The last day of 1817 – 200 years ago today – found Seminole warriors on the move against the frontier of Georgia.
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the Seminole War. Please visit Seminole War 200th to read the complete series.
The New Year’s Eve raid into Southeast Georgia showed that Native American forces planned to continue their attacks against the United States during the winter, but were changing their strategy from massive attacks like those employed against Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command and at the Battle of Ocheesee to smaller guerrilla raids designed to secure supplies and force settlers to abandon their frontier settlements.
News of the attack came as U.S. forces consolidated their hold on Amelia Island, which they had seized one week earlier. Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, who had been ordered by the War Department to leave Fort Scott in order to command that operation, had arrived on the scene to find that troops under Maj. James Bankhead had already occupied the island. Gaines was on his way from St. Marys back up the coast to Darien when the Seminoles crossed the river:
The Indians, to the number of fifty or sixty, crossed the St. Mary’s, near Trader’s Hill, on the night of the 31st ult. and murdered an old woman, at one Bevan’s. They took off a family of negroes and every thing they could find in the house. A detachment of U. States’ troops from Amelia has passed up the river this afternoon, and a draft of one-third of our militia took place to-day, to rendezvous at Corn-House Creek on the 6th Inst. General Gaines unfortunately left this the day before the murder was committed for Darien. (1)
Trader’s Hill, the landmark described in the brief account, was a well-known point during the early 19th century. James Seagrove, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs before Col. Benjamin Hawkins, had operated a trading post there in the late 1700s. It was the location of important timber mills and small farms and a military post had been established there during the War of 1812.
The St. Marys River formed – then as now – the boundary between Georgia and Florida. In 1817 it was part of the international border that divided the United States from the territory of Spain.
The Trader’s Hill area was on the rim of the great Okefenokee Swamp, then still a mysterious region that was little known and had yet to be mapped. The Lower Muscogee Creek Indians had told Col. Hawkins that it was occupied by giants and that they avoided it because it was a dangerous place. Early settlers told stories of a giant race of hairy creatures who lived there, one of which supposedly slaughtered a party of hunters a few years later.
Other attacks would follow on the heels of the New Year’s Eve raid as warriors from Florida pushed deeper into Georgia to strike at populated areas early in 1818.
(1) Letter dated St. Marys, Georgia, Jan. 3, 1818, Columbian Museum (Savannah, GA) January 8, 1818, Page 2.