The keelboat under Lt. Richard W. Scott reached Spanish Bluff on the Apalachicola River 200 years ago today. The lieutenant would lose his life just two days later.
This article is part of a series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please visit Seminole War 200th to see the entire series.
Spanish Bluff was a landmark of the early 1800s but its location is little known today. Fairly inconspicuous compared to the high bluffs on the east side of the Apalachicola River, it was a low rise that ran slightly inland from the river in what is now Calhoun County between Ocheesee Bluff and Blountstown.
The bluff in 1817 was the home of William Hambly, a farmer and sometimes employee of the John Forbes & Company trading firm. The son of a Loyalist who had sided with Great Britain against the United States during the American Revolution, Hambly was a skilled linguist who often served as an interpreter in negotiations between whites and the Muscogee (Creek), Seminole and Miccosukee tribes. He also operated extensive farms on the Apalachicola River, exporting grain, beef and other commodities to Pensacola, Mobile and New Orleans.
Hambly had a sense of humor, as is shown by the fact that he named his Spanish Bluff home “Poverty Hall.” He was married to a Native American woman and had several children with her. Hambly was literate and could read and write in both Spanish and English.
When Scott’s boat hove into sight, William Hambly went down to his landing to greet it. He warned Lt. Scott of reports that large numbers of angry Lower Creek, Red Stick, Seminole, Miccosukee, Black Seminole and Yuchi warriors were gathering just below the forks where they intended to stop any supply boats trying to reach Fort Scott:
Mr. Hambly informs me that Indians are assembling at the junction of the river, where they intend to make a stand against those vessels coming p the river. Should this be the case, I am not able to make a stand against them. My command does not exceed forty men, and one-half sick and without arms. I leave this immediately.
I am, respectfully, your obedient servant,
Lieutenant 7th Infantry, commanding detachment.
The brief message, which was carried by a runner from Spanish Bluff to Fort Scott, was the last anyone would ever hear from the unfortunate lieutenant. Despite Hambly’s warning, he cast off and continued upstream with his cargo of regimental clothing. Why he did so when he had only 20 or so armed and able-bodied men is not known. He knew that he could not hope to defend himself against the number of warriors that Hambly reported to be gathering near the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. The topic is debated still today.
As the sun set on the afternoon of November 28, 1817 – 200 years ago today – the keelboat carrying Lt. Scott, 39-40 U.S. soldiers, 7 women and 4 children cast anchor midstream somewhere near the northern lines of today’s Calhoun and Liberty Counties. The Apalachicola River was running high and it was unwise to navigate it at night when there was a possibility of the boat striking an unseen snag and sinking.
The lieutenant and most of the people on his boat would see only one more sunset before their lives came to cataclysmic ends. The destruction of Lt. Scott’s command was now less than 48 hours away.
To learn more about the fatal events of November 1817, please consider the special 200th anniversary commemorative edition of The Scott Massacre of 1817: The First U.S. Defeat of the Seminole Wars.
Chattahoochee Main Street in cooperation with the City of Chattahoochee and Two Egg TV are holding a major commemorative event at River Landing Park in Chattahoochee this weekend. The event will include living history demonstrations, Creek and Seminole camps, military and civilian camps, a Seminole War reenactment, memorial services, exhibits, vendors, food, live entertainment and much more. Please visit Chattahoochee ready for Major Reenactment and check out the poster below for more information.