Wednesday, February 13, 2013

The Tensaw Settlement- Part 1 Introduction

So, for the last 10 years or so, well, actually more, I have been active in genealogy. Although I do research all my family lines, there are two areas that have been my main focus. The first is the Choctaws, and yes, I am researching at this point all of the first district for the most part. Long story. The second line, on my father's side is the Pyburn family, who show up the earliest in the Panhandle region. They were residents of Tensaw.

So I have been looking at a lot of new documents available to browse at Among these are tax lists and early censuses of the Mississippi Territory, mainly Baldwin and Washington County, Alabama. (these documents are found under the Mississippi Archives miscellaneous documents by the county name.) I have also perused early wills for Baldwin County. Unfortunately, only a handful of counties I research in Alabama have probate records on familysearch, among these are Baldwin, Pike and Russell counties. Washington and Clarke don't have any, and I can't find anything in the Sumter records.

Along with the tax lists which cover the periods 1802-1816, there are also some great Spanish census transcriptions on the web for the area. I wish I could find a depository near me with the actual films, but since I have never been able to figure out what records I actually need in the Pintado reels, I am stuck using these records, along with the book by Anglo Americans in the Spanish Archives. As I usually do, I have put together some documents of notes with the different information.

The Tensaw settlement for the most part lies within the area of townships 1S up to 3N ranges 1 and 2 East. Township 4N range 1 and 2 East is actually along the Tombigbee river, but I have included it in my research. There are certainly more early settlers along the Tombigbee that fall into my realm of research, both for the Tensaw area and for the Choctaw families, but I am trying to keep the scope of this manageable. Geographically, the area encompassed Nanna Hubba Island, which you won't find anywhere as a current place, the land between the Alabama and Tombigbee rivers between the fork where they form the Mobile River and Cut Off, which lies north of the fork. It also encompasses the Tensaw River, an a portion of the river known as Tensaw Lake.

The earliest record I have found for residents of this area is the 1781 list found in the book Anglo Americans in the Spanish Archives. As great as this list is, it is unfortunately the tip of the iceburg. The area above Mobile, predominately along the Mobile River and the Tombigbee, had been settled by several families of French descent for decades. Among these families are several families well known to genealogists who research the Choctaw, Creek, or Creole families of the region. Among these families are the Lefleau or Leflore's, Krebs (seen as Kreps), Boudin, Rochon, Trouillet, Favre and Fievre (I think the same family, Dubroca, and Juzan (Juzang among the Creole's).

To clarify, the Creole's to which I refer are the mixed blood descendants of the French men and either their slave or a freed woman. In records of this time frame, those of mixed blood are called mestizo's. Ironically, the mestizo baptisms aren't always within the books of color. The records for the Archdiocese of Mobile contain numerous valuable insights into the communities. I have been told they are available at the Mobile LDS center, and possibly for loan at other centers.

There is quite a dichotomy between the families of the French and the early American's who settled this area. While some of the American's were wealthy and owned many slaves, a great majority worked a small part of the land, had few or no slaves, and probably barely scraped by. The French on the other hand, often had large plantations ran by slave labor, while they resided primarily in homes in the city of Mobile. They were families rich in tradition and culture. These families did stay on their plantations from time to time, as we can evidence from interactions within the community. The American's on the other hand, were largely made up of loyalists and Tories who sought sanctuary in the Spanish territory, and traders who lived and worked among the tribes of the area. Many of the names of folks I know as Choctaw traders show up as land owners on Spanish or British grants along the Tombigbee. It isn't until about 1795 we start to see a larger influx of American's who settle in the area.

My supposition is that by 1795, the Spanish control of the area was slipping. The relationship between the Spanish and the Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes was threatened by negotiations with the American government, and the area began to flood with people who wanted to get in on the opportunity to own land in this area. Basically, these people saw this as the next place of opportunity, much as the settlers of Cumberland (Tennessee and Kentucky), Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri had also done over the years. After the Spanish abandoned the area in 1799, and until statehood in 1820, the number of American's in the area increased dramatically.

In Benjamin Hawkin's letters, you will find a letter that states it is estimated that there are 40 families in Tensaw and 60 on the Tombigbee in 1795. If one looks at the number of heads of household in the Washington County taxlist in 1805 that number appears to be close to being correct, however, it does not take in to effect those who held no land but rented or worked property for others. Which is why researching not only the tax lists, but also reading the testimonies in the American State papers (volume 1) is imperative, there is a lot of good information in there. Another place to look is the territorial papers, now available online. Mostly you will find information here in either a bill for relief or a petition that lists the residents. For those who aren't aware, the area East of the Pearl River is where you will find the Tensaw and Tombigbee residents listed.

If you are interested in early accounts of the area, there are several books published about this time. Colonial Mobile, Remininsces of George Strother Gaines, Albert Pickett's History of Alabama, Thomas Woodward's Remininsces, and the letters of Benjamin Hawkins to name a few. Many of these have been republished, but the original publication, no longer in copyright and can be found on Google Books,, and elsewhere on the web.

In the next part of the Tensaw Settlement, I will discuss the residents and families within the area from 1781-1797.

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