The landscape of Florida is dotted with the sites of military outposts built by the U.S. Army during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). Two of the least known of these stood on the shores of St. Andrew Bay in what is now Panama City.
The year 1839 found the commanders of the U.S. Army in Florida growing increasingly frustrated. They were fighting a war on two fronts – against the Seminoles and maroons (Black Seminoles) in Central and South Florida and against the Creeks in the Okefenokee Swamp, Middle Florida and the Panhandle. The conflict had been underway for more than three years and showed no sign of ending soon.
The Creek chief Pascofa was the primary antagonist for the army patrols west of the St. Marks River. He had fled with his people from an internment camp (i.e. “concentration camp”) in Alabama after they were attacked by a band of white outlaws. They descended first into Walton County before being driven east to the Apalachicola River where they were allowed to camp near present-day Sneads.
The band fled again after a violent episode in Jackson County and since early 1838 had been living in the swamps of today’s Apalachicola National Forest and Tate’s Hell State Forest.
Pascofa and his warriors came out of the swamps to attack isolated farms and communities along the southern frontiers of Gadsden and Leon Counties. These raids secured food and other supplies for the group of 100-200 Creek men, women and children, but also resulted in the deaths of many white settlers.
The U.S. Army pursued them with six companies of soldiers from the 6th Infantry, but had little success. Capt. George C. Hutter led men through Tate’s Hell and today’s Apalachicola National Forest searching for Pascofa, but could not find him. Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor later described these marches as the most difficult ever attempted.
Hutter finally led two of his companies to Estiffanulga Bluff in what is now Liberty County. He built a small new fort there while pondering the whereabouts of Pascofa’s Creeks. Deciding that the chief must have gone to the west of the Apalachicola River He sent two scouts across the river to look for them:
I have the honor to inform you, since my last letter to you, Richard after being out 27 days, returned to Stiffanulga Bluff on the 4th Inst. having found the Indians in the Swamps of the Econfina a creek or river that runs into St. Andrews Bay, East Branch – after remaining with them for 2 nights and one day, he left Perryman and came in to report to me all the Creeks he conversed with express a willingness to emigrate to the West provided the U.S. will permit them to go by land, they say they dread the sea so much that they would rather die where they are than go by water – The settlements near St. Andrews Bay are much alarmed the Indians being so near them. I came to this place to consult you, what I should do. The Governor has recommended if I should not see you to move around there – which I shall carry into effect as soon as possible – The Indians are reported to be in a wretched condition, without clothing, nearly starved and very little ammunition. – Capt. George C. Hutter to Lt. Col. J. Green, January 8, 1839.
Hutter filed the above report from St. Marks where he went hoping to consult with Lt. Col. J. Green of his regiment. He was unable to meet with Green in person but communicated in writing before returning to the Apalachicola in order to prepare his men for their relocation to St. Andrew Bay at today’s Panama City.
The soldiers evacuated the temporary fort at Estiffanulga Bluff in mid-January and traveled around to St. Andrew Bay by steamboat. They passed the site of today’s Panama City and steamed up to the head of North Bay where they disembarked on January 20, 1839.
The standard orders for troops taking up new positions in Florida in 1839 required them to build a storehouse for their supplies along with defenses to protect themselves and their provisions. Such posts were often called “stations” and Capt. Hutter’s station at St. Andrew Bay probably looked like dozens of other temporary forts built across Florida during the Second Seminole War.
The fort stood in the vicinity of today’s Deer Point Dam at the mouth of Econfina Creek, but the exact site has not been identified. The most logical place for it was on Deer Point itself. The firm of Ormond & Young had built a warehouse and store there during the 1820s. Small boats and barges brought cargo down Econfina Creek to the point for transfer to small sailing vessels.
The captain hoped to prevent bloodshed in the vicinity and sent his scout “Richard” – possibly the well-known interpreter Stephen Richards – out to relocate Pascofa’s Creeks. The band had relocated in the previous three weeks and Richard would search in vain for them.
Capt. Hutter, meanwhile, remained at his new station on the bay and waited for news. He filed the January and February muster rolls for Companies B & G of the 6th U.S. Infantry from “St. Andrews Bay W. Fla.” on March 1, 1839.
Another eight days passed before the scouts returned from their search for Pascofa’s band:
…On the 9th of March, his scouts returned bringing with them six Indians (a man, two squaws & three children) who came in voluntarily. All subsequent exertions to find the Indians or open a communication with them have proved fruitless. – Lt. Col. J. Green to Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor, June 15, 1839.
The other scout accompanying the military was named Perryman. It is interesting to speculate whether he could have ben George Perryman. The brother of the Creek chiefs William and Ben Perryman, he could read and write in English and had helped the United States during the First Seminole War of 1817-1818. He later lived on Econchattimico’s Reserve in Jackson County and was still there as late as 1838.
