was intelligent and refined, and was remarkable for having more wealth than any community outside of a large city, in the United States, of the same amount of population. The town of Natchez (for, properly speaking, it is no more) consists of some three or four thousand inhabitants, and has not increased to any considerable extent, for many years.
Beyond the river, in Louisiana, is an alluvial plain extending for fifty miles, through which meander many small streams, or bayous, as they are termed in the language of the country. Upon most of these the surface of the soil is slightly elevated above the plane of the swamp, and is remarkably fertile. Most of these were, at the commencement of the late war, in a high state of cultivation as cotton plantations. As in many other places, the river here has changed its bed by cutting off a large bend immediately opposite the town, creating what is known as Lake Concordia. This lake was formerly the bed of the river, and describes almost a complete circle of some twelve miles in diameter. On both sides of this lake beautiful plantations, with splendid improvements, presented a view from the bluff at Natchez extremely picturesque when covered with luxuriant crops of corn and cotton. The fertility of the soil is such that these crops are immensely heavy; and when the cotton-plant has matured its fruit, and the pent-up lint in the large conical balls has burst them open, exposing their white treasure swelling out to meet the sun's warm rays, and the parent stock to the first frost of autumn has thrown off her foliage, and all these broad fields are one sheet of lovely white, as far as the eye can view—the scene is lovely beyond description; and when the same rich scene was presented extending along the banks of the great river, with the magnificent steamers resting at the wharf below, and others cleaving the current in proud defiance of the mighty volume of hurrying waters—the splendor and magnificence of the whole sublimated the feelings as we viewed it in wonder.
The river, the bluff, and the lake are there; but waste and desolation frown on these, and the fat earth's rich fruits are yielded no more. Fanaticism's hot breath has breathed upon it, and war's red hand (her legitimate offspring) has stricken down the laborer; tillage has ceased, and gaunt poverty and hungry want only are left in her train.
When the great La Salle moored his little fleet at the foot of this bluff, ascended to its summit, and looked over this then forest-clad plain, did he contemplate the coming future of this beautiful discovery of his genius and enterprise? When he looked upon the blue smoke curling above the tall tree-tops along the lake, in the far distance, as it ascended from the wigwams of the Natchez, the wild denizens of this interminable forest, did his prophetic eye perceive these lovely fields, happy homes, and prosperous people, who came after him to make an Eden of this chosen spot of all the earth? and did it stretch on to contemplate the ruin and desolation which overspreads it now? How blest is man that he sees not beyond to-day!
Here he first met the Natchez, and viewed with wonder the flat heads and soft, gazelle eyes of this strange people. They welcomed his coming, and tendered him and his people a home. From them he learned the extent of the great river below, and that it was lost in the great water that was without limit and had no end. These Indians, according to their traditions, had once inhabited, as a mighty nation, the country extending from near the city of Mexico to the Rio Grande, and were subjects of the Aztec empire of Mexico. They had been persecuted and oppressed, and determined, in grand council, to abandon the country and seek a home beyond the Mizezibbee, or Parent-of-many-waters, which the word signifies.
Their exodus commenced in a body. They were many days in assembling upon the east bank of the Rio Grande; and thence commenced their long march. They abandoned their homes and the graves of their ancestors for a new one in the lovely region they found on the hills extending from the mouth of the Yazoo to Baton Rouge. Their principal town and seat of empire was located eleven miles below Natchez, on the banks of Second Creek, two miles from the Mississippi River. It is a delightful spot of high table-land, with a small strip of level low-land immediately upon the margin of the dimpling little stream of sweet water. Upon this flat they erected the great mound for their temple of the Sun, and the depository of the holy fire, so sacred in their worship. At each point of the compass they erected smaller mounds for the residences of their chief, or child of the Sun, and his ministers of state. In the great temple upon the principal mound they deposited the fire of holiness, which they had borne unextinguished from the deserted temple in Mexico, and began to build their village. Parties went forth to establish other villages, and before a great while they were located in happy homes in a land of abundance. They formed treaties of amity with their powerful but peaceable neighbors, the Choctaws, and ere long with the Chickasaws and other minor tribes, east, and below them, on the river, the Tunicas, Houmas, and others; for the country abounded with little bands, insignificant and powerless.
