Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson marched into Pensacola 200 years ago today, 24 hours after his troops occupied Fort San Miguel (St. Michael) overlooking the city. (Please see U.S. troops occupy Fort San Miguel).
This article continues our series that commemorates the 200th Anniversary of the First Seminole War.
The American army could have taken Pensacola with little trouble on the previous day, but Jackson halted his men at Fort San Miguel while he awaited the results of a mission by Capt. James Gadsden to deliver a surrender ultimatum to Gov. Jose Masot. Gadsden had trouble finding the governor, however, and Jackson’s demand did not reach the Spanish commander until the morning of May 24, 1818.
While the soldiers waited, they could see the houses and buildings of the city below and even the American supply ship Maria in the bay beyond. Jackson used the interval to make contact with Lt. Trueman Cross of the 1st U.S. Infantry who was aboard the Maria. He also communicated with someone from within Pensacola itself, learning that the Spanish officer left in charge there had orders to fire on U.S. troops if they tried to enter the city:
I wish you to understand distinctly that if such orders are carried into effect, I will put to death every man found in arms. The regular soldiers under your command must be placed under the direction and care of my troops until an answer is obtained from the governor to my communications to prevent unpleasant circumstances. [I]
Whether the few remaining men in Pensacola had actually been ordered to fire on American soldiers is not known. Gov. Masot had already moved most of his soldiers to the Barrancas, leaving only a small patrol in Pensacola to preserve order.
Jackson’s surrender demand finally reached the governor at around 10 a.m. He responded by questioning the voracity of Jackson’s intelligence. There had never been 500 Seminole Indians at Pensacola as Jackson claimed, he wrote, noting further that he had convinced the handful of Muscogee (Creek) people there to return to their own nation after Maj. White Youngs raided their camps in April:
…[I]n relation to the Indians, your Excellency has been misinformed. The two Indians which I found after the peace negotiated by me & the 87 Indians delivered to Majr. Youngs: are now confined in the jail of Pensacola together with three women & children, and long before the movements of your Excellency I had given orders to the Post of Apalache that the Seminoles should not be recovered in any way, which line of conduct I have also observed here, excepting with those unfortunate few who have for time immemorial supplied this place with firewood. [II]
As best as can be determined from the available documentation, Masot told Jackson the truth. The claim of 500 Red Stick warriors being supplied in Pensacola was clearly an exaggerated account of the 87 refugee men, women and children that Maj. Youngs left alive after the Battle of Bayou Texar. The governor convinced them to return to the Creek Nation in Alabama and delivered them to the care of U.S. troops weeks before Jackson invaded West Florida.
Masot battled not just Andrew Jackson and the U.S. Army 200 years ago this week, but an active rumor mill in his own capital. Many Americans already lived in Pensacola and they wished to see Florida become part of the United States. To help achieve this goal, they magnified and sometimes even made up stories about Spanish activities in the city. Efforts to help around 100 starving Muscogee men, women and children in the years since their flight into West Florida following the Battle of Horseshoe Bend four years earlier suddenly became a Spanish “arming” of 500 Red Stick warriors. Masot and his officers, the rumormongers claimed, were complicit in unleashing bloody attacks against the Alabama frontier.
No fan of the Red Sticks or the Spaniards, Jackson was prepared to believe the worst. To the general’s demand that Pensacola and the Barrancas be turned over to the American army, the Spanish governor remained firm:
The Lt. Col. Don Luis Pierna, commdg. in Pensacola, is legally authorized to exercise in my place, my functions, and to receive communications from your Excellency – which he will remit me, and I will immediately & promptly answer the same, all of which shall be transmitted by the bearer of this, Don Pedro de Alva. Finally and contrary to my expectations if your Excellency will persist in your intentions to occupy this fortress, I am resolved to defend it to the last extremity, opposing force to force; and he who stands in self defense can never be conquered. [III]
Jackson’s reaction is well-known to history. He marched his army down from the heights and occupied Pensacola 200 years ago today on May 24, 1818. The handful of Spanish soldiers still in the city attempted no resistance. Masot with the main garrison was at the Barrancas making preparations to wage Spain’s final battle for control of Florida.
This series will continue tomorrow. To learn more about Pensacola of 1818, make plans to tour Historic Pensacola. Located in the heart of the old Spanish city, this complex features 28 historic properties spread over 8.5 acres. Please click here for more information.
To experience the sights and sounds of the First Seminole War in person, make plans now to attend the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle in Chattahoochee, Florida, on November 30 – December 2, 2018. This outstanding annual heritage event features battle reenactments, living history encampments, exhibits, demonstrations, vendors, food and more. Please click here to learn more.
This 60-second video will give you a quick preview:
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to the Commanding Officer of Pensacola, May 24, 1818, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.
[II] Gov. Jose Masot to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, May 24, 1818, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.