Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Wilcox County settler left Fort Mims a day before infamous massacre

Massacre at Fort Mims in present-day Baldwin County, Ala.
Tomorrow (Thursday) will mark the 205th anniversary of the “Massacre at Fort Mims,” and had that bloody event happened just a few days before, the history of Wilcox County would have been changed forever.

Many of you will remember from Alabama History class that the “Battle at Fort Mims” took place on Aug. 30, 1813 at Fort Mims, which was located near the Tensaw River, not far from Stockton, in present-day Baldwin County. During the battle, an estimated 700 Red Stick Creek warriors descended on the poorly defended stockade and killed or captured 500 soldiers and settlers. Only about 40 people managed to escape by fleeing into the surrounding woods.

In the days leading up to the battle, there were indications that something bad was about to happen. In fact, slaves working outside the fort reported seeing Creek warriors in the area, but the fort’s commander, Major Daniel Beasley, had them beaten for causing a panic. As it turned out, Beasley was among the first to die when the Creeks rushed the fort around noon on Aug. 30.

However, days before the battle, some settlers inside the stockade saw the writing on the wall and left. One such settler was 29-year-old pioneer Methodist minister, the Rev. John Jenkins, who went on to become one of the “founding fathers” of Wilcox County when it was established in 1819.

Historical documents say that John and his family left Fort Mims on Aug. 29, the day before the attack, and crossed the river into what is now Clarke County. From there, they made their way up the Alabama River and eventually settled in what is now Wilcox County. John settled in what was then called “the prairies” of Wilcox County, while other members of his family settled a few miles east of present-day Camden.

Alabama’s young state legislature established Wilcox County on Dec. 13, 1819, and in early 1820 John was appointed to the board of commissioners tasked with selecting a county seat and having public buildings constructed. John also has the distinction of being named Wilcox County’s first tax collector in 1820. Others on the early county seat committee were William Black, John Blackman, Robert Brown, Thornton Brown, Thomas Evans, John Gamble, Elijah Lumsden, William McCarrell and John Speight. They selected Canton Bend as the first county seat.

John had at least eight sons, and they went on to become some of the most prominent men in early Wilcox County history. Among their number were lawyers, state legislators, university trustees, circuit judges, doctors and prominent Freemasons. Their descendants continued this long tradition of local leadership, and the Jenkins family name remains one of the most prominent and recognizable names in Wilcox County.

Of course, none of this would have come to pass if the Rev. John Jenkins had not left Fort Mims on the day before the famous attack. More than likely, he and his family would have been cut down like hundreds of other pioneers, and they and their descendants would have been wiped from the pages of history. As things go, John Jenkins lived to the ripe old age of 70 before passing away on June 18, 1854 – four decades after the “Massacre at Fort Mims.”

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