The first battle of the Seminole Wars began 200 years ago today at the Lower Creek village of Fowltown in Decatur County, Georgia.
This article is part of a special series marking the 200th anniversary of the Seminole Wars. To read other articles in the series, please visit Seminole War 200th.
Brevet Maj. David E. Twiggs and his column had moved through the night and arrived outside of Fowltown before sunrise 200 years ago today on the morning of November 21, 1817. The troops began to form a line of battle in the darkness, hoping to surround the community before its residents detected their presence. Each of the five companies on the scene numbered around 50 men, giving Twiggs a total force of 250 soldiers from the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry regiments. They were supported by a cannon and crew from Capt. Sanders Donoho’s artillery company.
Neamathla, the primary chief of the town, had no reason to expect an attack. He had explained to both Twiggs and Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines that he had not taken part in the signing of the Treaty of Fort Jackson that surrendered all of what is now Southwest Georgia to the United States. He only wanted to be left alone and had engaged in no attacks on U.S. troops. He and Cappachimico, the chief of Miccosukee, had apparently been told to withdraw their forces below the Flint River at the end of the War of 1812 and had done so. They did not understand why the United States now sought to force them from those lands.
So far as is known, no ultimatum was given to the chiefs before the troops left Fort Scott on the previous day. No warnings were issued of the possibility of military action and the arrival of the soldiers found the people of Fowltown sleeping peacefully in their homes.
The following account of the fighting on the morning of November 21st is excerpted from the new book Fowltown: Neamathla, Tutalosi Talofa & the first battle of the Seminole Wars. It is available in both print and Kindle formats.
— Excerpt —
Neamathla was not expecting an attack by U.S. troops and no warriors had been placed to guard his town from surprise. This allowed Twiggs to approach the town undetected and begin to form his companies for an enveloping movement:
…Having marched all the night of the 20th I reached the town before day light on the morning of the 21st & posted the troops in order of Battle intending silently to surround it & without blood shed bring to you the chief & warriors, but they fled from the companies of Majr. Montgomery & Cpt. Birch on my right & fired upon my left under Capts. Allison & Bee when they were fired on in return. Discovering my superiority of force they fled to a neighboring swamp.
The exchange of fire between Neamathla’s warriors and the soldiers of Bee’s and Allison’s companies on Twiggs’s right flank was the first of the Seminole Wars. Fighting would continue with occasional interruption for the next 41 years.
Fowltown had been taken by complete surprise and the firing on both sides was wild. No soldiers were wounded and Twiggs reported that the Creeks had lost “but few as they received but one round & fled.” He did not provide estimates of Native American losses in his brief written report of the affair, but apparently told Gen. Gaines that the fire of Neamathla’s men “was briskly returned by the detachment, and the Indians put to flight with the loss of four warriors slain – and, as there is reason to believe, many more wounded.”
Gaines wrote to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson on the day of the attack, informing him of the skirmish and reporting that the village’s casualties included at least one woman:
It is with deep regret I have to add that a woman was accidentally shot with some warriors in the act of forcing their way through our line formed for the purpose of arresting their flight. The unfortunate woman had a blanket fastened round her (as many of the warriors had) which amidst the smoke in which they were enveloped, rendered it impossible, as I am assured by the officers present, to distinguish her from the warriors.
The Native American account of the attack was included in a letter from Cappachimico and Boleck to Gov. Charles Cameron in the Bahamas. The document appears to have been written for them by Alexander Arbuthnot and is somewhat garbled. The part that appears to refer to the pre-dawn attack of November 21 begins with a mention of the letter sent to Cappachimico by Gen. Gaines:
…This letter only appears to have been a prelude to plans determined on by the said General and General Jackson, to bring on troops and settlers, to drive us from our lands; and take possession of them; for, in the end of [November], a party of Americans surrounded Fowl Town during the night, and in the morning began setting fire to it; making the unfortunate inhabitants fly to the swamps, and who in their flight had three persons killed by the fire of the Americans.
The troops remained in Fowltown only until daybreak. Maj. Twiggs reported that they did not destroy the town but left it intact. He did report to Gen. Gaines that a significant quantity of corn was seen in the corncribs of the village and that he and his officers had inspected Neamathla’s home. There, according to the general, they found “a British uniform coat (Scarlet) with a pair of gold Epaulettes, and a certificate signed by a British Captain of Marines.” The certificate noted that Neamathla had always been a “true and faithful friend to the British” and was signed by Capt. Robert White of the Royal Marines.
— End of Excerpt —
They could not have known it, but Maj. Twiggs and the men under his command ignited a devastating war on that morning 200 years ago. The Seminole Wars would continue for another 41 years – technically they did not end until the mid-20th century – and thousands of lives would be lost. The Trail of Tears for the Miccosukee and Seminole people began on November 21, 1817.
The troops returned to Fort Scott on the same day as the first exchange of fire. They marched back north to Burges’s Bluff at today’s Bainbridge, crossed the Flint River and continued on to Fort Scott. By the time they reached the gates of the fort, they had marched a minimum of 36-miles in about 36-hours.
Neamathla and the people of Fowltown were in shock. They did not view the U.S. Army’s attempt to kidnap them as a peaceful measure, which was how white officers described it. Three warriors and one woman from the town were dead and others had been wounded. Calls went out for help as the chiefs and warriors debated their next move.
The Battle of Fowltown was not yet over. U.S. troops would return to the town in less than 48-hours. This time, however, Neamathla would be ready and the fighting would be much more severe. Please visit The Battle of Fowltown: Day Two and The Battle of Fowltown: Day Three to continue the story of this critical engagement.
A 200th anniversary memorial service honoring those killed at Fowltown was held in Bainbridge on November 30, 1817. An interpretive panel about the engagement can be seen today at the J.D. Chason Memorial Park, which is located at the intersection of Jackson and Donalson Streets in Bainbridge. The park is located atop Burges’s Bluff and overlooks the river crossing used by the U.S. troops on their way to the battle.
 Bvt. Maj. David E. Twiggs to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, November 21, 1817, Records of the Adjutant General’s Office, Letters Received, National Archives.
 Ibid.; Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Gov. Peter Early, November 21, 1817, published in the New York Commercial Advertiser, December 15, 1817.
 Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, November 21, 1817, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
 Cappiahimico and Bowlegs to Gov. Cameron, n.d., included in The Trials of A. Arbuthnot and R.C. Ambrister, London, 1819: 19-21.
 Gaines to Jackson, November 21, 1817.