Seminole War
Human scalps and the march to St. Marks (Seminole War 200th)

The army left the Lake Miccosukee area on the morning of April 5, 1818.

The American army turned south for St. Marks 200 years ago today, the soldiers more convinced than ever of the righteousness of their cause.

This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to access the series timeline.

As the troops stepped off on their two-day march to the coat, their ranks buzzed with stories of human scalps and other evidence of Miccosukee’s involvement in attacks against the United States. Maj. Gen. Jackson and his officers used these trophies to inflame the passions of their men:

To chastise a Savage foe, who combined with a lawless band of Negro Brigands, have for some time past been carrying on a cruel & unprovoked war against the Citizens of the U States; has compelled The President to direct me to march my army into Florida. I have penetrated to the Mekasuky towns, and reduced them to ashes. In these towns I found many indications of a hostile spirit. On a red pole in the centre of the council-houses of Kenhagas town, more than fifty fresh scalps, of all ages, from the infant to the aged matron, were found suspended. In addition to this, upwards of three hundred old scalps were found in the dwellings of the different chiefs settled on the Mekasuky pond. [I]

The areas around Lake Miccosukee had been the home of the Miccosukee people for more than 50 years before the town was destroyed 200 years ago this week.

Col. Robert Butler, Jackson’s Adjutant General, reported that the 300 “old scalps” were found in “an adjacent house” and appeared to have been taken within the past three or four years. [II]

Of the discovery of additional scalps across Lake Miccosukee in the village that the Fowltown residents had established after being driven from Southwest Georgia, Brig. Gen. Thomas Glascock of the Georgia militia reported:

…The number seen by myself were three which were brought me by my aid Captain Harvey. I examined them particularly, two were the scalps of White men, the other from the fineness of the hair I conceived to be the scalp of some Female. My Aid saw several others tied to a stake but was not particular enough to examine them. [III]

The implication of finding more than 50 fresh scalps, of course, was that the warriors of Miccosukee had been involved in both the attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s party (please see Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War) and the numerous raids against the Georgia frontier that had taken place since the outbreak of the war. The older scalps likely were taken during the so-called Patriot War in East Florida and the War of 1812.

Blue Heron (Farris Powell) looks out on the scene of the attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s party at Chattahoochee, Florida.

The soldiers found additional evidence to support these conclusions. Several of the scalps on the red pole at Miccosukee were reportedly recognized as having come from members of Scott’s party. The troops also found the “pocket-book of Mr. Thomas Leigh, who was murdered at Cedar creek on the 21st of January last…containing several letters addressed to the deceased, and one to General Glasscock.” (Please see Attack on the Georgia Militia near Fort Early).

In the new Fowltown village, meanwhile, some of McIntosh’s men captured a prisoner who was wearing the coat of James Champion, a soldier from the 4th U.S. Infantry. He was among the 34-35 soldiers killed in the attack on Scott’s command.

The discovery of so many trophies of war electrified the officers and men alike and increased the intensity of their anger. Forgotten now was the fact that the United States had brought on the bloody conflict by staging unprovoked attacks against Fowltown less than five months before. (Please see The Battle of Fowltown: Day OneThe Battle of Fowltown: Day Two and The Battle of Fowltown: Day Three).

The army followed the trail that can be seen leading southwest from Miccosukee along the west side of the St. Marks River. It is shown on the 1823 Vignoles map of Florida.

Well-fed on captured supplies with its work of destruction at Miccosukee now complete, the army marched south on the morning of April 5, 1818. Their next objective was the Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache at St. Marks, Florida.

Jackson expected to meet Lt. Commander Isaac McKeever’s naval force at St. Marks and had also been informed that the Prophet Josiah Francis, Peter McQueen, Homathlemico and other Red Sticks were in that vicinity. He did not yet know that McKeever had seized two of those leaders on the previous day. (Please see The capture of the Prophet Francis at St. Marks, Florida).

The army followed the well-established Miccosukee trail which led from the southwest shore of Lake Miccosukee to San Marcos de Apalache. Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, described the terrain through which the soldiers marched:

…Eleven miles and a quarter to a reedy branch. Good land for one mile then wet with thickets for the second when the country rises with a growth of large oak and hickory and a soil sandy but cultivatable. This continues two miles, and thence to the branch at the end – the flat pine land continues only interrupted at long intervals by small spots of good land in the neighborhood of thickety ponds – Four branches – one large, in the second mile – one in the fifth mile with high open banks, and sandy bottom – the others inconsiderable and no doubt dry in summer. [IV]

The army passed near the Letchworth-Love Mounds. The largest of these prehistoric mounds is believed to be the tallest in Florida.

The old trail followed by the soldiers crossed through what is now Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park and the large branch in the second mile was Lake Drain which runs just south of the park. In that same mile the path intersected with the Old Spanish Trail – which Young called the “Sahwannee path” – and passed near today’s community of Lloyd.

From there the trail swung more to the west and passed through what is now the Capitola community before crossing the St. Marks River in the fifth mile. This was the branch or creek that Young said had “high open banks, and sandy bottom.”

The route then turned south and stayed west of the St. Marks. Camp for the night was pitched near Gum Creek and not far from today’s Tram Road. The soldiers would march a greater distance on the next day, but with less difficulty.

You can use the map below to retrace the approximate route of the troops using modern roads and landmarks. The distance will be quite a bit more than the soldiers actually marched but you can see numerous points of interest along the way including Lake Miccosukee, Letchworth-Love Mounds Archaeological State Park, the historic Lloyd Railroad Depot, the L. Kirk Edwards Wildlife and Environmental Area and St. Marks River Preserve State Park.

Each of these places is well worth visiting!

This series will continue.

If you are interested in learning more about the First Seminole War and experiencing the sights and sounds of a recreated battle, be sure to mark your calendar now for the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle. This three-day event takes place at River Landing Park in Chattahoochee on November 30 – December 2, 2018. Activities include battle reenactments, memorial services, living history encampments and demonstrations, exhibits and much more. It is free to attend. Learn more in this short video:

[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to the Commanding Officer, St. Marks, April 6, 1818.

[II] Col. Robert Butler to Brig. Gen. Daniel Parker, May 3, 1818.

[III] Brig. Gen. Thomas Glascock to Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, April 3, 1818.

[IV] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly,

 

About the author

Related Post

Leave a comment