Seminole War
The Killing of Chief Perryman at Spanish Bluff (Seminole War 200th)

Robert Daffin steers a boat up the Apalachicola River near Spanish Bluff. The bridge in the background connects the cities of Blountstown and Bristol, Florida.

Any hopes of a negotiated end to the Seminole War died 200 years ago today (December 13, 1817) at Spanish Bluff in what is now Calhoun County, Florida. With them passed the life of one of the most influential Lower Creek leaders of the era.

This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the Seminole War.

The Prophet Josiah Francis and other Red Stick, Seminole, Miccosukee and Black Seminole leaders used this date 200 years ago to make clear their disavowal of the attempt by Autossee Mico, William Perryman, George Perryman, Johnston and the white trader Edmund Doyle to open peace negotiations with U.S. Army officers at Fort Scott (see Emissaries from the Red Sticks). They did so by attacking the Spanish Bluff settlement of William Hambly:

…On the 13th instant, Hambly and Doyle were made prisoners by this party, and, I presume, killed, and their property of every description taken possession of. The chief, William Perryman, who had gone down with a party to protect Hambly and Doyle, was killed, and his men forced to join the opposite party. All of the Indians on the Chattahoochee, below Fort Gaines, who are not disposed to go to war, I fear will be compelled to remove above for security.[i]

The Prophet Josiah Francis in British uniform. He drew this self-portrait during his 1815-1817 visit to Great Britain. Courtesy of the British Museum.

The killing of William Perryman by the Prophet’s party marked the end of that chief’s remarkable career of leadership among the Lower Creeks and Seminoles. The chief of Tellmochesses, a Eufaula town on the west side of the Chattahoochee River near Parramore Landing in present-day Jackson County, Florida, he was the son of the well-known Lower Creek/Seminole leader Thomas Perryman and the grandson of the British trader Theophilus Perryman.

William Perryman came of age as a chief and warrior during the American Revolution when he led warriors from the Perryman towns to St. Augustine to fight alongside the British against the American Patriots in Georgia. He and his men were engaged in numerous skirmishes and battles across Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia during the Revolution and he was recognized with the rank of captain by the British Army.

William Augustus Bowles married William Perryman’s sister during his first sojourn among the Lower Creeks. The two brothers-in-law got along well enough at first and warriors from Tellmochesses were among the fighters who supported the adventurer. Some even crewed his “privateer” (i.e. pirate) ships.

William Augustus Bowles, adventurer and pirate, was the brother-in-law of William Perryman.

This changed, however, when Bowles threatened the life of Thomas Perryman during a minor dispute. William responded to this action with uncharacteristic anger and signed an agreement with the Spanish at San Marcos de Apalache (Fort St. Marks) to help capture the adventurer. He remained on good terms with the Spanish thereafter, supplying them with beef from his extensive herds and providing them with intelligence about events in the Creek Nation.

The chief was called “Indian Will” by Col. Andrew Ellicott, the U.S. Commissioner of Limits, who arrived in the area in 1799 to survey the permanent boundary between Spanish Florida and the claimed territory of the United States. He warned Ellicott of a planned attack against the surveying party by Creek and Seminole warriors who were infuriated that the Americans and Spanish were dividing lands that belonged to the Native Americans.

William Perryman was part of the Lower Creek and Seminole party that went to Pensacola in 1813 to plead for military support from Great Britain. The Creek War of 1813-1814 had erupted and a British ship was in harbor at the Spanish capital. Perryman, his father and other chiefs were alarmed by the growing war and were afraid that U.S. forces would not distinguish them from the Red Stick forces.

This request led to the arrival of British forces on the Apalachicola River in 1814 and their construction of forts at Prospect Bluff and just below the forks of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. William and Thomas Perryman were part of an alliance organized by the British that also included Red Stick leaders such as the Prophet Francis, Peter McQueen, Autossee Mico and others. The alliance collapsed, however, when Great Britain withdrew from the Apalachicola in May 1815.

Perryman arrived at Fort Gaines in February 1817 with first news of the burning of Fort Scott by Red Stick warriors.