Perryman and Richard (or Richards) went back out in search of Pascofa but weeks of searching ended in failure. Capt. Hutter was still in place at the head of North Bay at the end of March when Lt. Col. J. Green of the 6th Infantry arrived on the scene. He decided to have Hutter move his station to “a position about fifteen miles down the bay.”
A 15 mile move from Deer Point put the soldiers somewhere within the limits of today’s Panama City. The community of St. Andrews had already been established by 1839 and fresh water was available there. The exactly location of the new fort is not clear but it probably was in the vicinity of the bluff skirted by today’s West Beach Drive.
Capt. Hutter did not mention the change of location when he filed a post return on May 1, 1839 from “St. Andrews Bay West Florida.”
The scouts were never did find any sign of Pascofa and his followers and Lt. Col. Green decided to have the soldiers resume an active search for them:
…About the 1st of May, I caused an examination of the west and east arms of the bay to be made by Capt. Hutter and Lieut. Easton, but nothing was discovered. Since then no trace of these Creeks could be found, nor was any thing heard of them until the murders that they committed on the Apalachicola in May. – Lt. Col. J. Green to Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor, June 15, 1839.
Green’s mention of murders “on the Apalachicola in May” was a reference to Pascofa’s attacks at Estiffanulga and Ricco’s Bluff. Please see “Horrible in the Extreme” for an account of these incidents.
The Creeks disappeared yet again following the Apalachicola River raids and no one knew where they had gone. Capt. Hutter remained at St. Andrew Bay watching for them from the west while other units hunted in areas east of the Apalachicola River. Lt. Col. Green returned to Middle Florida.
Hutter and his men opened a road from their station to the U.S. road that connected Marianna and St. Joseph, a distance of about 10 miles. This new trail was a predecessor of today’s U.S. Highway 98 which links Panama City to Mexico Beach and Port St. Joe.
Service in the swamps and wetlands of the coastal plain was extremely difficult. The soldiers contracted fevers and other illnesses and these only increased as the heat and humidity of summer arrived on the Gulf Coast.
Captain Hutter mentioned that he had fallen ill himself in a letter to the Adjutant General’s office on June 1, 1839. He pleaded that 1st Lt. J.P. Harrison, then four months past due to return from a leave of absence, be ordered to rejoin his command.
Harrison was still missing on July 1 when Hutter filed his June post return from “St. Andrews Bay, West Florida.”
Capt. Hutter’s condition continued to deteriorate but Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor denied his repeated requests for a leave of absence. The captain took his case to the Secretary of War on August 10, 1839:
…My health has become so much impaired that I am compelled to seek a change of climate to recover it. The duties I have been engaged on generally here in Florida were very active, until the last 10 months. I have been going to say nothing. In Oct. last I was directed to act as a negotiator with the fugitive Creeks and induce them to remove to the west – but I could not succeed. What will be expected of me after this time I do not know. Very few, if any, Indians are at present within 75 miles of this post. I am too unwell to be engaged on active duty. I lay before you, which I enclose herewith, a statement of Asst. Surgeon McShery respect the state of my health. I cannot recover it in this climate. You will see that Genl. Taylor refused to let me go on leave of absence when I first appealed to him for want of officers. Permit me to ask you, are the same officers to do all the active duty in the line of the Army while others do none? – Capt. George C. Hunter to Hon. Joel Poinsett, Secretary of War, August 10, 1839.
Hutter went on to complain about a general lack of officers in the Army of the South. He pointed out that many officers were evading duty in Florida and leaving a handful of others to handle all of the field service on the front.
He also pleaded that he be allowed a leave of absence to visit his family and pointed out that sickness had reduced the number of men in his company to a bare handful:
…I have devoted my whole time and attention to my profession since I have been a member of the Army – now nearly 20 years, and I will cheerfully continue to do so, but I respectfully request a short indulgence at this time – I am sick – brought on by the climate in which I have served for the last three years and upwards – besides I have a wife and children who I do hope I will be permitted to visit occasionally. My wife is sick at present and has been for nearly a year past, which makes more urgent my claims for an indulgence at this time, more than I would otherwise. I beg leave to add that my 2nd Lieut. is present with my company and that my company is reduced to 22 rank and file present and absent. – Hutter to Poinsett, August 10, 1839.
Despite such desperate pleas, Capt. Hutter was still on duty with his men at St. Andrew Bay as August turned to September. He reported on September 6, in fact, that command of the entire 6th U.S. Infantry had been turned over to him by Lt. Col. Green.
It appears to have been about this time that the fort on St. Andrew Bay was evacuated by the U.S. Army. The failure of the troops to find Creek Indians in the vicinity and the unhealthy situation of the post led to approval for Capt. Hutter to withdrawn his men.
The exact date of the closure is not known but the captain reported himself present on St. James Island (today’s Carrabelle) on September 17, 1839.
Panama City’s role during the Second Seminole War is one of the least known aspects of its history.
To learn more about Pascofa’s band of Creeks, please watch this short video: