Major John Pitchlynn, Sr.

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John Chahta Itikhana Pitchlynn, Sr.

Also Known As: "Chahta It-ti-ka-na", "Itikhana", ""Choctaws' Friend""
Birthdate: (69)
Birthplace: Aboard a British Navy ship near St. Johns Island off Puerto Rico or St. Thomas Parish, Berkeley, South Carolina, United States
Death: May 20, 1835 (69)
(Previously Waverly, Lowndes Co., MS), West Point, Clay, Mississippi, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Isaac Pitchlynn and Jemima Sally Pitchlynn
Husband of NN Pitchlynn and Sophia Lk-lo-ha-wah Pitchlynn, Iksa Hachotukni
Father of James Pitchlynn; John "Jack" Pitchlynn, Jr.; Sophia Franklin; Joseph C. Pitchlynn; Alice (Kate?) Pitchlynn and 9 others

Occupation: Colonel, US Army, Major, British Loyalist, Interpretter, Interpreter for George Washington
Managed by: Erin Spiceland
Last Updated:

About Major John Pitchlynn, Sr.

He is NOT the same person as Chafvtaya, and did not have sons named Alex and Davis.

John was of Scottish descent. His father was a commissioned officer for Britain and was opposed to the Revolution. John absorbed his father's beliefs and fought with the British against America in the Revolution at the age of only 17. After the war, he embraced the new independent America and continued to serve in the military, fighting in the War of 1812 and serving as an interpreter for the Choctaw Nation, appointed in 1786 by President George Washington. He served as interpreter for all the treaties between the Choctaw Nation and the United States.

In 1780, John married a Choctaw whose name is unknown, but we know she shared a mother with John's second wife Sophia and that she was a Kincaid, the brother of Chief Joseph Kincaid. They had 3 children.

In 1804, John married Sophia Folsom, Rhoda's younger sister, and they had 10 children.

The Pitchlynn family, although represented by one of the smallest name lists in this study, has a long and noted history in the literature of the Old Southwest and Indian Territory. The eldest Pitchlynn, Isaac, was still alive in 1804 although in ill health. His son, John Pitchlynn, Jr., is recorded as the Choctaw interpreter at the Treaty of Hopewell in 1786 and for nearly half a century was a respected and honored countryman in Choctaw country. John lived a long while on Old Woman's Creek, a tributary of the Oknoxabee (or Noxobee) River which itself flows into the Tombigbee. John and his family eventually resettled in present-day Lowndes County, Mississippi, near the modern city of Columbus. There the Alabama pioneer Gideon Lincecum met him in 1818 after the Treaty of the Choctaw Trading House in 1816 had opened some lands on the eastern banks of the Tombigbee to white settlers. Interestingly, Lincecum was a distant relative of John Pitchlynn and for a while was in business with his intemperate son, Jack Pitchlynn. Lincecum recalled that:

"As soon as I got my house done, I went over the Tombigbeeriver to see the Choctaws. They were not exceeding two miles distant. I also found there a white man by the name of John Pitchlynn. He had a large family of half breed children; was very wealthy; sixty-two years of age; possessed a high order of intelligence and was from every point of view, a clever gentleman. He was very glad to hear that we were settling so near to him, and he also said he must visit the place we had selected to see if we were building above the high water mark.
"Colonel John Pitchlynn was adopted in early manhood by the Choctaws, and marrying among them, he at once became as one of their people; and was named by them 'Chatah It-ti-ka-na,' The Choctaws friend; and long and well he proved himself worthy the title conferred upon, and the trust confided in him. He had five sons by his Choctaw wife, Peter, Silas, Thomas, Jack and James, all of whom proved to be men of talent, and exerted a moral influence upon their people, except Jack, who was ruined by the white man's whiskey and his demoralizing examples and influences. I was personally acquainted with Peter, Silas and Jack. The former held, during a long and useful life, the highest position in the political history of his Nation, well deserving the title given by the whites, 'The Calhoun of the Choctaws'."
"He was contemporaneous with the three Folsoms, Nathaniel, Adam and Edwin; the two Le Flores, Louis and Mitchel [Michael], and Louis Durant. He was commissioned by Washington, as United States interpreter for the Choctaws in 1786, in which capacity he served them long and faithfully. Whether he ever attained the position of chief of the Choctaws is not now known. He, however, secured and held to the day of his death not only the respect, esteem and confidence of the Choctaws as a moral and good citizen, but also that of the missionaries who regarded him as one among their best friends and assistants in their arduous labors. He married Sophia Folsom, the daughter and only child of Ebeneezer Folsom."

His son, Peter, became one of the most influential men of the nation and played a large roll in Choctaw politics following the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. Peter married "Rhoda Folsom, a half-blood daughter of Nathaniel and a half-sister [or cousin] of his mother," and moved to a site on the edge of a prairie near Mayhew Mission.

The Pitchlynn family played a distinctive and critical role as intermediaries between the emerging United States government and the tribal leadership of the Choctaw Nation. John Pitchlynn was an outspoken pro-American who declaimed some of his neighbors as "Torryfied refugees that fled to this nation."

Much has been written of the Pitchlynn family's contribution to friendship and peace between the two peoples prior to Indian removal, and most of it is richly deserved. John Pitchlynn, recognized as an interpreter during Washington's presidential terms, had his position reaffirmed by the Jeffersonian administration in the early nineteenth century. The family advised and cooperated with Andrew Jackson's campaign on the Creek Red Sticks and facilitated more than one major treaty between the United States and the Choctaw Nation.

This continual cooperation between the Pitchlynn family and the first seven presidents of the United States illustrates the long span of a unified federal policy with the tribe as well as the pivotal role played by mixed bloods implementation of that policy. The combination of a Jeffersonian stress on "civilizing" the Indians at a time when the mixed-blood children of Choctaw countrymen were growing in number and influence within the tribe was nearly a perfect marriage of ideology and opportunity. It is also quite probable that future research will disclose numerous other mixed-blood families which impacted for sustained periods on the advent of removal.

As Jefferson postulated the peaceful solution of the "Indian problem," a growing mixed-blood population eager for the tools of technology was emerging in the Choctaw nation. These mixed bloods in many cases espoused the republican sentiments of their frontiersmen fathers and often sought the blessings of "civilization" even before it was thrust upon them. Along with their appetite for modern tools, the mixed bloods also shared with the Jeffersonian an awareness of the economic impediment to trade caused by Spain's closure of the rivers flowing from Indian country through West Florida to the Gulf of Mexico. In an interesting parallel to the "Mississippi question" faced by the yeoman farmers of the Ohio valley, the mixed bloods of the Choctaw tribe realized that friendly control of outlets to the sea was an economic necessity and often cooperated with the Jeffersonian government. Indeed, this interaction between the Jeffersonian and the mixed bloods would lead to major changes and social upheaval which would help pave the way to removal.

The major passed away at his ornate plantation home at Waverly, Lowndes (now Clay) County, Mississippi in the fall of 1835, where he was buried. It seems that his remains later were removed to the old Indian Territory and reinterred probably in the Mountain Fork country in the southeastern part of what is today McCurtain County, Oklahoma. The precise place of his burial place in Oklahoma is unknown.

