Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Colbert's Ferry

Colbert’s Ferry-James Logan Colbert was of Scots Irish origin and was born in North Carolina about 1721 on Plum Tree Island near the border of Virginia.  James Logan Colbert, who was initially a trader to the Indians, was living with the Chickasaws by 1742; he married three Chickasaw women, one of which was a half blood.  From his three wives, Colbert had nine children who were William, Sally, Celia, George, Levi, Samuel, Joseph, James, and Susan.  The family of James Logan Colbert lived near the Tennessee River close to the mouth of Bear Creek.  James Logan Colbert became an important leader of the Chickasaw people and was commissioned as a British Captain; by 1782, James Logan Colbert owned some 150 black slaves.

Three important leaders emerged as friends and cooperated with the British during the Chickamauga War and American Revolution.  Their fight against the United States brought these men together: James Logan Colbert with the Chickasaws; Alexander McGillivray with the Upper Creeks; and Doublehead with the Lower Cherokees.  James Logan Colbert’s oldest son William Colbert and Alexander McGillivray married sisters and were brother-in-laws.  Two of Doublehead’s daughters married George Colbert, the son of James Logan Colbert.  Therefore, a family relationship existed between the leaders of the Chickasaws, Upper Creeks, and Lower Cherokees who were major players in the war with the United States beginning after the signing of the Treaty of Sycamore Shoals in 1775.

Not only did James Logan Colbert become friends and fight conflicts against the American settlers with Creek Chief Alexander McGillivray, but he was also friends and fought with Dragging Canoe and Doublehead in the Chickamauga War.  Initially, James Logan Colbert, William Colbert, George Colbert, and other Chickasaws became allied with Doublehead and McGillivray in Chickamauga Confederacy during the war that lasted from 1775 through June 1795.   James Logan Colbert carried his sons into battle with him as he rode with the Cherokees and Creeks during the Chickamauga War. 

The deterioration of the alliance of the Chickasaws, Upper Creeks, and Lower Cherokees started after the death of James Logan Colbert on January 7, 1784.  Some nine years later on February 17, 1793, another blow to the Chickamauga Confederacy came with the death of Alexander McGillivray.  By June 1794, Doublehead signed the Treaty of Philadelphia with President George Washington and ended his conflicts with the American colonies in June 1795; on August 9, 1807, the Creeks lost their last Cherokee friend, leader, and supporter with the death of Doublehead.

George Colbert, son of James Logan Colbert, was born about 1744 on the west side of Bear Creek where it empties into the Tennessee River in the present-day northeastern most corner of Mississippi.  George was raised and lived all but two years of his life in the original eastern Chickasaw homelands which included northeast Mississippi and northwest Alabama.  He took two daughters, Tuskiahooto and Saleechie, of Chickamauga Cherokee Chief Doublehead and Creat Priber as his wives; George’s wives were said to be among the most beautiful women in the region.  Based on tradition, Tuskiahooto was considered one of the most beautiful women in the country and was the favorite wife of George Colbert.  She was George’s principal wife and lived at the Colbert’s Ferry home until she died around 1817.  In the treaty of 1834, George made sure to include his wife’s burial site at Colbert’s Ferry in the reserve that was set aside for his personal use.

George Colbert begin running a ferry across the Tennessee River in 1798 as a means for travelers to cross the otherwise impassable river.  In December 1801, George Colbert agreed to move his ferry to the Natchez Trace crossing of the Tennessee River as part of his agreement with General James Wilkinson.  The United States Government agreed to build cabins for travelers, a store, stables, a large two storied dwelling house, a new ferry boat, and other facilities for George Colbert’s family to operate a ferry where the Natchez Trace crosses the Tennessee River in present-day Colbert County, Alabama.

George Colbert’s home at the ferry was built after the Chickasaw Treaty of 1801, with some claiming it was completed by 1808 and possibly much earlier.  George’s home was the site of a significant conference between the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and the United  States Government in September 1816 and was designated for this meeting as the “Chickasaw Council House.”  At the conference representing the government were Andrew Jackson, David Meriwether, and Jesse Franklin.  The Chickasaws ceded their land north of the Tennessee River in present-day Lauderdale County, Alabama, as well as some territory south of the river with certain tracts being reserved for George Colbert, including his ferry.  

George had virtually a monopoly for the river crossing, and he charged fifty cents per passenger and one dollar per horse and rider.  Later reports suggest that Colbert once charged Andrew Jackson $75,000 to ferry his army across the river, but Jackson's own records indicate the amount was only a few hundred dollars that was actually paid.

George Colbert, Tootemastubbe or The Ferryman, was the most well-known son of James Logan Colbert.  He was tall, slender, and handsome with long straight black hair that came down to his shoulders.  His features were Indian, but his skin was lighter than other members of the Chickasaw tribe.  He dressed neat and clean like white men of his day; some say he was illiterate, but had great influence among both Indians and white people.  He was described as speaking common English, very shrewd, extremely talented, very wicked, genius, but is an artful designing man.  Indian agent Colonel Return J. Meigs described him as, “Extremely mercenary, miscalculates his importance, and when not awed by the presence of the officers of the government takes upon himself great airs.”

Since his beautiful wife Tuskiahooto died in 1817, and the United States mail route was officially changed to follow Jackson’s Military Road through Florence in 1817, George was ready to leave his ferry operations on the Tennessee River.  Therefore, because of the death of his principal wife Tuskiahooto, the loss of the government mail route, and the opening of the Gaines Trace, George Colbert closed the ferry on the Natchez Trace, moved to Tupelo, Mississippi, in 1817, and began his very successful farming operations on his plantation.

1 comment:

  1. Hi! What is your source for James Logan Colbert's children? The dates don't line up for Celia Colbert to have been wife of John McLish like it states in your book. I was wondering if you have additional information, like alternative birth dates for their children, that would make this story make more sense? Also, I have documentation that states John McLish's non-white wives were a Cheadle woman and a Dyer woman.