Summary: Encouraged by Tecumseh, the Creek Nation attempted to expel white settlers from the area north of Mobile in 1813. Many of the settlers in Mississippi Territory were drafted into the militia to fight the Creek Indians and to repulse the British invasion of New Orleans in 1815.
Samuel, Leonard and Moses Varnadoe were all drafted for short periods in 1814 and 1815. Richard Simmons died while in the militia, leaving his wife with ten young children.
The policy of the federal government to remove the Indian nations to the west of the Mississippi River was intended to open land for white settlement. Samuel Vernadoe Sr., Richard Simmons, James Hope and many others took advantage of this opportunity to move their families onto good cotton land. These settlers were satisfied with their new land and thankful to the US government for providing it. The people of the Indian nations living east of the Mississippi did not share the settler's joy. As it became increasingly apparent that the whites would not live at peace with the Indian people, some of the Indians began to organize a pan-Indian movement of resistance. This became more urgent when President Thomas Jefferson began to actively advocate the removal of the Indians to west of the Mississippi River. The foremost leaders of this movement were the Shawnee chief Tecumseh and his brother, the Prophet.
Tecumseh and his brother were encouraged by the British to create a coalition of all the Indian tribes in the Mississippi Valley. In 1811 these two men traveled from their homes in the old Northwest Territory of the US to visit with the southern Indians. As they traveled through the South, they encouraged the tribes to unite and to refuse to cede any more land to the whites. If this plan failed they advocated destroying the whites before the whites either destroyed the Indians or banished them across the Mississippi. The settlers in the Southwest followed the progress of Tecumseh and his party with increasing fear. They were on the verge of panic when in 1812 a second war with Great Britain began. If Tecumseh and the British could unite the Indians against the Americans, then the settler's lands, their families and even their own lives could be lost.
The settlers in Mississippi Territory were especially fearful since their militia existed only on paper. The territorial militia lacked both arms and ammunition. The settlers felt that they would be helpless against the approximately 23,000 Choctaw and Chickasaw living within the borders of the present state of Mississippi. Still the territorial governor did not hesitate to threaten the Indians with force. He circulated letters to each of the Indian nations in Mississippi threatening to burn their field and homes if they joined the war on the British side. The Choctaw scornfully ignored the territorial governor's threats. Under the leadership of chief Pushmataha, they decided to remain neutral. They did nothing to help either side until in August 1813 a force of Creeks attacked Fort Mims in Alabama and precipitated the Creek War.
In southern Alabama and Georgia the tribes of the Creek confederacy found themselves under increasing pressure from white settlers. Led by Chief Weatherford they accepted an alliance with Tecumseh in 1812. They vowed to resist further white encroachment on their lands. By the summer of 1813 the tension between them and the whites in southwestern Alabama had become so strong that the settlers no longer felt secure on their isolated farms. About 500 whites gathered inside a rude wall of upright pine poles that surrounded the home of a Mr. Mims. This place was called Fort Mims. On August 13, 1813, while the inhabitants were eating their noon meal a group of Creeks attacked Fort Mims. The commander of the militia rushed to close the gate but was overwhelmed by the Creeks. Most of the settlers as well as the detachment of militia stationed there were killed. This is known as the "massacre of Fort Mims."
When the news of the massacre reached Mississippi both the Americans and the Choctaw responded immediately. The governor called up the territorial militia and placed it under the command of General Ferdinand Claiborne. The Choctaw felt that they had been betrayed by the Creek "primitives". The Creeks intended to begin a war to the death between the USA and the Indian nations. The Choctaw still felt that if they could only prove to the whites that they were a sensible and friendly people then the long period of bickering and land-grabbing would end and the two races could live side by side as friends. Pushmataha accordingly urged his people to support the US in the war. The Choctaw condemned the attack by the Creeks and offered the military power of the Choctaw nation to the US government.
By November 1813 General Claiborne and his Mississippi militia entered the Choctaw Nation to confer with the Choctaw leaders. Together they planned a joint campaign against the Creeks. After a week of preparation the militia, some regular troops and 700 Choctaw men crossed the Alabama River and established Fort Claiborne about 25 miles upstream of the ruins of Fort Mims. The ill-equipped and out-gunned Creeks soon found that they were no match for the government troops whose number increased steadily. In December and January the troops defeated the Creeks in several battles. By March 1814, after four months of fighting, the US troops and their Choctaw allies had pushed the warriors of the Creeks into a neck of the Tallapoosa River called the "holy ground." The Creeks had built extensive fortifications there. On March 29, 1814, this fortified place was attacked by the Americans who were now headed by Andrew Jackson. Once again the Creeks were defeated. Only a few of them were able to escape by swimming the Alabama River. The stronghold was destroyed and about 900 Creeks were killed. This battle marked the end of organized resistance by the Creek Indians.
