Residents of the United States learned 200 years ago today (July 11, 1817) that two skirmishes had taken place on the frontier with Spanish Florida. The source was a report that had originated in Charleston, South Carolina, and was republished by newspapers across the country:
…The Company of United States artillerists, under Captain Donaho, lately from this city, did not stop at the Creek Agency, as reported, but has descended the Flint [sic. Chattahoochee] River, and arrived at Fort Scott. A body of Georgia Militia lately advanced into the Indian territory, attacked two parties of Indians, and killed and wounded several of them.[i]
The skirmishes referenced had taken place along the St. Marys and Suwannee Rivers when Maj. Bailey’s detachment of Georgia Militia invaded Spanish Florida on its own initiative while trying to recover a drove of cattle allegedly taken by either Lower Creek or Miccosukee warriors. Maj. Bailey’s report, which was included in an earlier article in this series (see Violence surges on the Florida-Georgia border), mentions two skirmishes, one near the Suwannee River on May 22, 1817 and a second on the St. Marys on May 24, 1817).
Bailey did not lose a man in his surprise attacks, but claimed to have killed three warriors while wounding several others.
Particularly troubling in Bailey’s account was his statement that the first group attacked was in “an Indian camp of from 5 to 8 men, who we had no doubt were a party fitted out to do mischief.”
How the militiamen knew or surmised this is unknown. The warriors in question were camped across an international border in Spanish Florida and on their own lands per treaties with the Spanish government. Being in a foreign country, the site of the camp was in no way connected to the Creek lands ceded by the Treaty of Fort Jackson.
David B. Mitchell, the new Agent for Indian Affairs and a former Governor of Georgia, believed in fact that the attack had targeted the wrong people:
…It seems a small parcel of the Uysehee red people who resided on the Chatahochie river, a tribe that has always been friendly to our government, and never one of them has been known to join the Red stick party, were on a hunting excursion near the waters of the St. Mary’s river, when in the night by moonlight; a party of white people rushed upon them, killed one, and wounded the other four badly – drove off all their horses, took their guns and every thing else they could carry off from the Camp. The four wounded men are now lying very bad, about sixty miles below here, not being able to proceed to their town on Chatahochie.[ii]
The general view of the white population in Georgia, however, was that the attacks on the Seminoles or Lower Creeks were justified. The editor of a Milledgeville newspaper explained this reasoning:
…The frequent irruptions of these savages into our territory for some months back, have excited a very general alarm among the defenceless inhabitants of our southern frontier, many of whom have abandoned their homes and fled to the interior for safety. The Executive of Georgia, unwilling to rely any longer on the promised assistance of the national government, which has probably been delayed by the peculiar situation of the War Department, has issued to General Floyd, requiring him to call into service, from any part of his division, a sufficient force to ensure the protection of the frontier settlements exposed to danger, and the effectual chastisement of all future marauding parties of Indians.[iii]
The editor went on to accuse the Spanish government in Florida of carrying out an “insidious attempt” to stir up the Seminoles and Creeks against the people of Georgia.
The situation on the frontier had become extremely volatile by July 11, 1817, 200 years ago today. The white-allied Creeks of Coweta were threatening a winter raid against the Seminoles. Georgia had authorized its militia to cross the St. Marys River to fight Seminole parties. And the United States Army was preparing to move nearly 1,000 troops to Fort Scott on the lower Flint River for the stated purpose of fighting the Seminoles and Red Stick Creeks.
The preliminary fighting of the Seminole Wars had begun. Blood had been shed. The outbreak of major fighting was now just a matter of time.
This ongoing series will continue.
[i] Report from Charleston, appeared Poulson’s American Daily Advertiser, p. 3., July 11, 1817.p. 156.
[ii]David. B. Mitchell to Governor of Georgia, June 10, 1817, published in the Milledgeville Journal, June 24, 1817.
[iii] Milledgeville Journal, June 24, 1817. [Note: The “peculiar situation” in the War Department was a reference to instability caused by a succession of different Secretaries of War.]