The American army broke out of the wilderness 200 years ago today and reached the eastern shore of Escambia Bay.
This article continues a special series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see other stories in the series.
The pace of the march quickened as the soldiers connected with the old road that connected the West Florida capital of Pensacola with the East Florida capital of St. Augustine on May 20, 1818. Florida is a singular state today and many forget that under Spanish rule it was divided into two colonies. The boundary line during the First Seminole War was the Apalachicola River, with all lands of the King west of that point falling under Governor Jose Masot in Pensacola. San Marcos de Apalache (St. Marks), although technically in East Florida, was governed through Pensacola for sake of convenience and supply.
The route taken 200 years ago today followed the modern Munson Highway which links the Santa Rosa County communities of Milton and Munson. The soldiers quickly reached Coldwater Creek, which proved too deep at the trail crossing. Scouts went out to find a place to cross:
Five and a quarter miles a large creek sixty feet wide, open on the east side and with a narrow thicket on the west – a good ford was found a quarter mile below the path. Two and a half miles another creek with low open banks and sandy bottom – the bottom uneven and somewhat obstructed at the ford by logs – five and three-quarter miles to a creek twenty feet wide with high open banks and sandy bottom and a high hill with red sandstone on the east side and a flat with some palmetto on the west. [I]
The second creek mentioned by Capt. Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, was Clear Creek. Once across it, the soldiers marched directly through the site of the modern city of Milton before reaching the Pond Creek, the third of the streams described by Young. This stream is well-known today as the site of the University of West Florida’s Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site. The “high hill with red sandstone” can be seen in the park. It was quarried for building materials during the construction of the massive mill complex which became Northwest Florida’s largest industrial site during the Antebellum era.
The Arcadia Mill site belonged to John de la Rua in 1818. He received it from the Spanish government in 1817 and land-clearing operations were probably underway by the time Jackson passed in 1818. In fact, Capt. Young indicated that this part of today’s Santa Rosa County was already home to a growing population:
…Four and a half miles from the last creek to the bay, over a flat district with a few miry spots. Near the Bay, there is some second rate land and a hammock one-fourth of a mile wide. Settlements are scattered along the shore from this point to the mouth of Yellow Water Bay [i.e. Blackwater Bay] and among them are some handsome and productive plantations of second rate land. [II]
The army reached Escambia Bay at Floridatown, then a ferry landing on lands belonging to John Forbes & Company partner John Innerarity. It was possible for early travelers to catch a boat ride here for the journey across the bay to the final stretch of road leading into Pensacola. Adjacent to Innerarity’s grant was a large parcel of land belonging to another well-known figure, Christian Limbaugh.
A Pennsylvanian by birth, Limbaugh served in the 2nd U.S. Infantry before making his way into the Creek Nation where he built a home near the Creek Agency on the Flint River. He served as a deputy to Col. Benjamin Hawkins, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs, and is routinely mentioned in documents from the Creek War of 1813-1814. He moved to Spanish Florida in 1815 and obtained a land grant adjoining Innerarity’s Floridatown property. [III]
Legend holds that Andrew Jackson became furious with his guide John Blunt when the army arrived on Escambia Bay. The story holds that he had hoped to avoid the bay and reach the Escambia River more to the north where he could cross without detection. There is no substantiation for this story of Jacksonian anger in the reports of the campaign, although a member of the general’s staff did confirm that Blunt was “perfectly bewildered” when he saw Escambia Bay. Jackson himself expressed no animosity about the chief when he wrote after the campaign that his “faithfull Pilot Blount” had been of great help and “without him I could not have operated successfully.” He went so far as to recommend that the chief be granted a government pension. [IV]
The army camped at Floridatown on the night of May 20, 1818. Jackson knew that crossing the bay there was impossible. The boats needed to move an army were not available. He would turn his army north on the next morning to find a crossing point on the Escambia River above its mouth. There is little doubt that he and his men met Spanish citizens 200 years ago today, but there is no sign that any of them attempted to get word of the army’s presence to Gov. Masot in Pensacola.
This series will continue tomorrow. The map at the bottom of the page will help you follow Jackson’s general route through Santa Rosa County. Many sections of the original path are no longer in use, but the drive is pretty and will allow you to see the terrain through which the army marched.
Be sure to stop at Arcadia Mill Archaeological Site and enjoy the excellent museum. Interpretive trails lead through the site of the historic industrial complex. For hours and other information, please visit www.historicpensacola.org/explore-arcadia-mill/ and enjoy this short introductory video:
[I] Capt. Hugh Young, “A Topographical Memoir of East and West Florida with Itineraries of General Jackson, 1818,” The Florida Historical Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Jan., 1935): 158-159.
[III] Summarized from “Christian Limbaugh Timeline,” manuscript, n.d., courtesy of Larry L. Limbaugh.
[IV] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Hon. James Monroe, President of the United States, June 2, 1818.