Stanley Nelson

One of the first documents relating to private ownership of property in Natchez country was signed in London in 1767 by a 29-year-old King who ruled the most powerful nation in the world.

King George III was a precocious child who ascended to the throne at the age of 22 in 1760. He was curious about everything. As an child and teen, the well-read King studied chemistry, physics, science and astronomy. As an adult, he suffered nervous breakdowns that scholars feel may have been related to a blood disease called porphyria.

After the worldwide Seven Years War and North American conflict known as the French and Indian War, England emerged victorious in 1763. As a result, King George III in meetings with his advisors in the Privy Council created two provinces out of Florida. West Florida, which included Natchez, was headquartered in Pensacola.

On May 13, 1767, in London, King George signed a "royal mandamus" honoring Captain Amos Ogden of New Jersey with a patent for 25,000 acres of land anywhere in West Florida. The royal mandamus, the only one of its kind in Natchez, was in recognition of Ogden's service during the French and Indian War.

Ogden had served in Rogers' Rangers, led by the legendary Robert Rogers, a farmer from New Hampshire. The Rangers were frontier fighters, true survivalists whose tactics are still studied today by special military units such as the Green Berets.

 Ogden's grant came with specific terms. He was required to settle the grant with "foreign Protestants" or with settlers from the colonies in North America. Any property within the grant that the surveyor found proper for "erecting fortifications, public wharves and naval yards or for other military purposes" were to be set aside for the Crown as were "all mines of gold, silver, copper, lead and coal."

But the one stipulation that caused the most concern for Ogden was that he had 10 years to settle the grant with one settler for every 100 acres received. Technically, he had to have 250 people living and breathing on his 25,000 acres or the grant would be forfeited.

 

MEETING WITH SWAYZE BROTHERS

 

This prompted a meeting between Ogden and two brothers in New Jersey, Samuel Swayze, a preacher, and Richard Swayze. The brothers, like many colonists, were loyal to England and feared the brewing revolution. While they didn't like the taxes placed on the colonists by King George III's government anymore than anyone, they weren't prepared to take up arms against the mother country.

On April 14, 1772, in Sussex County in the Province of New Jersey, a deed was recorded detailing Ogden's sale to the Swayze brothers of 19,000 acres of his grant for about 20 cents per acre. Another 1,000 acres was set aside for a town, "parsonages, public buildings, burying grounds" and a parade ground for public gatherings.

A few months later, on Oct. 17, 1772, Ogden, the Swayze brothers and surveyors Caleb and Joseph King, filed their grant in Pensacola and received a warrant for survey from the Florida Provincial Council for the 25,000 acres. Ogden informed Gov. Peter Chester and the council that he wanted to settle in Natchez country.

 

21 MILES FROM NATCHEZ FORT

 

Chester issued a patent to Ogden for the 25,000 acres on a "plantation or track of land" 21 miles southwest "from the old Natchez fort." The property was "bounded southerly by a creek called Homochitto creek, and about one-quarter mile east of a tract of one thousand acres, granted to Colin Graham, Esq., on said creek, about a mile south from land granted to Junis Hooper, on a creek called Second Creek, and on the other side by vacant land."

This was the only British land grant issued to an individual in all of Natchez country that bears the signature of the King who at the time ruled the largest empire in the world. The early, crude land description is the basis for the deeds that exist today for property within the Ogden grant in southern Adams County.

Ogden and his small party left Pensacola for Natchez country where they surveyed the land, which includes the Kingston community, named after Caleb King, one of the surveyors.

Joseph King, Caleb's brother, debarked in the Sloop New York-Packet in New York in June 1773. A newspaper article revealed that King had "explored several rivers that empty into the Bay {Gulf} of Mexico." He said he left Natchez country on May 10 and found that the few settlers in the region "were in general very health, the lands good, the Indians friendly, and the settlement of the country daily increasing."

King also told the newspaper that another survey party for a group known as the Company of Military Adventurers, all veterans of the French and Indian War, were presently in Natchez country surveying land along Bayou Pierre and Big Black. King said the group had proceeded up the Mississippi "in a barge in order to pursue their intention of making settlement on the River Mississippi."

 

‘A FINE UNDULATING COUNTRY’

 

Just two years earlier, one of the settlers moving into Natchez country was Edward Mease, who wrote about his journey in a letter to a London official. Mease's boat docked at Natchez on Monday, February 22, 1771, at 3 p.m.

