Cole's Creek

IN 1807, Coles Creek – originally called Boyd’s Creek -- flowed into the Mississippi at the eastern point of a big bend less than 20 miles in a straight-line north of Natchez. On the other side of the Mississippi is Waterproof.

A hundred years ago, the historic old cypress cabin still stood. But today it seems certain that the weathered structure has long ago vanished from the Jefferson County, Miss., landscape. 

The little cabin was built two centuries ago in 1807 and a short time later a meeting was held there between Col. Aaron Burr, the former vice-president of the United States, and Cowles Mead, the acting governor of the Mississippi Territory. 

The President of the United States, Thomas Jefferson, feared that Burr, who had served as Jefferson’s first vice-president, was involved in a plot to dismember portions of what was then the American west – Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi Territory and Orleans Territory, or planned to make war with Spain and invade Mexico. It was a shadowy, twisting plot involving many players and never proven in court. 

In January, across the Mississippi in present day Tensas Parish, La., Burr and his party had landed, set up a campground and parade ground during a record Arctic freeze as they waited to see what would happen next. 

According to the Mississippi historian Dunbar Rowland, Burr told militia officer Col. Fitzpatrick “that he would submit himself to trial upon any charge against him before the civil authority, provided he were tried promptly and in the Mississippi territory, in which case he would surrender immediately. Firtzpatrick was about to make arrangements accordingly with the governor when informed of the warlike approach of Col. Claiborne” who, as a leader of the Mississippi militia, had arrived at the mouth of Cole’s Creek with almost 300 men. 

“Then on the 16th, the governor’s aides, George Poindexter and William B. Shields, appeared on the scene, and an agreement was made, in which Acting Gov. Mead proposed an interview at the house of Thomas Cavit, on Cole’s Creek, the next day, and pledged ‘himself to protect said Aaron Burr during his stay in the territory, and that he shall be restored to his present position in a suitable manner as soon after the interview as he may please,’ and in the meantime there would be no restraint of his person or violence against his party, who Burr on his part engaged, would keep the peace.” 

A VISIT TO CAVIT’S CABIN 

Thomas Cavit’s Jefferson County cypress house was still standing in 1901 and the subject of an article in the Times-Democrat newspaper in New Orleans. 

The reporter – J.R. Taylor -- relying on the memories of three men who knew the area well – was given a tour of the vicinity. Taylor’s guides were the then owner of the old Cavit farm, lawyer W.D. Torrey, as well as Judge Jeff Truly (appointed to the Mississippi Supreme Court in 1901) and attorney James Ramsey, all of Fayette. 

As Cavit prospered over the years, his farm grew. He died in the 1820s but subsequent owners developed the farm into a 1,000-acre plantation called Caviton “situated twelve miles west of Fayette,” according to the Times-Democrat, “and eight miles in direct line from the Mississippi river … At the time of Burr’s expedition the residence of Thomas Calvit was only about four miles from the mouth of Cole’s Creek, where it discharged into the Mississippi; now it is at least eight miles inland and a greater distance if the winding of the creek be followed.  

“The river once made an unusually long and narrow bend in this part of Jefferson Co., and at the easternmost point of the curve was the mouth of Cole’s Creek.  It afterward cut across the narrow neck of land and left the minor stream to shift for its own outlet.  The old bed of the river, dry because of the cut-off, served its purpose for a part of the way and it found its own channel for the remainder. 

“A large lake was formed in the abandoned southern channel of the bend and it is now a favorite resort for the fishermen and sportsmen of that and adjourning counties.  But while there has been such a startling change in its relative distance to the Mississippi river the old landing is still readily pointed out, four miles inland, by any inhabitant of the neighborhood.  The very tree to which boats were tied can also be identified by the same authority.” 

REMNANTS OF OLD GREENVILLE 

In 1901, the Times-Democrat reporter departed Fayette with Torrey, Truly and Ramsey to visit Cavit’s old home where Burr and Mead had their famous meeting. 

