At the close of the American Revolution, 13 English colonies gained their independence and formed The United States of America.
The 14th colony, West Florida of which Warren County was a part, became one of Spain’s new world possessions.
Though many of the British subjects left, others, including George Rapalje, remained. A native of New York, Rapalje had a land grant at Nannachehaw which is south of Yokena on the Big Black River, or Chitta Loosa as the Indians called it (and when translated means Big Black River).
In a journal he kept Rapalje told what life was like during the Spanish era.
He described the area where he lived as being good for growing rice “as part will overflow.” Both sides of the river, he said, were covered with large cane so thick that it was almost impenetrable. There was also plenty of cedar, cypress, elm, and ash.
There were probably settlers at Nannachehaw before Rapalje, for on October 2, 1796 he noted that “old irons found” and listed plow irons, fire dogs, thongs, harrow tooth, sickle, coffee mill, smoothing irons, old locks “and Sundry old Irons all eaten up with the rust. 1 sword, the blade destroyed with the rust. 2 old axes.”
Rapalje took a census listing heads of families, the number in each family, and the years of arrival. John Stowers with five people heads the list; he settled in 1788. Others are Jacques Rapalje and Tobias Brashers, 1789; Isaac Rapalje, 1791; Antilton (?), 1794; Thomas Cunningham, William Cooper, Gabriel Griffin, Fraderick Myers, Cole, and James Fraser, 1795; Steel, Moss, Erwin, Levey Perry, Bowles, Willm.Machristy, James Hiland, John Calhoon, Vincent Fortner, Able Eastman, Wm. Miller, and George Marshall, all in 1796. (Note: the spellings are as recorded in the journal).
Others are frequently mentioned, some simply passing though, others residing nearby or as far away as The Walnut Hills to the north and “Byio Pear” to the south.
If anyone had doubts about moving to the Big Black vicinity, Rapalje had words worthy of a real estate agent, writing, “I can assure you that wrinkles or a small stoop in the shoulders nay even grey hairs are no objection to the making new conquest here if you will transport yourself a few months in the clime (.) a woman till five and thirty only looked upon as a raw girl (.) this is a paradise for you.”
There was plenty of work to be done, but when a man named Thompson arrived on October 7, 1791 Rapalje wrote that he stayed two weeks and four days, free gratis, and “has promised to do little at his trade he being unwell.” The man had come from The Walnut Hills where the commander “would not have him” as he was not capable of doing a days work.
Rapalje ran a trading post, and the pages of the journal are filled with accounts. He sold knives, axes, blankets, salt, sugar, coffee, salve, thread, razors, silk handkerchiefs, trousers, shirts (some with ruffles), powder, bullets, ear rings, beads, gun flints, cheese, venison hams, ducks, and geese.
Some of his merchandise came from John Turnbull at The Walnut Hills and included vermillion, red lead, linen, hatchetts, hock bells, coppress, Osnaburgs and thread, combs, paper, needles, cotton stripe, Taffia, and “1 brass kittle.”
Those with accounts at the trading post were John Stowers, Harmon, Isaac Kelsey, Mr. Lorde (a cobbler), David Smith, Hardy Perry, Capt. Burnet, Wm. Harkins, Samuel Simpson, Capbell, Wm. Standley, Wm. Bassett, Mrs. Bruin, Mrs. Smith, Mrs. Goodwin, Mrs. Stowers, Mrs. Brashers, Mrs. McChristy, Stephen Douglass, Billy Ustes, and William China.
Several Indians also had accounts: Intunabe, Littleway, Bafunka, Ettie Lockney, Ahajee, Natuckagee, Tinckey Homes, Conutubby, Nockchinto, Ya Chubby, Nuckpullee, Unche Tubby, Baley, Lonoley, Sinjee, Mastubbey, Unchelee Tubbey, Atunkian Tubby, and “a good Indian, Lahika.”
Raplje wrote pages of Indian words and the English meanings as he evidently tried to learn some of the Indian language, which was not written. Included was the word Nanna for fish and Chehaw for hill; and Walnut Hills in Choctaw was Joneyinchweaw.
Frequently skins were sold to Rapalje by both white and Indian residents. These included bear, deer, otter, wild cat, beaver, wolf, fox, raccoon, “tyger” and “White cat.”
Rapalje also farmed, noting at times the amount of corn and cotton he raised and the number of cattle and pigs he owned. In 1791 he listed 93 swine, 48 large hogs and 45 pigs.
Some personal accounts were records: he paid Eben and Jonathan Dayton 18 dollars and one bit (12 ½ cents) in 1797; receipts were dated 1788, 1789, 1791, and 1792. He paid Leon D. Kipley $15 for building a flatboat on February 7, 1795, and when he dined at the Spanish fort, Nogales, he paid six bits for three meals.
There were already slaves in the community, for in 1796 he hired Mr. Frasher’s slave, Dick, at $10 a month to work his corn and cotton. He hired two blacks, Isaac and Jack, to cut 500 rails for fences, and rented a horse from Cunningham for plowing.
Rapalje also hired “Mr. Vashera’s 7 Negroes” in 1798 (by this date the United States owned the territory) and in 1802 hired a slave woman and three children who belonged to Stephen Gibson. Not all the work was done by slaves, for in 1797 William Regan worked for three months to pay for one bay mare and one blue coat.
He also noted on March 25, 1793 “on Monday my Father went down to Orleans on hos voyage to New York.”