The Burning of Fort Scott (January 1817)
This month marks the 200th anniversary of the burning of Fort Scott, a U.S. Army post on the lower Flint River, by Red Stick Creek and Seminole warriors from Fowltown, Attapulgas and other nearby towns. The post stood on the shores of what is now Lake Seminole between today’s cities of Bainbridge, Georgia, and Chattahoochee, Florida.
Fort Scott had been established in the previous summer as a base for operations against the Fort at Prospect Bluff or “Negro Fort” on the lower Apalachicola River. A heated cannonball struck the gunpowder magazine of that installation, blowing it to bits and killing 270 of the men, women and children within its walls. It stood at today’s Prospect Bluff Historic Sites (Fort Gadsden) in the Apalachicola National Forest.
The campaign over, Lt. Col. Duncan Lamont Clinch and his men from the 4th U.S. Infantry returned to the Flint River and started to build new barracks and other facilities. Their intent was to establish a permanent American presence on the frontier of Spanish Florida. The new post was named Fort Scott to honor Maj. Gen. Winfield T. Scott, a hero of the War of 1812.
The fort was still not finished when orders arrived from Washington, D.C., for the soldiers to withdraw from the frontier by way of Fort Gaines, Georgia. The War Department saw no need for maintaining a large force on the Florida border and hoped to save money by moving the troops to a post where they could be supplied at a much lower cost.
Fort Scott was left in the hands of George Perryman, a local Creek Indian who had agreed to act as caretaker. His brother, William, was the chief of Tellmochesses, a village near Parramore Landing in today’s Jackson County, Florida. Perryman agreed to serve as caretaker for the buildings of the fort and moved in with his family as the soldiers withdrew.
It did not take long for news of the evacuation to reach Fowltown, a Lower Creek village on Four Mile Creek about four miles below present-day Bainbridge. The reaction there was jubilant. The chiefs and warriors saw the departure of the troops as a sign of cowardice, believing that the soldiers had been too afraid to remain and fight.
The word spread like lightning and hundreds of Creek and Seminole warriors soon appeared outside the gates of Fort Scott. George Perryman fled with his family in a canoe, paddling about 25 miles to the safety of Tellmochesses. His brother, William, carried news from there to Lt. Richard Sands at Fort Gaines up the Chattahoochee River:
When the colonel with the troops left Fort Scott, he gave the buildings in charge of one of the Perrymans, from whom I have just received a letter, handed me by his brother, who arrived here after I had commenced writing this.
Perryman states in his letter that the Red Sticks, (or hostiles) after we had left the fort, came in companies and carried off every thing we had left with him, and what he had purchased of Butler; burnt three houses, and threatened, if he did not leave the place, to burn it over his head. He got what few articles he could, with his family, in a canoe, and came to his brother’s, who informs me that there are at present about 300 Indians embodied at the forks, and others constantly joining them. He does not know their intentions, but understood a party was going out to steal horses &c. &c.[i]
The term Red Sticks used by Lt. Sands had originated from the Creek practice of displaying red war clubs in their towns during times of war. By January 1817, however, it referred more to chiefs and warriors who had risen up against the traditional leaders of the nation during the Creek War of 1813-1814. Thousands of these men had fled with their families into the Florida borderlands following the defeat of their last major army at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 27, 1814.
The Negro Fort on the Apalachicola had been filled with arms and ammunition at the time of its destruction by U.S. forces, much of it belonging to the Creek and Seminole bands of the area. The Red Sticks in particular were furious over the loss of so much war materiel and now saw an opportunity to advance against the American frontier.
They surged forward against the exposed settlements up the Chattahoochee River, arriving in Fort Gaines within 24 hours of William Perryman’s appearance with first news of the burning of Fort Scott.
[i] Lt. Richard M. Sands to Commanding Officer Fort Hawkins, February 2, 1817, Andrew Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
This series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War will continue over coming days and weeks. You can learn more about the history of Fort Scott and the related sites of Fort Hughes and Camp Recovery by watching this free documentary:
Also please consider the growing series of books by historian Dale Cox on the First Seminole War: