Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson requested the help of the U.S. Navy as he prepared to march from Fort Gadsden 200 years ago today.
This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Click here to read other articles in the series.
The general would leave the next morning to begin his movement against Tallahassee Talofa and Miccosukee, two important towns in what is now Leon County, Florida. He undoubtedly had been discussing his plans with senior officers for several days, among them Lt. Commander Isaac McKeever of the U.S. Navy.
McKeever was the commander of the naval escort sent by Commodore Daniel T. Patterson from New Orleans to protect a flotilla of schooners carrying supplies for the army across the Gulf of Mexico. Jackson proposed to the naval officer that he join in active operations during the next phase of the campaign:
I solicit the co-operation of the Naval Force under your command during the present campaign to the east of the Appalachicola River. It is reported to me that francis or Hillis Hago and Peter McQueen, Prophets who excited the Red Sticks in their late war against the United States & are now exciting the Seminoles to similar acts of hostility, are at or in the neighbourhood of St. Marks. United with them it is stated that Woodbine, Arbuthnot and other foreigners have assembled a motley crew of Brigands – Slaves [enticed?] away from their masters, citizens of the United States, or stolen during the late conflict with Great Britain. It is all important that these men should be captured and made examples of and is my belief that on the approach of my army they will attempt to escape to some of the Sea Islands, from whence they will be enabled for a time to continue their excitements & carry out predatory war against the U. States. [I]
Although Jackson’s letter to McKeever was dated at Fort Gadsden on March 25, 1818 – 200 years ago today – there is little doubt that he had discussed his plans with the lieutenant commander before reducing them to writing.
McKeever’s two gunboats – No. 149 and No. 154 – were so leaky that he had transferred his men, supplies and guns to the schooners Thomas Shields and William Lawrence. Jackson proposed that these two vessels move from Apalachicola Bay to St. Marks as his army marched east:
…You will therefore cruise along the coast eastwardly, and as I advance capture and take prisoners all, or every person or description of persons, white or black, with all their goods, chattles and effects, together with all crafts, vessels, or means of transportation by water which will be held possession of for adjudication. [II]
McKeever was a young but seasoned officer who had joined the U.S. Navy as a midshipman in 1809 when he was 18 years old. He had commanded one of the gunboats that valiantly fought the British fleet at Lake Borgne in the days leading up to the Battle of New Orleans. Whether he and Jackson knew each other from those closing months of the War of 1812 is not known.
Since the mission being requested by the general would require him to blockade a port belonging to the King of Spain, who was technically an ally of the United States, McKeever was given specific suggestions for the conduct of his operations:
Any of the subjects of his Catholic Majesty, sailing to St. Marks, may be permitted freely to enter the said river; but none to pass unless after an examination it may be made to appear that they have not been attached to or in any wise aided & abetted our common enemy. I shall march this day, and in eight days will reach St. Marks, where I shall expect to communicate with you in the Bay & from the transports receive the supplies for my Army. [III]
Jackson actually left Fort Gadsden on the morning of the 26th, but the letter may have been written after dark on the 25th. His decision to ask McKeever for assistance would prove extremely wise, as subsequent events would show.
This series will continue tomorrow. If you would like to learn more about Fort Gadsden, where the two officers conferred 200 years ago today, please enjoy this free program from Two Egg TV:
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Lt. Commander Isaac McKeever, March 25, 1818.