Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sunday marks 203rd anniversary of the killing of Lt. Joseph Morgan Wilcox

Grave of Joseph M. Wilcox in Camden, Ala.
The Alabama Territorial General Assembly created Wilcox County on Dec. 13, 1819 and named it in honor of Joseph Morgan Wilcox, a young Army officer who was killed by hostile Creek Indians on Jan. 15, 1814. The 203rd anniversary of Wilcox’s death will come to pass this coming Sunday, and I can think of no better time than today to recount the remarkable life of the man who would lend his name to Wilcox County.

Wilcox was born on March 15, 1790 in Killingworth, Conn., the son of Revolutionary War officer Joseph Wilcox and Phoebe Morgan Wilcox. Wilcox became a student at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. on June 15, 1808 and graduated at the top of his class on Jan. 3, 1812. Upon graduation, Wilcox was promoted to first lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s 3rd Infantry Regiment, which today is the oldest active duty regiment in the entire U.S. Army.

Six months later, in June 1812, the War of 1812 erupted between the United States and Great Britain, and this war dragged on for nearly three years, not coming to an end until February 1815. Wilcox fought in the Campaign of 1813-1814 under Major General Andrew Jackson, and during this time Wilcox, who was just 23 years old, lost his life in a desperate fight with Creek Indians on the banks of the Alabama River. During this war, the Creeks and the British were on the same side.

Most sources say that Wilcox was tomahawked and scalped on the banks of the Alabama River where it flows between Canton Bend and Prairie Bluff, but the exact location of his killing is up for debate. The most detailed description of Wilcox’s death that I’ve been able to find is in an old book called “Alabama: Her History, Resources, War Record and Public Men from 1540 to 1872” by Willis Brewer. What follows is the description of Wilcox’s death from that book:

“In February 1814, Col. Russell marched his regiment and two companies of volunteers from Fort Claiborne to the Cahaba River to drive the Indians from that vicinity. He dispatched a barge laden with provisions up the Alabama with orders to meet him on the Cahaba. Not finding the barge when he reached the ‘old towns’ on the latter river, he sent Lt. Wilcox with five men in a canoe down the Cahaba to hasten its arrival.

“Wilcox reached the mouth of the Cahaba and moved down the Alabama. The evening of the second day after leaving the command, the party was captured by the Indians, except two who swam ashore and fled. The Indians occupied the canoe and passed on down the river.

“The barge had passed the mouth of the Cahaba and knowing that Russell would not wait for it, was on its return to Fort Claiborne when it came in sight of the Indian canoe. The savages fearing to lose their prisoners, butchered and scalped them, at the sandbar at the mouth of Pursley Creek, this county, and the unfortunate Wilcox and his party were in the last agonies of death when the barge reached the canoe.”

Now if you take a close look at a modern map of Wilcox County, you’ll see that Pursley Creek flows into the Alabama River southwest of Camden, between the old communities of Uxapita and Gullettes Landing. This location is miles from where the Alabama River flows between the old county seat of Canton Bend and Prairie Bluff.

Two days later - on Jan. 17, 1814 – Wilcox was buried with military honors at Fort Claiborne, which was located on the east bank of the Alabama River, where present-day U.S. Highway 84 crosses the river in Monroe County. Some sources say that Wilcox’s remains were later exhumed and reburied in the historic Camden Cemetery on Broad Street, a short walk from Camden Baptist Church in Camden. If, in fact, Wilcox was reburied in Camden, then I believe that his grave is the oldest marked grave in Wilcox County.

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