Fort Plymouth



An article published in the Journal of Mississippi History


Vol. 62, pp. 328-370, 2000


Jack D. Elliott, Jr. Map of Old Plymouth

Before the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Tombigbee River flowed westward by the mouth of Tibbee Creek (or “Oaktibbeha Creek,” as it was originally called), the historical boundary between the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes (Figure 1). After passing through low alluvial land, the river cut into the towering uplands as it swung around to the southeast forming a lengthy cliff into the outside of the bend. This bluff was capped with the chalky Mooreville geological formation which encouraged the growth of cedar trees. During his 1771 descent of the Tombigbee British civil engineer Bernard Romans commented on the cedars and also noted that the imposing bluff had “a very romantic appearance.” [1]

While visually romantic, this site, located a few miles northeast of Columbus, Mississippi, would acquire a romance of history by virtue of events and legends. Occupied during the early nineteenth century by John Pitchlynn, U.S. Interpreter for the Choctaws, it was originally known as “Pitchlynn’s” or “Oaktibbeha,” but acquired the name “Plymouth” when a town of that name was founded on the north end of the bluff about 1833. However, within a few years the town passed into oblivion leaving only the name and memories. As memories faded to be replaced by oral traditions and speculation, and in the early years of the twentieth century by written history, an aura of legend came to surround the place, inspired by a variety of early associations including Pitchlynn, a brief rendezvous in 1736 of French and Choctaw forces campaigning against the Chickasaws, finds of prehistoric Indian artifacts, and, most important, the memory of an old fort of uncertain origin. About this fort, speculation ran rife. Some claimed that the French explorer and colonizer Iberville had it constructed in the dawning years of the eighteenth century, while others claimed that his brother Bienville built it during his Chickasaw campaigns during the 1730s. Yet others claimed that the English built it or that Andrew Jackson had it constructed during the Creek War. Additionally, reports of finding “many scraps of old armor and pieces of pottery and war implements of Spanish manufacture” led some to speculate that the Spanish had constructed it or that De Soto had camped there during his passage through the area in 1540-1541. [2]

All of these associations, whether real or imaginary, were summed up by W.A. Love in 1903 in the questionable claim that Plymouth was “undoubtedly the oldest site historically in east Mississippi.” These flurries of speculation did little to resolve the problem of the origin of the fort. Love observed that the problem had “so far baffled the researches of historians [with] no one having given a satisfactory explanation of the purpose of its construction.” For almost a century subsequent efforts have not changed this appraisal. [3] However, I propose herewith to provide a solution to this riddle.

The mystery of the fort’s origin has been perpetuated by two problems: the lack of a concerted effort to investigate the appropriate primary sources and the smoke screen of weak or spurious hypotheses which have led researchers down many a false path. I address this problem first by demonstrating that most hypotheses have little substance and then follow with a considerably more substantial scenario based upon primary sources that both document the fort and the historical context that produced it. It is proposed that the fort was constructed in 1813 by John Pitchlynn as growing tensions led to an outbreak of the Creek War. Furthermore, going beyond mere identification, the narrative will demonstrate that the fort played a key role as a base for military maneuvers against the Creek Nation.

I examine only those hypotheses that have at least a modicum of documentary support. The first attempt at documenting the origin of the fort was by Choctaw ethnohistorian and long-time Lowndes County resident Henry S. Halbert who devoted an article to the subject in 1910. [4] According to him, all that remained of the fort by the mid-1800s was a cedar log blockhouse and remnants of a circular ditch and embankment. He provided a detailed description of these remains, undoubtedly based upon oral sources:

The [block]house...stood upon a slight elevation and was about five hundred yards distant from the river. It was surrounded by a circular ditch with an embankment, about two hundred yards in circumference. Some faint traces of the embankment may yet be seen. The fort, as it was commonly called, was a two-story building, some twenty feet square, made of large cedar logs, hewn on two sides. There was a door to the lower story, but no windows. On each side of the door were some holes, evidently made for gun men. The upper story had eight windows, two on each side, and two holes under each window, sixteen in all. The roof was made of cedar shingles, nearly an inch and a half thick, fastened to the lathing with wrought-iron nails. The fort was torn down by Mr. Canfield in 1860, and the timbers were used, some in building various outhouses, and some in building a small bridge on the public road. When torn down, it was noticed that the exposed ends of the shingles were nearly worn away, an evidence of the antiquity of the house. [5]

Assuming that the fort predated Pitchlynn’s residence at Plymouth, Halbert bemoaned the fact that no one had ever queried the frontiersman about its origin. He then proposed a credible, but unsubstantiated, scenario according to which the fort had been built in the early years of the eighteenth century as a fortified trading house as a result of an agreement that Iberville made to the Choctaws and Chickasaws in 1702. [6] On March 26, 1702, the French leader held a meeting of chiefs of the two tribes at Old Mobile to bring about peace between them and ally them with the French as buffer states against the English. As a result Iberville agreed to establish a fortified trading house to supply the Indians with trade goods. On April 28, he sailed from Mobile bound for France, leaving his brother Bienville in command with orders for Henri de Tonti to ascend the Tombigbee River and build the promised fort. [7] Halbert’s hypothesis was tenuous from the beginning for three reasons: (1) there is no proof that the fort was actually built, (2) there is no clear linkage to the Plymouth site, and (3) it is unlikely that any component of the fort would have survived unmaintained from ca. 1702 through 1860. A weak scenario initially, it is invalidated by Bienville’s 1706 assertions that the fort was never built because of rampant sickness and shortage of funds. [8] Although Bienville promised to eventually construct it, there is no evidence that he ever considered the issue again.

Other hypotheses have revolved around a possible Spanish origin of the fort, inspired no doubt by the claims of finding Spanish armor and other artifacts at the site along with a lingering oral tradition. In 1921, a pamphlet history of Columbus noted that “Fort Choctaw, or Cedar Log Fort, was established at Old Plymouth, near Columbus by the Spaniards in 1790.” [9] Although a source for this assertion was not provided, it is undoubtedly the same source that Prout used as documentary evidence of the fort,---an untitled 1792 map of the Southeast. Labeled partially in Spanish and partially in English, it depicts what at first glance appears to be a “Fort Chactaw” located on the Tombigbee River. [10] However, a closer inspection makes it clear that this is a misreading; in fact, “Fort Chactaw” results from an awkward juxtaposition of the words “Fort of Old Tombecbe” and the word “Chactaw.” The former phrase indicated the site of the old French Fort Tombecbe while the word “Chactaw” indicated the territory of the Choctaw Indians. [11]

Kaye, Ward, and Neault have linked “Fort Chactaw” with one William Cooper, “a coloured man of Portugese extraction” and an employee of John Turnbull, an Indian trader during the Spanish regime. In 1794, Cooper charged Turnbull $200 for “working on fort on Tombigby,” which they suggest might indicate the construction of the fort at Plymouth. Needless, to say this source is quite vague; it does not indicate what fort is referred to (there were two on the river in that year, San Esteban, founded 1789, and Confederación, founded 1794), nor does it indicate whether Cooper actually constructed a fort or merely helped repair one already in existence. Consequently, the Fort Chactaw/William Cooper hypothesis has little merit. [12]

Another hypothesis, for which I must take responsibility, was based on an account of a blockhouse located on the western side of the Tombigbee in present-day Pickens County, Alabama. This structure was purportedly one in a series of trading posts established by the Bonapartists who founded the Vine and Olive colony at and in the vicinity of Demopolis, Alabama. Although the hypothesis was plausible there is no documentary basis for linking it specifically to Plymouth. Nor is there any known documentation that corroborates the existence of these trading posts. Consequently, I consider this proposal to be without notable merit. Indeed, as I observed over twenty years ago, short of new archaeological or documentary evidence “no strong case can be made for the origin” of the fort. [13]

Now new documentary evidence has appeared. Recent research in primary sources related to the territorial period establishes with a high degree of certainty that the fort was built by John Pitchlynn shortly before the outbreak of the Creek War. In this regard it is strange that the variety of hypotheses concerning the fort’s origin were usually linked to questionable historical scenarios, while no one had ever considered that an established historical association--John Pitchlynn and the Creek War--was directly related to the origin. [14] The newly-discovered sources include a reference to Pitchlynn constructing the fort in mid-1813 and reveal the name--Fort Smith--as used by American troops. Furthermore, a letter fragment written by Pitchlynn’s son, Peter, provides a reminiscence regarding the role of the fort during the Creek War. This evidence not only establishes the origin of the fort, but it also documents a neglected, albeit important, chapter in the history of the war. [15]

The origins of the fort must be seen in the context of the cultural dynamics of westward expansion, of international conflicts, and the transformation of the indigenous inhabitants of the Mississippi Territory. To the south of the territory, lay Spanish West Florida which controlled access to the Tombigbee River at Mobile resulting in a simmering tension that occasionally produced filibusters and attempted filibusters by militant Anglo-American frontiersmen.

