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BENJAMIN HARDIN

ANNOUNCEMENTS

 

RACHEL JACKSON

OF ALABAMA WAR OF 1812 HEROINES

PEGGY BAILEY-A REAL HEROINE

If Peggy Bailey were living today, she might be a member of the Olympic Swimming Team. We know from reading H.S. Halbert and T. H. Hall's History of the Creek War, 1813-1814, the following:

"Upon Fort Pierce, near by as it was to Fort Mims, the Indians made no attack and its few inmates retired unharmed. They reached the Alabama River where they were joined by other refugees, but none of them could cross until Peggy Bailey, a sister of Captain Dixon Bailey, swam to the west side and procured a flat boat on which they ferried themselves over and safely reached the arsenal at Mount Vernon."

The account goes on to inform readers: "In acknowledgment of that daring act, swimming the Alabama River in August when alligators were quite abundant, the United States Government bestowed a tract of land upon this heroine." At the time Peggy swam across the Alabama, the river would have been in August more than 150 yards across and 40 feet deep in the middle

An act of Congress passed April 20, 1818, allowed Peggy Bailey to enter 320 acres of land on the river Alabama,” being part of section number seven, township five, range five, including the improvements made by Dixon Bailey, a half Indian, who had been killed at Fort Mims. whilst in the service of the United States”.   Peggy and her sister, Polly, who was married to Walter Arthur Sizemore, entered claims for compensation for property that belonged to their brother Captain Dixon Bailey.  Dixon Bailey had earned himself a place in history for having commanded first the “Half Breed Militia” when it attacked hostile Red Stick Creeks at Burnt Corn Creek on July 27, 1813 and later had died valiantly at Fort Mims on August 30, 1813.

The actual number of those who died at Fort Mims is not known.  No one conducted a census.  Some of those inside the make-shift fort were carried off.  There are a number of claims that were subsequently made for lost slaves.  Three women were known to have been carried off  to Spanish Florida and ransomed.  Even when these and the handful who managed to escape are subtracted, it is reasonable to assume that, perhaps, as many as 500 persons did die at Fort Mims.  Very few of those massacred at Fort Mims were White.  Dixon Bailey, his “Half Breed militia” and the families inside the fort were descendants of Scotch and Dutch traders who married Creek women. In the case of the Moniacs, their direct ancestor was a Hollander, William Moniac. By the time of the Fort Mims Massacre, the descendants of these men who included members of the Bailey family, had over the course of  almost one hundred years intermixed and intermarried to such a extent that no one of those identified as Creek Half Breeds could accurately say what quantum of Creek blood flowed in his or her veins. Moreover, those who attacked Fort Mims were relatives of those who died inside the fort or died trying to escape from it.  In several instances the attackers found near relatives among those they came to kill, and managed to save them. Wherein the attackers and defenders differed, it was in their view of what the intentions of the American Government would be with regard to the Indians and Mixed Breeds who lived in what would come to be known as Alabama. Prior to the Treaty of Fort Jackson, it had been supposed by those remained at peace with the Americans, and had, on numerous occasions joined with them and fought at their sides against their own kinsmen, that they would be left in possession of their rich farms and plantations.

The main sources of information regarding Peggy Bailey and other members of her family consists of (1) the congressional act authorizing the grant of land that was recorded in 1818, (2) a record of the sale of Peggy’s  320 acre estate which is signed both by Peggy Bailey and her husband, Richard Robinson, (3) accounts of her heroic swimming of the Alabama River whereby she, Peggy, obtained the flat boat she used to rescue those identified as refugees that were trapped on the other side of the river, this account being taken from Halbert and Bell and Pickett’s History of Alabama, (4) an unpublished genealogy of Peggy's sister Polly Bailey Sizemore’s family, (5) claims made in the behalf of the Dixon Bailey Estate, and,(6) interestingly, an affidavit signed by Peggy Bailey’s grandson, Dixon Bailey Reed, a resident of Escambia County, Florida in 1908.