A few days later, on April 10, 1814, Richard Simmons entered Captain William Spencer's Company of Lieutenant Colonel George H. Nixon's Regiment of the Mississippi Territorial Militia. Richard Simmons was 44 years old and had been drafted as a private for a period of six months. By July Nixon's regiment, including Richard Simmons and some of his neighbors from Marion County, Mississippi, had crossed the Alabama River. Accompanied by some regular troops, they began hunting Creek fugitives on the Escambia River north of Pensacola and in the swamps of the Perdido Bay on the Florida-Alabama border near Mobile. After killing or capturing any Creeks they found Nixon separated his militia from the 39th Regiment of the US Army. The 39th Regiment continued on to Lake Tensaw on the Tensaw River near Mobile and Colonel Nixon took his militia command in a northerly direction back to Fort Claiborne.
On the way to or while at Fort Claiborne, Richard Simmons became ill. Willis Simmons, from Silver Creek in eastern Pike County, was also serving in Nixon's regiment. Willis Simmons, who was not kin to Richard, was detailed to nurse Richard. Richard died on August 30, 1814 at Fort Claiborne and was probably buried nearby in an unmarked grave.
As Richard lay dying at Fort Claiborne 200 miles from his family on Bala Chitto Creek, General Andrew Jackson was organizing yet another army. The purpose of this army was to stop the British invasion of the Gulf Coast. In response to Jackson's call, frontiersmen moved toward New Orleans from every direction. One group of 1,200 men from Tennessee under General Carroll walked through the Simmons neighborhood of Pike County headed south to New Orleans. They had followed the Natchez Trace to the Choctaw Agency. From there they left the road and headed directly south through uncharted country for about 100 miles until they encountered the Natchez to Madisonville road in what is now Louisiana. They marked a trail as they went. Meanwhile, Colonel Nixon's regiment, other militia units and 1,000 Choctaw Indians, assembled at Mobile in time to rush to New Orleans where they were instrumental in the defeat of the British invasion force.
The Battle of Chalmette near New Orleans in January 1815 marked the end of the War of 1812 and the troubles with the Indians which had been encouraged by the British. Nixon's regiment returned to Camp Pearl River on the Pearl River near Gainesville, Mississippi. The troops under General Carroll followed the trail they had marked back through Pike County on their way home to Tennessee. With the defeat of the Creeks and the British, peace had returned to the land. The militia units were deactivated and the surviving militiamen returned home to their farms. George Nixon returned home a hero. Two years later, in 1817, he was elected a member of the first Mississippi legislature from Marion and Hancock counties which included what was later Pike County.
Among the returning militiamen was Samuel Varnadoe Jr., who had come to Mississippi in 1811 with his father Samuel Sr. In December 28, 1814 Samuel Varnadoe Jr. had enlisted in the militia from St. Helena Parish for six months. He enlisted just prior to the Battle of New Orleans when the Americans were frantically organizing to resist the British invasion. Shortly after the battle he was discharged at Mandyville, Louisiana and returned home to his seventeen-year-old wife and a newborn daughter. One day his son would marry a grand-daughter of Richard Simmons.
Most of Samuel Jr.'s brothers were drafted at about the same time. His older brothers, Leonard and Moses, served as privates in Captain Henry Quinn's company of infantry, 13th Regiment, Mississippi Territorial Militia. They were drafted in mid-December, 1814, and marched to Fordsville in Marion County. At Fordsville they were mustered into the militia on January 6. They remained there until their discharge a month later. For one month of service they each received $8.00. In addition to the Varnados and the Simmons, other men from the area, including Jessie Redmond and his future brother-in-law Pharaoh Carter, also served in the militia during this crisis. They all returned home happy that the adventure was over.
For Nancy Ann Simmons, the wife of the late Richard Simmons, the return of peace did not bring her an equal portion of happiness. She now found herself at 38 years old, a widow on a half-cleared farm in the wilderness of southwest Mississippi. There were no towns nearly. There were no churches. There were none of her husband's relatives nearly and, with the exception of the Carter family near Chatawa, she was far removed from her own family in South Carolina. She had been left with ten children, the eldest of whom was 15 and the youngest 7 months old at the time of her husband's death. The oldest boy, William, was 13 years old. For Ann Simmons, as for dozens of other pioneer women in Mississippi Territory and for thousands in the Creek Nation, the troubles of 1812-1814 had been a disaster.
Back to Table of Contents | Chapter 8
Copyright © 1994-2005 by Philip Mullins. Permission is granted to reproduce and transmit contents for not-for-profit purposes.