John Pitchlynn

(1764–1835) Choctaw Leader

John Pitchlynn, a trader and interpreter, became one of the most influential European Americans in relations with the Choctaw Nation. Born near Charleston, South Carolina, on 11 June 1764, he was the son of Isaac Pitchlynn and Jemima Hickman Pitchlynn. After arriving in the Choctaw country with his father in 1774, Pitchlynn received no formal education and became fluent in Choctaw. He emerged as an official interpreter at the Hopewell Treaty conference with the Choctaw delegation in January 1786. On 12 August 1797 Benjamin Hawkins, principal agent for the Four Nations, confirmed Pitchlynn’s appointment as interpreter and assistant agent to the Choctaw and Chickasaw.

For the next forty years Pitchlynn played a significant role as an adviser and mediator for the Choctaw and the federal government. He served as interpreter at the Nashville Conference in 1792 and at the treaty conferences at Fort Confederation (1802) and Mount Dexter (1805), in which the Choctaw ceded some seven million acres of land to the United States. He became an asset to the Mississippi Territory when he counseled the Choctaw to oppose Tecumseh and convinced them to fight against the Red Stick Creek during the War of 1812. Pitchlynn also served as an adjutant and interpreter during the Pensacola Campaign, and two of his sons, James and John Jr., served with American forces commanded by Andrew Jackson.

Following the War of 1812 Pitchlynn’s influence among the Choctaw became more pronounced. He returned as official interpreter at the treaty conference at the Choctaw Trading House near old Fort Confederation in October 1816. Pitchlynn and his son, James, an advocate for Removal, played important roles in the October 1820 Treaty of Doak’s Stand when the Choctaw agreed to exchange land in southwestern Mississippi for thirteen million acres in what is now Arkansas and Oklahoma. In September 1824 Pitchlynn accompanied a Choctaw delegation that included the three district chiefs (Pushmataha, Apukshunnubbee, and Mushulatubbee) to Washington, D.C. Despite the deaths of Apukshunnubbee and Pushmataha, the Choctaw signed the Treaty of Washington on 20 January 1825.

Pitchlynn’s service to the United States and his support for Removal proved crucial in the years leading to the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek. In November 1826 he assisted John Coffee, Thomas Hinds, and William Clark at a conference with Choctaw commissioners. The Choctaw, including Pitchlynn’s son, Peter, rejected a proposal to move to lands west of the Mississippi. Jackson’s 1828 election as president, extension of Mississippi state laws over the Choctaw, and passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830 forced Pitchlynn and the Choctaw to the treaty grounds near Dancing Rabbit Creek in Noxubee County, Mississippi, in mid-September 1830. Deeply divided and desperate, the Choctaw agreed to surrender their last ten million acres in Mississippi by signing the Treaty of Dancing Rabbit Creek on 27 September. Under the treaty and supplementary articles, several individuals received special land reservations, including John Pitchlynn and his sons, Peter, John Jr., Silas, and Thomas, who received 5,120 acres.

John Pitchlynn’s influence over the Choctaw and his participation in the market economy of the Lower Mississippi Valley were directly related to his wives and their connection to the Choctaw elite. His first marriage, to the mixed-blood Rhoda Folsom, produced three sons, James, John Jr., and Joseph. Following her death, he married Sophia Folsom, also of mixed blood, and they had eight children: Peter Perkins, Silas, Mary, Rhoda, Thomas, Eliza, Elizabeth, and Kiziah. Prior to Removal, Peter replaced Mushulatubbee as chief of the Northeastern District in January 1831 and emerged as a prominent Choctaw leader and spokesman.

By 1810 Pitchlynn had moved to Plymouth, on the west bank of the Tombigbee River about five miles north of present-day Columbus. With his investments in livestock, fifty slaves, and two hundred acres of corn and cotton under cultivation, he may have been the wealthiest man in the Choctaw Nation prior to Removal. He became part owner of a stage line that operated between Columbus and Jackson and was a charter member in the Masonic Lodge in Columbus. He provided financial and political support for Cyrus Kingsbury’s mission schools at Elliot on the Yalobusha River in 1819 and at Mayhew on Oktibbeha Creek in 1820. He also exposed his family to religious training from visiting Methodist and Presbyterian preachers.

Pitchlynn held great affection for his extended bicultural family and exercised unparalleled influence over the “civilizing” forces that affected his kinsmen and the Choctaw. Deeply conflicted over Removal, he eventually decided to remain in Mississippi and tried to influence his son, Peter, to return. After liquidating most of his assets in anticipation of Removal, John Pitchlynn lived at Waverly, in Clay County, where he died on 20 May 1835, leaving an estate valued at more than thirty-five thousand dollars, mostly in slaves. The other members of his extended family then migrated west.

Further Reading

  • W. David Baird, Peter Pitchlynn: Chief of the Choctaws (1972)
  • James Taylor Carson, Searching for the Bright Path: The Mississippi Choctaws from Prehistory to Removal (1999)
  • Clara Sue Kidwell, Choctaws and Missionaries in Mississippi, 1818–1918 (1995)
  • Don Martini, Who Was Who among the Southern Indians: A Genealogical Notebook, 1698–1907 (1997)

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Article Title John Pitchlynn
  • Coverage 1764–1835
  • Author
  • Website Name Mississippi Encyclopedia
  • URL
  • Access Date July 6, 2020
  • Publisher Center for Study of Southern Culture
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update April 14, 2018