restricted access 10 The Western District: 1795–1840
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10.  The Western District: 1795–1840 By 1815 Middle and East Tennessee were at different stages of frontier evolution. In the Cumberland Basin a slave-based commercial agriculture thrived, and Nashville, bustling and con- fident, was the most important town between Lexington and Natchez. The only recent Indian fighting had been on the Creek frontier in Alabama; the last Indian attacks against Cumberland settlers were twenty years removed and were now just a memory of old-timers. No tribal claims remained to impede progress, nor even the presence of friendly Indians as daily reminders. The nearest Cherokee and Chickasaw towns were more than a hundred miles away. With the emergence of a viable market economy and an effective white hegemony, the basin was moving out of its frontier era. The Cumberland Plateau, however, remained largely undeveloped, still a tedious barrens through which travelers hastened on their way elsewhere. In East Tennessee, meanwhile , topography continued to define the economy and settlement patterns. The ridges offered few agricultural prospects and attracted few inhabitants, while the valleys featured small towns, small-scale farming, and livestock raising. Communities like Knoxville and Jonesborough offered the amenities of a quiet, civilized life but seemed mere eddies in the flow of humanity to more glamorous destinations. The Cherokees who still resided in the southeastern corner of the state posed no military threat, and their remaining lands, whites confidently believed, would soon be ceded. East Tennessee’s frontier phase was winding down but had not yet ended. Recent successes in the War of 1812 bolstered the confidence of all Tennesseans, engendered a strong sense of national identity , and made people expectant of new growth and accomplishments . For a few years an “era of good feelings” prevailed which would admit no sense of limitation. Tennesseans—and indeed, Southwesterners in general—anticipated Spain’s surrender of Florida, either through war or unrelenting American diplomatic pressure. In the meantime men like Major General Andrew Jackson and John Coffee continued their time-honored speculations, especially in the newly opened Creek cession in Alabama. Jackson was also active as a federal commissioner in several important treaty conferences with Southern tribes, and his objective was always the same—to acquire more land and forcefully suggest Indian relocation west of the Mississippi. In 1817–1818, at the head of a large army which included many Tennessee volunteers, he again swept into Florida, burning Seminole villages, humiliating Spanish authorities, and executing two British nationals. Though such tactics were undiplomatic, they were effective, and Spain soon agreed to U.S. demands for the sale of Florida. Amid these momentous events Jackson and his friends cast a covetous eye on the Western District, the state’s last major frontier. The Western District, now known as West Tennessee, encompassed the area between the Tennessee and Mississippi rivers, some 10,700 square miles or a fourth of the entire state. All of it was within the Congressional Reservation created in 1806, as was the southwest quarter of Middle Tennessee. The latter part of the reservation had largely been cleared of Indian title. It was part of the public domain and was open to white settlement. The Western District, however, was not public domain. Rather, it was an enormous hunting area owned by the Chickasaws, whose villages were in northern Mississippi. (They also owned the adjoining territory in Kentucky bounded by the Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi rivers.) North Carolina had already sold or granted TENNESSEE FRONTIERS 240  rights to much of the Western District, but these could not be located or developed until the Chickasaws formally ceded the region. Until this happened there was no need of direct westward access to the Mississippi from Nashville, and communication with New Orleans went by way of the Cumberland River or the Natchez Trace. The Mississippi River had long had geopolitical significance, and the Chickasaw Bluffs, spaced at intervals along some sixty miles of riverfront, were four of its most strategic sites. The first and northernmost bluff is immediately above the mouth of the Hatchie, and the second is immediately below the mouth of that river. The third is about midway between the second and fourth bluffs, and the fourth, or lower, bluff is near the Mississippi state line. The bluffs had a commanding presence over a long stretch of the river where the surrounding terrain was otherwise uniformly flat and swampy. Military officers were especially impressed by the fourth bluff’s strategic significance, but also commented on...