Saturday, May 26, 2012

Miltita problems in Red River, TN 1789

    Below is a letter from the Red River region of Tennessee concerning issues of militia. During the pre-statehood era of Tennessee history, the militia were chronically underfunded and under-manned. On several occasions North Carolina, and after 1789 the Territorial government, sent regiments to the Cumberland settlements. In this letter we can see how some of these men were perceived along with corruption in the local political system.
    The Col. Ford spoken of is James Ford who emigrated from the Spartanburg region of South Carolina somewhere around 1783 with the William and Francis Prince families. He was married to Francis's daughter and initially settled with them at Prince's Station (Port Royal, TN). By 1785 he built a station at the mouth of the Red River where Col. Valentine Sevier would later build. It was attacked in 1787 by a party of Creeks and he removed back to Prince's Station. He fought in the 1787 Coldwater campaign (where Gen. Robertson beat him with his sword to get him to cease fire) and at Nickajack in 1794.
    As was common in anti-Indian sentiment filled regions, Ford used his success in Indian war to propel him into the political spotlight. In 1789 he was appointed as the Tennessee County representative to the territorial legislature. Soon after he was appointed a militia colonel. Also aiding his political acsension was his activity in land speculation.
    For more information on the ties between land ownership and political aspirations, see Kristofer Ray, Middle Tennessee, 1775-1825: Progress and Popular Democracy on the Southwestern Frontier (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2007).

                                                                                             Spring Eminence, Red River Aug 2d, 1789

Dear Gen’l

          As its more than probable you have been informed that matters were conducted in the lower quarter agreeable to your order. I will trouble you with a few lines in order to undeceive you.

           So far as they have been comfortable with – shortly after your orders, aforesaid, two men were sent to Mr. Bell’s Station who stayed there 14 days. Sometime after, two more came and stayed 8 or 10 days. During their stay they did nothing except sit in the garrison – would not even go to the fields to guard the People at work. Said it was orders from their officers to do so. The people was glad to git clear of them as the only service they done was eat their provision, there being none sent with them.

            There was also two sent a few days to Mr. Elliott’s Station and perhaps one to Mr. Nevell’s, which was an interior house. This is the total I assure you, which every person in the end will certify. Ford replies that the men will not turn out (why should they?) when no method is pursued to compel them. They have held several court-martials though never found but one man who had insulted some of their court, though its nothing but what we expected as he promised the people he would not on any occasion force them into duty if they would vote for him to be Colonel.

            We do not insist on having men at present as their seems to be a still time.

            It is the general wish of the people in the quarter that the first default may be taken holt of to remove those good officers from commission, as we never asked to have a chance of defending ourselves while they continue.

            Its impossible to raise a scout to pursue the enemy when they invade us. There is only about a dozen of us that does all that kind of duty.

            Col. Ford instead of incouraging the men to turn out on those occasions rather discourages – he says the last words you told him when he saw you last (were) to indulge the people as much as possible (and) that it was a pity to take them from their cropps. He says you are a dam’d odd sort of fellow (and) that you give him one kind of orders in writing and one kind verbally (and) that he hardly knows what to make of you.

            If you conceive he has committed a fault sufficient to cashier him, I hope it will not be look’d over and you’ll much oblige a number in the quarter as well.

                                                               Your Humble Servant,
                                                                        R. Nelson

Brig. Gen’l Daniel Smith

P.S. – Should you call him to an account, Mr. Robt. Dunning, and McCalister, Polock and E. Shelby will be good witnesses. We would be fond to have it done before our numbers go down.

Source: Lyman C. Draper Papers, 4 XX, 56. Wisconsin State Historical Society. Microfilm at Tennessee State Library and Archives.

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