Two of the early 19th century’s most intriguing figures had one thing in common. They were both in Andrew Jackson’s camp 200 years ago today on the day after the Battle of the Econfina.
This article is part of our continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Click to see the entire timeline of stories.
Among the 104 members of Peter McQueen’s band who awakened 200 years ago today to find themselves prisoners and surrounded by U.S. troops was a 14-year-old boy who would become perhaps the best known Seminole of all time. He was then called Billy or Powell by the whites and was a nephew of McQueen. He and his mother, the Red Stick chief’s sister, were captured by Brig. Gen. William McIntosh’s Creek soldiers during the Battle of the Econfina:
…This boy went with his uncle, McQueen, to Florida. I knew him well after that, and have seen him frequently. Capt. Isaac Brown and myself, with a party of friendly Creeks and Uchees, made him a prisoner, in 1818, and he was then but a lad. Capt. Brown is now living in Bozier Parish, this State, and well recollects the circumstance ; for at the same time we captured Billy, we recaptured a white woman that was made a prisoner by the Indians at the massacre of Lieut. Scott and his party, below the mouth of Flint river. [I]
The young teenager who would become Osceola – the name is a corruption of the title for the “Black Drink Singer” or “Black Drink Crier” – was not yet a warrior, but he lived in a time of violence and loss. Although some writers have claimed that he was born in Georgia, he most likely was born near Tallassee on the Tallapoosa River in what is now Alabama. His grandfather, James McQueen, was a white trader there, and Peter McQueen was the war chief of the ancient Muscogee (Creek) town.
The young man was called Billy Powell by white writers because his mother was married to an English trader named Powell. This man may have been his stepfather as Osceola later said that no white blood flowed through his veins.
Thomas Woodward knew the future warrior and also later purchased a maroon (escaped slave) named Ned who went to Florida with McQueen but was captured and sold into slavery. He reported that Osceola’s birthplace was in eastern Alabama:
…You knew his father—the little Englishman, Powell. His mother was Polly Copinger. The rail road from Montgomery to West Point runs within five feet, if not over the place, where the cabin stood in which Billy Powell, or Ussa Yoholo, was born. The old cedar was destroyed by Gen. Mclver’s negroes, when gradingthe road. It was in an old field, between the Nufaupba (what is now called Ufaupee), and a little creek that the Indians called Catsa Boga, which mouths just below where the rail road crosses Nufaupba. [II]
Nufaupba is now spelled Uphapee and flows into the Tallapoosa River in what is now Macon County just 4.7 miles from modern Tallassee, Alabama. It is shown as the Chewacla on some maps. Based on Woodward’s description, the birthplace of Osceola was on the south side of the creek between the modern cities of Tallassee and Tuskegee.
Osceola’s later life is well-known. He rose through merit to become an important warrior among the Seminole and was a leader in opposing their “removal” to what is now Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. He was engaged in the early actions of the second Seminole conflict (1835-1842) but was taken prisoner by the U.S. Army in 1837 while negotiating under the protection of a flag of truce.
Imprisoned first at the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine (called Fort Marion by the U.S.), he was moved to Fort Moultrie at Charleston Harbor with more than 200 other Seminoles. He died there of illness of January 30, 1838. Osceola’s attending physician, Dr. Frederick Weedon, removed his head prior to the burial of the rest of his body.
The great Seminole warrior’s – still without his head, which has been lost to time – rests today near the entrance to Fort Moultrie in South Carolina. The grave site is maintained by the National Park Service.
The other person adjusting to new circumstances on the morning of April 13, 1818, was Elizabeth Stewart, the sole female survivor of the attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s keelboat at what is now Chattahoochee, Florida (please see Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War). She had been rescued during the fighting of the previous day and was now with her father and husband in Jackson’s camp.
The story that she told was shocking to all who heard it:
…Lieutenant Scott (as described by the woman prisoner) was tortured in every conceivable manner. Lightwood slivers were inserted into his body and set on fire, and in this way he was kept under torture for the whole day. Lieutenant Scott repeatedly begged and importuned the woman that escaped the slaughter to take a tomahawk and end his pain. But ‘No,’ said she, ‘I would as soon kill myself.’ [III]
Mrs. Stewart’s account was included in the journal of Dr. J.B. Rodgers, a Tennessean present with Jackson’s army. The method of Lt. Scott’s death as described by her was a common Red Stick method for executing a warrior. It allowed a man to show his courage as he died.