From these sources we derive a description of both Peggy and her sister Polly.  Both women are short and muscular and are held to be excellent swimmers.  Polly’s husband Arthur Sizemore operated a ferry on the river and Polly on number of occasions was forced act as ferryman.  Their brother Dixon has been educated by the Quakers in Philadelphia and the two Bailey sisters were literate, even if less so than their more famous brother, Dixon, who was from all accounts quite  handsome, being tall and dark haired with hazel eyes. Much of the sisters’ wealth resulted from claims made against the estate of Dixon Bailey who was at the time of his death at Fort Mims the owner of considerable property including 260 head of cattle.  The descendants of Polly Bailey Sizemore do not appear to have retained much from the estate of  Dixon Bailey, although at the time of her death in Alabama in 1862 Polly left a considerable estate including a plantation home and slaves.  Peggy and her husband, on the other hand, may have done better in the years after the Civil War than tholse of Polly Bailey Sizemore .Because Peggy's being willing to remove to the Oklahoma Territory had been made a precondition of her being able to sell her land in Alabama, she had a representative affirm in 1836 that she and her husband Richard Robinson had moved “across the Arkansas.”  Peggy and her husband, however, had not moved to Oklahoma. This becomes apparent from the affidavit provided by her grandson, Dixon Bailey Reed, that she and her husband Richard Robinson, had moved from Escambia County, Alabama across the Alabama State Line to Escambia County, Florida.  In Escambia County Alabama both Peggy and her husband were known to be Creek Half Breeds. In Escambia County Florida, they, and their descendants came to be identified as “White” and appear as such in Florida census records.

Peggy’s descendants, all of whom are the children and grandchildren of a daughter, Cynthia Robinson, continued to be identified as White in Florida Censuses done in the years 1880 and 1900 while those of Polly and others were listed as Indians living in Alabama in the 1880 and 1900 censuses.

Creek Half Breeds who remained in the Tenesaw of South Alabama, Polly's among them, represented only a few Mixed Breed Families who were allowed to remain because they were adjudged to have provided essential services.  These included some of the Maniac, Hollinger, Sizemore, Stiggins, Bailey, Colbert and Weatherford families. These families came to be concentrated in the Poarch Creek area north of Perdido Bay.  The allotments of land the heads of these families received generally were less than that given to Peggy, a circumstance which lends credence to her grandson’s claim that Peggy received her grant of 320 acres from congress as an award for the heroism she exhibited by rescuing those caught on the east bank of the Alabama River after the attack on Fort Mims. The number of those rescued, however, has not been determined.  Peggy's having been regarded as a heroine by contemporaries is confirmed by histories produced within forty years of the event by Pickett and Halbert and Bell that were based on witness accounts.

The Creek Half Breed families which settled in the Poarch Creek Community became poorer and more isolated as time progressed.  Such schools as were provided at the end of the first third of the twentieth century were segregated “Indian only” schools that did not extend beyond the sixth grade.  Intermarriage between Whites and Indians was prohibited by Alabama law until after 1950. For the purposes of this law, anyone who was adjudged to have the equivalent of one grandparents who was an Indian was determined to be an Indian.

The Poarch Creeks secured recognition in 1984 as a tribe from the U.S. Government and were granted 500 acres of land for a Reservation on which the Poarch Creeks were permitted to establish a gambling casino.  The Poarch Creeks, who today number less than 3,000 individuals most of whom live in the Poarch Creek Community, are the only Indian tribe in Alabama that is recognized by the U.S. Government.  The Poarch Creek Tribe refuses to extend membership to the descendants of Peggy Bailey because they had moved to Florida where they identified themselves as “White.” in the 1880 and 1900 censuses. 

 

  SARAH MERRILL- A COURAGEOUS SURVIVOR

There were no war whoops sounding in the darkness of the Clarke County pine forest on the night the Holtams gave shelter to a Tennessee family headed westward to Texas.

The bitter days of the Indian Wars were long past, almost forgotten by Mrs. Holtam, the former Mrs. H. Merrill. Only in nightmares did she remember being scalped and left for dead by Indian raiders, of learning while still weak from her wounds that her first husband had been killed fighting the warring tribes.

Yet those distant, terrible memories swam before her eyes as she looked at the husband of the Tennessee family. He too, stared at Mrs. Holtam as if he were seeing a ghost from the past.

Sarah Merrill Holtam’s story is an incredible story from Alabama’s equally incredible history. It begins in Clarke County in 1813, the year Andrew Jackson and his hodge podge army of regulars and frontier volunteers fought the rampaging Creeks.

At the time of her story, shortly after the Ft. Mims Massacre, refugee settlers in the southern part of the wild, untamed Alabama territory -- statehood was still six years away -- began pouring into a wooden stockade called Ft. Sinquefield.

This inadequate facility had been constructed only a few months before to provide some form of defense for the settlers in that vicinity in the event of an Indian attack. By August, 1813, the stockade was filled with soldiers and refugees to the point it was hopelessly overcrowded.

Two families whose homes were located barely a mile away, decided to quit the safety of the stockade and take their chances at home. In late August, Ransom Kimbell and Abner James moved their families from the fort. On Sept. 1, 1813, just a few days after they left the fort, the women and children of the two families were at home alone. The men had returned to the stockade to gather news of the Indian movements and the likelihood of the attack.

