The prosecution continued presenting evidence in the case of Bahamian trader Alexander Arbuthnot 200 years ago today. He was on trial for his life before a military fort at Fort St. Marks (San Marcos de Apalache), Florida. (Please see The Trials of Arbuthnot & Ambrister, Day 1).
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Click here to see the entire timeline of stories.
The proceedings resumed at 7 a.m. on April 27, 1818. Many published versions of the trial minutes include a typographical error that has caused a number of writers to mistakenly date this day’s testimony to the 28th, but the 27th is correct.
Arbuthnot now tried to cross-examine his accusers, beginning with his former clerk Peter Cook, but he had little chance to start his inquiries before Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines, the President of the court, interrupted:
Q. (By the Prisoner.) Do you believe the Prisoner had knowledge of the ventures being on board the schooner?
A. I don’t believe he had; it was small and in my trunk.
Q. (By the President.) Do you know that Ambrister was the agent of the Prisoner?
A. I do not.
Q. Do you think, that the powder and lead shipped would more than supply the Indian and Negro hunters?
A. I did not see the powder and lead myself, but was told by Bowlegs that he had a great quantity he had there keeping to fight with. [I]
The court next called William Hambly as a witness for the prosecution, but Arbuthnot immediately objected that his testimony was hearsay. The court had the room cleared to consider the objection but quickly decided to allow Hambly to testify.
After describing his first interactions with Mr. Arbuthnot, Hambly told of his capture on the Apalachicola River by Red Stick, Miccosukee and Seminole forces:
The Indians, who took the Witness and a certain Mr. Doyle prisoners, which happened on the 13th of December last, told them, that it was by the Prisoner’s order; and, on their arrival at Mickasuky (as prisoners), King Hijah, and all his Chiefs, told them, it was by the Prisoner’s orders they were taken and robbed. On their arrival at Suwaney, they were told by the Indians and Negro Chiefs, who sat in counsel over them, that the Prisoner had advised that he should be given up to five or six Choctaw Indians, who were saved from the Negro Fort, who would revenge themselves for the loss of their friends at that place. [II]
The court went on to ask Mr. Hambly if he believed that the Seminoles would have “commenced the business of murder and depredations on the white settlements” had they not been encouraged to do so by Arbuthnot.
“I do not believe they would,” he answered, “without they had been assured of British protection.”
Edmund Doyle also testified but said only that he knew nothing about Arbuthnot’s actions except by “common report.”
The next witness was a William Fulton, who alleged that he heard Arbuthnot admit to writing a letter to David B. Mitchell, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs, on behalf of the Seminole and Miccosukee on January 19, 1818.
This letter was then introduced as evidence and read aloud:
In taking this liberty of addressing you, Sir, in behalf of the unfortunate Indians, believe me, I have no wish but to see an end put to a war, which, if persisted in, I foresee must eventually be their ruin, and as they were not the agressors, if in the height of their rage they committed any excesses, that you will overlook them as the just ebullitions of an indignant spirit against an invading foe. [III]
Arbuthnot signed the document himself, “by order of King Hijah and Bowlegs.”
Fulton testified that Arbuthnot discussed this letter while a prisoner at St. Marks and acknowledged that it was from his hand.
Fulton’s testimony concluded the prosecution’s case against the Bahamian trader. Arbuthnot then called Robert C. Ambrister as his first witness, but the Judge Advocate objected as Ambrister was in custody and charged with similar offenses. The court sustained his objection.
Rebuffed in his effort to call Ambrister, Arbuthnot next called John Lewis Phenix back to the stand. The witness confirmed that Ambrister had arrived off the mouth of the Suwannee in a sloop and had then boarded and seized Arbuthnot’s vessel, the Chance.
Arbuthnot also briefly called John Winslett back to the stand before requesting time to better prepare his defense. The court agreed and the trial recessed until 4 p.m. the next day (April 28).
This series will continue tomorrow with the third day of the trial.
The trials of Arbuthnot and Ambrister took place at what the Americans called Fort St. Marks, the centuries old fortress now preserved at San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida. Please click here to read more of the fort’s history.
The park is open Thursday-Monday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. The grounds are free to visit and the museum charges a fee of only $2 per person.
This map will help you find it:
If you would like to learn more about beautiful Wakulla County, Florida, please check out www.visitwakulla.com.
[I] Lt. J.M. Glassell, Transcript of the trial of Alexander Arbuthnot, April 27, 1818.
[II] Testimony of William Hambly, April 27, 1818.
[III] Alexander Arbuthnot to David B. Mitchell, January 19, 1818.