Louisiana and Mississippi

Land Certificate for Nathaniel Chambliss. Thomas Rife's uncle, Nathaniel Chambliss, arrived in Washington County, Texas, before May 22, 1839 and qualified for a head-right of 640 acres of land under the Act of January 4, 1839. The act granted second class certificates to emigrants who arrived between October 1, 1837, and January 1, 1840. Nathaniel used his head-right to claim land in Erath County on the Edward's Plateau, 80 miles west of Waco. This County was beyond the line of settlement in 1854 and Chambliss never lived on the land. Courtesy of the Texas State General Land Office, Austin, Texas.

Peter Chambliss joined the migration from the Carolinas to the Mississippi Territory.

As more settlers cleared land in the Up Country, (the Piedmont region above the Fall Line) the Santee, Congaree and Wateree Rivers began to flood in the spring and run low in the summer. Substandard farming methods and spring floods caused extensive erosion in the Up Country of South Carolina and low water in the Low Country. The fluctuating river level damaged rice plantations on the lower Santee River, where there was a large community of French-speaking planters. Typically, the Upland settlers were not producing any crops for export; before 1800, they marketed beef, pork, staves, and shingles.1 After the invention of the cotton gin in 1793, most farmers began to export cotton, although rice continued to be planted in the Low Country along the Atlantic coast.2 The success of cotton profoundly changed the South. Cotton became the dominant crop, and its success encouraged many farmers to migrate westward to the Mississippi Territory seeking better land.3

Peter Chambliss and his family were first enumerated in the Mississippi Territory in 1805. Eight children were living at home in addition to 10 slaves.4 Jefferson County Tax Records show that $11.90 in taxes was paid on 440 acres in 1807.5 The two Rife girls had already married and left their parent’s home. William Rife’s half-sister Elizabeth married in 1813, and his half-brother Peter C. married in 1815.6 These were the oldest of the Chambliss children, and they were the first to marry and leave home.

The children of Peter Chambliss left Jefferson County.

When Peter Chambliss moved to southwestern Mississippi, the First Choctaw Session was the only US-held territory west of Georgia that did not belong to one of the Indian Nations. Greenville City was a new American settlement and the county seat of Jefferson County. The nearest established market towns were Natchez to the South and Port Gibson to the north.7

Americans continued to arrive in such large numbers that by 1830 many planters came to believe that there was no longer enough available land in southwestern Mississippi to accommodate the next generation. Many left the area in groups of related families seeking new land elsewhere. After Peter Chambliss died in 1828, most of his sons and stepsons moved north up the Mississippi River to the wilderness that became Carroll Parish, Louisiana. The oldest son, Peter Corbin Chambliss, inherited the family farm in Jefferson County and stayed in Mississippi. Another son, Samuel, returned to Jefferson County from Carroll Parish after 1836 and farmed in Jefferson County until at least 1850 when he returned to Carroll Parish.8 The younger sons of Peter Chambliss all moved to Lake Providence before 1834.

William Rife and his wife were the first of the Chambliss family to move to Lake Providence.

When William Rife was 17-years old, he left home briefly to serve with the Territorial Militia during the War of 1812 as a Private in Col. Peter Perkin’s 7th Regiment.9 He returned to his stepfather’s farm in Jefferson County after the war ended and appeared as an unmarried head of household with two slaves (and no land) on the tax rolls for 1817.10 On October 28, 1819, when he was 24-years old, William Rife married Martha Jane Collins (who was born about 1805 in Kentucky) in Jefferson County, Mississippi.11 In 1820 he and his wife were living near Greenville City with two slaves (a man and a woman). He was a farmer, as were most of his neighbors.12

William Rife did not appear on the tax rolls for 1821 because he had left Jefferson County and moved his family to Lake Providence in northeastern Louisiana. In 1823, William and Martha Jane Rife’s first child, Thomas, was born in Ouachita Parish, Louisiana.13 William Rife lived on this farm on Lake Providence for less than eight years. In the 1830 census, his family was enumerated in the Princeton neighborhood of Washington County, Mississippi, across the river from Ouachita Parish, Louisiana.14

