Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson left San Marcos de Apalache (Fort St. Marks) 200 years ago today to begin his march against the Seminole and Black Seminole towns on the Suwannee River.
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.
Lt. John Banks of the Georgia militia wrote that the men carried nine days of rations as they set out for the Suwannee. The former Spanish garrison, he reported, had already boarded ship for the voyage to Pensacola. Maj. A.C.W. Fanning was being left behind with around 200 men to garrison the fort. [I]
The first day’s march retraced the route that the soldiers had taken down to St. Marks following their destruction of Miccosukee. The campaign map prepared by Jackson’s topographer, Capt. Hugh Young, shows that this trail followed the general route of today’s Old Plank Road. The army was familiar with the route and it was high and dry compared to many of the trails they followed so the soldiers were able to make good time.
Jackson’s objective was the large and relatively new settlement that the Alachua Seminole chief Boleck (Bowlegs) had established on the Suwannee River in what is now Dixie County, Florida. Associated with this village was a maroon or Black Seminole town led by Nero.
Boleck was the brother of Payne (or King Payne), the prominent Seminole leader for whom Paynes Prairie south of Gainesville is named. The two brothers joined the Spanish in defending Florida against the filibustering efforts of American invaders who dubbed themselves “Patriots” and attempted to seize control of East Florida in 1812. This prompted Col. Daniel Newnan, the adjutant general of Georgia, to launch a raid against the Seminoles. Newnan was driven back but Payne died in the fighting and Boleck was wounded.
Col. John Williams subsequently led a force of Tennessee militia into Florida in February 1813 and destroyed the Seminole and maroon (Black Seminole) towns around Paynes Prairie. Boleck subsequently withdrew his people to the Suwannee River where he established a new village on the west bank near today’s community of Old Town.
The chief and his warriors sided with the British during the War of 1812 and were among the auxiliaries who joined Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls for training at the Fort at Prospect Bluff. Nero and many of the Black Seminoles who lived in a town adjacent to Boleck enlisted in the British Colonial Marines under Nicolls.
When Nicolls and the British withdrew from the Apalachicola River in May 1815, Boleck and Nero returned to their towns on the Suwannee River. Raids and counter-raids continued between them and the Georgians until 1817 when the First Seminole War erupted along the Florida border. Both leaders joined the forces fighting against the United States and warriors from Boleck’s town took part in the Battle of Fort Hughes at what is now Bainbridge, Georgia.
Boleck and Nero became closely associated with the Bahamian adventurer Robert Ambrister (or Armbrister). A former lieutenant in Nicolls’ Royal Marines, Ambrister came to Florida as part of a filibustering expedition organized by former Capt. George Woodbine, another former British officer. He gave military advice to Boleck and Nero and helped in supplying and training their warriors during winter of 1817-1818.
After taking St. Marks, Jackson decided to march on the Suwannee towns. They army traveled back north to the vicinity of southeastern Tallahassee 200 years ago today and prepared to turn east on the Old Spanish Trail or Old St. Augustine Road the next morning.
This series will continue. To learn more about the Fort at Prospect Bluff, please enjoy these free videos from Two Egg TV. The map at the bottom of the page will help you follow the general route taken by the army 200 years ago today.
[I] Lt. John Banks, Diary of John Banks, 1936.