Capt. Obed Wright’s force of Georgia militia attacked the peaceful Chehaw village 200 years ago today, massacring people who were protected by a white flag.
This article is part of our continuing series that marks the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to read other articles in the series.
The story of the Chehaw Massacre – which Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson said would stain the character of Georgia for all eternity – is both shocking and sad. It began when Gov. William Rabun, hoping to drive raiding parties from the frontiers of the state, ordered attacks on Philema’s and Opony’s towns on the Flint River. Warriors from the two communities were thought to be among those responsible for raids on frontier settlers.
The orders reached Capt. Obed Wright at Hartford and he immediately marched to Fort Early on the Flint where he assembled a force of some 270 men:
On the night of the 22d I crossed Flint river, and at day break, advanced with caution against the Chehaw Town. The advance guard, when within half a mile of the town, took an Indian prisoner, who was attending a drove of Cattle, and on examination, found some of them to be the property of a Mr. M’Duffy (who was present) of Telfair County. [I]
Why Wright decided to march on Chehaw when Gov. Rabun’s orders specifically authorized him to target “the Phelemmes and Hoponnees” has never been made clear. The captain’s defenders later said it was a case of mistaken identity, but his report of the massacre clearly shows that he knew that he was attacking Chehaw and not Philema’s or Opony’s. [II]
The Chehaw people had provided food and comfort to Andrew Jackson’s main army as it marched south for Florida in February. Most of the town’s warriors, in fact, joined the army as members of Col. Noble Kinard’s battalion of McIntosh’s U.S. Creek regiment and had played a key role in the defeat of Peter McQueen’s Red Sticks at the Battle of the Econfina two weeks earlier.
The Georgia militia formed a line of battle outside the town on the late morning of April 23, 1818:
The town was attacked, between 11 and 12 o’clock, with positive orders not to injure the women, or children, and in the course of two hours, the whole was in flames; they made some little resistance, but to no purpose. [III]
The limited resistance encountered by Capt. Wright and his men was due to the fact that most of the Chehaw warriors were still away from home serving in the U.S. army. Jackson had freed them from service just three days earlier and they were still over 100 miles away when the massacre took place:
From the most accurate accounts, 24 warriors were killed, and owing to the doors of some of the houses being inaccessible to our men, and numbers of guns being fired at us through the crevices, they were set on fire; in consequence of which, numbers were burnt to death in the houses; in all probability from 40 to 50 was their total loss; some considerable number of warriors made their escape, by taking to a thick swamp; a very large parcel of powder found in the town, was destroyed. It is supposed their chief is among the slain. The town is laid completely desolate, without the loss of a man. [IV]
Not even Jackson or McIntosh could claim that they had killed 40-50 people including 24 warriors and a chief without the loss of a man.
In fact, Wright intentionally withheld a key fact in his report of the massacre. Old Howard, the chief of the town, had been shot down while waving a white flag at the Georgia troops to let them know that he and his people were peaceful. His body was riddled with wounds:
…[M]ajor Howard, an Indian whose friendship was never before doubted – an Indian who in the most hazardous time accompanied major Woodward to fort Gaines; he, even after the firing and murder commenced, conscious of his friendship, stepped from within his doors, in front of the line, with the flag of friendship; it was not respected; a general fire was made; he fell, and was bayoneted. [V]
The estimates of the number killed in the attack on Chehaw would be reduced in subsequent reports, but both Capt. Wright and other officers in his command were clear in their initial dispatches that at least 24 warriors and a number of women and children were dead. Major Howard, who was the uncle of U.S. Creek forces commander Brig. Gen. William McIntosh, and his son were among them.
U.S. authorities would learn more about the attack in coming days when Brig. Gen. Thomas Glascock’s brigade of Georgia militia reached Chehaw on its return march from the front lines in Florida. Watch for additional articles on Chehaw Massacre as this series continues to mark the timeline of the First Seminole War.
The site of the Chehaw village is marked by a stone monument in a small unkempt park on New York Road near Leesburg, Georgia. Use this map to help you find it and be sure not to confuse the site with Chehaw Park in nearby Albany, Georgia!
[I] Capt. Obed Wright to Gov. William Rabun, April 25, 1818.
[II] Gov. William Rabun, General Orders to Capt. Obed Wright, April 14, 1818, signed by E. Wood, Secretary.
[III] Wright to Rabun, April 25, 1818.
[V] Brig. Gen. Thomas Glasscock to the editors of the Georgia Journal, May 2, 1818.