Sunday, November 24, 2013

Who calls Grandma Kezziah Sims an Anarchist? Smile when you say that, Historian!



David W. Miller in THE TAKING OF AMERICAN INDIAN LANDS IN THE SOUTHEAST (2011) concludes his chapter on “Jefferson after the Louisiana Purchase and Anarchy in 1810” with comments on a petition sent to President “Maddison” by more than 200 families from Hawkins County, Tennessee, who had settled on what had until recently been seen as Cherokee land and was now abruptly and arguably Chickasaw land, just south of the Tennessee line in what a few years later was Limestone County, Alabama. Following Jefferson’s lead, Madison sent soldiers from nearby Fort Hampton who a second time burned the settlers’ cabins and their fences. The petition was received in Washington DC in October 1810. Here is how Miller describes it in the last paragraph of his chapter:


Anarchy was afoot. The petition said the settlers could not agree to move and thereby “bring many women and children to a state of starvation mearly to gratify a heathen nation Who have no better right to this land than we have ourselves and they have by estimation nearly 100,000 acres of land to each man Of their nation and of no more use to government or society than to saunter about upon like so many wolves or bares whist they who would be a supporte to government and improve the country must be forced even to rent poor stoney ridges to make a support or rase their famelies on whilst there is fine fertile countrys lying uncultivated and we must be debared even from injoying a small Corner of this land.”

Miller’s footnote is to THE TERRITORIAL PAPERS OF THE UNITED STATES, Vol. 6, p. 107. His next chapter takes up without looking back at the anarchy.


“Anarchy was afoot”?  Let’s think about it. The petition, although Miller does not say so, was written by members of the “Sims Settlement” (which in the last couple of years finally has a highway marker and other signs identifying the location). The first two signers were William and James Sims. The leader of the expedition had been their brother, Parish Sims, who died there in 1807 in what became Limestone County. I assume the Sims brothers wrote the letter. I have not seen the original but notice that what Miller prints seems to be very close but not exactly what is in the TERRITORIAL PAPERS. The men did not spell perfectly, but they were eloquent, and were not anarchical. Let me quote a little more from an online transcription:

we look to you the boddy of government as a friendly father to us and believe it Compleatley within your power Whilst you are administering Justice between us and the chickasaws to say with the greatest propriety that we have once purchased this land and we will not remove our fellow citizens off but let them remain as tennants at will untill the chickasaws may feell a disposition to sell us their clame therefore we your humble petitioners wish you to take our standing duely into consideration and not say they are a set of dishoneste people who have fled from the lawes of their country and it is no matter what is done With them.for we can support our carractors to be other ways and it is our wish and desire to protect and supporte our own native Government we must informe you that in the settling of this country men was obliged to expose themselves very much and the Climate not helthy a number of respectable men have deceased and left their widows with families Of arphan children to rase in the best way they can And you might allmost as well send the sword amongst us as the fammin the time being short that our orders permits us to stay on we wish you to send us an answer to our petition as soon as posable and, for heavens Sake Pause to think what is to become of these poore alphan families who have more need of the help of some friendly parish than to have the strictest orders executed on them who has not a friend in this unfeeling world that is able to asist them Either in geting off of said land or supporting when they are off we are certain in our own minds that if you could have A true representation of our carractor the industry we have made. and the purity of our intentions in settling here together with the justice of our cause you would say in the name of God let them stay on and eat their well earned bread.

These people were not anarchists. They were respectable and even prosperous citizens of Hawkins County who in 1807 had “solde our possessions and Came and settled here . . . without any knoledg or intention of violating the laws of government or infringing on the right of another nation.”

What happened to them? James McCallum in a Centennial history of Giles County Tennessee remembered: “the Reduses and Simmses and those who settled Simms’ settlement, were driven off and they went back over the line and built camps and shanties which they covered with bark which they stripped from trees like tan bark. A considerable number of these camps were together, and the place was called Barksville for a long time. I saw the camps with the bark covers on them when a boy.”

BARKSVILLE was built in the Winter of 1810-1811.

What happened to Uncle William and Uncle James Sims, the prose stylists of the Sims Settlement? I don’t know. 

What happened to the Widow of Parish Sims, the Grizell Sims on one list and Kezziah Sims on another? What was her maiden surname? Who was she, anyhow? Not Kezziah Royster, as is often said. Well, we know what happened to her, anyhow.

GGGG Grandma Kezziah Sims survived Barksville and married again and married well--William Cocke, who had been one of the first two U S Senators from Tennessee. William Cocke took her to Columbus, Mississippi, where he built her a two story dogtrot cross hall log house—a big pile of logs, he said—overlooking the Tombigbee River. He was good to her children. Bartlett became the first sheriff of the county. Martin became a translator to the Choctaw. Absalom started the Piney Gove Methodist Church there before going back to Alabama and marrying Catherine Keiser (fresh down from Pennsylvania Dutch country) and going to Arkansas where their daughter, my great great grandmother Martha J. Sims was born.

GGGG Grandma Kezziah an Anarchist? Nyaaa! The Hawkins County Sims family were Baptists, whatever their son Absalom did.Sometimes historians need to write their stories from the ground up as well as from the top down.

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