In the middle of this international powder keg, several Indian groups--Choctaws, Chickasaws, Cherokees, and the heterogeneous groups that were lumped under the often misleading rubrics of Creeks and Seminoles--were caught up in fundamental cultural changes. Their lands were increasingly being encroached upon by Anglo-Americans. Furthermore, over a century of trade with successive colonial powers placed increasing stress on an economic system based on subsistence horticulture and commercial hunting. The desire for European-manufactured trade goods encouraged over-hunting in search of the hides that were the medium of trade; this in turn depleted the deer and other wildlife that were the life-blood of the trade. Consequently, while demand for goods increased, the means for acquiring them was vanishing, and Indian indebtedness to traders increased; thus the seeds of economic change were sown. [16]

In response to their economic plight, the United States government instituted the “plan of civilization” as a fundamental component of its Indian policy, which was designed to shift the Indians from an increasingly unviable economy into the American economic system. [17] The plan was implemented by the Indian agents; for example, in 1799, the first resident Choctaw/Chickasaw agent Samuel Mitchell reported having “advised the Indians to settle out separately or in small villages, farm their fields and turn their minds to agriculture and the raising of stock for the support of their families, a number of half Breeds and some Indians in this quarter have settled out for the purpose of raising of stock.” [18] Two years later Choctaw/Chickasaw agent John McKee, who will play a major role in this story, reported further success in the endeavor: “the Indians here are settling out of their old towns, fencing their plantations, and collecting round them stocks of hogs & cattle....” [19]

However, these economic changes and shifts to isolated farmsteads entailed the abandonment of the villages which resulted in concomitant reorganizations of family and political organizations. In effect, it initiated a sea change in aboriginal culture which often translated into hostilities and tensions between factions, between those who favored change and those who resented its impact upon traditional culture. In many cases, whites who had married into the Indian tribes and their mixed-blood families were the first to take advantage of these changes. Among the Choctaws these families included the Folsoms, Lefleurs, and Pitchlynns.

Anglo-American John Pitchlynn (1764-1835) became a resident of the Choctaw Nation about 1774. There he was married successively to two mixed-blood Choctaw wives and raised several children. Well-respected by both Choctaws and Americans, he was appointed U.S. Interpreter to the Choctaws in 1786 at the Treaty of Hopewell and continued as a key figure in U.S.-Choctaw relations for decades. The position of interpreter involved more than simply interpreting; in the early years Pitchlynn was the primary contact in the Choctaw Nation. After the appointment of the first resident Choctaw agent in 1797, he was closely connected to that office, effectively serving as an assistant agent, through its termination at the end of 1832. Although he probably resided originally in the Choctaw villages, by the late 1790s he established a farm on the upper Noxubee River near Mount Dexter, the first known site of the Choctaw Agency (ca. 1799-1804). In 1804, the agency was moved to a site near present-day Quitman, Mississippi on the Chickasawhay River. As a result of extended absences of Agent Silas Dinsmoor, Pitchlynn moved in 1806 to the agency and effectively operated the establishment. However, in 1810 Dinsmoor relocated the agency to the Natchez Trace at present-day Ridgeland, Mississippi, and probably at this time Pitchlynn moved to Plymouth. [20]

Pitchlynn’s move was apparently part of a plan to supply the U.S. Choctaw Trading House at St. Stephens on the Lower Tombigbee. [21] The plan, to transship munitions overland from the Tennessee River to the Tombigbee, thereby avoiding the Spanish-held port of Mobile, was probably developed by George S. Gaines, the agent, or factor, at the trading house, in consultation with the War Department and probably in consultation with Dinsmoor and Pitchlynn. The trading house, or factory as it was often called, was part of a federal program to provide reasonably priced goods to the Indians and thereby wean them away from foreign-based merchants. It had been established in 1803 at St. Stephens on the Lower Tombigbee in the remnants of the old Spanish Fort San Esteban. [22] When Pitchlynn settled at Plymouth, the place was located in the extreme northeastern corner of the Choctaw territory and remote from most of the Choctaw population. However, it was a desirable site by virtue of its transportation connections. It was not only on the navigable Tombigbee River but was also a crossroads at the intersection of two major trails running, respectively, north-south and east-west. [23]

Upon arriving at Plymouth, Pitchlynn established a home and farm, where he could take care of agency and trading house business and feed and maintain his family. It was probably at this time that his “cedar log mansion,” so fondly remembered by his son Peter, was constructed. Fields were cultivated. Peter grew up working with his father’s cattle herd and, as a pastime, hunting deer and alligators. [24]

The need to avoid Mobile was precipitated by the 1809 closing of its port to the shipment of munitions upstream into the Mississippi Territory. This new policy, no doubt arising out of Spanish fears of American filibustering, resulted in turning back a substantial shipment of powder and lead that was bound for the Choctaw Trading House. [25] The War Department initially attempted packing goods overland from Natchez to St. Stephens in early 1810. However, even before this was attempted, Gaines and the War Department were already considering the possibility of using a short overland route that would connect the Tennessee river with the Tombigbee, a plan in which Pitchlynn would play a key role. Concurring with Gaines in regard to this overland route, in August 1810 John Mason, the superintendent of the War Department’s office of Indian trade, ordered the factor to proceed to the mouth of the Cumberland river to receive a shipment of powder, purchase lead, and determine the best route between the rivers. Mason also made suggestions regarding the route and a possible new site for the trading house. He noted that although boats had descended the Tombigbee from as high as Cotton Gin Port, such navigation was possible only during swells. However, below the mouth of Tibbee creek navigation was much better, making it desirable for the terminus of the road and a new trading house. When discussing the mouth of Tibbee creek, he did not mention Pitchlynn, suggesting that the interpreter had not yet moved there. [26] Acting on these orders, Gaines left St. Stephens in early November and arrived the following month at the mouth of the Cumberland River. There he made arrangement for the goods to be shipped up the Tennessee to George Colbert’s ferry, then overland to Pitchlynn’s at the mouth of Tibbee. From there they were shipped downriver to St. Stephens, arriving by mid-February 1811. [27] The next shipment followed in December 1811 through January 1812. [28]

At this time the beginning of the War of 1812 proved to be the spark that ignited growing tensions between traditionalists and pro-American factions that culminated in the Creek War. Aware of the discontent at the loss to traditional lifestyles, in 1811, the Shawnee chief Tecumseh traveled through the Southeast in a campaign to arouse the Indians against the United States. Passing through the Choctaw Nation he spoke at several villages and found many sympathetic ears but was largely rebuffed by pro-American factions led by Pushmataha, the principal chief of the southern Choctaw district. [29] Nevertheless, a strong anti-American sentiment remained. Although the tensions were endemic throughout the Southeastern tribes, no where were they more pronounced than among the Creeks, and among them he had considerably more success. Heightened tension eventually erupted into civil war between a pro-American faction and an anti-American, nativistic faction known as the “Red Sticks.” Although fighting was initially between these two groups, it eventually spilled over to the Anglo-American settlers, in part due to encouragement from the British. In February 1813 a Red Stick party slaughtered seven families near the mouth of the Ohio River; a pregnant woman was cut open and her unborn baby was impaled on a stake. The situation was greatly intensified following the July 27, 1813, Battle of Burnt Corn Creek, where territorial militia intercepted and attacked a group of Creeks returning from Pensacola with supplies of ammunition. What first appeared to be a victory turned into a debacle when the Creeks counterattacked causing the militia to retreat in disarray. [30]