About mid-afternoon the air was split by shrieks of terror and shouts of triumph as a band of Creeks swooped down on the homestead, wreaking death and pain among the helpless women and children. In a matter of minutes, it was all over, and the victorious Indians fled through the woods with scalps dangling from their belts and booty from the cabin in their arms.

Kimbell and others heard the sounds of the attack and rushed to the scene. The assault had come so suddenly and ended so quickly, however, that the men found only a dozen mangled bodies and burning ruins when they arrived.

By then it was getting to be late in the afternoon, too late to remain out after dark to bury the victims. The men returned to the fort, planning a burial detail for the following day.

During the night, a light rain fell upon the scene of the massacre and with that rain came the elixir needed to revive a survivor of the desolation. Mrs. Sarah Merrill, the daughter of Abner James, slowly opened her eyes and stared at the hissing smoke rising from the rain-splattered embers of the burned cabin. Blood covered her neck and shoulders from the vicious knife wound that had removed the greater portion of her scalp. Miraculously, the Indian’s war club aimed at her head had struck only a glancing blow, knocking her unconscious rather than killing her.

With a mother’s instinct, her immediate reaction was the safety of her baby rather than herself. Somewhere amid the dozen or so bodies she knew her baby would be found. The chance of her locating the child in the dark was slim. The chance of his being alive were even slimmer.

She remembered that there had been two baby boys, each the same size and weight. One had worn a dress fastened with buttons while the other’s dress had been fastened with strings. Using the knowledge as her guide, she crawled among the bodies until she found her son, weak but miraculously alive. As soon as she felt she had nursed sufficient life back into the boy, she began the slow and painful trip toward Ft. Sinquefield, located about five miles southeast of present Grove Hill.

The loss of blood had weakened her considerably, however, and she soon felt she might not be able to make it to the fort before she collapsed. Secreting the baby boy in the minimal safety of a hollow log, she struggled on by herself, hoping she could make it alone and send help back to get her son.

In the early hours of the morning of Sept. 2, the sentries at Ft. Sinquefield were astonished to see a white woman, bare of scalp, struggling into the light of the stockade. Men from the fort quickly retrieved her baby and soon were both provided with the best attention available at the fort. Both would recover from the narrow escape from death, even though the fort’s commanding officer, Lt. James Bailey, would find his hands full only a few hours later when 100 Indians led by Prophet Josiah Francis launched a vicious and bitter attack.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Merrill’s husband marched with Gen. F.L. Claiborne toward Holy Ground where they were expecting to locate a large force of hostile Indians. In route, a messenger who had left Ft. Sinquefield shortly after the Kimbell-James Massacre, caught up with Claiborne’s troops and sadly informed Merrill that his family had been wiped out in the massacre. The messenger had left the fort, of course, hours before Sarah Merrill stumbled in with her fantastic story of survival.

Merrill was naturally grief-stricken. But he was also a soldier, and he faced a duty that was designed to protect hundreds of other settlers. He put aside his own problems and marched on with Gen. Claiborne.

In the fierce battle that followed, he was severely wounded. With communications as unreliable as they were in those days, Merrill was believed to have been slain, and this message was carried back to his wife, whom he still believed to be dead. By this time, Mrs. Merrill and her young son were well on their way to recovery.

Merrill, however, recovered from his wounds. Since he believed his family wiped out, he had made no desire to return to the site of so much tragedy and instead made his way to Tennessee.

The second part of Sarah Merrill’s story does not occur until many years later. After the Indian Wars ended, she and her husband, each believing the other dead, sought new lives for themselves. Each, in turn, married and started a new family.

Mrs. Merrill, now happily Mrs. Holtam, with her new husband and large family of children by him, lived happily near Choctaw Corner in Clarke County. One night, many years after the tragedy at Ft. Sinquefield, a man from Tennessee, traveling with his middle-aged wife and family of children, passed through Choctaw Corner on their way to Texas. They reached Clarke County at nightfall and saw a place to stay for the night.

The Tennesseans, as fate would have it, were taken in by the Holtam family and were given the best hospitality that could be offered.

Frequently during the evening, Mrs. Holtam stared at the husband of the visiting family. She was certain that she had seen him some place before. The Tennessean likewise felt that he knew Mrs. Holtam although he was sure he had never seen her before.

Finally, the realization struck them both at once, and the incredible story tumbled out in patches of information that were finally pieced together by the two families.

Many years had passed since their marriage and both of the Merrills had found happiness and security with their mates and other families. There was no desire for them to rejoin each other after so many years.

The next day, the Tennesseans pressed on to Texas, and Mrs. Sarah James Merrill Holtam remained in Choctaw Corner with her new family, a lady much admired and respected by her neighbors.

Source: Clarke County Historical Association

 

 

Daughters War 1812