Burnt Corn Creek is a creek in the northern part of Escambia County and a tributary to the Conecuh River. The name is derived from a “large spring, which bursts from beneath the hill below the village” of the same name. The spring is situated on the old Pensacola trail, and was a noted camping round during early Indian times.
Burnt Corn Creek at Brewton, Alabama
No one really knows how old Burnt Corn was, but many historians claim that Whites, Blacks and Indians were living in harmony in Burnt Corn for almost a century before the fall of 1811 with good trade relations, intermarriage, and reliable treaties. If this true, Burnt Corn was founded sometime in the early 1700’s and is older than the United States as an independent county.
There was almost full assimilation among those living in the area. “Among the mixed blood families were these names: Weatherford, Hightower. Tait, Durant, McGilbray (McGillivray). Many were families of high descent among the Wind Clan of the Creeks; they were of the elite of the great Creeks.”1
The following theories have been mentioned by historians as to how Burnt Corn received it’s name:
- The Creek Indians burned the white settlers corncribs trying to drive them on off tribal land.
- The White Settlers is said have burned the Creek Indians corn fields to claim the Creek Indians land
- It is reported that a group of Indians traveling on a path were forced to leave an ailing companion there. They provided him with a supply of corn. When he recovered, he had no way to carry the leftover corn so it stayed on the ground and eventually burned in his campfire. Other travelers came along the trail and noted that they camped at a spring where the “corn had been burnt.” The name Burnt Corn has remained there ever since.
- A party of Indians on their way to Pensacola, stopped at James Cornell’s’ trading house, burned his corncribs, took his new wife, and brought her to Pensacola where she was traded for an Indian blanket, The creek where Cornell’s settled took the name “Burnt Corn” because of the destruction of Cornell’s’ barn and his supply of corn.
Near the spring, also known as Burnt Corn, in the early years of the nineteenth century, lived the noted Creek Indian half-breed, James Cornells. He was the authority for the statement that the name was given because of the finding of a pile of charred or burned corn at the spring, left there by a sick Indian. Near the crossing of the creek and the old Pensacola trail, July 27, 1813, the Burnt Corn Fight, the first engagement of the Creek Indian War of 1813-14, took place.
Prior to the battle, the Creeks had become increasingly concerned about the rising number of white settlers and traders traveling the recently completed Federal Road to the Mississippi Territory.
In the early summer of 1813, large numbers of disaffected Creeks assembled at the Holy Ground on the Alabama River. In July, about 300 warriors left the place, under the command of Peter McQueen, Jim Boy, and Josiah Francis, for Pensacola. There they expected to secure ammunition for the impending war from the Spanish governor. On the way some hostile acts were committed. The hostile Creeks were called Red Sticks because of the red-painted clubs that they carried. Though they had Creek ancestry, the plantations of Sam Moniac and James Cornells were burned and James Cornell’s wife was kidnapped. She was later ransomed in Pensacola. It was subsequently learned, through spies, that they had procured 300 pounds of powder and a quantity of lead from Gov. Manique.
This building originally housed the Burnt Corn Post Office. The upstairs once housed meetings of the Masons and the Burnt Corn Methodist Church.
On information reaching the Tombigbee settlements, Col. James Caller, senior militia officer of Washington County, at once organized an expedition to intercept the Creeks on their return to the nation. At the head of three small companies, Col. Caller crossed the Tombigbee, July 25, and on his march across Clarke County and beyond the Alabama, he received reinforcements, so that finally his entire command numbered about 180 men, composed of white men, half-breeds, and friendly Indians. On the night of July 26, he camped near the present Bellville, and the next morning took the line of march down the, Pensacola trail to intercept the Creeks on their return.
Old Federal Road Marker located near the Old Bethany Church. This marker also describes the event that started the 1812 Creek Indian War.
“The militia group included a company raised and commanded by frontiersman Samuel Dale. The force proceeded eastward from Washington County, traveling part of the distance on the Federal Road, crossed the Alabama River on July 26, and reached Burnt Corn Creek on the morning of July 27. Scouts ranging ahead of the force reported that the Red Stick band was enjoying a noon-day meal at a bend in the creek, called the “Old Wolf Path” and was unaware of the approaching militia.”2
The historic Dr.John Watkins House, built in the 1820s, is located approximately 1 1/2 miles north of Burnt Corn.
Porch of Dr.John Watkins House, built in 1812 north of Burnt Corn.
The surprised Red Sticks were driven into the nearby brush. At this point, it was reported that Caller’s men, believed the Creeks were routed and began to loot the camp and lead away the pack horses. However, the Red Sticks returned and mounted a fierce counterattack. Caller’s men fell back to a nearby hill. But a “small band of militia members, led by Captain Samuel Dale, Dixon Bailey, and Benjamin Smoot, stood its ground and thus prevented the disordered retreat from becoming a complete rout. Having left their horses unattended, the militia members fled on foot or mounted the nearest horses, including the pack animals. The Red Sticks pursued the men for a short way but were unable to overtake them. Caller and one of his officers became lost in the swampy woods and were rescued about two weeks later, malnourished and delirious.3 Alexandre Hollinger, son of Adam Hollinger and Marie Joseph Juzan was among the wounded at Burnt Corn.4
The militia’s casualties included two dead and 10 to 15 wounded while the Red Sticks were reported to have lost 10 men. The militia managed to take much of the shot and powder from the Creeks.
“Reportedly, all of the men who took part in the battle immediately mustered out of the militia, and those who were identified as participants were subjected to public ridicule for many years afterward.”5
The consequence of the attack was a retaliatory raid on Fort Mims August 30, 1813 which triggered the outbreak of the Creek War. Many of the hostile Creek Indians wounded at Fort Mims died at Burnt Corn Spring.
- Riley, History of Conecuh County (1881), pp. 62-63; Pickett, History of Alabama (Owen’s ed., 1900), p. 539.
- Meek, Romantic passages in southwestern history (1857), pp, 244-246;
- Pickett, History of Alabama (Owen’s ed., 1900), pp. 521-525;
- Claiborne, Life and times of Sam Dale (1860), pp. 70-82;
- Halbert and Ball, Creek War (1895), pp. 125-142;
- Alabama Historical Reporter, June, 1880; Riley, Conecuh County, (1881), p. 16.
- Photo credit
More of this story can be found in ALABAMA FOOTPRINTS: Settlement: Lost & Forgotten Stories
Check out genealogy books and novels by Donna R. Causey