In the meantime Pitchlynn found himself in an exposed position far from the main Choctaw settlements and on the border of what was virtually a no-man’s land between the Choctaws and the Creeks. He was not at home in April 1813, when Silas Dinsmoor reported that about fifty eight Muskogees [Creeks] had been hovering near the northeastern frontier of this nation and near the residence of Mr. John Pitchlynn assistant agent & interpreter. His family had collected as many warriors as could be assembled in the neighborhood to guard them until general notice could be given to the great Medal chiefs & principal warriors who were assembled at [the agency]. [31]

Upon hearing this the Choctaw chiefs resolved to protect Pitchlynn and his family “as their own people.” A few days later, Pitchlynn returned home to find his family “much alarmed and confused.” Relating the incident to Chickasaw Agent James Robertson, he toyed with the notion of raising several companies of Choctaws and Chickasaws to protect the frontier from Creek incursions. [32]

Meanwhile, settlers on the frontier began to construct defensive fortifications. On July 29, territorial governor David Holmes summarized the realities of frontier defense:

It will be impracticable for any army that we can possibly bring into the field to protect completely the settlements on the frontier against sculking parties of Indians who can attack them at defficient points and retire to the wilderness when pressed by a superior force, Block Houses and places inclosed by pickets form the safest defence for the inhabitants against this mode of warfare and can be speedily erected[.] a sufficient number should be constructed at convenient distances to contain all the families who may be exposed to the incursions of the savages. [33]

Construction of forts for the defense of civilian settlements in unstable frontier situations was an established procedure in Trans-Appalachia, particularly in portions of Kentucky and Tennessee that were settled during the late eighteenth century. Such forts could vary in size from those designed to encompass an entire village, such as Boonesborough and Fort Nashborough, to small single residence “stations.” Such defensive measures commonly used palisade stockade walls, ditches, and blockhouses. [34]

In the Mississippi Territory fort construction was in progress by August 4 when a letter reported that “all on the East Side of [the lower] Tombigbee [River] are Forted and many have removed on the west side, Even to Chickasawhay and Pearl River. those on the west side, immediately on the Rivers are Forted also....” [35] Although most of the forts were located near the conjunction of the Alabama, Mobile, and Tombigbee Rivers, others were constructed near the Chickasawhay River in Wayne County, along the Pearl River, at the Chickasaw Agency, and even in the Natchez District. [36] The forts were usually built around a person’s house and provided a central defensive position where settlers could congregate. Although intended for only temporary usage, they often entailed substantial construction efforts as indicated by a letter from the Pearl River:

Those of us who have determined to make a stand are busily engaged in constructing a Fort. We have already progressed considerably. Two block houses are nearly finished, in the construction of which we have availed ourselves of the defects in that already taken by the Indians. Our Fort is a square of sixty yards with two Block houses at right angles, the port holes seven feet high & the pickets nearly one foot thick. All we wanted were arms & ammunition, which we thank you for supplying.... [37]

In the midst of this flurry of fort building, General F.L. Claiborne wrote that: “It is said, Mr. Pitchlynn the interpreter of the Chactaw nation is alarmed for his own safety and that of the friendly Chactaws and is fortifying....” [38] In light of the other forts being constructed at the time, Pitchlynn’s with its stockade and blockhouse was fairly typical. Much of his construction work was probably conducted by his slaves, although Choctaws may have also assisted. [39]

Events reached a climax on August 30, when one of the more heavily occupied forts, Fort Mims, located on the Tensaw River was unexpectedly attacked by the Red Sticks. Caught with the stockade door open, the settlers were overwhelmed and approximately 275 were killed. [40] Hysteria swept the frontier, resulting in growing concern in the states of Georgia and Tennessee where previously many leaders had doubted the seriousness of the Indian threat. These states would soon contribute substantial militia troops to supplement those from the Mississippi Territory which were numerically inadequate for the purpose at hand. Immediately upon notification of the massacre, George Gaines sent letters requesting immediate military assistance to Nashville addressed to Tennessee governor Willie Blount and to Major General Andrew Jackson, who was in command of the West Tennessee militia. To deliver the messages, Gaines selected a young man named Samuel Edmondson to serve as an express rider along a route that included a stop at Pitchlynn’s outpost. Upon reaching Nashville, Gaines’s request could not have come as a surprise; Blount had just received a request from the Secretary of War that 5000 Tennessee militia be deployed to the Mississippi Territory. [41]

Meanwhile another load of goods was enroute to the trading house. This would be the last shipment to go by this route, because on April 15th of that year the Spanish had surrendered the port of Mobile to American forces under General James Wilkinson. The shipment was under way when this occurred so it continued as far as Pitchlynn’s. However, with the growing hostilities, Pitchlynn was apparently reluctant to send a 6068 pound shipment down river where it could easily fall into the possession of the Creeks. Consequently, the goods were placed into storage to wait for a less volatile time for shipping. [42]

On September 14, Mushulutubbee, the principal chief of the Northeastern District of the Choctaws (a.k.a. Lower Choctaws), arrived at Pitchlynn’s to report a rumor that 5000 Creek warriors along with their women and children were advancing on St. Stephens. Reports also claimed that two Creeks had even invited the Choctaws to join with them in destroying the Tombigbee River town. That evening Pitchlynn penned a letter to Governor Willie Blount informing him of the Choctaw’s vulnerable situation and of their need for ammunition. [43] On the same day he made arrangements with Mushulatubbee to employ about 30 Choctaws, 20 of whom were to serve as guards for the Trading House goods being stored at his home; the others were to act as spies and protect whites who were residing in or traveling through the Choctaw territory. Pitchlynn fed the guards from the produce of his cornfield and cattle herd. [44]

Events were rapidly developing in Nashville. With Choctaw Agent Dinsmoor absent in Washington, D.C. and unable to work with the Choctaws, General Jackson and Governor Blount were aware that the tribe could potentially become enemies of the United States. Consequently, the Tennessee Legislature authorized Blount to appoint a “confidential agent,” who would proceed to the Choctaw territory and attempt to secure their neutrality in the war. If successful, he was to employ sympathetic Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Cherokees to participate in military activities against the Red Sticks. Blount selected Colonel John McKee, the former agent to the Choctaws and Chickasaws and an associate of his late brother Governor William Blount. Prior to his selection, McKee had advocated that the Choctaws should not be written off as potential enemies; if properly armed, they could indeed be valuable allies, as Pitchlynn had also asserted. Nor was his advice to be taken lightly. Having served as agent, he knew the land and was respected by the people. Furthermore, he had the reputation of being of good character. Willie Blount had earlier observed to Jackson that “God never made a better man than John McKee.” B.L.C. Wailes described McKee in 1818 as “exceedingly polite and attentive” and noted that “there is an open, noble generosity in his character that I admire.” [45] Jackson also ordered McKee to acquire information and possibly place a lieutenant at Pitchlynn’s to aid in protecting the Trading House goods. [46]

At the time the state of Tennessee was being drawn into a massive campaign against the Red Sticks that would entail the use of four armies and require cooperation between state governors and federal officials. The plan required that the four armies enter the Creek nation from different directions and converge at the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. Two of the armies consisted of the West Tennessee militia under General Andrew Jackson and the East Tennessee militia under General John Cocke which were supposed to enter the Mississippi Territory from the north and merge under Jackson’s command. The Georgia militia would enter from the east while the United States Army regulars accompanied by the Mississippi territorial militia, would advance up the Alabama River to the meeting place. All units were ordered to attack any Red Sticks, burn hostile and abandoned villages, and destroy crops. To protect their supply lines, forts were to be constructed at intervals of about one day’s march apart. It was initially thought that the war would be won in two to three months. Although conducted according to plan, the war actually required about ten months to achieve victory with much of the delay arising from a shortage of supplies and a constant turnover of troops. [47]

