Seminole War
Georgia’s governor defiant over Chehaw Massacre

Monuments and a reconstructed stockade at the site of Fort Mims. Jackson reached nearby Fort Montgomery 200 years ago on June 1, 1818.

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson reached Fort Montgomery (or Camp Montgomery) near the site of old Fort Mims 200 years ago today. Hundreds of miles away in Milledgeville, meanwhile, Georgia’s governor defended his state’s “right” to attack Native American towns with or without the approval of the U.S. government.

This article continues a special series that commemorates the 200th anniversary of the First Seminole War. Please click here to see a list of all of the stories in this series.

Gov. William Rabun was furious over Jackson’s demand that Capt. Obed Wright, the perpetrator of the Chehaw Massacre, be turned over to the U.S. Army (please see Old Hickory erupts over news of the Chehaw Massacre). He put his thoughts to paper 200 years ago today, blasting Jackson for presuming to exercise authority over an officer of the state militia:

Gov. Rabun died in 1819 and is buried at Powelton Baptist Church in Georgia.

…Had you Sir, or Genl. Glascock, been in possession of the facts which produced the affair, it is to be presumed at least that you would not have indulged in a strain so indecorous and unbecoming. I had on the 21st of March last stated the situation of our bleeding frontier to you, and requested you in respectful terms, to detach a part of your overwhelming force for our protection, or that you would furnish supplies, and I would order out more troops, to which you have never yet deigned even to reply. You state in a very haughty tone that “I as Governor of a State within your military division have no right to give a military order whilst you are in the field.” Wretched and contemptible, indeed, must be our situation if this be the fact. When the liberties of the people of Georgia shall have been prostrated at the feet of a military despotism, then, and not till then, will this imperious doctrine be tamely submitted to. [I]

Scene of the Chehaw Massacre near Leesburg, Georgia.

Rabun admitted that Wright attacked the wrong town – slaughtering the peaceful residents of Chehaw instead of the men, women and children of the nearby towns of Hopony and Philema – but defended Georgia’s right to make war as it saw fit:

…You may rest assured, that if the savages continue their depredations on our unprotected frontier, I shall think and act for myself in that respect. You demand that Capt. Wright be delivered in irons to your agent Major [John M.] Davis. If you Sir, are unacquainted with the fact, I beg leave to inform you, that Capt. Wright was not under your command, for he had been appointed an officer in the Chatham County militia which had been drafted for the special purpose of assisting Genl. Gaines in reducing Amelia Island, that object having been accomplished before our militia had taken the field, Genl. Gaines as soon as their organization was compleated, assumed the right to order them to the frontier, without even consulting the State authority on the subject. [II]

The historic Old Capital in Milledgeville was the focus of a political firefight over the fate of Obed Wright, perpetrator of the Chehaw Massacre.

Rabun’s reference was to the 1817 operation by the U.S. military to seize Amelia Island in Spanish Florida. The pirate Luis Aury was then possessed the island and the American government feared that he would turn it into base for smuggling slaves and illicit cargo into the United States.

Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines had indeed ordered Georgia militia forces to the frontier, but the move was not controversial then. Seminole warriors were raiding settlements and the Georgians went willingly with Gaines as he attempted to bolster their state’s defenses. Capt. Wright, however, was not among them. He reported himself sick at the time and did not go to Hartford on the frontier until after Jackson arrived and set off with the main army for Florida. Wright then offered to command a state-sanctioned expedition against Hopony’s and Philema’s towns.

Another view of the Old Capitol Building in Milledgeville, Georgia. Gov. William Rabun’s office was located here in 1818.

Gov. Rabun admitted that Wright “violated his orders by destroying the Chehaw Village” and was facing state charges. The captain subsequently escaped and never stood trial for his role in the massacre. He lived out the rest of his life in Coweta County, Georgia, literally hiding in plain sight.

Rabun’s letter was likely intended to infuriate Andrew Jackson and it achieved that goal. The general did not see it for several more weeks, however, and he rested 200 years ago tonight at Fort Montgomery on the Alabama frontier.

This series will continue. Please click here for more information on the Chehaw Massacre.

The Old Capitol Building in Milledgeville, where Gov. Rabun likely penned his missive on this date in 1818, is now on the campus of the Georgia Military College. The historic structure can be seen from the grounds but is used for educational purposes. It is at 201 E. Greene Street, Milledgeville, Georgia.

Georgia’s Old Capital Museum, once on the ground floor of the Old Capitol Building, has relocated to a new home at 95 Depot Circle Drive, Milledgeville, Georgia. For more information on visiting, please see www.oldcapitalmuseum.org.

This map will show you how to find the Old Capitol Building itself:

[I] Gov. William Rabun to Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson, June 1, 1818, Jackson Papers, Library of Congress.

[II] Ibid.

 

 

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