Surprisingly little has been written about Louis LeFleur, who gave his name to Jackson’s Pearl River bluff, and became the father of the last chief of the Choctaw Nation (Greenwood LeFlore). Much of that written is inaccurate, the most glaring error being that he was a French-Canadian when in fact he was born in the tiny French colony of “Mobille” surrounding Fort Condé on the Gulf of Mexico.
Louis LeFleur was born Louis LeFlau; since by custom Louis eventually came to be known as LeFleur, we’ll use that name throughout to refer to him as LeFlore will be used in reference to his son Greenwood. Louis’ father, Jean Baptiste LeFlau came from France in the early 18th century as a soldier in the Fort Condé garrison. In 1735, he married Jeanne Boissinot, a native of Mobile, who bore him three children before her death in 1752. Jean Baptiste then married Jeanne Girard in 1753 and Louis, their third child, was born on June 29, 1762. There are no records of Louis LeFlau after his baptismal entry of 1762 until around 1790, but it’s certain that during this time he began trading with Native Americans, primarily the Choctaws, and likely operated flat-boats on the Amite and Pearl Rivers as well as in the Mississippi Sound.
LeFleur epitomizes those men of the American frontier who plied their trade along the navigable rivers in a wilderness before, during and even after the advent of steamboats and the eventual dominance of rail. In Antebellum Natchez James D. Clayton writes that “L. LeFleur (sic), father of a celebrated Choctaw Chieftain of a later era, operated with handsome profits the main boat shuttle to Pensacola, carrying produce and commodities.” He brought luxury items to the prosperous city of Natchez, including “fine apparel” which “had been ordered from Panton, Leslie, and Company of St. Marks in east Florida.” The boats LeFleur and those like him used were flatboats or keelboats that were manned by a crew of up to twenty-five people. The goods LeFleur routinely carried were much less luxurious used in his trade with the Choctaw, and the pelts he secured were sold in the trading houses at St. Marks and Pensacola. Corn and other farm products were sold in in Florida and Natchez.
Sometime around 1790, LeFleur cheerfully adopted the Choctaw system of polygamy and married both Nancy and Rebecca Cravat, the half-French nieces of the Choctaw Chief Pushmataha. LeFleur moved his growing family—three children were born by 1798—to Pass Christian, but with the establishment of the Choctaw Agency near present-day Jackson, he chose as a location for a new home a high bluff on the west side of the Pearl River, rising some twenty-five feet above the crest of the floods and extending along the river for several hundred feet. With the opening on the Natchez Trace under the treaty of Fort Adams in 1801, LeFleur opened a way station in the same location where traders, travelers and mail carriers could secure fresh horses. This station rapidly became an inn providing bed and board as well as entertainment. The actual site of this trading post is disputed. Greenwood was the first of the “LeFlau” sons to be born at LeFleur’s Bluff on June 2, 1800. He was named for the Greenwood in the firm of Greenwood and Higginson, the London correspondents of Panton and Leslie.
LeFleur still operated his profitable boating trade, securing commissions from General William C.C. Claiborne, Governor and Commander-in-Chief of the newly organized (1798) Mississippi Territory to carry “certain goods sent by the United States as presents to the Choctaw Nation of Indians.” He also carried messages to the Governor of the Province of Louisiana. In addition to being entrusted with the delivery of merchandise making up the government annuity payments to the Choctaw Nation, Louis was asked to be present at the occasions when terms of treaties were negotiated. Louis “Leflow” is listed as one of the witnesses to the Treaty of Mount Dexter on November 16, 1805, which conveyed large amounts of land in what is now southeastern Mississippi and southwestern Alabama, including much of the western portion of Clarke County, Alabama, to the United States.
By 1810, operation of the inn and raising cattle had become LeFleur’s main enterprises, and he, along with Louis Durant, was said to have introduced cattle into Mississippi. Travelers from the east and from foreign lands have mentioned the accommodations at the Bluff and at the inn he established in 1812 at the place now known as French Camp. At French Camp, LeFleur had a number of buildings erected and it was here in 1812 that Major John Donly, who held the U.S. Government contract for transporting the mail on the Nashville-Natchez route, suggested to Louis that he be allowed to take young Greenwood home to Nashville with him in order that the boy might receive an “American education”, and LeFleur consented. Louis served with Pushmataha under Andrew Jackson in the War of 1812 and was promoted to the rank of major (brevet). He also served three months in 1814 in command of a company on Russell’s expedition to Alabama. He later served in the campaign to Pensacola in 1814-15.
With the introduction of the steamboat on the Mississippi River—the New Orleans was the first steamboat down the Mississippi in 1811—commerce along the Trace fell, but LeFleur expanded his agricultural interests and in a decade tripled their acreage in cultivation and heads of cattle. Greenwood was elected Chief of the Northwestern Division of the Choctaws, but when Jackson was elected president in 1828 he pursued a policy of negating the treaties between the U.S. and the Choctaws, and with the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek (1830) the Choctaws were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands. In a survey of freeholds within the Choctaw lands is a record for “Louis LeFlau, 300 acres in cultivation in the Yazoo Valley; five in family with four males over 16”. Major LeFlau was to receive two sections of land according to the Supplement to the Dancing Rabbit Creek Treaty.
The Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek was a tragedy for the Choctaws and it caused deep rifts in the LeFlau/LeFleur/LeFlore family. Details are sketchy, but Greenwood is in the fifth and last level of behests in Louis’ will, which was signed April 16, 1833. Louis LeFleur died that same year, and while his gravesite is unknown, family tradition states that he was buried in Hot Springs, Arkansas, not very far from LeFlore County, Oklahoma.
