One of the most important figures in the history of the United States met his fate 200 years ago today when Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson ordered his men to hang the Prophet Josiah Francis (Hillis Hadjo) along with the Atasi leader Homathlemico.
This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the entire timeline of stories.
The Prophet Francis was the most successful disciple of Tenskwatawa, the Shawnee prophet who ignited a religious revival that spread from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. It was Francis far more than Tenskwatawa – or his better-remembered brother Tecumseh – who led Muscogee (Creek) towns to raise the Red Stick in 1812-1814. Homathlemico was one of his most devoted followers.
The two leaders had been taken prisoner by the U.S. Navy through the use of trickery (please see Capture of the Prophet Francis) and their fates were decided by Andrew Jackson 200 years ago today:
…Francis was a handsome man, six feet high; would weigh say some one hundred and fifty pounds; of pleasing manners; conversed well in English and Spanish; humane in his disposition; by no means barbarous – withal a model chief. When he was informed that General Jackson had ordered him to be hanged, he said, ‘What! like a dog? Too much. Shoot me, shoot me. I will die willingly if you will let me see General Jackson.’ ‘He is not here,’ said the officer, ‘he is out at the encampment with the army.’ [I]
The sentences against Francis and Homathlemico were handed down without trial of any form. Jackson did not even witness the executions, but remained at his headquarters’ tent across the marsh from the scene that now unfolded in front of Fort St. Marks (San Marcos de Apalache).
Dr. J.B. Rodgers, a surgeon from Tennessee, watched as the leaders were led to a hastily constructed scaffold that stood just north of the fort:
…His hands were then tied behind him, and in the effort to confine him he dropped from the sleeve of his coat a butcher knife, that he said he had intended to kill General Jackson with if he ever laid eyes on him. Francis was dressed with a handsome gray frock coat, a present to him while on his late trip to England. The rest of his dress was Indian. From his appearance, he must have been about forty years of age. [II]
The executions took place on the level ground directly in front of the fort’s sally port or main gate. A monument to the Prophet’s daughter, Milly Francis, can be seen near the site today. In fact, she was present and witnessed the hanging of her father on April 8, 1818. “At times she manifested no concern for the death of her father,” wrote Dr. Rodgers, “and at other times she would be plunged into inconsolable grief.” [III]
The white anger that led to the hanging of her father must have seemed particularly harsh to Milly, who had just days before saved the life of a soldier named Duncan McCrimmon who was faced with a similar demise. (Please see Milly Francis and Duncan McCrimmon).
Hanged alongside Francis was Homathlemico. He was a Red Stick war chief from the town of Atasi on the Tallapoosa River who escaped to Florida with his surviving followers at the end of the Creek War of 1813-1814. They were among the Red Sticks who enlisted to serve alongside the British after the establishment of the Fort at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River.
Homathlemico was blamed by whites for leading the attack against Lt. Richard W. Scott’s party at what is now Chattahoochee on November 30, 1817. The lieutenant, 34-35 of his men, 6 women and 4 children were killed in that battle. (Please see Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War). The attack was a retaliation for raids on Fowltown by U.S. troops on November 21-23, 1817, a fact that was ignored in most early histories of the First Seminole War.
Dr. Rodgers described the chief as “taciturn and morose.” He also reported Homathlemico was told of his impending death by William Hambly. “Mr. Hambly told him when they were about to hang him that General Jackson would not let him be shot, but would hang him like a dog, and disgrace him,” he wrote, “and reminded him of how he treated Lieutenant Scott and his party.”
Although some sources indicate that the two Muscogee (Creek) leaders were hanged aboard the Thomas Shields, Lt. John Banks – who actually witnessed the execution – write in his diary that “both were brought from the vessel to the gallows and hung without ceremony or trial.” [IV]
John Reid was an aide to Jackson and later helped write his biography. He reported that the general actually shed tears when he was informed that his sentence had been carried out:
The sentence dooming them to death, being by its infliction, discharged, the officer to whom the duty had been assigned, approached General Jackson and announced it done: he then inquired the disposition that should be made of their lifeless bodies – “Shall they be thrown overboard?” Jackson, with eyes suffused with tears, looked sternly at him, then said, “Recollect, sir, they are no longer our enemies: justice is satisfied! Let their bodies be decently interred.” [V]
Whether “Old Hickory” really cried on hearing of the demise of his former enemies is a matter for debate. He is best remembered today as a hard and fierce soldier, but he was also prone to moments of sentimentality. During the Creek War, for example, he spared the life of William Weatherford, one of the leaders of the attack on Fort Mims. The biography written by John Reid and John Henry Eaton sometimes enlarges on the descriptions of other eyewitnesses so it is impossible to know the actual truth other than that Jackson ordered the two men buried.
Their remains still rest either on the grounds of San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park or beneath the adjacent parking lot. The location of the graves has been lost to time and no marker to the two leaders has ever been placed.
To learn more about Josiah Francis, Milly Francis and Homathlemico, please consider the books Milly Francis: The Life & Times of the Creek Pocahontas and The Scott Massacre of 1817.
To learn more about San Marcos de Apalache, please visit History of San Marcos de Apalache. For information on visiting, please see San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park. The park is open Thursday-Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For information on the rise of the Prophet Francis, please watch Two Egg TV‘s free documentary Battle for Fort Mims on Amazon Prime Video or by adding the Two Egg TV app to your Roku device. You can also watch it here:
[I] Dr. J.B. Rodgers, Personal Account of Jackson’s Campaign, quoted by James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson, Volume 2, p. 457.
[II] Ibid., pp. 457-458.
[III] Ibid., p. 480.
[IV] Lt. John Banks, The Diary of John Banks, 1936.
[V] John Henry Eaton and John Reid, The Life of Major General Jackson, 1828, p. 290.