The drive from Fayette to the farm went through old Greenville on the Natchez Trace. In 1901, Greenville, which was the county seat before it was moved to Fayette, was not much more than a memory: 

“The start was made at 10 o’clock, and the road led by a place of more than historical interest. The site of Greenville … was passed to the left at a distance of six miles from Fayette. It will be remembered that this place figures to a certain extent in the story of Burr’s adventures in Mississippi; the ammunition was ordered to be sent, there the Jefferson Co. regiment was ordered to muster, and there Governor Mead went to meet the troops assembled.  At this point also he issued commands for the Jefferson and Claiborne county regiments to rendezvous at the mouth of Cole’s Creek, where it had been decided that it would be best to attempt to stop the expedition coming down the river. 

“A few chimneys, blackened in ruins, faintly mark the spot where there was a town of some size in territorial times.  With the founding of Fayette, the present county seat, in 1820, Greenville dwindled away.  It was located on Cole’s Creek, but the stream was not wide and deep enough to afford the advantage of navigation.” 

From there, the reporter and his guides traveled approximately another six miles “over fairly good roads, cut in many places so deep by the constant travel of years, that the walls rise on either side to the height of twelve feet … The plantation, which occupies a high, rolling stretch of land, was soon reached.” 

CEDARS ALONG THE BLUFF 

The Times-Democrat reported that the “record of the structure can be traced back to 1807 with absolute certainty, and no shadow of a reasonable doubt remains on the subject. It was built of the ordinary cypress plank instead of the more enduring brick and stone, a material which could hardly afford the builder any particular assurance of permanence. 

 “ … The house which Thomas Calvit occupied in 1807 appears now as a weatherboarded structure of two rooms … It is built exclusively of cypress plank, and joists and timbers seen on the interior are still sound and well braced. All of the lumber used was sawed by hand. It must be admitted, however, that the building was very rudely and incompletely finished; there is no semblance of a ceiling, the rafters above being visible and a single plank used in the weatherboarding constituting the sole thickness of the wall. 

“It has never even been necessary to renew the roof of cypress shingles, it is said.  

“ … An intimation has been given that the house, although it has been preserved so many years, no longer occupies the same spot as in 1807.  For half a century it stood on the original site, but in 1857 it was moved to its present position about four hundred yards to the north.” 

But, according to the Times-Democrat, “The former site is still pointed out with certainty. A few cedars along the edge of the bluff show where it once stood, on the borders of Cole’s Creek, which flows through the plantation.  The spot is now in cultivation even to the edge of the bluff, at whose base the waters of the creek flow toward the Mississippi. 

“This is a shallow little stream, now and probably then, impassable for anything of heavier draft than a very light rowboat.  At this point the banks of both sides are high, and the stream is fringed with cane and other small growth. It is a clear and pretty stream … There is left no trace of the path which led down from the house to the stream and cool springs on the side just at the base of the bluff, which furnished the water for household use.  The bank is sheer and the springs abandoned.  Here, then, was the identical spot where the conference, so important in its consequences to Burr, and of such interest to the nation, generally, took place.” 

According to Natchez archaeologist Joseph "Smokye" Frank, the vicinity of the bluffs where Cavit's cabin was located is dotted with "several historic Indian sites with European trade goods, always a good sign for future white occupation." Frank said bones were discovered at one location -- known as "Lookout" -- which was probably part of a cemetery holding the remains of those who had been enslaved. 

‘RESTLESS SPIRITS ABOUT’ 

Historian Rowland wrote: “At the interview at Calvit’s Burr agreed to go to the town of Washington {Mississippi Territory capital}, under the care of the civil authority, and that his boats might be searched for military stores. Mead visited Colonel Claiborne’s camp, where the men, without tents, or any comforts, had suffered from a heavy snow storm, and discharged them from service. 

“Burr rode with Shields and Poindexter to the capital, was arraigned before Judge Rodney, and bound over under $5,000 bail to await the action of the grand jury. Col. Benajah Osmun, with whom Burr passed much of his time white waiting, signed the bond with Lyman Harding. 

“Colonel Fitzpatrick searched the boats for signs of a military expedition, in vain, and subsequent rummages along the river bank provided futile. The boats were brought down to Natchez and the men paroled. 

“On January 22 Mead ordered the arrest by Col. Claiborne of every one of the ‘restless spirits about Natchez who evince a hostile disposition to the views of the government and favorable to the designs of the man now in custody.’” 

Now the scene moved to the territorial capital of Washington, six miles inland from Natchez, where a grand jury would issue a stunning report. 

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