While a war for independence raged in the 13 British colonies in eastern North America, only one military action took place in British West Florida’s northwest corner – now Warren County.
From a distance the flatboat probably looked like a pile of debris – maybe a logjam turned loose and floating down the Mississippi River.
William Selkrig, working in his field not far from his cabin on the banks of the river, may not have noticed the strange craft or even realized it was a vessel until it came close enough for him to hear the shouts of the men on board. There was little traffic on the river, other than an occasional canoe, and Selkrig should have been apprehensive.
Soon the boat docked, and the ragtag army of Capt. James Willing came ashore, taking Selkrig prisoner and then continuing down river to the next settlement. It was in late February 1778, and the American Revolution was well underway. No doubt news of the conflict had reached the wilderness outposts of West Florida, but few if any probably thought it would ever disturb the peace of the frontier. Willing, however, brought the war to what would one day be Warren County.
Selkrig, the British subject who became an unwilling participant in the conflict, was one of a very few who lived in the remote outpost along the river just south of Walnut Hills. He had received a grant of 200 acres on April 21, 1777, and had a certificate of survey from Gov. Peter Chester.
Though the Mississippi River had been explored, mapped and charted on several occasions, few Caucasians lived along its banks north of Natchez. Selkrig and his neighbors – Thomas James, Philip Barbour, and William Vousdan – inhabited land that would have been an island except for a narrow neck that connected it to the mainland. Three islands, on right after another, divided the river at the great bend, and the practical British geographers tagged the area with a logical name: Three Islands. (In the following century it would be inhabited by Joseph and Jefferson Davis and is today called Davis Island.
Selkrig took the conditions of owning his land seriously – he build a house, cleared some land, fenced it with rails and planted a crop. He made more improvements than many who claimed land, but it was a lonely existence with little else to do. His work came to an end the day the Americans took him prisoner.
Capt. Willing had previously lived in Natchez where he had not been well-received, and he had departed a midst controversy. His raid down the Mississippi, authorized by the continental Congress, was not so much an expedition in support of the Revolution as it was an excuse for a personal vendetta undertaken by men of questionable character who enjoyed pillage and plunder.
News of Willing’s activities spread rapidly, and in a skirmish with some Englishmen Willing became a prisoner – and William Selkrig was freed. He made his way back to Three Islands, but during his absence his cabin and belongings had been plundered by Indians. Fearing for his life, he moved to Natchez, which by 1780 was under Spanish control. He acquired land on St. Catherine’s Creek. Living near a town was much safer, but he still owned his land at Three Islands.
William Selkrig probably has the distinction of being the only POW in the American Revolution from Warren County, and the distinction becomes even more unusual when one realizes he was taken prisoner by the Americans.