George Gaines, the Indian agent at the time, recalls the early population of the Tombigbee Settlement.
"The Tombigbee settlement in 1805 was composed mainly of a few planters on the river (who generally owned large stocks of cattle) and persons employed in the care of the cattle. There was also a small settlement east of the Alabama river, ten miles above its confluence with the Tombigbee, know as the "Tensaw settlement." Mr. Mimms, a man of considerable property, resided near Tensaw Lake, and was surrounded by a pleasant neighborhood composed of the Lingers, Duns, Thompsons, and others. William and John Pierce, merchants, had a store near Mimm's."
Along the Tombigbee, he recalls, among others;
" Mr. Young Gaines (his brother) lived about ten miles higher up the river. Major Frank Boykin, a Revolutionary officer, Thomas Bassett, Bowling, Brewers, and Callers were Mr. Gaines neighbors. John McGrew lived near St. Stephens. He owned a plantation on the east side of the river, opposite St. Stephens. Mr. Baker resided on the first bluff above St. Stephens, Mr. Bullock and Mr. Womack lived also in the neighborhood." (1)
The Womacks did, indeed, live amongst the Choctaw.
|Gov. William C. Claiborne and Gen. James Wilkinson taking possession of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. (3)|
The Sinte Bogue lay less than 10 miles north of St. Stephens. Running directly into the Tombigbee, it was an ideal place for a plantation. According to another letter, it was a common practice for some of the local planters to free range their cattle (and hogs) on the west bank of the river, and plant their crops on the east bank (lands which they did not own but which the Choctaw had not complained about.) Corn was planted for personal consumption, and cotton for a cash crop. A kitchen garden would have been kept closer to the home cabin.
The Womack family consisted of Jesse, who was by this time elderly, Phoebe, and their sons William, Richard, Francis Marion "Frank," and Jesse Jr. William and Richard soon had smaller farms near their parents. By 1807, Richard Womack had been appointed as the county constable, and before long he was with with a woman known only as "Martha" in a few family histories. She was to be the mother of his next three sons.
Jesse's eldest son, John N. Womack, had a more sizeable plantation, called "Womack Hill" which as located about 10 miles north of the Sinte Bogue Womack properties, and adjacent to his in-laws, the Colemans. When Francis and Margaret Coleman came with their family from Georgia, they brought 66 head of cattle with them. They also brought 11 slaves on the journey. Two more of their sons had married Womacks- Francis Jr. married Mary Womack, and Benjamin married Elizabeth Womack- both nieces of Jesse. There is little doubt that the Coleman's and Womack's socialized as family together.
Other neighbors were thinly scattered throughout Washington County. William Hunt, the Womack's closest neighbor, was a justice of the peace. Other families in the county included the McGrews, David and Young Gaines (brothers of George,) the Boykins, Callers (James Caller serving in the fledgling house of representatives and John a justice in the county court,) the Baileys, Walkers, Pace's, McLendon's, Hainsworths, and Dents, among others. It was a tiny population of frontier families, striving to make a community out of the wilderness. In 1810 the total population of the county consisted of 733 free white men, women, and children. Indians were not counted.
The Womacks were slave holders, as they had been since their days in Virginia. In 1808 Jesse had 6 slaves, and William and John each had 4. Many of the settlers did not own slaves at all; most that did own slaves only had a few to help with the cattle and clearing planting the land for crops- but some of the most prosperous plantation owners had a sizeable number of slaves working their land. By 1810 Levin Hainsworth had 14 slaves, Francis Boykin 20, Young Gaines 32, and John McGrew had 31. The 1810 census shows almost as many slaves in the area as free whites- over 500.
More neighbors were soon to come. The first public land sales began at St. Stephens, with land selling at $1.25-$3 an acre. The land rush was on.
1- Reminiscences of George Strother Gaines, Pioneer and Statesman of Early Alabama and Mississippi 1805-1843, edited by James P. Pate, p.43-4
2-United States, Department of State, compiled and edited by Clarence Edwin Carter, The Territorial Papers of the United States Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1934-1962. 26 volumes. National Archives microfilm publications: M0721 Vols. V and VI, The Territory of Mississippi, p236, James Wilkinson to the Secretary of War. (online digital edition at
3- picture of gov. claiborne and Gen. James Wilkinson- http://mdah.state.ms.us/timeline/wp-content/uploads/1993.7.2-571x800.jpg