The St. Stephen’s Trace is a little-known but very historic road that once ran from John Pitchlynn’s residence at the present site of the John Stennis (Columbus) Lock and Dam to St. Stephen’s, which is about 50 miles north of Mobile. It evolved out of an existing Indian trail and was the first important north south road in what is now east. Mississippi and West Alabama.
The road ran south from Pitchlynn’s to the vicinity of the intersection of Highways 82 and 45. From there it ran south to St. Stephen’s roughly following the present route of Highway 45. When Andrew Jackson’s Military Road was surveyed in 1817, it incorporated the St. Stephen’s Trace from just west of Columbus to near present-day Meridian.
The St. Stephen’s Trace played a major role in an old Columbus legend. The story goes that Andrew Jackson marched down the Military Road, through Columbus on his way to the Battle of New Orleans. This was a significant accomplishment given that Military Road was not even surveyed until 1817. What did transpire was that in October 1814 Gen. John Coffee lead 3,000 Tennessee Militia south to reinforce Jackson prior to the fighting at New Orleans.
Coffee’s route took him down the Natchez Trace to the Chickasaw villages (Tupelo) and from there down Gaines Old Trace to Pitchlynn’s. On Oct. 14, 1814, Coffee wrote Gen. Jackson from Pitchlynn’s that he expected to find better roads from “Peachland’s” to Fort Stoddard than he had found from Tennessee to “Peachland’s.” The better roads he referred to was the St. Stephen’s Trace. Out of that incident arose the Columbus Andrew Jackson tradition.
One of the most interesting historical documents to find is an old account of travel in the local area. There exists a 206-year-old account of traveling on the trail that became the St. Stephen’s Trace. In 1806, George Gaines traveled that trail and in 1848 Albert Picket recorded Gaines’ account of that journey.
“In going from St. Stephen’s to Colbert’s Ferry in 1805 the trail led by the north west corner of Washington County (Alabama), thence by the house of a Frenchman named Charles (Juzan) near the Lauderdale Springs — He had an Indian family having married a niece of Pushmatahaw — lived well in a neat cabin entertained travelers & sold goods to the Indians, was well respected by whites and Indians – was of a respectable (French) family — The Indian town of Coonaha was where he lived – This was the residence of Pushmatahaw also — The route through the old Yazoo towns to the Noxibee River & crosses near where the town of Macon now is — where resided an Indian countryman, named Stores (Starnes), a sensible Yankee blacksmith, who had been living here many years with an Indian family & entertained travelers – Half way between Stores & Pitchlynn’s lived Muchilletubia (Mushulatubbee), who was the son of Hooma Stubbee, the Segnior chief of the nation – Hooma Stubbee died indebted to the Factory (the U S Choctaw trading establishment) $1,000 in 1809 & his son assumed & paid the debt. Thence to Pitchlynn’s, U S interpreter (for the Choctaw Nation), who lived near the mouth of (Okatibbee Tibbee) river.”
Driving down Highway 45, especially between Columbus and Meridian, takes on a new meaning when thinking of what that route was like 200 years ago when it was known as the St. Stephen’s Trace.
Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at firstname.lastname@example.org.