The American army marched west from the Choctawhatchee River 200 years ago today, passing through western Holmes County and reaching eastern Walton County by nightfall.
His crossing of the Choctawhatchee River now complete, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson resumed his westward march for Pensacola on the morning of May 16, 1818. The army had two options as it started out. The first was to follow a trail that led southwest from Curry Ferry to Deer Point – present-day Gulf Breeze – on Pensacola Bay. The second was a similar old road that led north up the west side of the Choctawhatchee a short distance before turning west to Pensacola.
Both of these trails were branches of the old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road, a horse path that connected the two capital cities of colonial Florida. They were first described in detail in the 1760s and the latter mapped by Joseph Purcell during a British military expedition to reinforce St. Augustine in 1778. Florida was under the control of Great Britain in 1763-1783.
The trail to Deer Point was the more direct of the two alternatives, but ended across the bay from Pensacola and Jackson had no guaranteed way of getting across to attack the city. The other route involved a much longer march, but the general believed that it would let him approach Pensacola from the north without the added obstacle of having to cross a large body of water.
Trusting his guide, the Muscogee (Creek) chief John Blunt, to get him across the Panhandle as quickly as possible, Jackson chose the latter route and the army moved out 200 years ago this morning.
The trail ran up the west side of the Choctawhatchee along a low ridge separating the river from a branch for 1.25 miles, then turned west just across Limestone Branch from today’s Mt. Ada Congregational Church. The noted writer Laura Ingalls Wilder once attended services here and members of her family still do so today.
The army followed the Pensacola-St. Augustine Road west from this point for another 1.5 miles before Blunt decided to leave the trail and strike out cross-country. Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, thought the army marched more than 22 miles that day, although the distance was not quite that far:
…[T]wenty miles through a rolling pine country with numerous little reedy branches between the hills, the heads of small streams entering Choctahatchie, the greater part of this distance on a ridge. For the last four miles the hills are covered with scrubby oak bushes indicating the poorest kind of land. The soil generally resembling the yellowish sand and clay described before. Sandstone gravel is abundant on the hills, and on one or two of the higher ridges, the whole mass seems from indication at the surface to be ferruginous sand rock. The reedy branches crossed are generally miry – one in the third, fifth, tenth, fifteenth and the twentieth mile respectively. A large reed brake on the south side of the path in the eighteenth mile. [II]
From immediately south of today’s Mt. Ida Church, the army’s route ran west along the south side of Limestone Branch through the New Hope community. The branch crossed in the third mile – which appears to reference the total distance from Curry Ferry, not the 20-mile stretch that Young reported that the army covered after it turned west – was a headwater of Windmill Branch. The one at five miles was near the head of Crooked Run.
From Crooked Run, the path of the army crossed today’s State Highway 2 and wound along the hills to the branch in the tenth mile which coincides with Hurricane Creek.
The army marched slightly to the southwest after crossing Hurricane Creek and crossed into northern Walton County. The route passed over or very near the site of today’s Darlington community. The branch at fifteen miles was Chestnut Creek. From there the soldiers continued west up and down the hills described by Capt. Young.
The “large reed break in the eighteenth mile” mentioned by the topographer was the one along the south side of Collingsworth Road just southeast of today’s community of Gaskin. The soldiers then marched along the high ground now followed by Collingsworth Road and crossed the site of Gaskin before camping about one-mile west of that community at Limestone Creek. The old Pensacola-St. Augustine Road was once again met in this vicinity.
The soldiers were undoubtedly exhausted after their day of marching up, down and around hills but Blunt’s guidance allowed them to avoid many of the creeks, branches and swamps that they otherwise would have met. Capt. Young was not impressed with the country through which the army passed but the terrain of northwestern Holmes County and northern Walton County is quite beautiful.
This series will continue. The map at the bottom of this page will help you drive the general route of the army on May 16, 1818. It begins at Mt. Ida Congregational Church in northern Holmes County and ends at Gaskin Park in Walton County. The mapped route also includes a fun side trip up Country Road 163 to the home site of Laura Ingalls Wilder, author of such beloved books at Little House on the Prairie. Her home site is a great place for a picnic and features a historical marker, picnic tables and a family-owned park called the “Little Park in the Pines.”
You can learn more about the Laura Ingalls Wilder home site and the historic Pensacola-St. Augustine Road through Holmes and Jackson Counties in this mini-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, : 157.