American soldiers advanced to the heights overlooking Pensacola 200 years ago today. The move placed the historic Spanish city under the guns of Jackson’s army.
This article continues a series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the entire timeline of stories.
As Gov. Jose Masot continued to prepare the defenses of Spain’s fort of San Carlos de Barrancas for battle, Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson pushed his army forward to the high ground of today’s North Hill Preservation District where he occupied the deteriorating works of Fort San Miguel. The entire city was now within range of his cannon:
…I have been explicit, to preclude the necessity of a tedious negotiation. My resolution is fixed, and I have strength enough to enforce it. My army now occupies the old fort St. Michael, commanding Pensacola. If the town and the Barancas are peaceably surrendered, an inventory of all the property, ammunition, arms, &c. shall be taken by the officers appointed by both parties, and the amount receipted for by me, to be accounted for by the American government. The property of Spanish subjects shall be respected; their religion and laws guarantied to them; the civil Government permitted to remain as now established, subject to the control of the military authority of the United States; the ingress and egress open to all individuals, commerce free to the subjects of Spain as usual; and the military furnished with transportation to Cuba. [I]
St. Michael was not a strong fort. Built by the British forty years before as Fort George, it was the focal point of a massive Revolutionary War battle for control of Pensacola. An allied army under Bernardo de Galvez defeated the British and occupied the fort – renaming it San Miguel (St. Michael) – in 1781. It has been rebuilt and repaired many times since then but was finally abandoned by the Spanish as a lost cause after Jackson took it easily during the War of 1812.
The hill on which it stood, however, dominated the old city and its possession by an enemy force ended any possibility of a successful defense. Both Jackson and Masot knew this. The former made it his first objective as he approached Pensacola while the latter, recognizing that he could not hold it against the American army, opted to make his stand at the Barrancas instead.
U.S. forces did not immediately march into Pensacola. Jackson apparently hoped to intimidate Masot into surrendering not only the city but the Barrancas as well, thereby eliminating any risk to his army. In addition to offering what he thought were generous terms, the American general warned that he too w0uld fight:
If the peaceable surrender be refused, I shall enter Pensacola by violence, and assume the Government until the transaction can be amicably adjusted by the two Governments. The military in this case will be treated as prisoners of war. [II]
Jackson justified his demand for possession of the city by accusing Masot of arming and supplying hundreds of Red Stick Creek Indians led by Holms, Micodecoxy and other chiefs. “On the 15th of April last,” he alleged, “there was no less than five hundred Indians in Pensacola, many of them hostile to the United States.” The general further blamed these warriors for attacks along the Federal Road in Alabama. (Please see The war spreads to South Alabama and A new attack in Alabama). [III]
The intelligence provided to Jackson about Red Sticks at Pensacola was wildly exaggerated. Maj. White Youngs attacked the Muscogee (Creek) camps along Bayou Texar on April 24, 1818. With a force of only 74 men, he drove out the refugees and destroyed their homes. Only 100 or so men, women and children proved to be in the camps and Masot convinced all but a handful of them to return to their old homes in Alabama. (Please see The Battle of Bayou Texar).
Jackson, however, was not aware of the details of the April raid or that Masot had worked with the United States to repatriate Muscogees from Pensacola to their nation. His anger instead increased 200 years ago today when informants told him that the Spanish were taking Creek warriors with them to the Barrancas:
I certify that on the 23rd of May 1818 being in the Bayou [Chico] which enters Pensacola Bay 1 1/2 miles from the Town, I saw at the ferry on the road to Barrancas, a number of Indians I think about 17, in company with 4 Spanish officers. The officers were carried over and the boat returned to ferry over the Indians. I saw one boat load landed on the side next [to] the Barrancas. The Indians concealed themselves in the bushes on discovering us. [IV]
The general sent Capt. James Gadsden into Pensacola to deliver his surrender demand. Gadsden was unable to find Masot – the governor having already relocated his headquarters to the Barrancas – but Jackson did not learn this until the next day.
This series will continue tomorrow.
The site of Fort San Miguel is at 501 North Palafox Street in Pensacola. Fort George Park preserves part of the site a reconstruction of a small section of the original British fort can be viewed there. Cannon, interpretive panels and other displays help visitors learn about the history of the post. Please click here to learn more.
This map will help you find the park:
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to Gov. Jose Masot, May 23, 1818.
[IV] Certificate of Richard Brickham, May 23, 1818.