The family remained on the farm in Washington County until William passed away. The last of William and Martha’s four children, William W. Rife Jr., was born in 1838.15 In 1840 William Sr. patented land in neighboring Bolivar County, but there is no evidence that he lived there.16

In January 1842, the older of the two daughters of William and Martha Rife, Mary Jane, married Lawrence Thompson Wade. He was a younger son in a large family that had recently arrived from South Carolina by way of Tennessee. Lacking capital to purchase farms of their own, Lawrence Wade and his brothers found employment as slave overseers.17 Many white men who worked as slave overseers found themselves at the bottom of the social scale of white society18, but for many others, including Lawrence Wade, it was a temporary job preparing them to own and manage plantations of their own. When William Rife died in 1843 or 1844, Lawrence became the surrogate father and guardian of Rife’s widow and their children. William Jr. and Martha had an inheritance from their uncle Robert J. Chambliss, and Lawrence Wade was appointed to be their “tutor.”19

When William Rife Sr. passed away, he was buried near the present town of Greenville, Mississippi.20 His death left no adult white men on the farm. William’s brother, Jacob, had returned to South Carolina before 184021, and the oldest son, Thomas, left home for Texas before 1838.22 William’s widow and her remaining unmarried daughter moved into her son-in-law’s home in Carroll Parish.

The children of William Rife moved to Issaquena County, Mississippi.

Martha Jane Rife, William’s widow, died in Carroll Parish in 1853, probably in the home of Lawrence Wade, her son-in-law and guardian.23 In May 1853, her remaining unmarried daughter, Martha Ann, married William Sibley. He was a descendant of Richard Albritton of South Carolina and hailed from the locally famous Sibley family that had moved en masse to far western Louisiana between 1835 and 1837.

Like the Sibley family, William Rife and his siblings left southwestern Mississippi because they believed there was not enough land for them.24 William W. Rife Jr. returned from school to the village of Providence in 185525 and by 1860 was employed as the Deputy Court Recorder at the Carroll Parish Courthouse in the village of Floyd.26

Nathaniel and Samuel Chambliss grew up in Louisiana and Mississippi.

In 1823 William Rife’s first son, Thomas Collins Rife, was born near the village of Lake Providence in what is today East Carroll Parish, Louisiana.27 The settlement at Lake Providence was located on the natural levee on the south bank of Lake Providence, an ox-bow lake, about eight miles west of the Mississippi River. When William Rife moved his family there, it was an uninhabited wilderness, but by 1848 there were as many as twenty-five large cotton plantations within three miles of the village.28 The flat, low-lying, and often flooded land was ideally suited to grow cotton.29

Although most of the sons of Peter Chambliss eventually followed William Rife to what became Carroll Parish, William did not remain there. Driven again, perhaps by the haunting promise of a new country, he moved his family back across the Mississippi River to the wilderness of the Mississippi Delta. The family’s new home was about thirty miles upstream of Lake Providence. Fast and easy transportation provided by Mississippi River steamboats enabled the family to maintain close connections with their relatives in Carroll Parish. Nathaniel and Samuel Chambliss had moved to Carroll Parish, and they and most of their brothers established plantations there. These two men were half-brothers of Thomas Rife’s father.

  1. Salley, The History of Orangeburg, South Carolina, 220 ↩︎

  2. Culler, Orangeburg District, 1768-1868, 14 ↩︎

  3. Charles Lowery, “The Great Migration to the Mississippi Territory, 1798-1819”, Mississippi History Now, Mississippi Historical Society, www.mskhistorynow.mdakh.state.ms.us, accessed September 16, 2012 ↩︎

  4. Peter Chambliss, Mississippi, State and Territorial Census Collection, (1805), Jefferson County, Mississippi, V229. ↩︎

  5. Territorial Tax Rolls, 1807, Mississippi State Archives, Various Records, 1820-1951, Jefferson County, Box 138 ↩︎

  6. Peter Corbin Chambliss, Mississippi Territorial Census (1816), Jefferson County, Mississippi, V229, Roll 2; Peter Corbin Chambliss, United States Fourth Census (1820), Jefferson County, Mississippi, NARA Roll M33. Roll 58 ↩︎