The land from the river bank to the base of the bluff extended 200 yards, he said, and was "low but evenly flat." That land, of course, has long ago been claimed by the Mighty Mississippi.

To get up the bluff to the abandoned Fort Panmure at the top, said Mease, would be "hard to scale after rain -- so slippery." The hill was so steep that he said it would be "impractical to ascend for an asthmatick man."

He found Fort Panmure "in ruins," but saw the "remains of gardens laid out by some English officers, but nothing left standing but some few plumb, peach and fig trees." Those officers had been part of a small garrison sent by the English in 1766 to occupy the fort for a brief period.

The view from the top was gorgeous, he said. Mease reported the land eastward was "a fine undulating country." To the west, across the river, there were "no hills to interrupt the sight." To the southwest he "saw general smokes where I conceive inhabitants mostly reside." He likely saw smoke rising from the homes of settlers and from the camps of Indians along St. Catherine and Second Creek.

On April 19, 1773, the minutes of the West Florida Council reveal that the first wave of Ogden mandamus grant settlers -- known as the New Jersey settlers and led by the Swayze brothers -- were at Pensacola in route to Natchez. The group included 76 individuals, including 29 adults, 39 children, three apprentices and five slaves.

Rev. Samuel Swayze brought his wife, five children and two apprentices, while his brother Richard Swayze brought "a wife and two children, two negroes and an apprentice."

 

'FLATTERING PROSPECTS' IN NATCHEZ

 

A few days later, on May 16, 1773, Gov. Chester wrote the Earl of Dartmouth that a "clergyman (Samuel Swayze) from the Province of New Jersey has this spring ... brought with him a number of his parishioners, who are gone to form an establishment near the Natches, they intend to Build Houses, and to Plant their Lands, and prepare the way in order to receive a considerable number of Families in the next year ... if we may judge from present appearances, we have exceeding flattering prospects that this valuable part of the country, will in a short time be inhabited by a number of settlers."

The settlers reached the Mississippi River through a shortest water route available in those days. From the Gulf of Mexico, they entered the Rigolets, then passed through the lakes -- Ponchartrain and Maurepas -- to the Amite and Iberville (Pass Manchac) rivers to Manchac on the Mississippi.

In his book on the Natchez District and the American Revolution, historian Robert V. Haynes wrote: "Communication between Pensacola and the Mississippi settlements was not only slow and difficult, but uncertain as well. Overland travel through dense underbrush and unfriendly Indian territory was all but impossible."

The shorter water journey through the lakes was "laborious and unsatisfactory, since the Iberville was never navigable for more than two or three months out of the year." The only other water route was from the mouth of the Mississippi but, said Haynes, "this route was even less satisfactory ... The Spaniards controlled both banks of the Mississippi between Manchac and the Gulf including the valuable port of New Orleans..."

Although the English were granted free navigation of the Mississippi through the Treaty of Paris in 1763, Haynes said Spanish officials "frequently held up British-owned vessels under some pretext and at other times seized them either for violating Spanish commercial laws or for engaging in illicit trade. Secondly, it was extremely time-consuming, if not impossible, for large vessels to proceed as far north as Natchez."

Haynes added: "Unless the winds were blowing in the right direction, sails were worthless, and progress upstream was possible only through the more tedious methods of rowing or warping. In either case, travel was incredibly slow and very expensive."

 

‘A CLEAR SPRING CREEK’

 

In her book on the history of the Jersey Settlers, Frances Preston Mills wrote: "The pioneers found a suitable location for building on a clear spring creek some two miles northwest of the Homochitto landing. The creek was optimistically named Town Creek which name it still bears."

Rev. Sam Swayze had been the pastor of many of these settlers back in New Jersey and here, deep in the wilderness of Natchez country, he would continue to lead them. He had brought them here with many hopes and dreams.

But life on the frontier was never easy. They would face many troubles. As they built cabins, planted corn and walked the land, they were for the moment far away from the brewing conflict in the colonies to the northeast. Captain Amos Ogden, in route back home to New Jersey after the survey, had every intention of returning to Natchez country to settle but he died in June 1774 in New York.

A world away, King George III fretted over the problems in the colonies. But his signature six years earlier on the Ogden Mandamus Grant in 1767 set into motion an journey from New Jersey resulting in permanent settlers in Natchez country.

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