The sounds of heavy cannon fire could be heard coming from the distant Georgia frontier on December 8, 1817, 200 years ago today.
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The firing of the big guns could be heard distinctly more than 150 miles to the north at the old Creek Agency on the Flint River. The former home of Col. Benjamin Hawkins, who had died in 1816, the Agency was located near what is now Roberta, Georgia:
Captain S. Thomas from the Agency states that a foraging party of 10 or 12 men from Fort Scott had been cut off, and that a constant and tremendous firing was heard during the night in the direction of Fort Scott. This was supposed to have been an attack upon the breast work thrown up by Col. Arbuckle, at Four Mile creek.[i]
The mention of a breastwork at Four Mile Creek was a reference to Fort Hughes, the outpost built by U.S. troops at Burges’s Bluff in present-day Bainbridge following the Battle of Fowltown. The fort was then held by 40 men under Capt. John N. McIntosh and there was great fear that they would be surrounded and cutoff by Neamathla and his outraged warriors.
Subsequent reports indicated, however, that the distant cannon fire actually took place at Fort Scott, the primary U.S. post on the lower Flint River:
The firing which was supposed to be an attack upon Col. Arbuckle’s camp, was a cannonading from fort Scott, in return of some fires which the Indians made upon the boats, which were building in the river. Nothing material resulted. The account which I gave you in my last, relative to the foraging party being cut off, is probably incorrect, as it has not been confirmed.[ii]
Several supply boats – among them a large keelboat – were then under construction at the fort and warriors had fired on the military work parties from across the Flint River. The army responded by directing cannon fire from the high bluff on which Fort Scott stood down into the floodplain swamps on the opposite shore.
This was not the first time that the fort had come under such attack since the Battle of Fowltown. An officer reported on December 2, 1817, that “the Indians have fired upon some women who were washing on the bank.”[iii]
These attacks seldom did any real damage – although two soldiers were killed at Fort Scott in February 1818 – but they did serve to alarm the garrison and keep the men on edge. The harassing fire was part of the overall Native American strategy to keep the troops pinned down while moving to prevent supplies from reaching them. Similar parties of warriors hovered around Fort Gaines on the Chattahoochee and Fort Hughes on the Flint. Others operated along the roads and trails connecting the forts to cutoff communication between them while the Prophet Francis led the main force against the supply ships on the Apalachicola River.
The U.S. Army, which had started the war with the aggressive raids on Fowltown, now found itself on the defensive.
This series will continue so check back often at Seminole War 200th for the latest additions. You can also learn more about the First Seminole War from books available at the bottom of this page.
[i] Officer at Fort Hawkins to Editor, Georgia Reflector, December 8, 1817, appeared in the City of Washington Gazette, p. 3., December 20, 1817.
[ii] Staff officer to the editor of the Reflector in Milledgeville, December 10, 1817, printed in the Massachusetts Spy, p. 2., December 31, 1817.
[iii] Extract of a letter from an officer at Fort Scott to his father in Baltimore, December 2, 1817, New York Daily Advertiser, December 27, 1817, p. 2.