These Indians revered, as more than mortal, their great chief, whom they called the child of the Sun. They had a tradition that when they were a great nation, in Mexico, they were divided into parties by feuds among their chiefs, and all their power to resist the aggressions of their enemies was lost; consequently they had fallen under the power of the Aztecs, who dominated them, and destroyed many of their people. Upon one occasion, when a common enemy and a common suffering had made them forget their quarrels, they were assembled for council. Suddenly there appeared in their midst a white man and woman, surrounded with a halo of light coming directly from the sun. They were all silent with awe when this man spoke, and with such authority as to make every chief tremble with fear. They bowed to him with reverence, and he professing to be weary with his long journey, they conducted him with his wife to a lodge, and bade them repose and be rested. The chiefs, in the darkness of the night and in silence, assembled, while the celestial pair slept, conscious of security. After long and close council, they determined to proffer the supreme authority of the nation to this man, sent to them by the sun. When this determination had been reached, the chiefs, in a body, repaired to the house occupied by their mysterious visitors and, arousing them from sleep, they formally tendered to the man the crown and supreme authority over the chiefs, all their villages, and all their people. At first he refused, asserting that he knew their hearts; they carried hatred of one another, and that they would come to hate him; then they would disobey him, and this would be death to all the Natchez. Finally yielding to the importunities and earnestly repeated protestations of a determination to obey him and follow his counsels implicitly, he agreed to accept the crown upon certain conditions. These were: first and paramount, that the Natchez should abandon their homes and country, and follow him to a new home which he would show them; and that they should live and conform strictly to the laws he would establish. The principal of these were: the sovereign of Natchez should always and forever be of his race, and that if he had sons and daughters, they should not be permitted to intermarry with each other, but only with the people of the Natchez. The first-born of his sons should be his successor, and then the son of his eldest daughter, and should he have no daughter, then the son of his eldest sister, or in default of such an heir, then the eldest son of the nearest female relative of the sovereign, and so in perpetuity.
So soon as he was inaugurated chief and supreme ruler, he went out in the midst of the assembled multitude and called down in their presence fire from the sun; blessed it and made it holy. He created a guard of eight men, made them priests and gave them charge of the fire, and bid them, under pain of death, to preserve and keep alive this holy fire. They must tend it day and night and feed it with walnut wood, and in their charge it went before the moving host to where he had promised they should find a new and better home than the one they were leaving.
Another tradition says, they were aiders of the Spaniards in the conquest of Mexico, and that these became as great persecutors of their people as the Aztecs. But from many of their traditions connected with their new home which extended back far beyond the conquest of Mexico, it is thought by historians that this tradition alludes to some other war in which they took part against their oppressors. They were remarkable for their size and symmetry of form of their men; but like all the race, they made slaves of their women, imposing every burden from the cultivation of their fields to the duties of the household—the carrying of heavy burdens and the securing of fuel for winter. These labors served to disfigure and make their women to appear prematurely aged and worn, and they seemed an inferior race when compared with the men.
The laws imposed by their chief of the sun were strictly obeyed. They compelled the telling of truth on all occasions; never to kill, but in self-defence; never to steal, and to preserve inviolate the marriage-vow. The marriage ceremony was poetic and impressive. No girl ever dreamed of disobeying her parents in the choice of a husband; nor was elopement ever heard of among them; nor did the young man presume to thrust himself upon a family to whom, or to any member of whom, he was not acceptable. But when the marriage was agreeable to the families of both parties and was consequently determined upon, the head of the family of the bride went with her and her whole family to the house of the bridegroom, who there stood with all his family around him, when the old man of the bridegroom's family welcomed them, by asking: "Is it thou?" "Yes," answered the other ancient. "Sit down," continued the other. Immediately all were seated, and a profound silence for many minutes ensued. Then the eldest man of the party bid the groom and bride to stand up, when he addressed them in a speech in which he recapitulated all the duties of man and wife; informed them of the obligations they were assuming, and then concluded with a lecture of advice as to their future lives.
