Photo by Karen O'Neal
The Jersey Settler cemetery is also located on Kingston Road, a short distance from the church and near the original settlement.
Did you ever wonder where King's Tavern in Natchez got its name? Or Kingston, Mississippi? What do Wyatt Waters, a watercolor painter featured in the South's largest art galleries, and the late Patrick Swayze of Dirty Dancing fame have in common? The short answer to all of these questions is that in 1792 the King and Swayze families settled in what is now Adams County, Mississippi. The long answer is much more interesting. It includes wars, religious persecution, and skirmishes with Indians.
The King family originally came to America in 1635. The Swayzes, who also figure prominently in this story, came in 1632. The families were Quakers and originally settled in Salem, Massachusetts. They intermarried and some of them moved to Southold, the first English settlement on Long Island. Southold accepted the Kings and Swayzes and other Quakers in lay matters but were not tolerant of their religious beliefs. They moved on to Chester County, New Jersey, and were part of the Congregational Church, a church where members worship independently and are not governed by a church bureaucracy.
The story of the settlement of the families along the Homochitto River—twenty-one miles southwest of Natchez, just off of present day Highway 61—is truly fascinating. It all started with the Ogden Mandamus, signed in London in 1767 by King George. It was one of the first documents relating to private ownership in the Natchez country and the only British land grant issued to an individual in all of the Natchez country that bears the signature of the King. Captain Amos Ogden served in the French and Indian war and was granted the mandamus in recognition of that service. The mandamus was for twenty-five thousand acres anywhere in West Florida, which included present day Adams and Wilkinson Counties. The terms of the mandamus required that within ten years the land had to be settled with one settler for every hundred acres.
Ogden could not meet the terms of the mandamus without help. He sold nineteen thousand acres to his neighbors in New Jersey, the Kings and Swayzes, for about twenty cents per acre. The Kings and Swayzes were British loyalists and were becoming increasingly uncomfortable in the area; so when Captain Ogden presented his offer, they were eager to make the purchase. The deed for the acreage north of the Homochitto River, in what is now southern Adams County, was recorded in Sussex County in the Province of New Jersey on April, 14, 1772. In spring of the same year, Richard and Samuel Swayze, Caleb King, and Amos Ogden surveyed the land. On October 17, 1772, they filed their grant in Pensacola and received a warrant for survey from the Florida Provincial Council.
They returned with their families the following year. Ogden did not make the trip with them. He had returned home after the survey with the intention of returning to Natchez to settle but died in New York in June of 1774. The April 19, 1773 minutes of the West Florida council noted that the first wave of Ogden mandamus grant settlers, known as the New Jersey settlers and led by the Swayze brothers, were at Pensacola on their way to Natchez. There were fifteen families and seventy-six individuals, including twenty-nine adults, thirty-nine children, three apprentices, and five slaves. They came up the Amite River through the Manchac pass to the Mississippi River and arrived in the Natchez District on August 9, 1773. Other families among the settlers and descendants included the Corys, Luses, Hortons, Colemans, and Griffings.
Samuel Swayze, commonly known as Reverend Sam, was pastor of a church in New Jersey. He brought Protestantism to Mississippi by forming a Congregational church upon his arrival in 1773. The settlers were for the most part successful for the next several years but then were forced to abandon their original location for a location along St. Catherine's Creek, nearer to the Natchez Fort, for protection against the Indians. Other difficulties arose by 1779 when the area came under Spanish control. The practice of any religion other than Catholicism was strictly forbidden. Tradition has it that the Reverend Sam took to hiding his bible in the crook of a tree. The families managed to worship in secret until Spain ceded the territory to the United States in 1798.
Reverend Sam did not live to see the end of Spanish control. He died in 1784. After his death his family dispersed and settled north of Natchez. Nathan Swayze took up Reverend Sam's pastoral duties and Caleb King became titular head of the settlement. A provision of the original deed required that one thousand acres be set aside for a town, "parsonages, public buildings, burying grounds," and a parade ground for public gatherings. Caleb King laid out the town and named it after himself. Although his tombstone says the town was laid out in 1793, most historians believe it was in 1784.
Methodism came to Kingston in 1799 when Tobias Gibson, the founder of Port Gibson, Mississippi, visited and organized a church. Many of the original settlers were members. A log church was built on the first ground in Mississippi deeded for a Protestant house of worship. About twenty years later in 1822, Daniel Farrar, son-in-law of Caleb King, donated a plot of ground about a quarter of a mile from the first building on which the second church was built of brick. The tornado of 1840 destroyed most of the Kingston settlement and severely damaged the church but it continued to be used as a place of worship until the present structure was built in 1856 on property deeded by Alexander King Farrar. Electricity came to the area in the 1950s and in 1982 the church was placed on the National Register of Historic Places.
King's Tavern, located on Jefferson Street in Natchez, was built as a blockhouse in 1769 from sun dried bricks and beams taken from scrapped sailing ships and flatboats brought up from New Orleans by mule. Prospere King acquired the structure by land grant in 1789 and was the first to operate it as an inn and tavern. During this time mail was brought for delivery to Natchez inhabitants. It was frequented for years by travelers on the Natchez Trace and is now also on the National Register of Historic Places. It has operated as a restaurant and has been visited by thousands of tourists. It is said to be haunted by the ghost of Madeline, one of the King family maids. After a brief closure, King's Tavern reopened last fall.
An organization of the descendants of the original settlers, now known as the Descendants of the Jersey Settlers of Adams County, was formed in 1940 and has met at Kingston Methodist Church every year since that time. The families had become scattered. Two descendants, Henry Blackburn Eaton from Illinois and Daniel S. Farrar, organized the group for the first meeting which included 48 descendants. They named themselves the King, Swayze, Farrar, Eaton Family Association. The group has established, entirely through voluntary contributions, a fund sufficient for perpetual upkeep of its cemeteries. In 1981 a book entitled The History of the Descendants of the Jersey Settlers of Adams County was published. It is an extensive historical and genealogical work tracing the families of the original settlers into the twentieth century. Today the organization consists of over nine hundred families. Its primary purposes are to maintain its cemeteries and serve as a resource for genealogical research.
By now you have no doubt answered the remaining question -- what do Wyatt Waters and Patrick Swayze have in common? Of course, they both are descendants of the original Jersey Settlers. The organization will celebrate its seventy-fifth anniversary next year with a conference in Natchez. For more information contact Karen O'Neal at email@example.com or (601) 446-5742.