The growing war of words between the U.S. Army and the Creek and Seminole Indians who lived in Spanish Florida neared its peak on September 6, 1817, 200 years ago today.
Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, who commanded U.S. troops in Georgia and the part of the Mississippi Territory that includes today’s state of Alabama, had been rebuffed in his attempts to meet in council with the chiefs and principal warriors of Miccosukee. This powerful and extensive town stood on the east side of Lake Miccosukee in what is now Leon County, Florida:
…The Mickasukee chief refused to meet in council, but promised to attend to any communication that should be sent to him. This promise, I have no doubt was dictated by the British agent, that the communications should pass through his hands, and be changed or mutilated to suit his own sinister designs. To counteract the effects of this scheme of treachery, and make the deluded Indians sensible of the danger to which this pretended friend and agent is about to lead them, I am satisfied that it is absolutely necessary to appear in force near them. (1)
The Miccosukee chief referred to by Gaines was Cappachimico. He is often referred to as Kenhajo (or “King Hadjo”) but Spanish documents of the time indicate that this name was a slur so I will use Cappachimico instead.
The “British agent” mentioned in the report was Alexander Arbuthnot, a Scottish trader who operated from the Bahamas.
Cappachimico’s refusal to meet with the general forced Gaines to send a message to Miccosukee via an interpreter. This task fell to Gregory, about whom little is known except that he was a Black Seminole who lived in one of the Lower Creek towns near Fort Scott.
The message demanded that the Miccosukee chief surrender the warriors responsible for the Garrett murders on the St. Mary’s River. (Please see Violence surges on the Florida-Georgia border). It was delivered by Gregory 200 years ago today on September 6, 1817:
…The interpreter informed me that the principal warriors were not present when he was there, but those who were present said they had never heard of Indians being given up to be punished by the whites; that they had heard of their being sometimes killed by themselves for offences committed, but seemed to think that giving them up was out of the question, but said they would have a meeting, and would answer the letter in a few days. As they have not done so, I think but one construction can be put on their conduct. (2)
Cappachimico promised a reply to the general’s demand within ten days. This would allow him time to consult with the other chiefs and warriors before asking Arbuthnot to reduce his response to writing.
The warriors were not pleased by the implied threat included in the talk from Gen. Gaines, as Gregory soon learned:
…The young men seemed to dislike the communication very much, and when Gregory was about leaving the town he offered his hand to an Indian, who held out his with a knife in it, and refused to shake hands with him; he staid so short a time among them that it was impossible for him to give much information respecting them. (3)
The U.S. Army, meanwhile, continued its work to improve the new military road that connected Fort Crawford in Alabama with Fort Gaines in Georgia. An additional company of soldiers from the 7th U.S. Infantry was ordered to Fort Scott on the Flint River and Gaines prepared to move his entire brigade to that post should the Miccosukee response not be to his liking.
This series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War will continue so check back regularly at www.exploresouthernhistory.com.