Days Gone By - stories from the past

John Pierce opened the first school in Alabama

In the spring of 1798, the Congress of the United States formed into a territory a part of what had been West Florida. By an act passed the seventh of April the new division which was called Mississippi Territory, was bounded thus: On the west by the Mississippi River, on the north by a line drawn due east from the mouth of the Yazoo to the Chatahoochie,” and on the south by the thirty-first degree of north latitude.

By a supplementary act in 1804, there was annexed to this Territory all the “tract of country” south of the State of Tennessee bounded on the east by the state of Georgia and on the west by Louisiana. Tennessee had been admitted as a state in 1796. This territory was said in 1815 to be from east to west, from the Chattahoochee to the Mississippi, about three hundred and twenty miles. From north to south it was said to be two hundred and seventy-eight miles.

Said a geographer of that day, “The greater part of this extensive region is still the property of the Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Cherokee Indians, two other potent tribes, the Yazoos and Natchez, having been destroyed by wars, or having retired further into the western forests.”

West Florida (Wikipedia)

Territory divided into counties of Adams and Pickering

On the second of April, 1799, Winthrop Sargent, the appointed governor of the new Territory, issued a proclamation dividing the Territory into two counties, the northern to be called Adams and the southern Pickering. In 1799, the fifth of May, Lieutenant McLeary took possession of Fort St. Stephens, the Spanish garrison marching out and descending the river below the recently surveyed line of latitude 31°.

In July of that year, Fort Stoddart was established, about six miles above the Spanish boundary and three miles below the commencement of Mobile river. A stockade was here built with one bastion. At length, then, in the year 1799, the second year of that fearful REIGN OF TERROR in France, the year in which Napoleon Bonaparte became first Consul, this region which for so many years France had claimed and held, became a part of the United States.

John Pierce opens first school in Alabama

Among those inhabitants on Lake Tensaw, at the Boat Yard, two brothers John and William Pierce from New England, had during the Spanish times made their home. William followed weaving, which was in those days very profitable. John Pierce opened a school, “the first American school in Alabama,” so near as is known in 1799. Pierce had previously taught in Indiana before he came to the territory. Later, he also became the postmaster.

Tensaw near Baldwin County 2010 (Carol Highsmith, Library of Congress)

Says Pickett: “There the high-blood descendants of Lachlan McGillivray — the Taits, Weatherfords, and Durants, the aristocratic Linders, the wealthy Mims’s, and the children of many others, first learned to read. The pupils were strangely mixed in blood, and their color was of every hue.”

There were roughly 2,000 people living in the area at the time. The Tensaw district had been early settled. Lorenzo Dow made at least two visits to it in 1803 and 1804-5 and preached there and on the Bigbee over the Cut-Off. The ferry, school and a gin were located on the Alabama River and the lake or BoatYard. Sam Mims operated the ferry and William Pierce operated the gin.

Site of Fort Mims (Wikipedia)

Being east of the rivers, the area was much exposed to Indian attack in case of hostilities. When the Creeks became warlike in 1813, a palisade was built around Mims’ house and many people took refuge in it. The commander became careless, however, and, when Weatherford’s attack did come at noon on August 30th, the gate was open and dancing going on within. What followed was the Fort Mims massacre rather than an engagement. It was the Fort Mims massacre which stirred the Americans as nothing else could have done, and brought Jackson on his victorious career.



  1. The Great Southeast or Clarke County and its Surroundings, pub. 1882 by Rev. T. H. Ball
  2. Transactions of the Alabama Historical Society, Volume 2 edited by Thomas McAdory Owen

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Donna R. Causey, resident of Alabama, was a teacher in the public school system for twenty years. When she retired, Donna found time to focus on her lifetime passion for historical writing. She developed the websites www.alabamapioneers and All her books can be purchased at and Barnes & Noble. She has authored numerous genealogy books. RIBBON OF LOVE: A Novel Of Colonial America (TAPESTRY OF LOVE) is her first novel in the Tapestry of Love about her family where she uses actual characters, facts, dates and places to create a story about life as it might have happened in colonial Virginia. Faith and Courage: Tapestry of Love (Volume 2) is the second book and the third FreeHearts: A Novel of Colonial America (Book 3 in the Tapestry of Love Series) Discordance: The Cottinghams (Volume 1) is the continuation of the story. . For a complete list of books, visit Donna R Causey

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