Changing Loyalties on the Frontier: Story of the Guice and Harmon families

Spanish Marker

Between 1763 and 1817 the area that is now Mississippi fell under conflicting claims of ownership before finally becoming part of the United States.  To add to the mix were thousands of Native Americans from the three main tribes of Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek who controlled most of northern present day Mississippi and Alabama.  Rivers running north and south were major obstacles to settlement plus terrain was an issue throughout the region.

For years the French dominated the lower Mississippi River valley and established settlements at New Orleans and Natchez.  Although profitable the colony never attracted large numbers of French settlers though.  More English colonists came to this distant frontier and Anglicized it more than any other group. Although on the outskirts of the empirical conflicts that were going on around the world, it’s location on the Mississippi River made it an asset.  After the end of the French and Indian War, the territory became part of the British Empire.  The southern sections of Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana along with eastern Florida became part of a new colony known as West Florida.  North of there was Native American territory with a few small settlements of Europeans. Pensacola was made capital.  George Johnstone was appointed as the first British Governor and a colonial assembly was established in 1764.  West Florida increased rapidly in population as hundreds of new colonists arrived from overseas and other English colonies.

Governor Johnstone helped lay the foundation of government in this new colony, but was removed by King George III in early 1767 after several controversies. Although he negotiated treaties with the Choctaw and Chickasaw, the Creeks refused.  Johnstone also failed to open trade with the Spanish to the South.  Three governors followed including one who committed suicide. Finally in 1770, Peter Chester was appointed Governor.  He would turn out to the last British Governor of West Florida.

In 1775, with the outbreak of the American Revolution, the British of West Florida welcomed many Loyalist families escaping the war and persecution. Although thirteen British colonies would rebel against King George, three would remain loyal.  Those were the colonies of Canada, West Florida and East Florida.  However, with resources limited, these colonies would have a hard time staying out of the war. It was during this confusing and threatening period that the Guice and Harmon families first appeared in West Florida. These two families were joined by the marriage of Jacob Harmon and Hannah Guice in 1775.  From that point forward, Jacob would follow the Guice family further into the frontier. The parents of Hannah were Christopher Guice and Margaret Plowhead.

Christopher Guice was born July 25, 1718 and immigrated to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania September 27, 1740.  He arrived on the ship “Lydia” from Rotterdam by way of Dover, England. This was part of the Palatine migration to America.  Christopher was born in Strasbourg in modern day Germany.  The Palatines were German immigrants who first fled to England to escape war and famine on the continent.  Thousands of them then moved to the colonies in North America.  Christopher made his new home in the colony of Pennsylvania where he soon met Margaret Plowhead.  Some records have her last name as being Blau, but there is some confusion on that.

Christopher and his new wife moved into west Pennsylvania in the area of Somerset County.  Life was hard and there was a constant threat from Native Americans. In fact their second oldest son David was taken by Indians on a raid. The couple would have thirteen known children. Their names were Johnathan, David, Hannah, Michael, Catherine, Priscilla, Christopher Jr., Elizabeth, Susannah, Rachel, Daniel, Jacob, and Abraham.

Children of Christopher and Margaret Guice:

  • Jonathan Guice: born December 30, 1746 and died November 16, 1826, married Anna Stump.
  • David Guice: born April 30, 1748, stolen by Indians in Pennsylvania.
  • Hannah Guice: born January 2, 1750 and died in 1804, married Jacob Harmon.
  • Michael Guice: born October 29, 1751 and died in 1812, married Mary Gattan.
  • Catherine Guice: born September 10, 1753, no evidence on her future.
  • Priscilla Guice: born February 20, 1755 and died in Mississippi, married Nathaniel Kinniston.
  • Christopher Guice, Junior: born December 5, 1756 and died in 1816, married Rachel.
  • Elizabeth Guice: born July 15, 1757, no evidence on her future.
  • Susannah Guice: born May 12, 1760 and died March 20, 1762.
  • Rachel Guice: born March 21, 1762 and died in 1805, married John Siddon
  • Daniel Guice: born January 2, 1764 and died in Mississippi, married Delila Williams.
  • Jacob Guice: born May 26, 1767 and died May 5, 1835
  • Absalom Abraham Guice: born February 14, 1768 and died March 20, 1834, married Martha Case.

