The U.S. army led by Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson arrived on the Ochlockonee River 200 years ago today as it closed in on the Seminole village that gave Tallahassee its name.
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to access the entire timeline of stories.
Led by Chief John Blunt, the long columns of U.S. soldiers left their overnight camp near present-day Hosford and turned sharply to the east 200 years ago this morning (March 29, 1818). They reached the Ochlockonee River by midday:
…Eight and three quarter miles to Okalokina river – through a country rather higher than the last presenting in places a little inequality of surface and a mixture of small oak with the pine several small miry branches with thickets – dry in summer. The Okalokina fifty-six yards wide – usual depth from six to nine feet-banks and bottom sandy. A bluff each side – that on the east of considerable height. [I]
The Ochlockonee was the widest natural barrier encountered by the troops since they had crossed the Flint River on March 10-11, 1818 (please see Jackson crosses the Flint River at Fort Scott). The high bluff on the east side described above by Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, was a formation that for 200 years since has been called Jackson Bluff.
The scene has changed dramatically since 1818. The construction of a dam created Lake Talquin at the site in 1929. The east end of that structure is set into the high limestone bluff that Capt. Young saw during Jackson’s campaign. Photographs that survive from before the building of the dam show that the original bluff was an impressive feature that rose directly on the east bank of the river.
There was no ferry or bridge over which the soldiers could cross so they set to work building canoes. Col. Robert Butler, Gen. Jackson’s Adjutant, reported that “nineteen canoes were made, and the principal part of the army crossed by eight o’clock, P. M., the residue next morning.” [II]
The army, accordingly, camped on both the east and west sides of the river on the night of March 29, 1818. The force was so big, however, that once the vanguard was over there was little danger to be feared from an attack by Seminole, Miccosukee or Red Stick warriors. Over 2,000 men were present with Jackson 200 years ago tonight and the size of the army would grow dramatically over coming days. Gen. William McIntosh’s Creek Brigade and part of the long-awaited Tennessee Volunteers were marching southeast from Fort Scott to reinforce Jackson. They hoped to unite with the main body before it reached Miccosukee.
At some point either on the 29th or 30th, intelligence reached the army that Elizabeth Stewart could be found a short distance ahead at Tallahassee Talofa. Mrs. Stewart was the only female survivor of Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command, which had been attacked at what is now Chattahoochee on November 30, 1817. Knocked senseless during the battle, she had been rescued by a warrior from the attacking force who spared her life because he had once been nursed back to health from a severe fever by a white woman in St. Marys, Georgia. (Please see The Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War).
Tallahassee Talofa (“Old Field Town”) took its name from the fact that it was located on the abandoned old fields of the Apalachee Indians. This chiefdom was encountered by Panfilo de Narvaez in 1528 and again by Hernando de Soto in 1539. There were thousands of Apalachee then. By 1818, as Jackson crossed the Ochlockonee, only a handful remained and they lived far away in Louisiana. Their old fields had been occupied by a party of Muscogee who moved down from the Creek country prior to the American Revolution (1775-1783).
The site of the village is now largely beneath residential neighborhoods in the Levy Park and Frenchtown communities of modern Tallahassee.
The army was already targeting Tallahassee Talofa and the news of Mrs. Stewart’s presence would lead to an accelerated movement against the town. First, though, Andrew Jackson needed to get all of his men across the Ochlockonee. That process would continue early the next morning.
This series will continue. Until the next post, enjoy watching this first person interpretation of Maj. Gen. Jackson by Billy Bailey of Florida Caverns State Park. In this video, he justifies the 1818 invasion through the eyes of the general:
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, pp. 141-142.
[II] Col. Robert Butler to Brig. Gen. Daniel Parker, May 3, 1818.