When this ceremony was concluded, the father of the bridegroom handed to his son the present he was to make to the family of the bride. Then the father of bride stepped up to the side of his daughter, when the groom said to the bride: "Wilt thou have me for thy husband?" The bride answered: "With all my heart; love me as I will love thee; for thou art my only love for all my life." Then holding the gift above her head, the groom said: "I love thee; therefore I take thee for my wife, and this is the present with which I buy thee," and then he handed the present to her parents. Upon his head he wore a tuft of feathers, and in his hand a bow, emblematic of authority and protection. The bride held in one hand a green twig of the laurel-tree, and in the other an ear of corn—the twig indicated she would preserve her fame ever fair and sweet as the laurel leaf; the corn was to represent her capacity to grow it and prepare it for his food, and to fulfil all the duties of a faithful wife. These ceremonies completed, the bride dropped the ear of corn which she held in her right hand, and tendered that hand to the bridegroom, who took it and said: "I am thy husband." She replied: "I am thy wife." The bridegroom then went round and gave his hand to every member of the family of his wife. He then took his bride by the arm and led her around and she took the right hand of all the family of the bridegroom. This done, he walked with her to his bed, and said: "This is our bed, keep it undefiled."
There obtained among these primitive beings a most curious and most disgusting custom. The young marriageable females were permitted to prostitute themselves for gain, in order to provide a marriage portion; and she who could thus enrich herself was the most distinguished and the most sought. But after marriage, she was compelled to purity, both by their laws and by public sentiment; and in all the intercourse of the French with them, no instance of infidelity was ever known in a wife.
The great sun was indeed their Lycurgus. If before his advent among them they had any laws, these had become obsolete, and his edicts adopted universally. Their traditions represent him as living to extreme old age, seeing his descendants of the fourth generation. These were all little suns, and constituted the nobility of their nation, which extended at one time to the country above, as far as St. Louis and across to the Wabash. These traditions were carefully kept. Every two years there were selected from the most intelligent boys of the nation ten, to whom these traditions were carefully taught by the depositories of them who had kept them best for the greatest time. They were careful to exact that no word or fact should be withheld, and this lesson was daily taught until the boy was a man, and every legend a familiar memory. These he was compelled to repeat daily lest the memory should rust, and for this purpose they went forth to all the villages repeating all of these legends to all the people.
There were others selected in like manner to whom the laws were taught as the traditions, and in like manner these were taught the people. In every community there was a little sun to administer these laws, and every complaint was submitted to him, and great ceremony was observed at every trial, especially criminal trials. The judge, or little sun, purified himself in the forest, imploring the enlightenment of the Good Spirit, and purging away the influence of bad spirits by his purification; and when he felt himself a fitted tabernacle of pure justice, he came forward and rendered his judgment in the presence of all the villagers of his jurisdiction, whose attention was compulsory.
It was one of the laws established in the beginning of the reign of the Great Sun, that his posterity should not marry inter se, but only with the common people of the nation. This custom was expelling the pure blood of royalty more and more every generation, and long after the arrival of the Natchez upon the Mississippi, the great and little suns were apparently of the pure blood of the red man. Their traditions, however, preserved the history of every cross, and when Lasalle found these at Natchez and the White Apple village, nearly every one could boast of relationship to the Great Sun. At that time they had diminished to an insignificant power, and were overawed by their more numerous and more powerful neighbors, the Choctaws and Muscagees or Alabamas. Their legends recorded this constant decline, but assigned no reason for it. They could now not bring more than two thousand warriors into the field. Gayarie says not more than six hundred; but those contemporaneous with planting the colony of Orleans say, some two thousand, some more, and some estimate them as low as the number stated in that admirable history of Louisiana whose author is so uniformly correct. And here let me acknowledge my obligations to that accomplished historian, and no less accomplished gentleman, for most of the facts here stated, and if I have used his own language in portraying them to a great extent, it was because it was so pure and beautiful I could not resist it, the excuse the Brazilian gave for stealing the diamond.
With regard to these people, their mode of life was that of most of the other tribes. They lived principally by the chase; their only cultivation was the Indian corn, pumpkins, and a species of wild beans or peas, perfectly black, until their intercourse with the French, and then they only added a few of the coarser vegetables. From whom they derived the pumpkin is not known.