(Note: This article is a brief summation of preliminary research towards a more thorough examination of Louis LeFleur and should not be considered definitive. By anyone. At any time.)
Hernando de Soto and his remaining troops crossed the Tombigbee near present-day Columbus and spent the winter near Tupelo, reaching he Mississippi River on May 8, 1541.
René-Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle explored the Ohio River Valley and the Mississippi River Valley and claimed the entire territory for France as far south as the Gulf of Mexico. La Nouvelle-Orléans was founded May 7, 1718 by the French Mississippi Company under the direction of Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville.
The first permanent settlement in French Louisiana was founded at Fort Maurepas (now Ocean Springs referred to as Old Biloxi) in 1699 under Pierre Le Moyne d’Iberville, with Louisiana separated from Spanish Florida at the Perdido River near Pensacola (founded 1559 and again in 1698).
New Biloxi founded across the bay from Fort Maurepas.
Fort Rosalie—the site of modern-day Natchez—was established by the French. Natchez was to become the most important European settlement in the Lower Mississippi Valley up until the Civil War.
The Chickasaw Campaign of 1736 consisted of two pitched battles by the French and allies against Chickasaw fortified villages in present-day northeast Mississippi. Under the overall direction of the governor of Louisiana Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville a force from Upper Louisiana attacked Ogoula Tchetoka on March 25, 1736. A second force from Lower Louisiana attacked Ackia on May 26, 1736. Both attacks were bloodily repulsed, and French domination of the Mississippi Valley fell into decline.
The Treaty of Paris, also known as the Treaty of 1763, was signed on 10 February 1763 by the kingdoms of Great Britain, France and Spain, with Portugal in agreement, after Great Britain’s victory over France and Spain during the Seven Years’ War. By the terms of the treaty, Britain wrested the area east of the Mississippi River from the French.
Phineas Lyman led a group of New England veterans of the French and Indian War to settle in the new colony of West Florida (then a territory of Great Britain) near Natchez on the Big Black River where he died shortly before the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War.
Under the terms of the Peace of Paris (1783), a series of treaties between Great Britain, France and Spain, what is now Mississippi above 31° north latitude parallel passed to the United States of America, but a separate Anglo-Spanish agreement, which ceded both Florida provinces back to Spain, did not specify a northern boundary for Florida, and the Spanish government assumed that the boundary was the same as in the 1763 agreement by which they had first given their territory in Florida to Britain. Spain claimed the expanded 1764 boundary, while the United States claimed that the boundary was at the 31° parallel. Negotiations in 1785–1786 between John Jay and Don Diego de Gardoqui failed to reach a satisfactory conclusion. The border was finally resolved in 1795 by the Treaty of San Lorenzo, in which Spain recognized the 31° parallel as the boundary, and British troops were withdrawn in 1798.
April 7, 1798
The Mississippi Territory was organized. The territory’s original boundaries consisted of the region bounded by the Mississippi and Chattahoochee rivers in the west and east, the 31st parallel in the south, and the point where the Yazoo River emptied into the Mississippi River in the north. Government was patterned after the 1787 Northwest Ordinance which established a governor, secretary and three judges to serve as a ruling council. After the territory’s population reached 5,000 free adult males, an assembly could be elected and a delegate sent to Congress. Winthrop Sargent, a New England Federalist, was appointed governor.
Chafing under Sargent’s autocracy his opponents presented their grievances to the federal government, which granted a second stage of territorial status to Mississippi, including the popular election of officials. In 1801 Democratic-Republican President Thomas Jefferson removed Sargent from office. The new administration repealed all of Sargent’s laws and moved the territory’s capital from Federalist-dominated Natchez to nearby Washington.
The northern boundary of the Mississippi Territory was extended to the Tennessee state line.
President James Madison annexed land along the Gulf of Mexico, and by 1813, the Mississippi Territory encompassed the boundaries of present-day Alabama and Mississippi.
March 27, 1814
General Andrew Jackson won the Battle of Horseshoe Bend which destroyed the Red Stick Creeks as a military power. The subsequent Treaty of Fort Jackson forced the devastated Creeks to cede over 23 million acres of land to the United States and cleared the way for an influx of immigration into the Mississippi Territory.
Prominent residents from throughout the Territory met at the home of John Ford, south of Columbia, to discuss statehood. In what became known as the “Pearl River Convention,” the attendees—the majority overwhelmingly eastern section residents—decided to send leading territorial official Harry Toulmin to the nation’s capital to request admission of the Mississippi Territory as a single state.
March 1, 1817
President James Madison signed the Enabling Act that granted admission of the western section of the Territory as the state of Mississippi on; the eastern section was organized as the Alabama Territory at the same time. The line of division, which still serves as the boundary between Mississippi and Alabama today, was designed to be a compromise between the wishes of western and eastern residents of the Territory.
Forty-eight delegates from Mississippi’s fourteen counties met at Washington to draft the new state’s constitution. The constitution established Mississippi’s government and recognized Natchez as the state’s capital.
August 15, 1817
The Alabama Territory was carved from the Mississippi Territory.
December 10, 1817
President James Monroe signed the resolution that admitted Mississippi as the nation’s twentieth state. Territorial governor David Holmes won election as the state’s first governor. Electors also chose George Poindexter as its only congressman and Walter Leake and Thomas H. Williams as its first senators. Alabama entered the Union on December 14, 1819.