[M271, roll 3, frames 665-668]
Deposition of J. S. Thomas
Being called upon by the Governor of Georgia under authority as he states, of the Secretary of State of the United States to declare what I know respecting the
parties interested in the purchase & introduction of a parcel of Africans which were take to the Agency in the winter of 1817.
The following is what I know on the subject.
Some time in the first week in the month of December 1817 I was at the Creek Agency attending to the transportation of provision for the use of the United States troops, under a special contract with the Colonel of the 7th U. States Infantry, then commanding the District. When Capt. William Bowen with a certain Doctor James Long arrived there with a parcel of African Negroes. Being intimately acquainted with Capt. Bowen I had frequent conversations with him about the Negroes, and asked him if he would sell them, to which he replied that they were not for sale, but were purchased by himself and Mr. James Erwin of Savannah Merchant for their own use, and were solely their property except a small interest in them belonging to the said Doctor Long. I then advised Captain Bowen to remove them immediately as they ware in danger where they then ware, for in my opinion if General Mitchell saw them he would report them in which case it might be difficult to get them clear, and besides the troops are expected at that time to pass the Agency on their way from Fort Hawkins to Fort Scott, which would also endanger their safety. Capt. Bowen to my representations observed, that it was impossible for him to remove them at that moment for the want of subsistence and the means of transportation, and requested me to subsist them whilst they remained at the Agency, which I accordingly did until they were taken possession of and reported by General Mitchell. Finding that Capt. Bowen could not remove the Negroes at that time, I immediately wrote to Col Andrew Erwin of Augusta under the impression that he was apprised of the purchase made by Bowen, advising him of the arrival of the Negroes and the danger to which I believed them exposed; and to my surprise received for answer, that my letter was the first information he had received on the subject, and expressed his surprise that his son should have engaged in such a speculation without his knowledge, he would thank me to render them any assistance I could to get them off to the Westward. This I had determined to do having received attention from Col. Erwin and his friends which in my opinion laid me under obligation to serve them. During this time General Mitchell was at his place of residence in Georgia, but soon afterwards arrived at the Agency on his way to the Chatahochey to attend a meeting of the chiefs of the Creek Nation, which I think was appointed for the 9th of the month December. Whether he saw the Negroes on his way out I do not recollect, but I think he told me afterwards that he had not, but had seen Capt. Bowen from whom he had received the first information of their being at the Agency. On General Mitchell's return from Chatahochie which must have been about the middle of the month General Gaines came in company with him, but the General did not remain but a few hours and went on the same day to Fort Hawkins. General Mitchell then saw the Negroes and appeared willing that they should be removed, if done before he took official cognizance of them; and Doctor Long had his proportion designated and he took them off with him to the Westward. General Mitchell remained at the Agency but a few days and returned to Georgia to spend Christmas with his family and then positively declared that as the owners had declined or delayed removing them he would immediately on his reaching home report them to Government, after which he would not permit them removed unless security was given to take them out of the United States. I returned to Georgia myself at this time and being invited by General Mitchell to dine with him on Christmas day, I did so, and was shown by him a copy of the letter he wrote to the Secretary of the Treasury reporting the Negroes. He also told me that he informed Colonel Brearly who rode part of the way with him from Fort Hawkins to Milledgville that he should report them immediately on his reaching home, and Colonel Brearly has mentioned repeatedly the same fact to me since. Truth and justice requires that I should further declare in this case that it is my belief that I have a correct knowledge of the parties who were interested in the purchase and introduction of those Negroes and that it is my decided conviction that General Mitchell not only had no interest or concern in their purchase and introduction but was entirely ignorant of both. I also declare that prior to the introduction of the Africans by Capt. Bowen, when reports were prevalent and a subject of conversation, of the same description of people being introduced into the sea board country of this state, I have had frequent conversation with General Mitchell on that subject, and was uniformly advised by him to have nothing to do with such transactions, for those who did would experience not only pecuniary loss, but destroy their reputation.
J. S. Thomas
Sworn and subscribed before me this 3rd day of April 1820.
James ---- Baldwin County, Georgia
Sworn to & acknowledged before me 22 July 1820
Jas. Fleming, .., Baldwin County, Georgia.
The witness being cross examined by General Mitchell says:
He is personally acquainted with Col. Gideon Morgan of Tennessee.
Deponent saw the Colonel at the Agency some time about the middle of December 1817.
That he conversed with him on the subject of the Africans at that time, & since, and was informed
by the Colonel before he saw Genl. Mitchell, that he was authorized to offer the Negroes to him for sale in order to secure the amount due to the Erwins for advances made by them for the purchase of the Negroes.
After the Colonel had seen Genl. Mitchell .. he informed deponent that he had offered the Negroes to the General but that he had positively refused to have anything to do with the purchase of them, but, had said that he (Colonel Morgan) might remove them.
Colonel Morgan then offered the Negroes to the deponent, but not agreeing on terms, no contract was made.
The deponent was present at the settlement made between Doctor Long and Capt. Bowen, and five of the Negroes were selected by Dr. Long and taken by him to the Westward. Dr. Long & Capt. Bowen then left the Agency, the
former for Mississippi, and the latter to bring on the balance of the Negroes, as he said.
General Mitchell was at this time gone to the Chatahochie, on his return & after the departure of Col. Morgan the deponent was present when Mr. Elhert an old Indian Country man who was settling a new place three or four miles above the Agency applied to
Genl. Mitchell for a few of the Negroes to clean a piece of land for him. Genl. Mitchell told him he had no objection, and he presumed Capt. Bowen would have none provided .. he
(Mr. Elhert) would take good care of them, feed them well. Mr. Elhert promised to do this; and Genl. Mitchell requested this deponent to select six of the stoutest of the men to go with Mr. Elhert.
The deponent did so and designated them by tying a piece of Yellow ferreting to their jackets.
The deponent did not see the Negroes set out for Mr. Elherts, but he knows that they went; and that they returned again to the Agency; and he has since seen them in Milledgville and
some of them are now, or lately were there.
The Negroes were lodged in a piece of Woodland within the fence of the Plantation, in small huts covered with dry goods and built by themselves, near the quarter where Genl. Mitchell was settling his own Negroes. There were no huts, houses, or cabins of any sort built by the Negroes or people of General Mitchell in which to lodge the said Africans. The houses that were built were for the use of his own people. None of the Africans were sent from the Agency by General Mitchell, or by any person acting for him, or concealed by him or them within my knowledge. All those taken to the Agency by Capt. Bowen, were take away by Mr. McIntosh, except those taken by Doctor Long, and three had absconded at the time of the seizure. After the Negroes were detained by Genl. Mitchell, some of them, some time more sometimes less, were in the public Yard at the Agency every day when this deponent was there, grinding corn for their own use at a hand Mill. Some of the small Negroes who were sick and infirm, some with burned hands, some with burned feet .. were placed by order of General Mitchell in the Cabins of his own people at the Agency for the purpose of being nursed and taken care of .. and to some of the men who had the venereal General Mitchell personally attended and administered medicine and proper nourishment for their relief and support. These men were lodged in some old Cabin near the residence of General Mitchell.
J. S. Thomas
Sworn to & subscribed to before me 22 July 1820
Jas. Fleming, .., Baldwin County, Georgia.