Their wars were not more frequent or more destructive than those of their neighbors; and their general habits were the same. Still they were going on to decay, and they contemplated with stolid calmness their coming extinction. They felt it a destiny not to be averted or avoided by anything they could do, and were content with the excuse of folly for all its errors and sins. It is the will of God, or the Great Spirit, as the Indian phrases it. They were more enlightened than their neighbors, as historians have stated, because, I suppose, they were more superstitious. They bowed to fate, the attribute of superstition everywhere, and made no effort at relief from the causes of decay.
Their religion, like all the aborigines of the continent, consisted in the worship of the Great Spirit typified in the sun, to whom was addressed their prayers and all their devotion. The sacred fire was the emblem on earth; their Great Sun had brought it from the sun and given it as holy to them to be forever preserved and propitiated by watching and prayer. In every village and settlement they erected mounds upon which the temple of the sun was built, and where was deposited the sacred fire. Mounds, too, were built for burying-places, and in these are now to be found in great abundance the flat heads and other bones of this remarkable people.
They had a tradition that an evil spirit was always tempting them to violate the laws, and the regulations of their religious belief. That at one time he had so nearly extinguished the holy fire in their temples, and the love of the sun in their hearts, that the Great Spirit came and fought with them against him, until finally he was conquered and chained in a deep cave, whence he still continued to send out little devils to tempt and torment their people. It was these who brought disease and death; these who tempted to lie, steal, and kill; disobedience in their wives when they refused to perform their duties or became bellicose, as wives sometimes will, of every people on earth. It was a trite saying, shut up the cave in your heart and smother or put out the bad spirit. It was a belief that these imps or little devils found much more easy access to the caves in the hearts of women than into those of men, and that they encouraged them to come and nestle there. Is the belief alone the Indian's? There are some within my knowledge whose experience at home might readily yield belief to this faith of the savage.
Their traditions, too, told them of the great waters coming over all the land, and destroying all the inhabitants except those who had boats; and that the latter were carried away by the waters and left by them on all the land that was permitted again to come above the waters; and that by that means people were planted everywhere. These traditions are quite as rational as most of the speculations as to how the earth was populated, especially that which we learn in the cradle, of Adam and Eve's mission.
It was death, by their law, to permit the holy fire to become extinguished in the temples. To prevent such a calamity, it was preserved in two temples at different points; when accidentally extinguished in one, it was to be obtained from the other; but not peacefully. The keepers must resist and blood must be spilt in order to obtain it. Soon after they became acquainted with the French, the fire was extinguished in the great temple at the White Apple village by the lazy watcher. Knowing his fate, he stealthily lighted it from profane fire. Great misfortunes following this, and shortly thereafter the loss of the holy fire in the other temple near the Grindstone ford, on the Bayou Pierre, in Claiborne County, Mississippi, they sought after the legal and holy manner to procure fire from the White Apple village. Yet the calamities continued. The watch who had suffered the fire to fail in the first temple, conscience smitten, confessed his sin and paid its penalty.
They now had only profane fire, and the whole nation was in the agonies of despair. The cause of all their calamities was now no longer a secret. They extinguished the profane fire, and in prayer, fasting, and continued oblations, they propitiated the sun to send them fire that was holy, to protect and preserve them. It was the folly of ignorance and superstition, and availed nothing; but, like all prayer, was considered a pious duty, though nothing was ever known to result therefrom, and nature moved steadily and undeviatingly forward in obedience to the fixed, immutable, and eternal laws affirmed by the all-wise Creator. There was gloom upon every brow and despair in every heart. The curse pronounced by the first Great Sun had come—destruction and death to all the Natchez—because of the extinction of the holy fire. At length a tree was stricken by lightning near the White Apple village temple, and set on fire. The men of the temple saw the answer to their prayers in this, and hastened to re-kindle the holy flame from this fire, so miraculously sent them from heaven. It was to them a miracle, because, though perfectly in obedience to natural laws, they did not comprehend them, and like unto all people under similar circumstances, all in nature is a miracle which they do not understand, and cannot satisfactorily explain. But there was no efficiency found in this, and the trouble went forward.
