Chribbs’s business activities were not limited to Randolph County even while he and his family were living at Fort Massac. The surviving documents set out below suggest that he was constantly looking to the entire mid-Mississippi region for opportunities.
Chribbs must have been away from home frequently and for extended periods of time. The town of Kaskaskia was 80 miles from Fort Massac as the crow flies, and Ste. Genevieve was another 8 miles north on the other side of the Mississippi River. Assuming 30 miles per day, a trip to Kaskaskia would take three days. Of Chribbs’s other places of business, Cape Girardeau was 45 miles from Fort Massac, Nashville was 125 miles, and Cincinnati was 260 miles (all straight-line distances).
The country around Fort Massac was largely unchanged from the accompanying detail of the 1781 French map depicted on the William Chribbs introductory page. In 1803, however, thanks to the Louisiana Purchase, the land west of the Mississippi would also be American territory.
1803 – Business with the Cherokee Indians in Tennessee
On June 25, 1803, Chribbs was in Nashville, which at that time was only a small village. He wrote the letter (shown here) to the head of the Cherokee Indian Agency, which was the federal authority charged with overseeing relations with those native Americans. (Note 1.)
The full text of the letter, which was addressed to “Col. Return J. Meggs,” reads:
I wish to extend my commerce up the Tennessee river, with the red inhabatents of that country. Any security you may require I will furnish at Fort Massac, if you will be so obligeing as to forward a bond to Capt. Danl. Bissell commandant of said place.
No further documents related to that initiative have been found. The letter’s addressee, Return J. Meigs, Sr. (1740-1823), was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, had been an early pioneer in the Northwest Territory, and was a founder of the town of Marietta, Ohio.
1805 – Chribbs v. William Strother (Ste. Genevieve)
On May 26, 1805, Chribbs’s attorney W.C. Carr initiated a lawsuit on his behalf against William Strother in the Court of Common Pleas at Ste. Genevieve. The amount of damages alleged was $200. (Note 2.)
The case came up for trial at the June 1806 term of the court. As shown on the accompanying docket entry, Carr requested a continuance due to the “absence of a material witness.” Quite possibly that “material witness” was the plaintiff himself. The defendant was represented by an attorney, who then requested the case be dismissed on account of the plaintiff “refusing to go to trial.” The court granted the request, and Chribbs’s suit was dismissed. (Note 3.)
1805 – Chribbs v. John Hawkins (Ste. Genevieve)
Also in 1805 in Ste. Genevieve, Chribbs initiated a suit against John Hawkins. (Note 4.) This case did not result from a transaction between the two men but instead came about because Chribbs had apparently received from Mathew Adams an assignment of Hawkins’s obligation—presumably to satisfy a payment Adams otherwise owed to Chribbs.
The full history, as explained in the plea W.C. Carr filed on Chribbs’s behalf, was that Hawkins had provided a note to Samuel Witherow promising to pay 40 bushels of salt on October 22, 1802. Witherow had assigned the note to Josiah Packard, who assigned it to Mathew Adams, who in turn assigned it to Chribbs. (Note 5.)
The defendant’s attorney, Edward Hempstead, filed an answer that asserted legal defenses to Chribbs’s claim, but no documents have been found that state a final resolution of the case. The reverse side of the note, however, includes the following statement by Carr: “Recd. on the within $9.50 14th June 1806.” (Note 6.)
1806 – Chribbs v. Adam Brown (Saint Louis)
On October 4, 1806, the court for the District of Saint Louis, Territory of Louisiana, issued a capias against Adam Brown for a debt alleged to be owed to Chribbs. (Note 7.) Chribbs was once again represented by W.C. Carr, who filed a plea stating that Brown owed a debt of $86 and 66-1/2 cents that had been due for payment on October 21, 1805, at the mouth of the Cumberland River, that is to say, Smithland, Kentucky.
Why Brown was sued in Saint Louis isn’t known, but perhaps that is where he was living at the end of 1806.
Like John Hawkins in Ste. Genevieve, Brown was represented by attorney Edward Hempstead in the matter. As with the Hawkins suit, no documents have been found that describe the final resolution of the case. At the March 1807 term of the court, however, Hempstead filed a plea stating: “and the Defd. comes into Court & prays oyer of the bond declared upon in the Pltf declr.” (Note 8.)
Then, in the June 1807 term, the court granted a motion by Hempstead and ordered the case removed to the General Court for the territory. (Note 9.) Records of the General Court for that period are not available.
1806 – Chribbs and Lowden v. Brady and Waters (Saint Louis)
The files of the Missouri State Archives contain documents that are part of another suit in Saint Louis involving Chribbs in about 1806. (Note 10.) According to the archive index, the case was an appeal to the Superior Court arising from a civil suit for $10,000 in which William Chribbs and Jimmy Lowden were appellants and James Brady and Thomas Waters were appellees. The documents are mostly illegible, however, they do contain a reference to Smithland, Kentucky.
1806 – Chribbs v. Solomon Thorn (Cape Girardeau)
On September 30, 1806, the Court of Common Pleas for the District of Cape Girardeau, Territory of Louisiana, issued a capias against Solomon Thorn based on a claim made by Chribbs arising from a note Thorn had made April 30, 1799.
The note indicates that it was signed in Cape Girardeau (“Cape Gardo”) at that time, leading to the conclusion that Chribbs was doing business there when it was Spanish territory. (Note 11.)
In the court case, Chribbs was represented by attorney John Scott, who filed a plea on February 21, 1807.
A second capias had been issued in December 1806, which on the reverse notes that it was served on the defendant on December 22. Documents from the case file don’t otherwise indicate how the case was resolved.
Of particular interest in the case file are two pages of accounts that Chribbs maintained for his business with Thorn over a period of several years.
These documents show the kinds of goods that Chribbs sold, including crosscut saws, whiskey, powder, calico cloth, borax, rifle guns, and moccasins.
1806 – Gerard Trammell v. Chribbs (Nashville)
In July 1806, the Davidson County court in Nashville, Tennessee, issued a judgment in favor of Gerard Trammell against Chribbs for $84. The county court records have not been located, but information about the case is known because it was the subject of an appeal to the Tennessee Supreme Court. (Note 12.)
Apparently Chribbs had obtained the agreement of James Jackson to serve as “bail” or security on his behalf. When the county court issued a “writ of capias ad satisfaciendum” against him in April 1807 so that the plaintiff could recover the money he was due, Chribbs was not around to be served. In his place, Jackson was served and became responsible to pay.
The court accordingly exercised its authority against Jackson, but he appealed to the circuit court and then to the state supreme court, arguing, in essence, that the plaintiff had not followed the necessary procedures to force him to pay. The supreme court’s decision in 1813 was, essentially, that the process followed may not have been perfect but was good enough.
1807 – Lot 15 in Smithland, Kentucky
Smithland is the county seat of Livingston County, Kentucky, located where the Cumberland River flows into the Ohio. Although today Smithland is off the beaten track, at the beginning of the nineteenth century its location at the “mouth of Cumberland” made it well known.
Multiple references to Smithland or the mouth of the Cumberland appear in documents describing Chribbs’s business affairs. Only one document, however, describes particular business that he had there. On June 1, 1807, Chribbs and his partner McCawley sold Lot 15 in the town. (Note 13.) The buyer was Andrew Snoddy, and the deed indicates that Chribbs’s friends John and Mary McClain lived on the property. No reference has been found to when Chribbs and McCawley acquired the lot, but the town of Smithland had been platted only several years before.
Copyright 2012-2014 Gregory Hancks
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