Between 1776 and 1778 the Guice family moved to West Florida in the area along the Mississippi River known as the Natchez District.  There they joined others still loyal to the Crown.  Christopher obtained a land grant for 750 acres situated on a fork of Boyd’s Creek about seven or eight miles above the mouth of the main fork at a place known by the name of Rich Level.

In January 1778, the American Continental Congress authorized a military expedition down the Mississippi River. They hoped to convince the planters of West Florida to desert British allegiance and join them. A successful mission would also connect the colonies with Spanish controlled New Orleans.  James Willing was commissioned a captain in the United States Navy and ordered to lead a twenty nine man force southward aboard a river boat named Rattletrap. On February 18th, they reached the northernmost settlements of the Natchez District.  Plantations were looted and some houses were burned angering much of the population. However most of the Natchez settlers were able to save their belongings by taking the oath of neutrality.  After reaching New Orleans, Captain Willing sent men back to Natchez. They were met by Loyalists who ambushed the American soldiers. Five soldiers were killed including Lieutenant Reuben Harrison and twenty eight captured.  Although tactically successful, Willing’s raid only caused the British to reinforce their positions and frighten the settlers of Natchez from joining the rebellion.

In March 1778 France entered the American Revolution on the side of the Americans. British officials in West Florida feared the Spanish would do the same.  If that happened Governor Chester and his British subjects faced a harsh reality.  There were few troops available for defense and their Indian allies were questionable. Both Governor Chester at Pensacola and Spanish Governor Bernardo de Galvez at New Orleans readied for the future.

On January 17, 1779 residents of the Natchez District sent a petition to Governor Chester in which they pledged their loyalty, but also questioned the use of Indian allies.  They were uncomfortable with that since many of them had bad dealings with them. Among the signees of this petition were Christopher Guise and his sons Jonathan, David, Christopher Jr. and Michael.  Jacob Harman also signed it.

In the summer of 1779 Spain declared war on Great Britain. Governor de Galvez quickly captured Pensacola on September 3, 1779 and soon seized Baton Rouge.  Natchez and it’s Fort Panmure surrendered without a fight and West Florida fell into the hands of Spain.  At Natchez the settlers feared Spanish rule, but were not strong enough to do much about it.  In May 1781 they retook Fort Panmure, but the Spanish quickly regained control. Fearing reprisal, many of the English fled from the colony.  Among those who fled were Christopher Guise and his two sons Jonathan and Christopher Jr.  His other children remained in West Florida near Natchez.

While Christopher Guice and his sons were deciding on their next move, Jacob Harmon was also making some important decisions about life. Jacob signed a letter to the British Commander following the British surrender to Spain. He sold his land around Fort Panmure to Silas Crane on March 6, 1780.  He and his wife  would have ten children.

Children of Jacob and Hannah Harmon:

  • Jacob Harmon, Junior: born 1776 and died November 9, 1821
  • Maria Orlena Harmon, born 1778 and died in 1813.
  • Salome Celeste Harmon, born 1778 and died in 1860. married Abel Eastman
  • John Harmon, born 1779 and died 1874.
  • Sarah Rachel Harmon, born 1780 and died 1845.
  • David H. Harmon, born 1783 and died 1845.
  • Catherine Harmon, born 1785 and died 1825.
  • Abraham Harmon, born 1788 and died 1862.
  • John Harmon, born 1790 and died 1871.
  • Hilaire Harmon, born 1807 and died before 1860

The American Revolution ended in 1783 and West Florida became a province of the Spanish Empire. Instead of coming down hard on the settlers living there, the Spanish welcomed thousands of new migrants from America into the colony.

In 1784 Christopher Guice requested a land grant from the North Carolina Assembly for 640 acres near Fort Nashboro in Davidson County, Tennessee.  Christopher Jr. obtained a land grant of 640 acres in 1786 and Jonathan got a grant of 640 acres in 1787.  Although the Revolution was a over, the Guice family still faced dangers from Native Americans. In 1780, Jonathan Guice and his brother in law Jacob Stump were attacked by Indians.  Jacob was killed and Jonathan wounded.