The French had come among them, and taught them the value and corrupting influence of money. Boats had ascended and descended the Great River, and communication, through this channel, had been established with Canada. They were grasping, by degrees, the lands, building forts and peopling the country. They had introduced the black man, and the wiser of the Natchez saw in the future the doom of their race. They saw the feuds fomented between the numerous tribes along the coast of the Mississippi by the French, and the destruction of these by bloody wars. They saw, too, to offend the French was sure to bring destruction upon the offending party. Their neighbors were made, through French influence, to fall upon and destroy them. The Chickasaws and Choctaws—great nations, having multitudes of warriors—were under the dominion of these pale-faced intruders, and they feared they might be turned upon them in an unsuspecting hour.
There was among the Natchez a mighty chief and warrior. He was of great stature and fame, being seven feet high and powerfully proportioned. He had a large beard, and was called the chief of the Beard, because he was the only man of all the tribe who had this facial ornament or incumbrance. He was a mighty warrior and was wise in counsel. He believed he saw great evil to the Natchez in the increase of the French and the extension of French power. He knew, and told his people, this was the foreboding of the extinction of the holy fire. He went forth with the chief of the Walnut Hills, named Alahoplechia, and the chief of the White Clay, Oyelape, among their neighbors of other tribes, the Chicasaws and Choctaws, preaching a crusade against the French; urging them to unite with the Natchez, the Homochittas, and the Alabamas, and to attack and destroy the last man of the French settlements at Mobile, Boloxy, Ship Island, and New Orleans, as they were mischievous intruders from across the Salt Lake, whence they were yearly bringing their people to rob them of their homes and appropriate them.
There had come to them red men from the Wabash and Muskingum, who bore to them the sad news of the encroachments of the pale-faces upon their people and their hunting-grounds. "Soon," said the bearded chief, who was the leading spirit of the mission, "these white faces will meet along the Great River. They will forget the arrow of truth and the tomahawk of justice. They will only know power and oppression. Then they will be mighty as the hurricane when the Great Sun hides his face in wrath and the tempest tears the forest. Who can resist him then? The holy fire has been sent again from heaven, from the Great Spirit, our God, the Great Sun. It tells us to save our people from this fearful destruction which comes with the white man. These pale-faces are cunning; they must not know of our union. We must not counsel long, or they will learn our intentions. We must strike at once. The Choctaws must strike at Mobile. At the same moment, Homochittas, Boloxies, and Homas, you must strike at Boloxi. The Chickasaws and the Natchez will fall upon New Orleans and Rosalie." (The latter is the Indian name for what is now Natchez.) His advice was startling, but unheeded. In order to precipitate a war, on his return with the chiefs who accompanied him and two warriors, they murdered a trading-party of French, at the hills where is now Warrenton, in Warren County, Mississippi.
This murder was communicated to the French who, under Bienville, were sent by Cordelac, then Governor of Louisiana, to take revenge, by waging war upon the Natchez. Bienville was hated by Cordelac, because he had refused the hand of his daughter, formally tendered him by her father. He only gave the young and sagacious commander a small force with which to wage this war—such an one as would have been overwhelmed at once had he attempted open field movements. Knowing this, he proceeded to an island opposite the village of the Tunicas, where he entrenched himself and invited a conference. Three spies were sent by the Natchez to reconnoitre; but they were baffled by Bienville with superior cunning. They were sent back as not the equals of Bienville, and with a message to the Great Sun that he must come with his chiefs, that he desired to establish trading-posts among them, and would only treat with the first in authority. They came with a consciousness that the French were ignorant of these murders, and were immediately arrested and ironed. Bienville told them at once of the murder, and of his determination to have the murderers and to punish them. He had the Great Sun, the Stung Serpent, and the Little Sun. The latter was sent to bring the heads of the murderers, and he returned with three heads; but Bienville, after examining these, told the chiefs they had treacherously deceived him, and that those were not the heads of the murderers. After a night's consultation they concluded it was impossible to deceive him, and in the morning confessed the whole truth, proposing to send Stung Serpent to bring the real murderers. But knowing the wily character of this chief and his influence with his tribe, he was not permitted to go. The young Sun was dispatched, and succeeded in bringing the chief of the Beard and the chief of the Walnut Hills, with the two warriors; but Oyelape had fled and could not be had. He had probed to the truth of the French expedition; and being guilty, cunningly and wisely made his escape.
