Claims that Spanish soldiers purchased clothing taken from the boat of Lt. Richard W. Scott’s ill-fated command first surfaced in writing 200 years ago today.
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the entire timeline of stories.
The attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s party – also called the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle or the Scott Massacre – was the first U.S. defeat of the Seminole Wars. Several hundred warriors captured a U.S. Army keelboat commanded by Scott on the Apalachicola River at what is now Chattahoochee on November 30, 1817. Best estimates indicate that the lieutenant, 34 soldiers, 6 women and 4 children were killed. Five other soldiers were wounded and the sole female survivor – Elizabeth Stewart – was wounded and taken prisoner. For more information, please see The Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War).
In addition to 20 sick soldiers and a supply of ordnance stores, Scott’s boat was carrying a supply of regimental clothing for the soldiers of the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry then stationed at Fort Scott. Winter was coming on and it was badly needed at the post, which stood on the lower Flint River in what is now Decatur County, Georgia.
The Seminole, Muscogee (Creek), Miccosukee, Yuchi and Black Seminole fighters who attacked the boat also desperately needed winter clothing as 1818 was the last year of the “Year without a Summer,” a time of dramatic global cooling caused by the 1815 explosion of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. People of that era also called it “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death.” Many of the warriors arrayed against the United States wore blue that winter due to the haul of clothing found on Scott’s boat.
Maj. James Gadsden, Andrew Jackson’s aide-de-camp, also claimed that some of the uniforms taken from Lt. Scott’s ill-fated command wound up on the backs of the Spanish soldiers at San Marcos de Apalache (Fort St.Marks):
…After Fort St. Marks was occupied by the American troops a black man and a Spanish solider was reported to me as having been arrested clad in the American uniform, recognised as part of the clothing of the fourth and seventh regiments, captured in the boat commanded by Lieutenant Scott, in ascending the Appalachicola river. [I]
Gadsden told Maj. Gen. Jackson of this report 200 years ago today in a report dated at Fort Gadsden. By “a black man and a Spanish soldier” he appears to have referred to a single person, not two separate men. He also reported having seen evidence at San Marcos that the Spanish were supplying the forces at war with the United States with supplies of arms, ammunition and other necessities.
Francisco Caso y Luengo, the commandant of the post, purportedly told Maj. Gadsden that the weakness of his garrison “compelled him to conciliate the friendship of the Indians, to supply their wants.” He went on to explain how one of his soldiers came to wear clothing that may have come from Lt. Scott’s lost command:
In explanation the Spanish commandant observed, that his soldiers and the Seminole Indians were in the habit of trading with each other, and that this negro, with others of his garrison, had received his permission to purchase some clothing reported to have been brought in by the Indians. [II]
It is certainly possible that the clothing in question did come from Scott’s boat. U.S. soldiers had found coats from the vessel on the backs of their enemies on at least two previous occasions. A Black Seminole wearing the coat of James Champion, a soldier of the 4th U.S. Infantry killed in the attack, was fatally wounded in fighting near Miccosukee. Brig. Gen. William McIntosh’s U.S. Creek troops also captured a warrior on the Chattahoochee River who was wearing the uniform of one of Scott’s ill-fated men. This Red Stick fighter suffered wounds in the Nov. 30 battle and lost his life to an execution squad near Fort Gaines.
Jackson immediately demanded that Gov. Jose Masot in Pensacola explain:
After I left [St. Marks] for St. Juan [i.e. the Suwannee], to disperse and destroy the mutual enemy of Spain and the United States, a small schooner, with men and supplies, arrived from Pensacola, and was taken possession of and detained by my officer left in command. This vessel has been liberated with all her effects, excepting some clothing of the United States unaccompanied by any invoice, and which has been detained, as supposed to be a part of that taken on board the boats within the territory of this republic, in which Lieutenant Scott, of the United States’ army, with his command, were so inhumanly massacred. [III]
It is interesting to note that the general’s letter to the governor was written on April 27, 1818. This was six days before Maj. Gadsden reported the clothing in a letter to Jackson. Undoubtedly there had been verbal communication between the two U.S. officers before Gadsden wrote his letter.
Gov. Masot responded to the invading Americans about three weeks later:
The first complaint made by your excellency is relative to the articles of clothing found on board the schooner Maria, and which have been detained on the supposition that they are the property of the United States.
Part of these articles, as is proved by copy of No. 1, were purchased at New Orleans in the month of May, last year; part came from the Havannah; and part were purchased in this place. All this is established. The charge is, of course, done away, and your excellency’s question is satisfactorily answered. [IV]
The attachment that Masot labeled No. 1 reads in part as follows:
…[Y]ou direct me to explain to you of what description the articles were, referred to by the said General, and by whom the coats worn by men belonging to the Grey and Brown companies, (de pardos y morenos) from the Havana, under my command, were sold or brought to this place, they being the same uniform as that worn by the troops of the United States, I have to inform you, in reply, that th earticles of clothing shipped on board the schooner Maria, for the supply of a detachment of the aforesaid companies at Appalachie, and detained by General Jackson, consisted of fifteen four point woollen blankets, brought here by His Majesty’s Hermaphrodite brig El Amirante, which arrived at this port on the 2d of January last; twenty-five pairs of French shoes, bought here of Don Henrique Granpre, as shown by voucher No. 1, annexed; fifteen common black hats, bought of Don Henrique Michelet, as is proved by voucher No.2; and twenty shirts of Crea linen, and the same number of pantaloons, received by the above named Hermaphrodite armed brig, with the exception of three or four of the latter articles, which were made in North America for the use of their troops, and came into my possession in the manner I shall explain to you. [V]
The explanation referenced by the author of the above, Benigno Garcia Calderon, was that he had purchased 131 uniform coats and other articles from a U.S. citizen of New Orleans named Don Pedro Dalhaste y Claveria. Invoices were added to Calderon’s statement:
…It follows, from this statement, that the conjecture formed by General Jackson that the articles of clothing detained by him were part of those taken from the escort of Lieutenant Scott at the time he was killed, within the territory of the republic, is deprived of all foundations, as the unfortunate fate of that officer and his escort happened on the Appalachicola in December [sic. November] last; and the articles of clothing alluded to were purchased in New Orleans in May and July of the same year, as is proved by the letters of advice and invoices. [VI]
The Spanish governor wrote his response even as Jackson was closing in for his attack on Pensacola. The documentation thoroughly refuted the claims that uniforms taken from Scott’s men had wound up on the backs of Spanish soldiers, although it is certainly possible that one or two coats from the ill-fated command were seen at San Marcos de Apalache by American soldiers. The commandant conceded as much in his alleged statements to Maj. Gadsden.
This series will continue. To learn more about the defeat of Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command, please consider the book The Scott Massacre of 1817 (200th Anniversary Edition).
The battle was the first U.S. defeat of the Seminole Wars and is marked by the annual Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle event in Chattahoochee, Florida. This year’s commemoration will feature living history encampments, memorial services for those lost on both sides, the reconstructed keelboat Aux Arc, two battle reenactments and much more.
This 60-second video will give you a quick look at what to expect when you join us in Chattahoochee on November 30-December 2, 2018:
[I] Maj. James Gadsden to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, May 3, 1818, American State Papers, Military Affairs, Volume I: 738.
[III] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Gov. Jose Masot, April 27, 1818, American State Papers, Military Affairs, Volume I: 706.
[IV] Gov. Jose Masot to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, May 18, 1818, American State Papers, Military Affairs, Volume I: 709.
[V] Benigno Garcia Calderon to Don Jose Masot, May 18, 1818, American State Papers, Military Affairs, Volume I: 709-710.