William’s leadership role grew in 1815 after the death of his father. The people of Tocktoethla, the town that had been headed by Thomas Perryman, moved across the Chattahoochee from today’s Southwest Georgia to merge with those of Tellmochesses. They remained neutral when U.S. forces came down from Fort Gaines to attack and destroy the “Negro Fort” at Prospect Bluff during the summer of 1816. The chief’s brother – George Perryman – even served as caretaker at Fort Scott when the military withdrew during the winter of 1816-1817.

William Perryman moved more into alliance with the United States after Red Stick warriors burned Fort Scott and threatened his brother, who was forced to flee to Tellmochesses in a canoe with his family and a few possessions. He provided intelligence to U.S. officers at Fort Gaines and his name appears frequently in military reports from 1817.

Perryman was involved in the plot to flog Neamathla during a council at Fort Scott in August 1817. He believed that the Fowltown chief was endangering all of the towns of the area by confronting the army. Neamathla failed to appear for the conference and Maj. David E. Twiggs, who then commanded the fort, did not learn of the plan until after the fact.

William Perryman was involved in a plot to publicly flog Neamatha (seen here) at Fort Scott in August 1817.

William and George Perryman accompanied EdmundDoyle and the chief Johnston when they went to Fort Scott in December 1817 as emissaries from the Red Stick chief Autossee Mico in a last ditch attempt to stop the war. The negotiation failed.

The Prophet Francis and other principal leaders were not consulted about the council before Doyle, Johnston and the Perryman brothers went to Fort Scott. This failure to secure approval for the mission led to William Perryman’s death at Spanish Bluff on December 13, 1817.

Few details are known about what actually happened at Spanish Bluff. Perryman had gone down with his warriors from Tellmochesses to protect William Hambly and Edmund Doyle, who were at Hambly’s “Poverty Hall” plantation near today’s Blountstown, Florida. It is not known if he and his warriors were able to make any resistance at all and whether Perryman was killed in action or was executed after being captured.

Hambly later provided a certificate of his experience to Maj.Gen. Andrew Jackson, but offered few details of the incident at Spanish Bluff:

…[O]n the 13th of December last, when on my plantation on the Apalachicola, I was made a prisoner of by a party of Seminole Indians, and taken up to the Ocheesee Bluffs in company with Mr. Doyle, who was made a prisoner with me; they kept us here three days, during which time they were busily engaged with some transports which were then ascending the river to Fort Scott; from thence they took us to Mekosukee, where the Indians informed me that they had been told by the commandant of St. Marks, that war was declared between Spain and the United States. From this place we were carried to the Suwanee, when Kenhagee [i.e. Cappachimico], principal chief of the Seminoles, told me that we had been taken and robbed by order of Arbuthnott, and taken there to be tried by him…. [ii]

Ocheesee Bluff on the Apalachicola River, where Hambly and Doyle were taken after the killing of William Perryman.

The Bahamian trader Alexander Arbuthnot was later executed by the U.S. Army, partly on charges that he conspired to kill Hambly and Doyle. Both men survived due to the intervention of the Black Seminole chief Nero, however, and later testified at Arbuthnot’s military trial. They watched him hang from the yardarm of his own ship.

In a separate letter to Maj. Gen. Jackson, Hambly and Doyle jointly reported that the warriors who captured them had been led by Chenubby, the war chief of Fowltown. This chief had also taken part in the attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command on November 30, 1817. [iii]

The raid on Spanish Bluff provided the Prophet’s forces with a large quantity of food which they used to sustain themselves during their coming attack on the U.S. supply ships on the Apalachicola. That siege – remembered today as the Battle of Ocheesee Bluff – would begin in two days.

This series will continue.

[i] Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to Major General Edmund P. Gaines (dated Fort Scott), December 20, 1817, American State Papers – Military Affairs, Vol. 1, pp. 689-690.

[ii] Certificate of William Hambly, July 24, 1818, National Archives.

[iii] William Hambly and Edmund Doyle to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, May 2, 1818, National Archives.


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