The death sentence was passed upon these, and the two warriors were shot at once; but the two chiefs were reserved for execution to another day. Upon the sentence being communicated to them they commenced to chant the death-song of their people, which they continued to do throughout all the time, night and day, until led forth for execution.
The Great Sun, Stung Serpent, his brother, and all the other Indians were brought out to witness the execution. When the two condemned chiefs were brought forward, these witnesses of their death sang the death-song; but the chief of the Beard looked sternly at them, and defiantly at the executioners; and taking his position, turned to his people and, addressing them, said:
"Let there be joy in the hearts of the Natchez. A child is born to them of the race of their Suns. A boy is born with a beard on his chin. The prodigy still works on from generation to generation.' So sang the warriors of my tribe when I sprang from my mother's womb, and the shrill cry of the eagle, in the heavens, was heard in joyful response. Hardly fifteen summers had passed over my head when my beard had grown long and glossy. I looked around, and saw I was the only red man that had this awful mark on his face, and I interrogated my mother and she said:
"'Son of the chiefs of the Beard, Thou shall know the mystery In which thy curious eye wishes to pry, When thy beard from black becomes red.'
"Let there be joy in the hearts of the Natchez! A hunter is born to them—a hunter of the race of the Suns. Ask of the bears, of the buffaloes, of the tigers, and of the swift-footed deer, whose arrows they fear most! They tremble and cower when the footstep of the hunter with the beard on his chin is heard on the heath. But I was born with brains in my head as well as a beard on my chin, and I pondered on my mother's words. One day, when a panther which I slaughtered had torn my breast, I painted my beard with my own blood, and I stood smiling before her. She said nothing; but her eye gleamed with wild delight, and she took me to the temple when, standing by the sacred fire, she thus sang to me:
"'Son of the chiefs of the Beard, Thou shall know the mystery, Since, true to thy nature, with thine own blood Thy black beard thou hast turned to red.'
"Let there be joy in the hearts of the Natchez; for a mighty chief, worthy of the race of their Suns, has been born to them in thee, my son—a noble chief with a beard on his chin. Listen to the explanation of this prodigy. In days of old a Natchez maid of the race of their Suns was on a visit to the Mobelians. There she soon loved the youthful chief of that nation, and her wedding-day was nigh, when there came from the big Salt Lake on the south a host of bearded men, who sacked the town, slew the red chief with their thunder, and one of those accursed evil spirits used violence to the maid when her lover's corpse was hardly cold in death. She found in sorrow her way back to the Natchez hills, where she became a mother, and lo! the boy had a beard on his chin, and when he grew old enough to understand his mother's words she whispered in his ear:
"'Son of the chiefs of the Beard, Born from a bloody day, Bloody be thy hand, and bloody be thy life Until thy black beard with blood becomes red.'
"Let there be joy in the hearts of the Natchez. In my first ancestor a long line of the first of hunters, chiefs, and warriors of the race of their Suns had been born to them with beards on their chins. What chase was ever unsuccessful over which they presided? When they spoke in the council of the wise men of the nation, did it not always turn out that their advice, whether adopted or rejected, was the best in the end? In what battle were they ever defeated? When were they known to be worn out with fatigue—with hardship, hunger or thirst, heat or cold, either on land or water? Who ever could stem as they the rushing current of the Father of rivers? Who can count the number of scalps which they brought from distant expeditions? Their names have always been famous in the wigwams of all the red nations. They have struck terror into the breasts of the boldest enemies of the Natchez; and mothers, when their sons paint their bodies in the colors of war, say to them:
"'Fight where, and with whom you please; But beware, oh! beware of the chiefs of the Beard. Give way to them as you would to death, Or their black beards with your blood will be red.'
"Let there be joy in the hearts of the Natchez. When the first chief of the Beard first trimmed the sacred fire in the temple, a voice was heard which said: 'As long as there lives a chief of the race of the Suns with a beard on his chin, no evil can happen to the Natchez nation; but if the white race should ever resume the blood which it gave in a bloody day, woe, three times woe, to the Natchez! Of them nothing will remain but the shadow of a name.' Thus spake the invisible prophet. Years rolled on, years thick on years, and none of the accursed white-faces were seen; but they appeared at last, wrapped up in their pale skins like shrouds of the dead, and the father of my father, whom tradition had taught to guard against the predicted danger, slew two of the hated strangers, and my father, in his turn, killed four.
