The Sims Settlement, A Vintage Vignette

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The Sims Settlement
A Vintage Vignette by John P. Rankin
January 24, 2008

The earliest settlers of Madison County were not hunters and trappers, but men who were seeking opportunities for a better life with their families. Much of the land was cleared from the Indians' use of forest fires to drive out game animals. Chickasaws ceded claims within the original boundaries of Madison County in 1805. The treaty defined the western border of the county by the “Indian Boundary Line”, which ran from Hobbs Island to the southwest corner of Maury County, Tennessee. Land west of the line was still claimed by the Chickasaws, who did not give up their rights west of the line until 1816. Even then, purchases were not allowed for two years until it had all been surveyed. Land sales west to the Elk River began February 2, 1818.

However, there were already numerous settlers west of the 1805 Chickasaw line. As the early settlers arrived in the area, they had no delineation of such lines, but they saw uninhabited cleared lands around and west of Indian Creek. The pioneers did not come here to be “squatters” on Indian land, but it was expected that settlers would have “first rights” to their land when it eventually came up for legal sale. Accordingly, they rushed to find the most fertile tracts before it was legal to do so. Many of them had no doubt been attracted by newspaper stories along the eastern seacoast about the opportunities afforded in Madison County. For example, in 1811 the National Intelligencer reported on January 11, 1811, that the soils of Madison County doubled the cotton yields of any other county of its size in America. Other newspapers ran stories of land being available here for about a dollar per acre, whereas yields of cotton in average years could return over $400 per acre. Some settlers therefore could expect a return on investments of around 400 to 1. Madison County was literally being advertised back east as a way to prosperity.

Details of the land rush are given in a 40-page book about the “Sims Settlement”, available in the public library. It tells of pioneers in flatboats from the time of 1806, while acknowledging that others were already here. The Sims group of 100 families went up the Elk River to Buck Island, where the Sims brothers established the namesake community that eventually referred to the land west of the Indian Boundary Line. Because they signed several petitions to the federal government requesting permission to keep their lands, there are many known “squatter” settlers’ names. A petition of the squatters in 1810 stated that they comprised 2250 souls, whereas the 1809 census of Madison County showed 2223 legal residents east of the Indian Line.

Among the signers of the 1810 petition correlating to residents of western Madison County were James and William Slaughter, David Capshaw, William Martin, and Elisha Rainbolt. Today's Rainbow Mountain in the City of Madison is derived from Rainbolt’s name. The Martin family has a prominent history in the town of Madison and the east side of Rainbow Mountain, just as the Slaughter name has been notable in the area along Indian Creek. Capshaw's name continues as a community. These Sims Settlement squatters defended the area during the War of 1812, when Elisha Rainbolt served in Peter Perkins' 7th Regiment. David Capshaw, James and William Slaughter, and William Martin were listed in Burrus' 16th Regiment of the militia. The Sims Settlement pioneers were civic-minded men of action and devotion to their country, rather than men trying to avoid taxes or public service. However, they undeniably were “illegal aliens”. Perhaps there are lessons in outcomes of the past that apply to our future.

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