Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s army of nearly 1,100 men made camp 200 years ago tonight on east side of the Choctawhatchee River in what is now Holmes County, Florida.
This article is part of a continuing series that marks the 200th Anniversary of the First Seminole War.
The soldiers left their camp at Holmes Creek on the morning of May 14, 1818, heading northwest for the Choctawhatchee. Capt. Hugh Young, the army topographer, estimated the distance covered 200 years ago today as 16.5 miles.
He reported that the trail crossed a significant creek in the fifth mile and a branch and second creek in the seventh mile. These coincide with Wrights, Tenmile and Little Creeks between Bonifay and Bethlehem. Another creek, corresponding with Sykes Creek near the Izagora community, was crossed in the 15th mile. [I]
The soldiers reached the Choctawhatchee River at Curry Ferry, now a park and boat ramp on the east bank near Izagora. This was the site of an important river crossing in the 18th and 19th centuries. The old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road crossed here and the site is shown on the Purcell-Stuart Map of 1778 as the location of an “Old Coosada Town in Ruins” and Stidham’s English trading post. The famed American pioneer Daniel Boone crossed the Choctawhatchee at the site during his long walk across Florida and British troops used the ferry during the American Revolution. The site was completely abandoned when Jackson arrived in 1818. [I]
Capt. Young described the terrain crossed that day:
…The soil of the pine land in this district differs a good deal from that of the pine country east of Apalachicola. Here it is based on clay of a light yellow color with a mixture of sand and thin vegetable mould – and in the higher part, sprinkled at the surface with small rounded sandstone like gravel with a mineralization of iron and manganese oxides – quartez pebbles are very rare. The yellow and red soil is only seen in the rolling country. In the flat and glady districts the soil is greyish from the mixture of white clay with greater or less degree of blackness, in proportion to the thinness or luxuriance of the vegetable covering. In the hollows between the hills there is abundance of small reed affording excellent and durable pasturage – and on the larger creeks there is some cane. [II]
The ground around Curry Ferry provided a good camp site for the army and Jackson called the day’s march to a halt. The ground was dry and there was plenty of fresh water. The site is picturesque today with a nice view of the Choctawhatchee River. Capt. Young reported that the river was 150 yards wide and “not fordable,” an accurate description. Details went to work making dugout canoes and rafts to get the army and its 6-pound field gun across on the next day. The west bank flickered that night with the campfires of 1,092 officers and men.
He did not mention it in writing, but Gen. Jackson had reason for real concern on the night of May 14, 1818. His men left the Apalachicola with 8-days rations and now were four days into their march on Pensacola. It would take a full day to cross the Choctawhatchee, which meant that a fifth day of food would be consumed within sight of his encampment. That would leave only three days of provisions to get the army all the way to Pensacola. U.S. supply ships were ordered to the Spanish city, but he had no idea how the governor and military there would react. Jackson never admitted it, but the army was in real danger.
This series will continue tomorrow. Curry Ferry is open to the public daily and there is no charge to visit. It is located at the end of Curry Ferry Road off Highway 179 in Holmes County, Florida. See the map at the bottom of this page for directions.
The Choctawhatchee basin in Holmes County is rich in both history and scenic beauty. To learn more, please visit Holmes County Tourism.
The river itself is a Florida Blueway and state-designated paddling trail. One of the most unspoiled rivers in the eastern United States, the Choctawhatchee is a treasure. Click here to download the free paddling guide.
To learn more about another noted American’s visit to Holmes County and the rest of the Sunshine State, please enjoy this free documentary from Two Egg TV:
[I] Joseph Purcell, Purcell-Stuart Map of 1778, National Archives of Great Britain.
[II] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, Volume 13, Number 3 (January 1935): 155-156.