The garrison of Fort San Carlos de Barrancas at Pensacola Bay gave up the fight 200 years ago today, ending Spain’s last battle for control of Florida.
This article continues a special series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see the entire timeline of stories.
Col. Jose Masot and his outnumbered soldiers put up a much more serious fight than Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson had expected. Their stand at the Barrancas is often represented as a “flight” from Pensacola followed by “token” resistance. In truth, they marched into the fort well before Jackson arrived on the hills overlooking the city and stood to their guns for two days under cannon fire from American batteries. It was almost sundown on May 27 when a white flag rose above the walls.
The white flag surprised the U.S. officers who knew that their guns were doing little damage to the fort. It was equally surprising – and disappointing – to Col. Masot who believed that the fight could be won. He was helping to remount two cannon that were struck by American fire when he realized that the end had come:
…It was at this time that the tiredness and discouragement of the troops became noticeable. With each shell they abandoned their work in spite of the efforts of the officers to restrain and encourage them. For this reason I assembled the troop. Addressing them I exhorted them not to lose that which they had acquired by their valor. But unhappily I saw that little could be expected of them as by now they had given up and they were demoralized as much by the constant work of the previous days as they were by the artillery fire that had wounded so many of them; the weapons of the infantrymen were bent and rusted. [I]
Nearly-blind with cataracts, the colonel convened his officers to plead for support. They agreed that resistance should continue and blamed the lack of spirit of the soldiers on sheer exhaustion. They had been working day and night for days with little rest. The council agreed that each officer would encourage the men and give them as much rest as possible.
It was not enough:
…After these officers had returned to their posts many soldiers gathered at my quarters declaring that they could no longer resist; that they were few against many and other statements so strong that I wondered if they were fellow soldiers or cowards. In such a critical situation I searched for other methods to use as a last recourse, such as persuasion and other pressures; but from that moment the troops from the companies of black villagers form the Havana battalion began to congratulate each other on the early return to their country. [II]
The exhausted Spanish soldiers just wanted to go home. “I saw then that all was lost,” wrote Masot, “and there was no hope of prolonging our good but useless defense as there was no hope of being rescued.” He notified Jackson that he was ready to surrender. [III]
The American general allowed Masot to name his own terms, for the most part, clearly a tribute to the spirited defense that the colonel and his soldiers had waged:
1st. The fort of the Barrancas will be delivered to the troops of the United States, under the following conditions:
[Approved, with the exceptions made following each article, and possession given at one o’clock past morning this day.]
2d. The garrison of the fort of Barrancas will march out, to be transported to the Havana, on the day and hour which shall be agreed upon, with all the honors of war; drums beating; with arms and baggage. Those employed in the Royal Finance, and others attached to this department, shall also be transported to the same port.
[A roster to be furnished of all the military and civil officers of the garrison of Fort Barrancas; the troops to march out as expressed in this article: their arms to be stacked at the foot of the glacis, and left in possession of the American army until the day of embarcation, when they will be restored.]
3d. The commandant of the province, the officers of his staff of the artillery and engineers, the officers and troops, shall carry with them their arms and personal effects, and shall also have the liberty of disposing of their property of every kind, with perfect security to the purchasers.
[All titles for property legally derived from the Crown of Spain will be respected.]
4th. The garrison shall be embarked on account of the United States; every person of the military class, or of the Royal Finance, shall receive, during the passage, such rations as are allowed to every grade by the regulations of Spain.
[Approved, so far as relates to the transportation of the garrison and the Spanish rations allowed, provided they do not exceed the American ration, in which case the American ration only will be allowed.] [IV]
The terms went on to state that the Spanish archives would be protected and not subject to any inspection by U.S. officers; the Spanish sick and wounded would be cared for by the United States until they could return to Cuba, inventories would be made of all supplies, rations, artillery, powder, arms, boats and vessels, etc., and the free exercise of the Catholic and all other religions would be guaranteed.
Jackson declined Masot’s request that the Americans provide transportation for the families and servants of Spanish officers not actually present in Pensacola. He did promise, however, that the rights and property of Spanish citizens remaining behind would be respected.
In an interesting item near the end of the terms of capitulation, Masot requested that “The Alabama chief, with his family, now in this fort” would be part of the surrender and given transportation to Havana. He identified the Red Stick leader as Opayhola, and promised “in the name of his government, that the said chief shall never return to the Floridas.” Jackson approved.[V]
American officers reported that Opayhola was carried from the fort on a stretcher due to a severe leg wound. Whether he received this in the defense of the Barrancas or in the earlier Battle of Bayou Texar is not known. He and his family lived out the rest of their lives in Cuba.
The capitulation was signed and the soldiers of the King of Spain marched out the Fort San Carlos de Barrancas on the afternoon of May 28, 2018. Spanish troops never again fought in defense of La Florida.
Fort Barrancas, the Bateria de San Antonio and the Advanced Redoubt are now part of Gulf Islands National Seashore and can be visited Thursday through Monday from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. They are located on board Naval Air Station Pensacola. For directions and more information on how to visit, please click Plan your visit to Fort Barrancas.
Today’s red brick Fort Barrancas stands on the site of the fort of San Carlos de Barrancas, of which the semi-circular Bateria de San Antonio or Water Battery is the only surviving part. The Advanced Redoubt, a nearby fortification, stands at the approximate site of Jackson’s main battery. To learn more about the history of these forts, please visit Fort Barrancas and the Bateria de San Antonio.
If you would like to experience the sights and sounds of the First Seminole War, please mark your calendar now and join us at the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle reenactment and living history event in Chattahoochee, Florida. This year’s event will be November 30 – December 2, with reenactments on both Saturday and Sunday. If you take part in living history activities of the 1790-1821 era, please add us to your schedule!
You can learn more about the annual event by watching this short 60-second video from Two Egg TV:
[I] Col. Jose Masot to the Captain General of Cuba, June 1818, Coker Collection, University of West Florida.
[IV] Jose Masot, Proposals which the civil and military commandant of the Province of West Florida makes to his Excellency Andrew Jackson, General-in-chief of the American army, before the Fort San Carlos de Barrancas, May 28, 1818, American State Papers – Military Affairs, Volume I: 719.
[V] Ibid.: 719-720.