Seminole War
Naval operations continue on the Gulf Coast (Seminole War 200th)

The Thomas Shields, a converted civilian-owned schooner under U.S. Navy command, took up a position here at the confluence of the St. Marks and Wakulla Rivers during Jackson’s operations against the Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache in St. Marks, Florida.

As Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s army marched through the northern part of today’s Apalachicola National Forest on this date 200 years ago, the U.S. Navy also continued its little known role in the First Seminole War.

This article continues our series marking the 200th anniversary of the conflict. Please click here to see the complete timeline of stories in this series.

Lt. Isaac McKeever’s role in the captures of the Prophet Josiah Francis and Homathlemico is well-known, (please see The capture of the Prophet Francis at St. Marks, Florida), but the role of the Navy after that date is seldom discussed.

McKeever arrived at Bayou St. John in Louisiana aboard the Thomas Shields on April 28, 1818. From there he wrote to Commodore Daniel T. Patterson to announce his arrival and describe the taking of St. Marks:

Lt. Isaac McKeever as he appeared later in life.

   On the evening of the 6th Inst. I was notified of the approach of our Army and of the intention of the commanding general to take possession of the Spanish Fort, accordingly on the next morning we took a favorable position within about 500 yards of the Fort, for the purpose of facilitating the operations of the army, but about 1 p.m. his Catholic Majesties flag was struck without a gun, and the fort garrisoned by our troops.
   I soon after had an interview with Genl. Jackson, and delivered over to his order, the Indian prisoners. At the same time arrangements were made for the transportation to Pensacola of the late Spanish Commandant & Garrison of St. Marks. The Lawrence and Peacock were accordingly detailed for this purpose; and Midn. [Levi M.] Harby ordered to accompany them, with instructions to discharge the vessels from the public employ, so soon as he landed the Spanish Commandant & troops at their place of destination, and to proceed from thence to New Orleans by the earliest opportunity. Previous to the Schooner James Lawrence leaving St. Marks, Lieut. [Archibald S.] Campbell, his officers, and crew, with the public property of Gun Boat No. 149 were transferred to this vessel. [I]

Gunboat No. 149, which two years earlier helped bombard the “Negro Fort” at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola river, was so rotten that she could no longer put to sea. McKeever left her behind with the army at Fort Gadsden to serve as a floating magazine.

Fort Gadsden as seen from the Apalachicola River. McKeever and the Thomas Shields anchored here twice during the First Seminole War.

McKeever went on to describe his attempted cooperation with Jackson’s march on the Seminole and Black Seminole towns on the Suwannee River:

In conformity with a request of the General I proceeded to sea again on the morning of the 10th Instant and shaped my course along the Eastern coast, but from the opposition of the weather, I was induced that night to haul my vessel to the Westward and having touched at the mouth of the Appalachicola, and delivered dispatches with which I had been entrusted for fort Gadsden, I made the best of my way to Mobile Point, on my arrival there Midn. [James M.] McIntosh assumed the command of Gun Boat No. 155, with orders to repair to this place. I parted with him, within the entrance of Petit Boiz, and have the honor to inform you of my arrival here last night. [II]

By “Petit Boiz,” Lt. McKeever referred to Petit Boise Island. Located off the coast of today’s Pascagoula, Mississippi, it is now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore.

The USS Enterprise as envisioned by Claude Beaujean. She took part in the First Seminole War. Naval Historican and Heritage Command.

The Thomas Shields was a civilian vessel that McKeever had taken into the service of the Navy in the emergency caused on his eastward voyage to the Apalachicola by the leaky conditions of Gunboats No. 149 and No. 155. She returned to civilian service after her arrival at Bayou St. John and McKeever took command of the ketch USS Surprise.

Pursuant to orders from Commodore Patterson, he sailed back for Florida with the Surprise on or shortly after May 4, 1818. There she soon gained note as the only U.S. Navy ship to exchange cannon fire with enemy forces during the First Seminole War.

The famed USS Enterprise also soon arrived in the waters of the Florida Gulf Coast. She left the waters off New Orleans not long after the Surprise with orders to cruise as far south as Tampa Bay.

Our series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War will continue. Please click here to catch up on any articles that you might have missed.

To learn more about the history of the U.S. Navy, please visit the website of the Naval History and Heritage Command.

If you would like to see more of Fort Gadsden, the U.S. Army post on the Apalachicola River that multiple U.S. Navy warships visited during the First Seminole War, please enjoy this free heritage video from Two Egg TV:

[I] Lt. Isaac McKeever to Commodore Daniel T. Patterson, April 28, 1818, Secretary of the Navy, Letters Received, National Archives.

[II] Ibid.

 

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