  7. Edwin Cole Bearss, The Campaign for Vicksburg: Vicksburg is the Key, (Dayton: Morningside House, 1985), Vol. 1: 481 ↩︎

  8. Joseph Karl Menn, The Large Slaveholders of Louisiana-1860, (New Orleans: Pelican Publishing Co., 1964), 175 ↩︎

  9. William Rife Service Record, War of 1812 Service Records, Index to Compiled Military Service Records for Volunteer Soldiers, M602, Roll 175, NARA ↩︎

  10. Territory Tax Rolls, 1817, Mississippi State Archives, Jackson, Mississippi, Box 139 ↩︎

  11. Richard S. Lackey and Etolie Hopkins, Editors, “Jefferson County Marriage Book A,” Mississippi Genealogical Exchange 20, No. 3, (Fall 1974), 83 ↩︎

  12. William Rife, United States Fourth Census (1820) M33, Jefferson County, Mississippi, Roll 58 ↩︎

  13. Francis R. Pryor, “Tom Rife, An 1890’s Custodian of the Alamo”, STIRPES 35, No. 3, (September 1995), 46; Affidavit of Witness, Records of the Bureau of Pensions, Mexican War Pension Application Files, 1887-1926, Records of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, RG 15 NARA ↩︎

  14. William Rife, United States Fifth Census (1830), Princeton, Washington County, Mississippi, M19, Roll 71; US Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records, Federal Land Patients, State Volumes, Eastern States ↩︎

  15. Goodspeed Publishing Co., creator, Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi, Vol II, 1891, reprint, (Spartanburg: Reprint Company, 1978), 681 ↩︎

  16. US Bureau of Land Management, Mississippi Pre-1908 Patients, Homesteads, Cash Entry, Choctaw Indian Scrip and Chickasaw Cession Lands ↩︎

  17. Martha J. Rife, Martha A. Rife, United States Seventh Census (1850), M32, Western District, Carroll, LA, M432, Roll 230 ↩︎

  18. Evelyn M. Carrington, editor, Women in Early Texas, (Austin: Jenkins Publishing Company, 1975), 164 ↩︎

  19. Secession Files for Tutorship of William Rife’s children, Drawer 55, East Carrol Parrish, Lake Providence, LA ↩︎

  20. Goodspeed, Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi, 681 ↩︎

  21. Jacob Rife, United States Sixth Census (1840), M707, Columbia, Richland County, South Carolina, M704, Roll 514; Brent Howard Holcomb, Record of Deaths in Columbia, South Carolina and elsewhere as recorded by John Glass, 1859-1877, (Columbia: n.p., March, 1986), 97 ↩︎

  22. Pryor, “Tom Rife, An 1890’s Custodian of the Alamo,” 44, 47 ↩︎

  23. Goodspeed, Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi, 681 ↩︎

  24. Mullins, The Ancestors of George and Hazel Mullins, 51, 152 ↩︎

  25. Mrs. Charles H. Pitcher, submitter, “Centenary College of Louisiana Catalogue of the Officers and Students for the Academic Year 1852-1853”, The Louisiana Genealogical Register 15, No. 3, (September 1968), 83 ↩︎

  26. W. W. Rife, United States Eighth Census (1860), M653, Town of Floyd, Carroll, Louisiana, Roll 409 ↩︎

  27. Pryor, “Tom Rife, An 1890’s Custodian of the Alamo”, 46; Affidavit of Witness, Records of the Bureau of Pensions, Mexican War Pension Application Files, 1887-1926, Records of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, RG 15 ↩︎

  28. John Tourette, Plantation Map of Carroll Parrish, LA, 1848, www.usgwarchives.org/maps/louisiana/parishmap/carrolllatourette1848.jpg, accessed Nov 12, 2012 ↩︎

  29. Bearss, The Campaign for Vicksburg, 481; Charles Lowery, “The Great Migration to the Mississippi Territory, 1798-1819”, Mississippi History Now, Mississippi Historical Society, www.mskhistorynow.mdakh.state.ms.us, accessed September 16, 2012 ↩︎