Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s army left Fort Gadsden 200 years ago today to begin its march on Pensacola. Old Hickory had covered only seven miles when a courier arrived bearing Brig. Gen. Thomas Glascock’s report on the Chehaw Massacre (Please see The Chehaw Massacre for more information).
This article is part of a series marking the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to access the entire timeline of stories.
The Chehaw Massacre was a tragic affair. Georgia militia troops attacked a peaceful town of Lower Creeks near today’s Leesburg, Georgia, while most of the warriors were away fighting on the side of the United States against the Seminole, Miccosukee and Red Sticks in Florida. Dozens of men, women and children died. (Please see “The cavalry rushed forward and commenced the massacre” for more accounts).
Andrew Jackson was a complicated figure. He could inflict savage casualties on opponents in battle and later was the leading force in the Trail of Tears. On the other hand, he had ironclad rules of honor that often led him into duels and other encounters. News of the massacre of the peaceful Chehaw people sent him into a rage:
I have this moment received by express the letter of General Glascock. . .detailing the base, cowardly and inhuman attack, on the old woman and men of the chehaw village, whilst the warriors of that village was with me fighting the battles of our country against the common enemy, and at a time too when undoubted testimony had been obtained and was in my possession and also, in possession of Genl. Glascock, of their innocence of the charge of killing [Thomas] Leigh and the other Georgian at Cedar Creek. [I]
The Georgians had blamed Chehaw warriors for involvement in the attack on Thomas Leigh and Samuel Loftis near Fort Early in January. They also held them accountable for a more recent defeat of militia forces on the Ocmulgee River.
Jackson disagreed and he was just getting warmed up:
That a Governor of a state should assume the right to make war against an Indian tribe in perfect peace with and under the protection of the U. States, is assuming a responsibility, that I trust you will be able to excuse to the Government of the U. States, to which you will have to answer, and through which I had so recently passed, promisng the aged that remained at home my protect and taking the warriors with me on the campaign us as unwarrantable as Strange – But it is still more Strange that there could exist within the U. States, a cowardly monster in human Shape, that could violate the Sanctity of a flag, when borne by any person, but more particularly when in the hands of a Superanuated Indian chief worn down with age. Such base cowardice and murderous conduct as this transaction affords, has not its paralel in history and should meet with its merited punishment. [II]
The general ordered Maj. John Davis of the regular U.S. Army to investigate and, if possible, arrest the Georgia officer responsible for the unprovoked attack. Capt. Obed Wright had led the attack and Jackson wanted him jailed pending prosecution:
…Captain Wright must be prosecuted and punished for this outrageous murder, and I have ordered him to be arrised and confined in Irons untill the pleasure of the President is known upon the Subject. If he has left Hartford before my reaches, I call upon you as Govr. of Georgia to aid in carrying into effect my order for his arrest and confinement, which I trust will be afforded and Captain Wright brought to condign punishment for this unprecedented murder. [III]
Maj. Davis did arrest Capt. Wright but released him after an order to that effect came down from the state courts. The governor and others defended the captain against Jackson’s demands and neither Wright nor any of his men were ever tried for their role in the murder of men, women and children while they waved the white flag at Chehaw.
Gen. Jackson warned Gov. Rabun that the role of Georgia forces in the massacre would not soon be forgotten:
…It is strange that this hero [i.e. Wright] had not followed the trail of the murderers of your citizens, it would have led him to Mickasooky, where we found the bleeding Scalps of your citizens, but there might have been more danger in this; than attacking a village containing a few superanuated women and men, and a few young women without arms or protectors. This act will to the last ages fix a Stain upon the character of Georgia. [IV]
Jackson’s based his placement of blame on the Miccosukees for attacks in Georgia on the discovery of Thomas Leigh’s wallet on the battlefield there.
The general wrote his fiery letter to Gov. Rabun “On March toward Pensacola 7 miles advanced of Fort Gadsden” on May 7, 1818. He was then moving up the east side of the Apalachicola River along the same trail that he had come down in March. The modern community of Sumatra is about 7 miles from Fort Gadsden and it was as the army crossed Black Creek here that Jackson received Glascock’s report and dictated his missive to Rabun.
This series will continue. Please enjoy this free mini-documentary Two Egg TV to learn more about Fort Gadsden, from which the army marched 200 years ago today:
Fort Gadsden is now part of Prospect Bluff Historic Sites in the Apalachicola National Forest. This park includes the earthworks of the 1818 fort, the remains of the 1814-1816 British Post/Negro Fort, a picnic area, walking trails and more. This map will help you find it:
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Gov. William Rabun of Georgia, May 7, 1818, National Archives and Records Administration.