After receiving his commission, McKee traveled southwards with Tennessee cavalry under Colonel (later General) John Coffee who had been sent in advance to establish a camp at Huntsville in the Mississippi Territory (now in Alabama). After the bulk of the army under Jackson arrived, they pushed southwards into Creek territory and established Fort Strother on the upper Coosa River as a base of operations. Despite some military successes, Jackson’s troops were plagued, first, by a shortage of supplies and, second, by the expiration of the one year enlistment of most of his troops. As enlistment dates expired, troops departed. By the end of December the Tennessee militia had completely disintegrated leaving Jackson fuming and virtually powerless in Fort Strother. [48]

Meanwhile, McKee was busy. Prior to Jackson’s arrival at Huntsville, he was given a detachment of 20 men including Captain George Smith and departed for the Choctaw territory via the Chickasaw Agency. Under the supervision of Agent James Robertson, blockhouses were under construction at the agency for defense against the Creeks. While there, McKee found that the Chickasaws were “generally pleased with the expectation that the Creeks are about to meet their merited punishment” but were “too few and too much scattered” to be of military assistance. On October 13, McKee and his escort rode into Pitchlynn’s fortified settlement, no doubt creating a stir of excitement. They would transform it into their base of operations during the course of the following months, possibly enhancing the fortifications that had already been constructed. As the center of military activity they dubbed it “Fort Smith,” probably in honor of Captain Smith. At the same hour that McKee’s party arrived, so too arrived George Gaines and John Flood McGrew from St. Stephens. Under orders from General Thomas Flournoy, commander of the U.S. Seventh Military Division, they were on a mission to enlist the aid of the Choctaws against the Red Sticks. McKee immediately sent out Choctaw runners to collect the chiefs for a meeting. [49]

Soon afterwards, McKee reported Flournoy’s plans to Coffee. He also reported that nine Choctaw spies had recently returned from the Black Warrior River where they had observed a large Creek village and fort that was almost totally abandoned. It was thought that they were concentrating their forces at the confluence of the Coosa and Tallapoosa Rivers. [50]

On October 19 chiefs, primarily from the Northeastern District, convened at Pitchlynn’s, and the following day McKee addressed them. There were many old friends present, but he also recognized an undercurrent of hostility in many. He appealed to them to resist the inclination to join the Red Sticks and instead ally themselves with the United States. Because of McKee’s persuasiveness and the Choctaws’s trust in him, the meeting was a success. Furthermore, McKee acknowledged the importance of Pitchlynn’s exertions and to the “friendly deportment” of Captain Smith’s troops toward the Indians. The Choctaws pledged their support and resolved to go to war against the Creeks but only on the condition that they were supplied with guns and ammunition. Furthermore, it was decided that McKee would oversee operations with the Chickasaws and the northern Choctaws, while Gaines would work with the southern Choctaws. [51]

To secure the needed munitions, McKee and over 50 warriors departed on October 24 for St. Stephens, 150 miles away, in hopes of acquiring them from General Flournoy. Unable to obtain anything from the short-supplied army, the party traveled another 60 miles to Mobile to purchase supplies and returned to Pitchlynn’s on November 29. Meanwhile, Smith and company had remained behind at the fort, now known as “Fort Smith,” to help guard the supplies and organize the Choctaws for a military campaign, activities that left them with considerable idle time. While waiting, Smith received information about “a considerable number of rebellious Chaktaws” concentrating at a village of Creeks on the Black Warrior. This was designated as the primary target of the campaign along with a nearby Creek village on the Cahawba River. [52]

The day after his return, McKee again held a meeting with the district chiefs who insisted on yet more ammunition before undertaking the campaign. McKee suspected that this was merely a ploy perpetrated by Creek sympathizers to delay any military action. To allay their demands, he started out again for Mobile on December 3 accompanied by only one Indian, leaving Pitchlynn and Smith to “stimulate the Choctaws to strike the blows which was daily becoming more necessary.” Back in Mobile he obtained more guns and supplies. [53]

Returning on December 30, McKee discovered that zealous anti-Red Stick factions had already “commenced the war.” Parties led by the chiefs Talking Warrior and Hummingbird had traveled to the Black Warrior, killed four Creeks and four pro-Red Stick Choctaws, and brought the scalps back as trophies. With McKee’s return, final plans were implemented for the assault on the Black Warrior, while messengers were sent out to rally Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors. [54]

Finally, the day came. On January 9, the force led by McKee departed accompanied by Pitchlynn, his son John, Jr., Choctaw warriors, and presumably by Captain Smith and his Tennessee troops. McKee’s party rendezvoused with other Choctaw warriors on the 12th at the Choctaw settlement of “Shekulluck” (probably near Shuqualak Creek in present-day Kemper County), bringing the force up to 402 and waited until the 15th for other warriors from the Northwestern District, or Upper Choctaws, and from the Chickasaws. While waiting the Choctaws were taunted by the chief Little Leader who had been a constant advocate of the Red Sticks; failing to win any support he stormed out of the camp. After the reinforcements failed to arrive, McKee crossed the Tombigbee and advanced toward the Black Warrior where they discovered that the Creeks had abandoned their settlement to escape from the invaders. On the 24th the Choctaws burned the fort, houses, and all the provisions that could be found. A few Red Sticks remained to harass McKee’s force, resulting in a few wounds and, on one occasion, the theft of 28 horses. As the campaign wound down, the long awaited Chickasaw and Upper Choctaw force finally arrived, only to find McKee beginning his return on the 28th. [55]

At Fort Strother, Andrew Jackson’s fortunes were on an upswing. After the departure of most of his troops during the fall and winter, the approach of spring brought substantial numbers of fresh troops from Tennessee so that by March he had a rejuvenated command of almost 5000 men. Consequently he began to prepare his offensive. On February 3, he addressed a letter to McKee ordering him to “scour the Black Warrior” with his Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors while his own forces made a simultaneous thrust into the heart of the Creek Nation. This concerted campaign, the General alleged, would “strike terror to the whole nation.” Expecting relatively little resistance, McKee sent small parties of Choctaws and Chickasaw eastward to search the Black Warrior basin for Creeks and their provisions. By March 18, returning Choctaw warriors reported that “they could not find the track of an enemy between Tombigby and Cawhaba.” [56]

This ended most of McKee’s work on the Upper Tombigbee. On March 18, he reported that he was traveling southward with a force of 435 Choctaws and Chickasaws to link up with the U.S. 3rd Regiment under the command of Lt. Col. Gilbert C. Russell and campaign along the Alabama River. In May the Indians were disbanded at St. Stephens to return home. [57]

By late February it was fairly clear that the Red Sticks no longer posed a threat on the Tombigbee, so George Gaines left St. Stephens and rode north to Pitchlynn’s accompanied by a guard consisting of Efford L. Jones, “Indian Jim,” and “Negro Dick” to retrieve the trading house goods from storage. He remained a week before finally loading them into a keel boat, which had been built there at his request, and departed downriver for St. Stephens. Although conditions were relatively secure, he took the precaution of having the sides of the boat lined with cowhides and additional planking to make them bullet-proof. A few days later they arrived safely at St. Stephens. All subsequent shipments of goods to the Trading House would pass through the more convenient port of Mobile. [58]

As McKee completed his campaign on the Black Warrior, Jackson moved. On March 14, his troops advanced from Fort Strother in a thrust that would destroy the backbone of Red Stick resistance, most of which was accomplished at the March 28 Battle of Horseshoe Bend, a victory that turned into a massacre. Subsequent military activity was little more than picking up the pieces, leaving Jackson, McKee and the others to concentrate on other campaigns. In August, McKee returned to Pitchlynn’s for the purpose of reassembling the Choctaws for another campaign under Jackson. The task was made difficult because of difficulties providing the Indians with provisions and paying them for the last campaign, yet with the assistance of Pitchlynn and others he was able to recruit another force of Choctaws and Chickasaws. [59] The last known military activity at Plymouth occurred in October 1814, when militia under General Coffee traveling from Fayetteville, Tennessee to St. Stephens passed through there. [60]