Dr. Rodgers went on to recount more of Mrs. Stewart’s story:
…[She] was taken and claimed by a young Indian warrior. He treated her very kindly, and made her wait on him, and on the march during the day she rode his pony. She was retaken from the Indians in the April thereafter, between St. Mark’s and Suwannee, by the friendly Indians and some Tennesseans, who killed twenty or thirty of the Indians, taking about ninety prisoners, with a large number of cattle. [IV]
Thomas Woodward identified the warrior who saved her life at the time of the attack on Scott’s command as Yellow Hair. This individual should not be confused with the chief Yellow Hair or his son John Yellowhair who lived on the west side of the Apalachicola River in what is now Jackson County, Florida. Both of those men sided with the United States during the First Seminole War but the warrior who saved Mrs. Stewart was a member of Homathlemico’s party:
…Mrs. Stuart was taken almost lifeless as well as senseless, and was a captive until the day I carried her to your camp. After taking her from the boat, they (the Indians) differed among themselves as to whose slave or servant she should be. An Indian by the name of Yellow Hair said he had many years before been sick at or near St. Mary’s, and that he felt it a duty to take the woman and treat her kindly, as he was treated so by a white woman when he was among the whites. The matter was left to an old Indian by the name of Bear Head, who decided in favor of Yellow Hair. I was told by the Indians that Yellow Hair treated her with great kindness and respect. [V]
Woodward said that he did not ask Mrs. Stewart about her experiences. Dr. Rodgers did, however, and said that she described watching as warriors mutilated the the bodies of the other six women in Scott’s party before scalping them. Several of their scalps were among those found during the army’s operations at Miccosukee.
One of the more fascinating stories about Elizabeth was told by Ellen Call Long, the daughter of Capt. Richard Keith Call. He was an officer in Jackson’s army and she obtained the story from his journal:
…The Indian by whom she was captured, discovered a large quantity of money among other things in the ill-fated boat of Lieutenant Scott, money consisting in gold, silver, and bank bills. Considering the paper bills of no value, they were carelessly thrown aside. The unfortunate captive, still trembling, and unrecovered from the shock of witnessing one of the most barbarous massacres of her own people, hardly realizing her own escape from the Tomahawk and scalping knife, had yet the presence of mind sufficient, to carefully gather the discarded paper money, which she succeeded in concealing about her person for the three months intervening recapture, she saved in this way upwards of two thousand dollars, enough to buy herself a husband (perhaps), for in after years she did marry a very reputable man of Georgia, who had position enough to have been sent to the Legislature of that State, which however is not conclusive evidence of merit or virtue any where. [VI]
The “reputable man of Georgia” mentioned in the account was John Dill of Fort Gaines. Elizabeth married him there on September 25, 1821.
You possibly have noticed that many of the accounts above spell her name as “Stuart” and not “Stewart”. The 1821 license for her marriage to Mr. Dill gives her name as “Elizabeth Stewart” so I use that spelling. Recent research indicates that she was born into a Quaker family in Maryland. Education was important among the Society of Friends (Quakers) and she could read and write. In fact, she wrote and signed her own will in 1863.
Current research suggests that her family may have moved to Tennessee when she was still a girl and that it was there that she married a soldier named Stewart. Multiple sources identify him as a sergeant. She traveled south with him to the Mississippi Territory, of which today’s Alabama was a part, and was among the wives of soldiers who went to the Apalachicola River by ship.
Elizabeth Dill lived out the rest of her life in Fort Gaines, Georgia, where she died during the War Between the States (or Civil War). She is buried in the historic community’s Old Pioneer Cemetery. Two of the homes owned by her and Mr. Dill can still be seen in Fort Gaines today.
This series will continue. If you are interested in learning more about the First Seminole War and the attack on Lt. Scott’s command, please join us Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Chattahoochee, Florida for the annual Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle. You can learn more from this quick video:
[I] Thomas Woodward to Albert Pickett, April 25, 1858, Woodward’s Reminiscences of the Creek, or Muscogee Indians, 1859, 45.
[II] Thomas Woodward to E. Hanrick, December 9, 1857, Woodward’s Reminiscences of the Creek, or Muscogee Indians, 1859, 9.
[III] Dr. J.B. Rodgers journal, quoted by James Parton, Life of Andrew Jackson, Volume 2, 1888 edition, page 458.
[V] Thomas Woodward to John Banks, June 16, 1858, Woodward’s Reminiscences of the Creek, or Muscogee Indians, 1859: 54.
[VI] Ellen Call Long, “The Journal of Gov. Richard K. Call,” typed version of manuscript, August 5, 1861. (Note: Mrs. Long used her father’s journal as the basis for this document while also adding memories and comments of her own).