The main body of the U.S. Army reached Rock Bluff on the Apalachicola River 200 years ago today. The site is now part of Torreya State Park.
This article is part of a series commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the entire timeline of stories.
The army had been on the march for three days, retracing its steps back up the east side of the Apalachicola from Fort Gadsden. Capt. Hugh Young was the topographer for the Florida invasion but did not keep detailed notes on this part of the march since he had already described the route.
After crossing Black Creek at present-day Sumatra, the soldiers passed such landmarks as Estiffanula Bluff, Lake Mystic and Alum Bluff. Their route intersected with the “Ocheesee Path” at a point three miles east of the Apalachicola. The head of the army turned west on this trail and followed it to Rock Bluff:
…Along this path it is about three miles to the Ochese Bluff over broken sand hills near the river the hills are entire masses of sand rock cut by the rains into fantastic shapes of many colours from the metalic oxides with which the stone is variously mineralized. [I]
The bluff was an important crossing point because a long slope led from higher ground down to the river. Ocheesee Talofa stood back from the bank on the opposite shore. Established by Muscogee (Creek) Indians after the temporary 1763 cession of Florida from Spain to Great Britain, the village was closely allied with the Perryman towns in what are now Jackson County, Florida, and Seminole County, Georgia.
The English merchant John Mealy ran a trading post at Ocheesee Talofa during the American Revolution, providing warriors and horses to help Great Britain defend St. Augustine against attacks by American Patriots from Georgia. His son Jack Mealy was now the primary chief. He was part of an unsuccessful effort to make peace in the fall of 1817 but was now solidly in the camp of the forces at war against the United States.
The Battle of Ocheesee Bluff was fought along the river between Rock Bluff and Ocheesee Bluff during the last two weeks of December 1817. The traders Edmund Doyle and William Hambly testified that they were held prisoner at Ocheesee Talofa while the Prophet Francis and his forces attacked U.S. supply boats from both banks.
Mealy and his followers had abandoned their town and taken to the swamps after that engagement. Jackson’s soldiers would find no one there when they crossed.
The army began crossing the Apalachicola on the following morning as the West Florida phase of the 1818 campaign got underway.
This series will continue tomorrow.
A hiking trail at Torreya State Park leads down to Rock Bluff, where the troops camped by the river on the night of May 9, 1818. The trail head is on the left just as you enter the park and the path follows the old road down to the river where you will find the rocky outcrop and the Rock Bluff Primitive Camp. Trail maps and more information is available at the park office adjoining the historic Jason Gregory House, a beautiful old antebellum mansion that once stood across the river at Ocheesee Bluff.
Other highlights include remarkable scenery, some of the nation’s rarest trees and plants, hiking trails, campgrounds, picnic areas and an artillery battery built by Confederate forces during the War Between the States (or Civil War).
Torreya State Park is at 2576 NW Torrea Park Rd, Bristol, Florida. It is open from 8 a.m. until sunset daily and admission is $3 per vehicle. Please click here to learn more.
Check out the park’s small waterfall in this story from Two Egg TV:
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and East Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Jan., 1935): 138.