Susannah Don’t Give a Ship

In 1802, the first Anglo-American settlers arrived in Madison county. The Ditto family came around the Great Bend of the Tennessee River and settled on what was either federal or Chickasaw land, depending on who you asked.

Not that the distinction mattered too much, as the Chickasaw Nation suffered from a long history of Anglophilia. After the Choctaw, a neighbor and regional foe, made alliances with the French, it quickly became advantageous to side with the British in all things. Following the American Revolution this quickly translated into a friendly relationship with the nascent United States. It unfortunately ended with the cession of Chickasaw lands in western Tennessee, northern Alabama, and eastern Mississippi and exile to Oklahoma – where the Chickasaw Nation found itself sharing land and resources with the Choctaw Nation, for administrative convenience.*

So when James and Jane Ditto settled on an island in the middle of the Tennessee River they found themselves surrounded by rough terrain and kind people. Originally from Baltimore county, Maryland; James Ditto eventually married a woman named Jane in North Carolina around 1775.

By the time they made it to Alabama, James Ditto found himself pushing sixty and too old for most professions. So he established a trading post and a ferry service that rapidly became a hub for north Alabama’s transportation and burgeoning commerce.

American colonists relied on the Ditto family’s boats and close ties with the Chickasaw Nation to ensure safe passage in the newly opened lands to the south. Ditto even ferried portions of Andrew Jackson’s army across the Tennessee river during the War of 1812. Eventually the outpost grew and in 1824, a salt trader and plantation owner from Virginia named James White expanded Ditto Landing into a port city named Whitesburg. The city eventually faded away before being absorbed by Huntsville in 1905.**

However, this is not really the story of Ditto Landing, nor is it the tale of James Ditto. Instead we shall focus on his second daughter, Susannah Ditto, and her brief marriage to Joseph Anderson.

August 27, 1806, saw what was probably the first American marriage in Madison county. A seventeen year old Susannah Ditto became the first bride. She lived for four years among the Chickasaw Nation. She, and her seven other siblings, helped her parents run the trading post. They were wild people, squatting on land and worried about money, and now she was married. The prospect failed to excite her for long.

On February 23, 1810, Susannah decided that she preferred Ditto to Anderson and went back to her father’s home on the river. Joseph Anderson waited the prerequisite number of years to file for a divorce and in 1813 presented his claims to the court.

She no longer loved him and refused to live with him while she drew breath. Since her departure several men “seduced” her and she “committed adultery with divers persons.”

Susannah replied to the allegations almost immediately. Surprisingly, she agreed with everything. The court could not fathom this. Why would a young woman, only 22 years old, admit to running around with all sorts of men and leaving her husband?

As the daughter of an infrequent pioneer, Susannah grew up on one frontier after another, she had little use for the civilization that so slowly crept into the Tennessee Valley, and as such felt no great compulsion to lie or cast herself as a faithful, if spurned, maiden. She was a Ditto, the first Anglo-Americans on the land. Everyone else was trespassing in her county. However, the judge, Obadiah Jones, saw in her reply not honesty but a woman manipulated by her husband.

He accused the couple of collusion and barred their chance at divorce. They remained married the rest of their days.

citation:

Joseph Anderson v. Susannah Anderson, Book A, 12-13 (1813)

*Which would be similar to forcing British and French people to live together because a bureaucrat from Bangladesh couldn’t tell the difference between them. Also, fun fact, during the American civil war the Chickasaw finally fought against the United States – marking the first time the nation ever raised a rifle at an English speaking state.

**One of my favorite tropes from north Alabama history is:

1) poor white settler from Tennessee or North Carolina squats on land

2) other English speaking people start to refer to that geographic feature as “someone-ville” or “specific human-point”

3) rich person from Virginia buys it and names it after themselves or a place where their family is from

4) other poor white settlers from Tennessee or North Carolina wait for rich Virginian to die before renaming it

5) poor white person enters communal history and memory

6) rich Virginian occasionally included as an afterthought, in this exact case as a street name.

 

One Dollar Worth of Razor

Eli Newman waited for most of November fifth. He began that Saturday in jail and ended it in dirt. He probably stared at the gallows that awaited him and silently cursed the fact that he’d never see 1813, or Sunday, or one in the afternoon. Though he certainly saw nine o’clock. One can only wonder if his last definite hour of life moved like a slug or a hummingbird. The previous Monday Judge Obadiah Jones left him a broad window of execution, but sometime between “ten in the forenoon and two in the afternoon,” he hanged.

152 days earlier Eli Newman killed Joseph Tetrick. He never denied his crime, only the ability of Madison county to prosecute it. For Eli Newman assaulted the man on the eastern lands of the Chickasaw Nation, a place that someday became Lawrence County. He sliced a two-inch ditch in Tetrick’s neck for an unstated reason, but did so with “a certain instrument called a razor, of the value of one dollar.” He referred to himself in court documents as a “traverser,” indicating that he passed through the Chickasaw Nation, and indeed Alabama, on his way to somewhere else. Documents are unclear on whether or not the Sheriff recovered the certain instrument.

Lewis Edwards appeared in court the same day as Eli Newman. Edwards actually spoke to Obadiah Jones immediately prior to Newman receiving his death sentence. He stood accused, on that first Monday in November, of robbing Archilaus Craft barely a month earlier. On October first of 1812 he carried away “a certain spotted handle razor, of the value of one dollar,” from the home of Craft* and back into Madison county.

It was a razor kind of day.

*more research is required but a quick perusal of some genealogical sites indicate that an Archilaus Craft may have lived in or near the contemporary boundaries of the Chickasaw Nation. while I am not impugning upon the reputation of Archilaus Craft by suggesting that he murdered Tetrick, I do think it’d be cool if it was the same razor and he found it in the woods after Newman tossed it aside. Eli Newman was an outsider and his plea makes quite clear that Madison county already tried him for this crime two previous times – it seems that the Sheriff finally stacked a jury that would deliver a death sentence.

citation:

The Territory vs. Lewis Edwards, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 51/45-52/45 (1812).

The Territory vs. Eli Newman, Minute Book of Madison County Mississippi Territory of the Superior Court in Law and Equity, 1811-1819. p. 53/46-58/49 (1812).