Christopher Guice died July 3, 1787 at Fort Nashboro in Davidson County, Tennessee. The Guice family in Tennessee then returned to the Natchez District and Spanish control.  A Mississippi History Book written by John Ray Skates described Spanish controlled Mississippi in the following manner:

The land that the Spanish had conquered was thoroughly anglicized. Travelers in the 1780s and 1790s remarked that one could journey through the Natchez District and, except for a few soldiers and administrators, find hardly a Spaniard and but a few Frenchmen. Almost all settlers were by then Anglo-American. They numbered 1,619 people, including 498 slaves.  Natchez proper was hardly more than a village.  The settlers lived scattered along the river and creek bottoms for thirty miles north and south of the bluffs- from Bayou Pierre in the North to the Homochitto River in the South.  None lived in ostentatious splendor. Plank or log houses served for the pillared mansions of later years, puncheon tables and chairs served the place of imported furniture.  Indian corn, game, and dried meat were the common fare, and whisky substituted for Madeira.

From 1779 to 1788, the commandant of the Spanish garrison at Natchez performed the business of government, combining his military duties with civil functions.  Late in 1788, the Natchez District had grown so much that the Spanish crown appointed Manuel Luis Gayoso de Lemos y Amorin as governor.  In that capacity, Gayoso was responsible to the Governor General for Spanish Louisiana at New Orleans.  Gayoso was so successful that he was eventually promoted to the Governor General of Louisiana.

Because the Anglo-American population was so large and growing, the Spanish had to walk a tight rope in governing.  They provided large land grants and promoted agriculture.  The Spanish also promised freedoms they did not offer in their other colonies. No settler would be molested on religious matters. Only two reservations were made. First, settlers must take an oath of allegiance to the Spanish crown and swear to defend the province should it be attacked. Second, only the Roman Catholic faith could be publicly exercised. Private Protestant worship would be permitted.  Thus the Guice and Harmon families were Spanish citizens.

Jacob Harmon filed for a Spanish land grant in January 24, 1789 on Wells Creek. This was rejected in 1807. In 1792, Jacob bought land on Bayou Plaquemine Brûlées near the Military Post of Opelousas in St. Landry Parish, Louisiana

The Spanish Government took a census in 1792 of the Natchez District. Family members found on that census included Jacob Harmon, Michael Guice, Nathaniel Kinnison who was the husband of Priscilla Guice, and John Siddon who was the husband of Rachel Guice.  They lived at Villa Gayoso in the Natchez District.

Hannah Harmon died and Jacob remarried on May 27, 1804 to Mary Robertson. Jacob then passed away in 1809 in St. Landry Parish.  Records are sketchy for this period of time in Mississippi and Louisiana.  The most important existing document that gives a glimpse of life for the Harmon and Guice families under the Spanish is a marriage license between  Salome Harmon and Abel Eastman.

In the church parish of St. Landry, the Post of Opelousas, Providence the Diocese of Louisiana, today Monday, twelfth of June, the year we are in, 1797, I Pedro de Zamora, Religious Capuchino, that day post, after having proclaimed at the principal mass, three days announced, according to the rule of decision of the Council of Trudenlino (Trent), the marriage of Abel Hisman (Eastman), of the sect of Presbyterian, native of Ariziens in America, legitimate son of Juan Hisman and Julia Noel, of the same sect, and Celeste Herman (Salome Celeste Harmon), the sect of Lutheran, unmarried spinster daughter, legitimate of Jacob Herman and Anna Qaies (Hannah Guice) neighboring of this post of the same sect, Lutheran, natives of Strassborgo in Alsacis.  Not having found any impediments and the contracting parties having given their mutual consent in the presence of three witnesses, Walter Reed, Robert Armstrong, and Jacob Harmon, as required by law, signed these present together with me and the three witnesses. Signed  Pedro de Zamora. 

On October 27, 1795, the United States and Spanish signed the Treaty of San Lorenzo which gave the Americans free navigation of the Mississippi River and set the southern boundaries of the United States below the Natchez District.  Natchez would again change hands. On March 30, 1798 the fort at Natchez was evacuated by the Spanish.  The United States created the Mississippi Territory on April 7, 1798. With that the Guice and Harmon families living around Natchez became American citizens.

Christopher Guice was my 7th Great Grandfather and Jacob Harmon was my 6th Great Grandfather. Ties of my family run deep in Mississippi.

 

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