"'Praise be to the chiefs of the Beard, Who knew how to avenge their old ancestral injury, When with the sweet blood of a white foe Their black beards they proudly dyed red.'
"Let there be joy in the hearts of the Natchez. When I saw the glorious light of day there was born to them a great warrior of the race of their Suns—a warrior and a chief with a beard on his chin. The pledge of protection, of safety, and of glory stood embodied in me. When I shouted my first war-whoop the owl hooted and smelt the ghosts of my enemies, the wolves howled, and the carrion vultures shrieked with joy; for they knew their food was coming, and I fed them with Chickasaws' flesh and with Choctaws' flesh until they were gorged with the flesh of the red man. A kind master and purveyor I was to them—the poor, dumb creatures that I loved. But lately I have given them more dainty food. I boast of having done better than my father. Five Frenchmen have I killed, and my only regret in dying is, that it will prevent me from killing more.
"'Ha! ha! ha! that was game worthy of the chief of the Beard! How lightly he danced. Ho! ho! ho! How gladly he shouted. Ha! ha! ha! Each time with French blood his beard became red."
"Sorrow in the hearts of the Natchez! The great hunter is no more. The wise chief is going to meet his fathers. The indomitable warrior will no more raise his hatchet in defence of the children of the Sun. O burning shame! He was betrayed by his brother-chiefs, who sold his blood. If they had followed his advice they would have united with the Choctaws, Chickasaws, and all the other red nations, and they would have slain all the French dogs that came prowling and stealing over the beautiful face of our country. But there was too much of the woman in their cowardly hearts. Well and good! Let the will of fate be accomplished. The white race will soon resume the blood which it gave, and then the glory and the very existence of the Natchez nation will have departed forever with the chief of the Beard; for I am the last of my race, and my blood flows in no other human veins. O Natchez, Natchez! remember the prophet's voice! I am content to die; for I leave no one behind me but the doomed, while I go to revel with my brave ancestors.
"'They will recognize their son in the chief of the Beard; They will welcome him to their glorious homestead When they see so many scalps at his girdle, And his black beard with French blood painted red.'"
He stood up in proud defiance before the admiring French; his noble form expanded to its full proportions, hatred in his heart and triumph in his eyes. Facing his foes, he viewed the platoon selected to deal him his death, and lifted his eyes and hands to the sun. The officer gave the command, the platoon fired as one man, and the great chief of the Beard passed away.
This was the beginning of difficulties with the French, and also the commencement of the utter destruction of the Natchez. War succeeded war, until the last of this people, few in number, broke up from the Washita, whither they had fled for security years before, and went, as they fondly hoped, too far into the bosom of the deep West to be found again by the white-skins. But Clarke and Lewis found them high up on the Missouri, still preserving the holy fire, the flat heads, and their hatred of the white race. Their bones are even now turned up by the plough near the mounds of their making, and soon these mounds will be all that is left to speak of the once powerful Natchez. I have stood upon the great mound of their temple at the White Apple village, forty years ago, then covered with immense forest-trees, at the graves of the great grandfather and mother of my children. To these was donated, in 1780, by the Spanish Government, the land on which the temple and the village stood. It is a beautiful spot in the centre of a lovely and most picturesque country. It was here these Indians feasted the great La Salle and his party when descending the Mississippi. They were the first white men that had descended the river, and the first white men the Natchez had ever seen.
EXPLORATION OF THE MISSISSIPPI VALLEY.
CHICAGO—CRYING INDIANS—CHICKASAWS—DE SOTO—FEAST OF THE GREAT SUN— CANE KNIVES—LOVE-STRICKEN INDIAN MAIDEN—RAPE OF THE NATCHEZ—MAN'S WILL—SUBJUGATION OF THE WATERS—THE BLACK MAN'S MISSION—ITS DECADE.
