PRE-STATEHOOD 27 Napoleon had visions of re-establishing a French state in North America, but he also had visions of taking over Europe. When he got Louisiana back from Spain, he was fighting too many wars on too many fronts in Europe and was in need of cash. The United States wanted use of New Orleans and its valuable port, so they offered to buy it. To everyone’s amazement, Napoleon agreed to sell not only New Orleans, but the whole of Louisiana all the way to the Dakotas and Montana. The Louisiana Purchase was formalized in early December 1803, and W.C.C. Claiborne was named as governor. Cato West, one of the Pickering County group and a strong Republican, was named as acting governor in Mississippi, succeeding Claiborne. It was a busy time for West, because a new wave of settlers had begun pouring into the area with the acquisition of the port at New Orleans. Cotton was beginning to boom, and Natchez was at the center of the action. The promise of quick fortunes was drawing people from all over the United States. But while the acquisition of New Orleans was a godsend for Natchez, the settlers to the east along the border with Spanish West Florida (present-day Amite, Pike, Walthall counties) got little benefit. They had to pay customs duties to ship their products out of Florida, and runaway slaves and marauding Native Americans simply needed to cross the border to get away. The hold the Spanish had on Florida was weak, and it would have been easy to take, and the settlers were threatening to invade it on their own. The citizens of Washington County were even more isolated than the Florida border region near Natchez. Washington County encompassed the area from the Pearl River to the Georgia border, and from the Florida line up to the territory’s northern border. It ran north to south for eighty-eight miles and 300 miles east to west. It comprised what is now sixteen counties in southeast and east central Mississippi and twenty-nine counties in Alabama. The only settlement in that vast stretch of pine forest that could be called a town was St. Stephens, seventy miles up the Tombigbee from Mobile, and it had only about 200 inhabitants in the 1790s. The county’s population, self-supporting pioneer farmers, was thinly spread and unorganized and the entire area was ignored by both the territorial and national governments. The only government services the county received were the occasional and sporadic sessions of court held by traveling judges out of Natchez and the services of the land office in St. Stephens. These backwoodsmen realized that Natchez would always be the focus of territorial officials, so “in November 1803, citizens of Washington County petitioned Congress for ‘a Separate Government…independent of that of the Mississippi Territory.” It was a portent of the split to come. The conditions in the backwoods were of little interest over in Natchez. Cato West, the former outsider under Sargent and son-in-law of the Pickering County patriarch Thomas Green, wanted to remain governor, but in a surprise move, President Jefferson appointed Robert Williams, a recent arrival from North Carolina. West, a Republican of course, was a land commissioner, an important position during a settlement boom, and a former North Carolina congressman who had been in the area only six months. Williams turned out to be a poor choice to reconcile the warring factions. He was intensely political and ambitious, “jealous of his prerogatives and not inclined to take advice, even from friends.” Holmes told us “Unfortunately, the ambitions of this mediocre politician outran his capabilities as an administrator and party leader.” He just could not keep everybody happy. Soon the territorial secretary Cowles Mead began a campaign to oust Williams and claim the governorship for himself. Mead was secretary of the Mississippi Territory, and he acted as governor during Robert Williams’s periodic trips back to North Carolina. Mead liked this taste of power, and he sensed a growing vulnerability in Williams as the governor’s popularity began to wane. Mead automatically gained a power base when he married into the Green THOMAS HINDS Thomas Hinds, leader of the capital site selection delegation commission, was elected to the Mississippi legislature and then U.S. Congress. PHOTO COURTESY OF MISSISSIPPI DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND HISTORY