Electrifying news sent residents of Chattahoochee scrambling through the gates of the U.S. Arsenal for protection on July 12, 1840. Creek warriors had emerged from the swamps of today’s Apalachicola National Forest to attack the Hawkins plantation:
…On the 12th instant, a party of Indians made their appearance on the plantation of Mr. Hawkins, about three miles from Chattahoochie, entered the cow pen, and killed several calves. Mr. H., hearing the noise, went out with his gun, upon which the Indians fled, carrying off their plunder and the only negro [man] belonging to Mr. H. The [man] has since been found shot, and his head cut off. (Tallahassee Floridian, July 25, 1840)*
The location of the attack was likely the farm of Whitehurst Hawkins. The U.S. Federal Census for 1840 reported that he was engaged in agriculture in Gadsden County along with his wife and four children. The census taker also found that six African-American slaves were living on the farm, one of them a young man under 23 years of age. The other male slaves were too young to have been the individual killed in the attack.
Hawkins had acquired property six years earlier just south of Chattahoochee in the vicinity of today’s intersection of Highway 269 (Bonnie Hill Road) and Flat Creek Road. The site of the attack was a short distance north of the Chattahoochee exit on Interstate 10.
A second report on the incident appeared in the Apalachicola Gazette on August 1, 1840:
…We learn that a few days since, a negro man employed on the farm of a Mr. Hawkins, within a mile of Chattahoochie, was killed and most shockingly mangled by the Indians. It seems about 5 o’clock P.M. he was sent to the orchard (situated a short distance from the houses) for the purpose of gathering fruit, and while thus employed, was shot. The white persons, together with the remaining negroes, taking the alarm, immediately fled. (Apalachicola Gazette, August 1, 1840).
As the residents of the farm brought the news of the attack into Chattahoochee, the citizens fled their homes and businesses for the safety of the walls of the Apalachicola Arsenal. The complex once stood on the grounds of today’s Florida State Hospital where the original Officers’ Quarters now serve as the hospital’s Administration Building. A surviving gunpowder magazine has been restored for use as the Apalachicola Arsenal Museum.
The only soldiers then at the facility were workers and supervisors but the men of the Chattahoochee area served in a militia company headed by Capt. Rogers. The armed themselves as soon as their families were safe at the arsenal and set out in pursuit of the Creek warriors. From the Hawkins place they were able to backtrack the warriors to a nearby farm where they had apparently hidden prior to the attack:
…The Indians were trailed to an abandoned plantation of Mrs. Chapman’s, where appearances indicated they had remained several days before they made the attack. The old houses were burned, hogs killed, and other damage done. Their number was supposed to be from ten to fifteen, and were trailed from this plantation to the river swamp, where they separated. (Tallahassee Floridian, July 25, 1840)
The trail was lost in the Apalachicola River swamps and the Creeks escaped capture. Behind them they left smoking ruins and other damage:
…The Indians, after plundering and burning the houses, cut down every fruit tree in the orchard, which was said to be very extensive. The people throughout that portion of the Territory seem very generally alarmed, since the removal of the troops from this part of the Territory, and many of the farmers, in that neighborhood, have abandoned their homes. Tracks of the moccasin, supposed to have been made by Indians, are said to have been discovered within a mile of Chattahoochie. (Apalachicola Gazette, August 1, 1840)
The “scare” continued for more than one weeks before it became clear that no attack was coming against Chattahoochee itself. U.S. troops were sent back to the area with orders to patrol along the frontier in order to prevent future such raids. Their safety now better assured, the citizens returned to their homes and resumed their trades.
To learn more about the Second Seminole War/Second Creek War in Gadsden County, please consider The Early History Of Gadsden County: Episodes From The History Of Florida’s Fifth County. It is available in both book and Amazon Kindle formats.
*The word man is inserted here to replace the pejorative “boy” which was used in the original article.