Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson marched his army north from Pensacola for home 200 years ago today, but the last shots of the First Seminole War had not yet been fired.
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.
Just two days after he accepted the surrender of Fort San Carlos de Barrancas and effectively completed his conquest of the Spanish colony of West Florida, Andrew Jackson started for home. Behind in Pensacola he left Col. William King with a battalion of the 4th U.S. Infantry and men from the U.S. Corps of Artillery. The brigade of mounted Tennessee Volunteers and Jackson’s body-guard of volunteers from Tennessee and Kentucky left for home with the general.
The campaign had been severe and Jackson was sick and exhausted, as were many of his soldiers. He had complimented them for their perseverance on the day before, while also making clear that the American Indians of Florida were not his only enemies:
You were called into the field to punish savages and negroes, who had, in a sanguinary manner, used the tomahawk and scalping-knife upon our helpless citizens upon the frontier. You have pursued them to Mickasukey, St. Marks, Suwaney, and lastly to this place, through an unexplored wilderness, encountering immense difficulties and privations, which you met with the spirit of American soldiers, without a murmur. [I]
The maroons or Black Seminoles of Florida were of great concern to Jackson and other American authorities. The soldiers had destroyed Nero’s town on the Suwannee, but captured only a handful of prisoners. The others remained free and hidden in the swamps from which U.S. officers feared that they would launch raids against the frontiers.
Just as had been the case before the bloody destruction of the “Negro Fort” on the Apalachicola in 1816 (please see Prospect Bluff Historic Sites), fear of large settlements occupied by free African-Americans dictated U.S. policy during the Seminole War. The officers remaining behind in Florida at Pensacola, St. Marks and Fort Gadsden were instructed to round-up as many of the free blacks as possible. Both allied and surrendering Muscogee (Creek), Seminole and Miccosukee warriors were to be turned lose on them with instructions to find, capture and deliver the Black Seminoles to American troops.
The Seminole Wars have often been described as “slave-catching expeditions” carried out by the U.S. government. While such descriptions understate the roles of the Seminole and Miccosukee people in defending their homes and lands, there is no doubt that the United States took advantage of the conflicts to round-up maroons and free blacks. Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River, once a place of freedom for African-Americans, soon became a concentration camp for dozens of people being returned to slavery.
The term “Black Seminoles” is something of a misnomer. The Seminole, Miccosukee, Yuchi and Muscogee (Creek) people in Florida judged people by their willingness to adopt Native American culture and ways of life instead of by their race.
Also of great concern to Jackson as he left Florida were the bands of Red Stick Creeks still on the move in the Florida Panhandle. Among these were groups led by Econchattimico, Holms, the Atasi Mico and the Mico Decoxy. The Ocheesees were also still out when Jackson marched away, but soon surrendered themselves at the American posts that he left behind.
A plan for dealing with the chiefs and warriors who refused to give up the fight would be unveiled 200 years ago tomorrow.
This series will continue. To learn more about the free African-Americans of Florida and the “Negro Fort” at Prospect Bluff, please watch this free documentary from Two Egg TV:
[I] Col. Robert Butler, by order of Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, May 29, 1818, American State Papers-Military Affairs, Volume I: 720.