“We left them to take care of themselves” was how one officer described the aftermath of a bloody incident that took place 200 years ago today as the American army continued its march east through the Big Bend region of Florida.
This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th Anniversary of the First Seminole War.
After a delay occasioned by the Battle of the Econfina, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson resumed his march for the Suwannee on April 13, 1818. One of the most tragic scenes of the campaign was enacted on the next day.
Using a slur for Indian women common at the time, Lt. John Banks of the Georgia militia wrote that on Tuesday, April 14, the “front guard found an Indian fellow, squaw and three children.” It was what happened next that added real tragedy to the scene. “They attempted to run,” he continued, “the fellow was shot dead, the others all wounded; we left them to take care of themselves.” [I]
There is no indication that the Native American family tried to resist at all other than by running to flee the soldiers. They did not fire on the troops or make any threatening gestures. In response, the soldiers of Jackson’s vanguard shot a man, woman and three children.
Jackson’s adjutant, Col. Robert Butler, gave a slightly different version of the incident:
The army moved on the morning of the 13th, and on the succeeding day our spies surprised a camp consisting of two men, a woman, and two children. One of the men was killed; the other, with a small boy, slightly wounded; and the woman, unfortunately, not being distinguished in the swamp, received a wound of which she died. [II]
Butler’s account appears to identify one of the three children mentioned by Lt. Banks as an adult. This could indicate that he was a teenager. His report also confirmed the death of the woman involved, but again makes no mention of any attempt by the members of the family to fire upon or otherwise attack the soldiers.
Butler’s mention that the woman could not be distinguished from the man due to the swamp is remarkably similar to language used by Brevet Maj. David E. Twiggs after a woman was killed during the Battle of Fowltown on November 21, 1817. In that case a woman’s death was blamed on the fact that she had a blanket fastened around her and the troops could not be distinguish her from the men. The Fowltown attack, of course, started the whole war in the first place.
The march 200 years ago today began on the banks of the Fenholloway River just south of the modern city of Perry. Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, referred to the Fenholloway as “Slippery Long Creek.” He described the route taken on April 14, 1818:
…[T]he country becomes still lower and the wet glades more frequent. In the seventh and eighth miles these ponds assume the appearance of large prairies, and in very wet seasons must be impassable from the depth of water. Four branches in the ninth, nineteenth and twentieth, and twenty-fourth miles – the last the largest on the edge of the swamp. The others are probably dry in summer when they present no other obstructions but their thickets. The live oak swamp is one-half a mile wide covered with water except in the warmest months – and from the marks of inundation must after heavy rains be past fording. [III]
The bogs or glades described as being 7-8 miles from the Fenholloway are those that still exist today just south of U.S. 19/U.S. 98 between the Fenholloway and Spring Warrior Creek. The latter stream was the “branch” crossed in the 9th mile of marching that day.
The “branches” crossed in the 19th and 20th miles were Bevins and California Creeks. The one in the 24th mile at the “edge of the Live Oak Swamp” was the headwaters from which Boggy and Rocky Creeks flow. The army stopped there at a point about 4 miles west of the Steinhatchee River and camped on the night of April 14, 1818.
This series will continue. Be sure to check for any articles that you might have missed by visiting Seminole War 200th Anniversary Timeline.
The route actually taken by the army is impossible to follow by car today but you can approximate it by driving east from Perry on U.S. 19/U.S. 98 as shown on the map below. Be sure to stop and explore the Forest Capital Museum State Park at 204 Forest Park Drive in Perry. it features some 5,000 products made using longleaf pine. The park also features an excellent “dog-trot” log cabin and farm complex that dates from the War Between the States (or Civil War). Many of the men in Jackson’s army lived in homes not very different from the one on display.
If you are interested in learning more about the First Seminole War, be sure to join Two Egg TV on April 27-28 for a Seminole War Symposium featuring three of Florida’s top historians. Other activities include a guided tour of the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battlefield, the School of the Seminole/Creek Indian and more! It will take place in Jackson County and across the Apalachicola River in Chattahoochee. Click here for more information.
[I] Lt. John Banks, Diary of John Banks, 1936.
[II] Col. Robert Butler to Brig. Gen. Daniel Parker, May 3, 1818.
[III] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly : 147-148.