Following his decisive defeat of the Red Sticks, Jackson was well on his way to becoming a national hero, a passage that culminated with his victory at the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. Although Jackson, leading armies of trained militia and Federal troops, produced triumphs on the field of battle, McKee’s triumphs were less flamboyant but no less worthy. Although McKee’s forces had not engaged in any major conflicts during their expeditions to the Black Warrior River, they in effect stabilized the Tombigbee area by maintaining the allegiance of most of the Choctaws and by encouraging the Creeks to concentrate further to the east where they were demolished by Jackson. [61]

The importance of McKee’s accomplishments were assessed in 1815 by Governor Willie Blount: “It is a fact known to thousands...that his [McKee’s] exertions and influence...not only prevented the Choctaws from aiding the Creeks but really saved the settlers on Tombigby from actual destruction, he having successfully used those exertions and effected that object before the troops from Tennessee had or could get to their relief.” [62] Blount probably exaggerated McKee’s role somewhat, after all the purpose of the letter was to persuade the War Department to reimburse the latter for his war expenditures and special pleading would be helpful. However, the statement does highlight the importance of the efforts of men like McKee and Pitchlynn whose dogged efforts cannot be measured in terms of military victory. Battles and their consequences have an immediate impact upon the public consciousness; Jackson was swept up into national awareness through his victories at Horseshoe Bend and New Orleans was transformed into a national hero. However, the achievements of McKee and Pitchlynn were not conducive to producing such fanfare. Instead their work required determination, patience, and the ability to acquire and maintain the confidence and trust of a different race of people. The results of this work cannot be measured on the field of battle but in the hypothetical realm of that which they prevented, in this case, a Choctaw uprising. Could there have been such an uprising? Certainly, although it would not have been total. American sentiment was too ingrained in many of the leaders, and even among the Creeks a substantial proportion of the tribe remained pro-American. However, a majority of the Choctaws probably had no strong commitments; many could have been swayed by a vocal anti-American faction, and the consequences would have been catastrophic, in part for the United States, but even more so for the Choctaws. A rebellion of several hundred, if not a few thousand, warriors could have terrorized the Tombigbee and Natchez settlements, but, in the end, they could not have prevailed against the combined might of state militias and Federal troops. They would have been crushed and suffered a frightful toll of lives as did the Red Sticks.

In early 1815, news of the cessation of hostilities reached Pitchlynn. To celebrate the occasion he loaded a cannon that had been used to defend his fort and fired it. The cannon exploded. When the smoke cleared, he phlegmatically observed, “Well we have no further use for her--she has served us through the war & bursted in telling the news of peace.” [63]

Following the war, he continued to reside at Plymouth into the 1820s. [64] With the fortifications no longer needed for defensive purposes or for military activities, he presumably dismantled the stockade, retaining only the block house, which being spacious and well constructed could have easily served an alternative function. His home continued as a center for Choctaw Agency-related business and for his farming activities. It briefly served as a United States post office named “Pitchlynns” from 1819 through 1820. [65] Furthermore, when missionaries began activities in the area in the late 1810s, they frequently called on Pitchlynn for assistance. [66]

Plymouth’s importance as a crossroads was soon overshadowed when the U.S. Army opened a military road downriver in 1819, and the town of Columbus was founded at the crossing. As the town grew, new transportation routes converged there including a second Federally-funded road, the Robinson Road. In about 1827, Pitchlynn moved to a new home on the Robinson Road located four miles west of Columbus [67] and left his old home to his daughter Rhoda and her husband Calvin Howell, who were residing there by 1830. [68] Through provisions of the 1830 Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek Howell acquired several hundred acres surrounding his residence. [69] As the surrounding lands were purchased and transformed into farms, he had the town of Plymouth surveyed on the northern end of the bluff in either late 1832 or early 1833; it was incorporated in 1836. [70] Plymouth was a small river town that served as a trade center for surrounding farms with at least one warehouse to accommodate the river trade. The town grew fairly rapidly in its early years. In May 1833, Howell described it as “improving, as fast as could be reasonably expected. There are a considerable number of Log and frame buildings, a carrying on in it. The Steam Boats, have visited us several times, this winter. We have one Store, and one grocery, in town, and a young man by the name of Carver, is teaching School.”[71] By 1837 a county census revealed a population of 199 living within the corporation limits--77 free and 122 slave. [72] Yet, by virtue of proximity to Columbus, it could never have been more than a satellite to the older and larger town.

However, about 1840 Plymouth declined abruptly and was soon extinct. The site continued to serve as little more than a shipping port when the seasonal rises of the river permitted navigation. [73] Why the town declined so early and so quickly is not certain. Other river towns in the area declined as a result of flooding, while others died after the arrival of the Mobile and Ohio Railroad in the 1850s, effectively stealing trade away from them. These factors were irrelevant for Plymouth; it lay high above the river terraces and bottomlands and consequently was not subject to flooding and its decline took place years before the arrival of the railroad. Lipscomb claimed that it declined because the site was unhealthy; however, it seems improbable that it was unhealthier than other Tombigbee towns. The most likely explanation for its precipitous decline was the ca. 1840 opening of a bridge across the Tombigbee at Columbus. Plymouth was so close to the larger town that a person could easily walk from one to the other in two hours and ride in about one. The opening of a bridge would have reduced the cost and time of travel by eliminating ferry usage and the requisite fares making it increasingly difficult for the smaller town to compete with the larger. [74]

All traces of the Pitchlynns and Plymouth quickly disappeared. John sold his Robinson Road home in late 1832 and moved across Tibbee Creek into Chickasaw lands where he established a farm and a new home. Increasingly despondent, he contracted an unidentified disease in April 1835, died on May 20, and was buried nearby at a site of his own choosing. All of his relatives soon moved westward. [75]. With the sudden decline of Plymouth, Calvin and Rhoda Howell departed for Arkansas in 1841. [76] Soon after, virtually all of the town lots were combined under the ownership of John Billington who moved into the Pitchlynn/Howell house. [77] It was into this setting that Pitchlynn’s son, Peter, rode in September 1846 during a trip back to Mississippi from the Indian Territory. He described visiting the site, making no mention of a town, but did refer to the warehouses on the river bank and his former family home which he visited as a guest of Billington. He recalled: “It was the same roof which was first placed over it, under which I was raised--the same floor, doors and shutters....” Memories of childhood experiences during the Creek War flooded back: “I can without the least mental effort see the old homestead as she appeared during the war,-- and the war fires blazing on her hills. the war dance, the war talks and many a brave and na humma, long dead now rise up in my mind-- What brave noble fellows they were. They had come to the protection of my father, and family, and they would have fallen & died around our little fort ere they would have allowed a Muskoke reaching us with their Tomma hawks....” [78]

In 1859, Billington sold his Plymouth property to C.B. Canfield, whose family, as previously related, dismantled the blockhouse to reuse its timbers. [79] It is not certain what happened to the Pitchlynn house; however, it is possible that the Prowell family, who acquired the property in 1889, dismantled it and rebuilt it on other property where it was still standing as late as the 1930s. (Figure 2) [80] The site was eventually plowed over as a cotton field, but by 1925 it had been abandoned and was returning to forest. In 1934, James C. Prowell still knew the location of the fort site and was able to lead MDAH archaeologist Moreau Chambers and county engineer C.L. Wood there on a site visit. However within a few years both Prowell and Wood were dead, while Chambers had left the state. Today I have been unable to find anyone who knows the traditional location. [81]

As Plymouth receded into the past, what had been fairly accurate and detailed everyday knowledge gradually melted into a blur of legend. This process was encouraged by the removal of most of the town’s population; those few who remained seldom thought about or articulated that which initially seemed so commonplace. By the time that it acquired an aura of the irretrievable, mysterious past, something worthy of investigating, it was too late. No one was alive who had first hand knowledge of Pitchlynn or the fort. So faded the story of an incident of the Creek War which, having been preserved in written fragments, is here resurrected. APPENDIX A


The landscape at Plymouth during the period of John Pitchlynn’s residence is reconstructed and synthesized on Figure 1. The topographical backdrop is derived from United States Geological Survey topographical maps from the 1950s. A comparison of these maps with the much earlier General Land Office (GLO) township plats indicates that the courses of the Tombigbee River and Tibbee Creek had changed relatively little. (Subsequently, following the construction of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway including the Columbus Lock-and-Dam which butts up against Plymouth, the old courses of the streams have become almost unrecognizable.) Agricultural practices have undoubtedly resulted in erosion and gully formation after Pitchlynn’s time but these have not changed the gross configuration of the land. Also, for purposes of reference, I have depicted the GLO section lines west of the Tombigbee and south of Tibbee, which date to the early 1830s.

