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4  8 The British Settle the Manchac . . . IN 763, THE TERRITORY OF West Florida was one of Britain’s three new American acquisitions, along with East Florida and Quebec. West Florida extended from the Appalachicola River on the east to the Mississippi River on the west, from the Gulf of Mexico on the south (except for the Isle of Orleans, of course) to the line of 3 degrees north latitude on the north.* Pensacola, Mobile, Baton Rouge, and Natchez were designated as its capitals. THE BACK ROUTE AND FORT BUTE The Treaty of Paris allowed British trade on the Mississippi River. But because the Spanish controlled the port of New Orleans, the British believed that access to the Gulf through the Iberville River and the back route, bypassing New Orleans, offered a strategic and more dependable alternative. Opening the back route, Great Britain hoped, would cut off Spain’s access to trade from the upper river valley as well as shorten the distance for British traders from upriver to Mobile, Pensacola, and Caribbean ports. * The latter, an arbitrary boundary, was edged further north to the mouth of the Yazoo River in 764. WINDING THROUGH TIME 42 In October 763, an initial attempt was made to open the first segment. Captain James Campbell and a small contingent of soldiers along with fifty slaves worked tirelessly to clear the streambed, cutting back the thick cane that grew along the banks, chopping fallen trees that lay across the channel, and removing logs and driftwood swept into the bayou during the last Mississippi River flood. By December, Campbell reported to his superiors that the Iberville River had been made navigable from end to end. The British were clearly unfamiliar with the bayou’s annual cycle, however, and Campbell’s accomplishment was short-lived. When annual floods arrived as usual in March, trees and driftwood were once again swept into the bayou and piled up against debris that had been left farther along the channel. This created a logjam even greater than the one they had cleared. Inthefallof 764,thenewprovincialgovernor,Britishnavycaptain George Johnstone, championed the Iberville River as “the hub of [West Florida’s] commercial glory” and advocated construction of a fort and habitations at the junction of the bayou and the Mississippi .“There is no place of so much consequence to this province as that settlement now the Iberville is open’d,” he enthused.“[It] will command the whole trade of the Mississippi.” In 765, Lieutenant Philip Pittman of the 34th Regiment of Engineers was dispatched to evaluate the potential for Mississippi River development. His report supported Johnstone’s assessment and noted that both Indians (promising trading partners) and other residents along the river and its tributaries “would rather trade [at Manchac] than at New Orleans if they could have as good returns . . . for it makes a difference of ten days in their voyage.” As construction of a fort began in February 765, Johnstone reiterated his conviction about the necessity of clearing the first segment to make a navigable back route.“The further prosperity of 43 the province depends upon it,” he wrote, especially in light of the delayed takeover of the Isle of Orleans by the Spanish. This had left Britain’s enemy, France, in power long past the signing of the treaty.* Johnstone tactfully recommended that the six-gun, star-shaped earthwork post should be named Fort Bute, to honor the British prime minister, John Stuart, Lord Bute. The small, wooden, stockaded fort with a blockhouse would “accommodate a captain, fifty men, and appropriate artillery,” with the capacity to house an additional two hundred men, a worthwhile precaution. Johnstone also ordered two ships docked in the Mississippi River near the fort for additional protection. The first assault on the fort came in August 765 when Alabama Indians who lived in a nearby village (perhaps at the same location to which Iberville’s Mugulasha guide had repaired when he abandoned them) attacked the British force, stole whatever supplies and guns they could, and killed livestock. All the occupants of the fort fled. But Johnstone was deeply committed.He ordered Fort Bute rebuilt and dispatched more soldiers.Still,according to Captain Harry Gordon,who arrived at Manchac in October 766,it remained a sad little installation: [The fort] is a Square with half Bastions—they had better been whole ones—of bad Stockades. There are Huts in the inside for Officers and Men, 00 in Number. The Intention of this Post...


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