The Settling of Indian Ridge: Thinking

 

Last week I was asked an interesting question. “When was Indian Ridge founded?” I do not have a simple answer, at least partially because I don’t think that it was ever founded. Therefore, I set out to answer a different question. When did European and African descended people first settle on Indian Ridge? Once again, I have no simple straightforward answer.

In my attempt to arrive at an answer, I looked at several types of information. I looked at the original and updated federal surveys of the area. I looked at the dates that the first land patents were granted. I looked at the dates when nearby towns were founded. Finally, I looked at different versions of how Old Line Road came to be the boundary separating the land of the Choctaw from the land of the Creek. My references do not all agree and some of them are questionable. Therefore the purpose of this post is to start a conversation with those who have a better handle on the history of the area. Please offer corrections where my efforts go wrong.

Indian Ridge is located in Clarke County, Alabama. The current post office for Indian Ridge is Whatley, Alabama. Whatley appears to have been founded in 1897 (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whatley_Historic_District). This would be decades, if not entire centuries, after the first European and African descended people entered the area.

An earlier post office was located in Suggsville, Alabama which “is an unincorporated community in Clarke County, Alabama. It was laid out as a town in 1819 at the crossing of the Old Line Road and Federal Road (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suggsville,_Alabama).” Old Line Road is a central feature of Indian Ridge. 

This date is consistent with the 1820 date that the Bureau of Land Management gives for the sale of land that I would now consider to be part of Indian Ridge (https://glorecords.blm.gov/search/default.aspx). It is the St Stephens Meridian Township 8N Range 4E.

Search Results – BLM GLO Records

The original survey maps available from the Bureau of Land Management indicate that the survey of the area was completed in 1811. THESE FILES ARE VERY LARGE AND YOU WILL NEED TO BE PATIENT IN ORDER FOR THEM TO LOAD.

Plat_65065_1

Plat_65067_1

However, there were European squatters at Choctaw Corner by 1802-1803. It is quite likely – highly probable – that these squatters were accompanied by enslaved people of African descent.The presence of these squatters played a role in triggering the Creek War, also known as the Red Stick War. The dates of this War overlap those of with the War of 1812 at least partially because of the Red Stick Creek alliance with the British.

 

As a student living in other states, I was never required to learn much about the Creek or the Choctaw. I was definitely under the impression that African descended people did not reach that part of the Mississippi Territory that became my home until after the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In retrospect, I clearly did not give the issues the consideration they deserved.

I am now reading both early and contemporary histories of this area. My adult mind notices that African descended people are not mentioned in the early works and recognizes it to be an inaccurate presentation of history. My child mind was unsure. It sometimes thought that it was an inaccurate presentation and sometimes it concluded that the absence of African descended people from the discussion was a real historical absence. This is ironic because as a small child I was so fascinated by the Old Line Road historical marker that I learned to spell Andrew Jackson, Choctaw, and Creek before I learned to spell Creighton.

I found a marker provided by the DAR in 1938. It triggered a flood of questions that subsided once I moved out of the state.

Captain Andrew Jackson passed near the site of this marker on the Old Line Road north of U.S. 84. He and his troops rested here for the night in 1813. The marker was erected by Clarke Co. D.A.R.

There is a more recent marker (And Yes, I post both markers over and over again)

Old Line Road marker is located at the intersection of U.S. 84 and the Old Line Road, three miles east of Whatley. The road follows the watershed between the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers and ends at Choctaw Corner; it was the dividing line between the Creek and Choctaw Indian lands as established about 1808. The marker was erected in 1978 by the Clarke County Historical Society.
http://clarkecountyal.com/historical-markers-and-sites/

There are some interesting stories about how Old Line Road became the boundary between the Choctaw and the Creek. The one repeated most often is that it was decided in 1808 by the outcome of two ballgames, one played by the men and one played by the women and both won by the Choctaw.

The initial Old Line was simply a trail. The Federal Road started out as a narrow one horse track for postal riders. By 1811, however, it was a road built from West to East, promoting travel in both directions, and migration largely from East to West. I am not claiming that all who came to Clarke County or to Indian Ridge were connected with the Federal Road. I am saying that its intersection with Old Line Road should probably not be ignored.

The chances are good that all who trace their ancestry to anywhere in Alabama south of the Tennessee Valley have a forebear who came over the Federal Road. During its period of maximum use, when “Alabama fever” was epidemic in the Carolinas and Georgia, the population of the territory (later, the state) increased by over half a million (Southerns and Brown, 1989, p.2)

I “suspect” that migrants might have started squatting on Indian Ridge in the early 1800s. The federal survey was completed in 1811. I have not been able to find any notes from the surveyors suggesting that they found settlers in the area. We know that the increasing size of the settler population coming over the Federal Road played a part in starting the Red Stick War which included battles close to Indian Ridge:between the Alabama and Tombigbee Rivers. By 1819 the nearby population was large enough for Suggsville to be laid out as a town. By 1820 settlers were definitely buying land on Indian Ridge from the federal government.

References

Ball, T. H.,. (1994). A glance into the great south-east = or, clarke county, alabama, and its surroundings, from 1540 to 1877. [Place of publication not identified]: Clarke County Historical Society.

Graham,John Simpson,,. (2012). History of clarke county. Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books.

Hudson, A. P. (2010). Creek paths and federal roads: Indians, settlers, and slaves and the making of the American South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Southerland, Henry deLeon., Brown,Jerry Elijah,,. (1989). The federal road through georgia, the creek nation, and alabama, 1806-1836.

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11 thoughts on “The Settling of Indian Ridge: Thinking

  1. Pingback: The Old Federal Road in Alabama Has Been Surveyed | Ann Creighton-Zollar, PhD, MHNE

  2. Pingback: Spring 2018 Alabama History Reading List | Ann Creighton-Zollar, PhD, MHNE

    • It is unfortunate that the recent survey does not define the road through Suggsville and hence Indian Ridge as a part of the Federal Road. Any tourism generated by this work will skirt Clarke County rather than run through it. https://wp.me/p4C18B-iy

  3. Pingback: “Carry me back” to the coastal plain | Ann Creighton-Zollar, PhD, MHNE

  4. Great Work on Indian Ridge, Choctaw Corner, and the Old Line Road,

    In my DNA research with the Phillips World Project (Charles Phillips b 1740’s), I googled his land description (St Stephens Meridian, Township 8 North Range 4 E that was discovered on Ancestry.Com which lead to your Article. This Phillips Family were squatters out of Tennessee, mixed Indian breed probably Chickasaw, first recorded in the 1810 Federal Census, Washington County, Mississippi Territory. The first supplies and immigrants to this area followed the Gaines Trace from Tennessee, Colbert’s Ferry, Tombigbee River to St Stephens.

    A must read is the “The Formative Period in Alabama 1815-1828” by Thomas Perkins Abernethy PhD, Professor of History, University of Chattanooga, 1922. This is the best reference for the people of this time with maps of Indian Cessions, Slavery, Origins, their political viewpoints. Thank You so much for your good work.

    • My DNA connects me to at least one white slaveholding family who came to Indian Ridge from Tennessee using the route you describe. I don’t remember them being mentioned in Abernathy’s work. I will double check. I also have not found evidence that these settlers brought the enslaved African ancestored people from whom I am also descended along that route. My African ancestored second great grandmother that they held as property was being born in North Carolina at about the same time time they were leaving Tennessee. According to their family history they arrived in Southwest Alabama just in time for the Red Stick War. At this point, however, it still appears as though most of my ancestors arrived using the more southern route.

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