The site lies on the eastern edge of the Mississippi Black Prairie. However, this physiographic region was not one continuous grassland, but instead consisted of a scattering of prairies of varying sizes that were surrounded by primarily hardwood trees. One of these prairies (ca. 1.5 miles north-south by ca. 1 mile east-west) was located at Plymouth where a swath of woodland separated it from the edge of the river. In this particular area, many of the surrounding trees were apparently cedars. [82] As will be seen, Pitchlynn’s house was on the eastern side of this prairie.

Within this prairie were cultivated fields which were probably established by Pitchlynn. The larger--ca. 80 acres--was depicted on the GLO plat of Township 19, Range 17 East with the survey notes identifying it as “Howells cornfield.” To the east was another, smaller field that the surveyors described as “another field of Howells.”

The road network is reconstructed schematically. To do this I have identified known points where roads crossed either a section line or a stream and then interpolate the roads from there so as to intersect near the Pitchlynn house. More specifically, these known points include (1) the places where GLO surveyors identified roads as crossing section lines, (2) the river landing, and (3) Red Bluff on Tibbee Creek where the main north-south road from the Choctaws to the Chickasaws apparently crossed. [83]

During the Creek War, Pitchlynn’s homestead consisted of two basic components, the domestic buildings and the fortifications. The former component centered around the house which was probably built about 1810 when Pitchlynn first moved there. Peter Pitchlynn referred to it as “the cedar log mansion,” indicating that it was constructed using the abundant cedar trees. The house may very well have been a dogtrot structure, which was a common house type. Although there is no documentation, there were probably also a variety of buildings including slave housing, blacksmith shop, kitchen, corn crib, smoke house, etc. [84] The fortifications consisted of two components, a stockade and the blockhouse. The former defined the fort proper and was alluded to by Peter Pitchlynn when he recalled “the gate of the fort [being] thrown open.” [85] The primary component of the stockade was a palisade wall. Additionally, Halbert’s described “a circular ditch with an embankment, about two hundred yards in circumference” for which he noted that “Some faint traces of the embankment may yet be seen.” Presumably the ditch was on the exterior of the palisade, while the stockade palings were probably embedded in the embankment. A circumference of about two hundred yards indicates a diameter of about two hundred feet.

Blockhouses were often incorporated into fortification walls, even extending out from them like bastions, which might have been the case at Plymouth. As noted, with the cessation of hostilities the palisade was probably dismantled because it was of no further use; however, a well-constructed blockhouse could have been reused for storage or residential purposes, and so it consequently survived much longer.

The location of Pitchlynn’s house and fort can be approximately determined using various lines of evidence. First, the settlement was certainly in the southeast quarter of Section 10 in that John Billington was residing there in 1846, and all of his property was the fractional quarter section. Furthermore, as discussed elsewhere, the house was probably near the center of the quarter section. [86]

Halbert placed the fort site “on a slight elevation...about five hundred yards distant from the river.” Using a distance range of 400-600 yards from the river and a location near the center of the southeast quarter of Section 10 and on the crest of a knoll or ridge, we can narrow the location down to two or three possible locations on the eastern edge of the prairie. However, above and beyond this, final confirmation of the site will probably have to be through using archaeological methods aimed at identifying the ditch and palisade trenches as the criteria that will separate this site from the numerous other house sites that are to be found there as a result of the brief existence of the town of Plymouth.

Finally, Peter Pitchlynn’s 1846 letter mentioned a cemetery that dated to the period of his father’s residence. Today there is a small abandoned cemetery at Plymouth with surface indications of 10-20 graves and possibly more. However, only four of these are known to have had headstones--with dates ranging from 1845 to 1860. [87] Although the markers post-date John Pitchlynn’s occupation, it is probable that the cemetery originated while he lived at Plymouth.


The following transcript is of a fragment of a letter written by Peter Pitchlynn in 1846 when, during the course of a return visit to Mississippi from the Indian Territory, he visited his former home at Plymouth. Located in the Peter P. Pitchlynn collection (box 1, folder #109), Western History Collection, University of Oklahoma Library, it was called to my attention by Sam Kaye and Rufus Ward and is reproduced in its entirety herewith by virtue of its relevance to the fort at Plymouth.

The manuscript appears to be an uncompleted draft of a letter as suggested by the considerable number of deletions and additions and because the text ends abruptly in mid page. Passages that have been crossed out are usually not included in this transcription, unless they contribute to the narrative, in which case, they are italicized and placed in brackets.

                                                           Columbus, Mississippi Sept. 23, 184[6]

Dear Brother, [88]

                  On the morning of the 21st Instant I made a visit to the old Homestead, and beheld once more the [scenes] of my childhood after an absence of fourteen long years from the country.  I crossed the tombigbee at this place [Columbus] & proceeded up on the west side of the River, and all the way up I saw many places which I remembered, and all connected with some circumstance or event which occurd long ago and known probable only to myself.  Here I killed an Aligator, there I killed a deer, here I slept one night, and then there was the spot where my horse fell when I was bounding through the woods in full speed and threw me, and there were places which brought up from the long past remembrances of my departed father-- but I can not tell the one half, or even one hundredth of my recollections for they crowded upon my mine and almost overwhelmed [me] at times with feelings and emotions which I cannot describe.  Finally I came to the place where you last resided, and passed on to the Bluffs, and here I gazed over the still waters of the tombigbee where I had sported with my brothers and companions in another time.  Here all was natural save the long ware houses-- but the river was still beautiful and the white cliffs seemed as they did--  From her[e] I soon reached the old homestead.  But ah how changed was everything from what they were when I was a little boy.  My parents brothers and sisters were not here to greet me on my return as they did in times of yore--  they are all gone, save the dead!  I rode up to the gate and stood a long time.   seeing no one, I passed on to the grave yard where Dawson, Cooper and Uncle Billy (my father’s servant) and others are buried, and remained here some ten minutes and looked over the old fields upon the scenery around, filled with thoughts of the days of other times--  from here I went out to your friend, Major Canfield[’]s and spent several hours with him-- and after dinner [i.e. the noon meal] I returned to the old Homestead and, there spent some little while in [       ] at the place-- Mr Billington being there recieved me kindly and permitted me to go into the Cedar log mansion--  it still had on it was the same roof which was first placed on it, under which I was raised-- the same floor, doors and shutters, and there was still to be seen the print of the piece of cannon that struck against the house [which bursted in firing her at the news of Peace that reached us after the late war with England.]  this happened by firing her upon the occasion of Peace being declared between England & the United States.  I remember my father saying-- Well we have no further use for her--she has served us through the war, and bursted in telling the news of peace. [89]  that was a great day with us, for none were more exposed than we were to the tommahawk & scalping knife of the Creek Indians [being] then the farthest settlement towards the Creek nation who you know had espoused the cause of England-- which brought them in conflict with the Choctaws as well as the people of the United States.  twice had they  come to attact us,  but finding we were Forted and probably from a belief we were very strong in numbers they retired without making an attact upon us.--  I recollect how often we were alarmed by news reaching us that signs of the enemy were about us--  One time Mother fled with us/ the children to Yakmittubbe’s about ten miles off.-- the alarm was great, brother James came up in full speed (father was not at home) with news that he had heard the war hoop of the Creek Indians--  [90] brother Joseph remained in the fort, being some four years older than myself-- he said that if he was not able to fight he could run bullits for those that could fight--  [91]  Mother cryed when she left him, but not without incouraging him to be brave-- upon which Joseph painted his face and said he would die defending the Fort-- he was a brave boy [and ever afterwards proved himself to be a high and noble hearted] but just as he grew up to manhood, tall and handsome beloved by all who knew him-- an evil moment came over him, and in a state of mental derangement he put an end to his own existence.  The past how they crowd upon my mind, and how vivid are the recollections of my youth.  I can without the least mental effort see the old homestead as she appeared during the war,-- and the war fires blazing on her hills.  the war dance, the war talks and many a brave and na humma, [92] long dead now rise up in my mind--  What brave noble fellows they were.  They had come to the protection of my father, and family, and they would have fallen & died around our little fort ere they would have allowed a Muskoke reaching us with their Tomma hawks.  among those who figured in those scenes how few are living.

