By: Donald E. Clare, Jr., Rabbit Hash Historical Society
Originally published: April 26, 2007 in the Boone County Recorder
Silas Dinsmoor held the position of Choctaw Indian agent from 1802 until 1814; he had been Cherokees Indian agent from 1794 until 1799. During his 17-year tenure as government Indian agent he performed his job with fairness, compassion, integrity and dedication, both to his fellow white citizens and his Native American charges. He followed and upheld the laws of the United States in the performance of his duties. Sadly, his policy of never deviating in the enforcement of the law led to his removal from his position, thanks to one Andrew Jackson.
As mandated by the Secretary of War, anyone traveling through Indian Territory was required to show a passport. If they had any African Americans traveling with them, they had to show written proof to demonstrate that they were not runaway slaves. Silas began enforcing these laws because escaping slaves were using the Choctaw settlement as a refuge and their owners were complaining. This policy was highly insulting to Andrew Jackson, who felt he was above the law and had no intention of showing a passport or papers for his slaves. It has been speculated that Jackson's violent fits of anger toward and about Silas were because he and some of his relatives further down south were involved in the sale and trade of slaves and passed this way regularly.
Silas would not back down from his policy of requiring proper papers to pass and Jackson's anger toward him escalated. It was also no secret how Silas felt about Jackson. Finally, in October of 1812, Jackson sent a venomous letter to his Tennessee congressman ranting and raving about Silas and demanding his removal from the agency or the people from West Tennessee would burn him and his agency and all his buildings.
Word was sent to Silas from the new Secretary of War, John Armstrong, to report to Washington to settle up the accounts of the agency as he was being dismissed. Silas had no idea why he was being dismissed. When he got to Washington, he still could get no answers. He stayed there a year trying to meet with Secretary of War Armstrong or President Madison. It wasn't until 1828, some 15 years later, that Silas learned that Andrew Jackson had been behind the removal from his post. The fact that he had to learn about it by reading it in a newspaper was even more disheartening.
Defeated, Silas left Washington and returned to Mississippi in the spring of 1814. He turned the agency over to his old friend and predecessor, John McKee, who invited Silas to live there at the agency until he found work. The Choctaws even offered to deed him some of their land if he would stay. They all loved and respected him dearly. An old friend, Thomas Freeman, Surveyor General of Public Lands South of Tennessee, offered him the position of Chief Deputy Surveyor for the Land Districts East of the Island of New Orleans. Silas and his family moved to St. Stephens, Alabama on the Tombigbee River. Here Silas rebuilt his life and became a prominent, well respected citizen. His work eventually took him to Mobile, Alabama.
The sudden death of Thomas Freeman was hard on Silas. But he had no idea how hard it would eventually get. The new Chief Surveyor placed a tyrant over Silas and his crew. George Davis was demanding, unreasonable and unfair. Finally, when he refused to pay Silas and his crew for months of field work, they quit and Silas went to Washington in January of 1826 to bring the matter to the attention of the General Land Commissioner, George Graham.