An important moment in American history took place 200 years ago today when the Creek chief Neamathla warned the U.S. Army to stay off his side of Georgia’s Flint River.
The confrontation developed when Bvt. Maj. David E. Twiggs, 7th U.S. Infantry and commanding at Fort Scott on the lower Flint, requested that Neamathla (Eneah Emathla) attend a council that was to be convened at the fort on the next day. Fowltown (Tutalosi Talofa), the town headed by the chief, was about 12 miles east of Fort Scott near today’s Four Mile Creek in Decatur County, Georgia.
Conflict between Twiggs and Neamathla was bound to take place at some point. The chief had not signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson and did not consider himself bound by its requirement that Native American lands in Southwest Georgia be turned over to the United States. Twiggs, in turn, had been sent to Fort Scott in anticipation of a move by the U.S. Army to force Creek and Seminole families to leave the “treaty lands.”
The Fort Scott Council was called at the request of another local chief, William Perryman, who lived at Tellmochesses in what is now Jackson County, Florida. Perryman hoped to avoid conflict with the soldiers and planned, Twiggs would later claim, to publicly flog Neamathla at Fort Scott for his “impudence.”
When a courier from Maj. Twiggs reached Fowltown on August 3, 1817 – 200 years ago today – Neamathla made clear that he was having none of it:
By a letter from Major Twiggs, the commandant at Fort Scott, I learn that he had been warned . . . by the principal chief of Fowltown (fifteen miles above the fort, and twenty above the national boundary) not to cut another stick on the east side of Flint river; adding that the land was his, and he was directed by the Powers above to protect and defend it, and should do so; and it would be seen that talking could not frighten him. Major Twiggs adds, he had not seen the chief or any of his people since he made this threat.[i]
A slightly different version of the encounter is found in a letter from Edmund Doyle, manager of the John Forbes & Company trading post at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River, to his superiors in the firm. “The Fowl Town Chief ordered them not to cut trees on the east of Flint river,” he wrote. “And is otherwise high crested.”[ii]
Attempts by the military to communicate with Cappachimico (Kenhajo), the principal chief of the powerful Miccosukee towns in what is now Leon County, Florida, had similarly been rebuffed. Doyle reported that:
…[O]ne half of the 250,000 rations required by Genl Gaines are partly here and partly on their route to Forts Scott and Gaines on these waters – Kenhagees last message to the Commandant at Fort Scott Flint River was rather insulting – he said he had no talks for him – that he expected shortly an English agent who would settle the affairs of the Indians, and drive the Americans back.[iii]
The mention of an “English agent” undoubtedly referred to the anticipated return of Scottish trader Alexander Arbuthnot to the Big Bend of Florida. Arbuthnot had opened an illegal trade with the Florida towns but also acted as a pseudo-agent by leading councils, giving advice and writing letters for the chiefs.
Doyle went on to predict that as soon as the rations ordered from the company were delivered, “an overwhelming force enters the Nation which settles their affairs shortly.” Events would prove him correct.
This series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War will continue tomorrow.
[i] Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to the Secretary of War, October 1, 1817, American State Papers, Indian Affairs, Volume II, pp. 158-159.
[ii] Edmund Doyle to James Innerarity, August 17, 1817, FHQ, XVIII, October 1939.