One of the most remarkable documents from the days leading up to the First Seminole War was an authorization from the Monroe Administration for U.S. troops to seize Native American men, women and children as hostages.
This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the Seminole Wars. Please click here to see the entire chronological list of articles.
The soldiers of the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry Regiments were already on the march for Fort Scott on the Flint River in Southwest Georgia when acting Secretary of War George Graham put his authorization to paper on November 12, 1817, 200 years ago today.
The secretary was far removed from the front lines of the looming conflict, but had been apprised by Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines and other officers of the situation on the frontier. The issue he faced was the refusal of the Miccosukee, who lived in Spanish Florida, to surrender warriors that the United States accused of carrying out raids along the St. Marys River. Cappachimico, the head chief of Miccosukee, blamed white hunters and settlers for attacking his people and pointed out that more Native Americans than whites had been killed in cross-border raids.
This was not the response that officials in Washington, D.C., wanted from the Florida chief. The situation was further complicated by the refusal of Neamathla, the head chief of Fowltown, to abide by the terms of the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The agreement had been imposed on the Muscogee (Creek) people at the end of the Creek War of 1813-1814 as a means of forcing them to pay reparations to the United States for its losses during that conflict. The treaty took millions of acres of land from the Creeks. All of Southwest Georgia – including the ground on which Fowltown stood – was included in the cession. Neamathla, however, refused to move. He had not been a party to the Treaty of Fort Jackson and told U.S. officers that he was “directed by the Powers above” to protect his land and would do so.
Secretary Graham was not familiar with the nuances of the situation on the border but accepted the word of the military that the Native Americans were to blame. He suggested that hostage taking might be the answer:
…You are authorized to remove the Indians still remaining on the lands ceded by the treaty made by General Jackson with the Creeks; and, in doing so, it may be proper to retain some of them as hostages until reparation may have been made for the depredations which have been committed. McIntosh and the other chiefs of the Creek nation, who were here some time since, expressed then, decidedly, their unwillingness to permit any of the hostile Indians to return to their nation.
The Secretary’s authorization did not reach Fort Scott until December 2, 1817, by which time the First Seminole War had been under way for eleven days.
The troops of the 4th and 7th Infantries were on the move 200 years ago today, marching from their posts at Camps Montgomery and Montpelier in Alabama to Fort Gaines on the Chattahoochee River by way of Fort Crawford at present-day East Brewton, Alabama. From Fort Gaines they would continue down the “Three Notch Road” to Fort Scott where they would arrive on November 19, 1817. They would march out for Fowltown on the next afternoon.
This series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War will continue. If you are interested in learning more about the first battles of the conflict, the Apalachicola Arsenal Museum in Chattahoochee, Florida, will host a special Lunch & Learn event on Thursday, December 16, at 12 noon Eastern/11 a.m. Central. The topic will be the Battle of Fowltown, the Scott Massacre of 1817 and the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Call (850) 794-0197 to make reservations. The event is free but lunch is $6.
Also please consider the new book: Fowltown: Neamathla, Tutalosi Talofa & the first battle of the Seminole Wars.
 George Graham, acting Secretary of War, to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, November 12, 1817, Records of the Adjutant General, Letters Received, National Archives.