Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s army crossed Steinhatchee Falls 200 years ago today as it closed in on the Seminole and maroon (Black Seminole) towns along the Suwannee River.
This article is part of our continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to access the entire timeline of stories.
The soldiers marched out at sunrise and covered the 4.75 miles to the Steinhatchee River by mid-morning. Upon reaching the banks of the Steinhatchee, they were greeted to one of the more unusual sights in this coastal region of Florida: a waterfall.
The Steinhatchee rises from its natural bridge and then flows across a rock formation before dropping over a wide but low waterfall. When the river is at low stages, the falls are impressive. At normal river levels they look more like whitewater rapids. At flood stage, they are noticeable only by a quickening of the water.
Four miles and three-quarters to Histenhatche Cr. through flat sandy country covered thickly with palmetto and with intervals of small prairie hemmed in by picturesque thickets of evergreens among which the live oak is conspicuous. Abundance of rock curiously drilled by the action of water is seen on the surface near Histenhatche and through the prairies. The creek has high open banks a width of fifty feet and a rocky bottom. The depth in the rock is from two to three feet but immediately above there is an abrupt change of depth to nine feet and below there is a considerable fall – the rock forming a narrow ford or bridge under as well as over which the current obviously runs from the ebullition above the ford. [I]
The feature that Capt. Young observed in 1818 is still a popular attraction today. Called Steinhatchee Falls, they can be seen in a public park overseen by the Suwannee River Water Management District. It is a beautiful place even when the water is too high for the falls to be visible.
Especially unique for those who love history is the old roadway that crosses the Steinhatchee just a few feet upstream from the waterfall. Tracks worn into the rock by the wheels of wagons – the 6-pounder cannon and ammunition wagon of Jackson’s army among them – can still be seen today. The gaps in the banks where the old road led into and out of the river are still well preserved and it is easy to view the exact site where the army crossed, making this one of the few places in the entire route where it is possible to stand exactly where soldiers did 200 years ago.
Steinhatchee Falls Park is just below the actual natural bridge of the Steinhatchee River, the fall and rise of which can be seen at separate areas preserved by the Suwannee River Water Management District. Each place is very picturesque. The rocky bottom of the river at the falls, however, provided a more solid crossing spot in historic times. The natural bridge could overflow or be muddy at times, but the rock at the falls was always solid.
The crossing of the Steinhatchee was slow, difficult and required hours to complete. This dramatically impacted the distance that the army was able to cover on April 15, 1818. By nightfall the army had advanced only another 4-5 miles and the total distance marched that day was 9-10 miles as compared to the normal 15-20. The exact site where Jackson camped for the night is not known as that part of Capt. Young’s map of the campaign is torn, but it was probably near today’s Jonesboro crossroads in Dixie County.
John Blunt and the other guides believed that the army was now within striking distance of Boleck’s (Bowlegs’) and Nero’s towns on the Suwannee. Jackson expected to attack them early in the afternoon of the next day.
This series will continue tomorrow with the Battle of Old Town.
The map at the bottom of this page will help find Steinhatchee Falls Park from the intersection of U.S. 19/U.S. 98 and FL-51 South. After seeing the falls and crossing site, we recommend that you drive the 8 miles or so on down to Steinhatchee. This charming coastal community has great places to stay, eat and more. Please visit steinhatcheechamber.com for more information.
Here’s some quick video of Steinhatchee Falls Park for you. The river was a little high on the day of our visit so the actual waterfall was covered but you can tell its location by the short stretch of whitewater.
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Jan., 1935): 148.