Seminole War
“You will therefore be responsible before God & Men” (Seminole War 200th)

Fort Barrancas (right) stands on the site of the earlier Spanish fort of San Carlos de Barrancas. The white structure at left is the Bateria de San Antonio, part of the earlier fort.

His small force concentrated behind the walls of the fort of San Carlos de Barrancas, Gov. Jose Masot 200 years ago today warned Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson of the consequences of his

actions.

This article continues our special series commemorating the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the full timeline of stories in this series.

Jackson’s army finished crossing the Escambia River on May 22, 1818. Turning south on the main road to Pensacola, the soldiers soon arrived at the home of Manuel Gonzalez. This was familiar territory to the general. He had camped on the Gonzalez property in 1814 prior to his War of 1812 attack on Pensacola. Now he returned and Gonzalez – with the same hospitality that he had shown in 1814 – invited Jackson to share his food and home. Capt. Richard Keith Call described the scene:

Richard Keith Call was an officer under Jackson’s command. State Archives of Florida/Memory Collection.

…Several days hard marching brought him and 2000 men within a few miles of Pensacola, near the residence of Manuel Gonzalez, who invited him to his house, which he accepted, pitching his tent within a few hundred yards of his dwelling. Only those who have been similarly deprived can appreciate the enjoyment of the plentiful supply of milk, butter, eggs, and fresh meat, that the generous hospitality of Mr. Gonzalez furnished them, and to feed as many men in the pines of Florida, must have required another miracle equal to that of the “Loaves and Fishes,” for all seem to have had plenty. [I]

Call later served two terms as Governor of Florida, but was a young officer in the U.S. Army on May 22, 1818. He too enjoyed the hospitality of the Gonzalez family with little thought as to its sincerity. Gonzalez was a man of manners but was also a patriot to his King and country. An incident that took place on the next day gave Capt. Call a better view of his host’s true feelings. Tomorrow’s article will include that story.

As the army pitched camp on the Gonzalez property, Gov. Jose Masot of West Florida prepared a written warning to Jackson that he and his soldiers intended to fight if forced to do so:

The bombproof of the Bateria de San Antonio at the Barrancas near Pensacola, Florida.

Protest.

Having been informed of Your Excellency with the Troops under your command, passing the Frontier & entering the Territory of West Florida under my charge, against which proceedings I protest, as an infringement and insult offered to his King & Master, obliges me in his name to declare to Your Excellency to leave the boundaries and if you will proceed contrary to my expectations I will repulse you force to force. The results in this case will be an effusion of blood & will also disturb the present harmony existing betwixt our nations but as I will only oppose the insult of your approach I shall not consider myself the aggressor. You will therefore be responsible before God & Men for the consequences & results of the same.
God save your excellency many years,
Pensacola 22 May 1818
Jose Masot [II]

The view of Masot and his officers as they saw the USS Surprise enter the bay and drop anchor. The land in the distance is Santa Rosa Island.

Andrew Jackson received the warning on the next morning while still at the Gonzalez home. He soon learned that Jose Masot was a man of his word.

As the governor worked to prepare the defenses at San Carlos de Barrancas for battle, he saw the sails and flag of an American warship appear on the horizon. She was the USS Surprise under Lt. Isaac McKeever. Masot and his officers could see the long 9-pounders of the vessel and knew that she would try to bring them to bear if Jackson attacked their fort. They prepared to give her a warm reception.

The stage was nearly set. Neither Jackson nor Masot knew it, but the Spanish Empire’s last days were playing out before them more than 300 years after Juan Ponce de Leon first set foot on the sands of La Florida. The First Seminole War now had more to do with the fate of an empire and the future of a republic than it did with a fight by Native Americans to defend their homes and land.

This series will continue tomorrow. If you would like to experience the sights and sounds of the First Seminole War in person, mark your calendar now to attend the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle in Chattahoochee, Florida. This year’s event is set for November 30th through December 2nd and will feature living history encampments, battle reenactments, exhibits. demonstrations, food, vendors and more. Learn more in his 60-second video from Two Egg TV:

[I] Richard Keith Call, “The Journal of Governor Richard K. Call,” State Archives of Florida, page 211.

[II] Gov. Jose Masot to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, May 22, 1818.

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