La Salle, who first discovered the mouth of the Mississippi River, was a man of most remarkable energy and enterprise. He had been engaged in commercial pursuits for some time in Canada; but, seized with the spirit of adventure—very probably inspired by the reports of the Jesuit missionaries, who were going and returning from the vast wilderness—and inspired with the belief (then common) that the rivers west, and particularly the great river found by De Soto, debouched into the Pacific Ocean, he determined to learn the truth, and projected and commenced the ascent of the St. Lawrence and the navigation of the lakes as a means of reaching the Mississippi. It required almost superhuman daring to undertake such an enterprise; but there was enough in La Salle to accomplish anything possible to human capacity. His followers, like himself, were fearless and determined and, with a few small boats, or skiffs, he commenced his perilous adventure. It was like walking in the dark over uncertain ground; for every step was over unexplored territory, the moment he passed the establishments of the Jesuits, who were then pioneering to propagate their creed among the aborigines of the new continent.
His first winter was spent on the spot, or in the immediate neighborhood of where Chicago now stands. Here he invited to his camp the neighboring Indians, and endeavored to learn as much as possible of the geography of the country he was about to explore. Parties were sent out with these Indians to ascertain if there was any stream or water-communication leading from Lake Michigan to the West, and which might connect it with the Mississippi. Sufficient of the language of the tribes about him had been acquired to establish a means of intelligent intercourse with them. They were curious to know the objects of the visit of the white strangers to their country. Always suspicious of strangers—supposing all, like themselves, treacherous and cruel—they kept on the alert and were chary of giving any information they might possess as to this, or any other matters about which the white men asked; but, watchful of their movements, and seeing from their explorations their intentions, they became convinced of the sincerity of their inquiries, and readily pointed out the portage dividing the waters of Chicago Creek and those of the Illinois River.
When the spring came, and the snows had melted away, and the boats were all over the portage, with the assistance of the savages, the expedition was renewed in the descent of the Illinois. The Indians had been so kindly treated, and so sincerely dealt with, that every suspicion that made them fear the whites was dissipated, and they were loath to part from them, and many accompanied the party until they were about entering the territory of hostile neighbors. Of these they seemed to entertain great fears, and every means of persuasion and warning were used to prevent their white friends hazarding themselves to the power of these enemies. When the last were to leave, they manifested more emotion than is usual with the savage, and one of La Salle's party more facetious than the Indian designated them the Crying Indians.
La Salle was a wise as well as a bold adventurer. His policy with all the tribes he encountered was kindness and truth. These were human beings, and he correctly judged influenced by the motives and impulses of men. They had never seen white men before, and there could be no cause of quarrel, and there was little in the possession of the whites, the use of which was known to the Indian to tempt his cupidity. He manifested no fears in approaching them. Their curiosity tempted them to come to him, and once met, his kindness and gentleness won them; and he experienced no opposition or trouble from any he met; but succeeded in gaining much information from his communications with them. When he reached the Mississippi he began to doubt the accepted theory of its discharging its waters into the Pacific, and upon reaching the mouth of the Missouri and counseling with the chief of the tribe he met there, he at once determined the speculation a delusion, and decided to prosecute his journey to the mouth of the mighty stream, now with almost irresistible impetuosity hurrying on his little flotilla. This chief by many signs and diagrams marked with his finger upon the sand of the beach, described the country out of which flowed the Missouri, and into which went the Mississippi, and seemed to comprehend at least the extent of its constantly accumulating waters and great length. Like all the other savages, he represented the dangers below as being too formidable for the small party of La Salle. He described the Natchez Indians and gave them a terrible character; then the monsters of the woods and the waters. He marked the form of the tiger, the bear, and the alligator and described them as aggressive and ferocious. Taking a handful of sand he scattered it on the boat's floor or bottom, and pointing to the separate particles, attempted to explain by this means the countless numbers of these Indians, and monsters of the country below. Here was his first information of the existence of the Natchez, but his information augmented as he descended the river. At the bluffs, where now is Memphis, he encountered the Chickasaws and learned of the visit of De Soto to that point, and of his death. These Indians warned him of the dangers he had to encounter. They had had trouble with De Soto and were chary of their intercourse with the whites, but manifested no hostility.