My father and all his contemporaries have all passed away-- and only a few of the men wh[o were] then yong are now living, of them I recollect but few-- David Folsom, [93] Adam Folsom, Bob Cole [94] were of that class. Among those dark and evil days there was one bright one Reposed over the old homestead, which caused every heart to rejoice, and well do I remember the expression that came over my father’s face as I stood by his knees-- it was on a beautiful morning & everything seemed to be happy-- but there was an expression of gloom [& concern] in my father’s countenance-- and he was walking to & fro some five feet in front of the Cedar log mansion, when a long shrill hoop was heard in the distance-- upon which he stopd & said “Peter, did you hear that hoop” I said I did. “Which way was it” I told him it was down the River. In a few moments we heard it again, and again, and then it changed into the scalp song, and followed by a succession of rapped hoops-- then it was a smile of joy & triumph beamed upon his countenance. The boys are alive Thank God-- Ta na pe (the Tisha [95]) was ordered to go & meet them, soon they hovered in sight, four young warriors. David Folsom, James Pitchlynn, Tulk ho tubbie (the name of the fourth man forgotten but I recollect he was the brother of Tulk ho tubbie) were the individuals who composed this party. The gate of the fort was thrown open and they were recieved with high honors & joyful greetings, but ere they entered the fort Tana pi had gone & met them, and returned in advance of the party & announced to us their arrival by four long loud hoops-- he held in his hands the rods to which the scalps were suspended.-- after this being over, my father met them at the gate & shook hands with them. we all shook hands with them, they walked into the old mansion and seated themselves, mother soon had the table sat for them, after they eat, Capt. David Folsom made his reports which was in substance as follows to the best of my recollections.

by Jack D. Elliott, Jr., the historical archaeologist for the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Jim Atkinson, Keith Baca, Carl Butler, Sam Kaye, Gary Lancaster, Steve McBride, Sue Petrie, Warren D. Swoope, Rufus Ward, Terry Winschel, Bob R. Curry, and Sarah Erwin.


John was reported to have been born aboard a ship near St Thomas, Carribean Islands, in 1745. One source is reporting the year 1756. Another source is giving the date of 11 June 1745; but no documentation has been given. He was the son of an Englishman named Isaac Pitchlynn and genealogists are listing Jemima Hickman as his mother. Now some have written that Isaac was a naval officer; most recently however, I have seen a historical notation that Mr. Pitchlynn was an indentured servant to a Naval man named William Dick. Either way, John was born on his way to this new land called America when he decided to make his entrance into the world.

Where they made their home initially is unknown. But John's mother had folks in Georgia and it's possible they lived there for a time. Somewhere down the line, Isaac and his young son John ventured into the Choctaw Nation. Isaac died and John was supposedly adopted and raised in the Choctaw Tribe. He was taught the language and in all of the Choctaw ways...

When it was time, he took a Choctaw bride named Rhoda Folsom, daughter of white man named Nathaniel Folsom & a Choctaw woman. John and Rhoda had three sons: James (1789-1830), "Jack" John, Jr. (1792-c1832), and Joseph Pitchlynn (1801-1827). Rhoda passed away about 1803-1804.

It wasn't long after that when John married another Folsom girl---Sophia Folsom, daughter of Ebenezer Folsom (Nathaniel's brother) and fullblood Choctaw woman (Tehona? Nitiki?). John and Sophia would have a rather large family---5 daughters and 3 more sons: Peter P. (1806-1881), Silas D. (1809-1830), Mary (1811-1886), Rhoda (1814-1911), Thomas Jefferson (1816-c1862), Eliza Ann Cornelius (1818-1861), Elizabeth "Betsey" (1820-1896), and Kizzia (1824-1858).

John Pitchlynn was a U.S. Veteran and served during the War of 1812 [he is believed to have served during the Revolutionary War]. His title came from his military service and it was a title that would stick with him his whole life. In 1988, during a tour of Judge H. C. Harris' home in Oklahoma, I had the opportunity to see and to hold Major Pitchlynn's sword. Being a direct descendant of his, I must say it was an awesome experience... Like shaking his hand or something like that. It was quite old and a strikingly beautiful weapon. And it was well cared for.

Major John Pitchlynn was a U.S. Interpreter for the American Government. On the 27th of September 1830, Pitchlynn signed the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty. This treaty was for the removal of the Choctaw Tribe from Mississippi to the new Choctaw land which is now in Oklahoma. Those whom wanted to stay in Mississippi, were allowed to do so. Major Pitchlynn was the father of Peter P. Pitchlynn. Peter was instrumental in the removal process by scouting out the new lands west of Mississippi and by helping with the actual removal process itself. He would go on to become a big man in the Choctaw Nation and in Washington,D.C. and on his own merits. But John did not live to see it happen---But his young son did become a Chief of The Choctaws and Peter made many important contributions throughout his lifetime. Had John lived to see it, he would have been immensely proud of his "favorite" son. Letters written to Peter by John showed how he longed to see his son one last time before he died. Sadly, Peter never made it to his father's side before he passed away. These letters have left many readers feeling profoundly saddened.

Major Pitchlynn had a large family. He became father-in-law to Samuel Garland, when he married Pitchlynn's daughter, Mary Pitchlynn. Samuel was another Chief of the Choctaws. Two of his girls married the Harris Brothers, from Hyde county, North Carolina; Eliza married William Riley Harris and Betsey married Lorenzo G. Harris. Rhoda married Calvin Howell and Kizzia married a man named Wm Poland.

Not many people can say they have an ancestor who is a ghost. But the descendants of John Pitchlynn can. Apparently, grave robbers tried to disturb his grave site and his wife traveled back to Mississippi to relocate him to Oklahoma. This is fact. However, his body may well have been removed and re-interred elsewhere; but it would seem that his spirit stayed in Mississippi. Where he haunts the surrounding areas. His hauntings were mentioned in a book called 13 Ghosts and Jeffrey, by Kathryn Tucker Windham.

Brenda L. Minor TO BE CONTINUED.... Note: Major Pitchlynn's burial site in MS was disturbed by thieves and vandals. Sophia chose to remove her husband's body and bury him in McCurtain county, Oklahoma. Closer to her. The exact location is undisclosed. For obvious reasons...

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Major John Pitchlynn, Sr.'s Timeline

June 11, 1765
Berkeley, South Carolina, United States
March 17, 1789
Age 23
Lowndes, Mississippi, United States
July 12, 1792
Age 27
Monroe, Mississippi, United States
Age 31
Choctaw Nation (Mississippi)
September 16, 1801
Age 36
Lowndes, Mississippi, United States
Age 37
January 30, 1806
Age 40
Lowndes, Mississippi, United States
November 14, 1807
Age 42