Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson informed President James Monroe 200 years ago today that the U.S. wars against the Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole Indians were over. Time would prove him wrong, of course, but that was the tenor of a letter he sent to the President on June 2, 1818.
This article is part of a continuing series that commemorates the 200th Anniversary of the First Seminole War.
Jackson reached Fort Montgomery (or Camp Montgomery) near the site of old Fort Mims on the previous evening. He voiced his thoughts 200 years ago today in a private letter to Mr. Monroe:
The Possession St. Marks, Ft Gadsden, & Ft. don carlos de Baranas, puts an end to all Indian wars. These were the hot beds, and the Spanish officers & British agents excited the Indians to masacre & plunder to enrich their own coffers by purchasing the plundered property at a reduced price. – I view the Possession of these points so Esential to the peace & security of our frontier, and the future wellfare of our country, that I have directed my aid de camp Capt. Gadsden to make a report of the additional repairs necessary to those garrisons to enable us to hold them, and as soon as I can spare him I intend to send him on to make you a personal communication on this…. [I]
The general included Fort Gadsden in his list of three critical points because it stood at Prospect Bluff, once the site of the British Post or “Negro Fort” on the Apalachicola River. A U.S. garrison at that point would block further attempts to use the river as an avenue for Great Britain to arm or otherwise supply the Seminole, Miccosukee, Muscogee (Creek) and other groups.
As Jackson explained to Monroe, he had seized Spain’s entire colony of West Florida and the parts of East Florida west of the Suwanee River. His moves, he believed, were essential to the national security of the United States and he expressed hope that the President would approve them.
“Permit me again to remark the importance of the Possession of Fts. St. Marks, Gadsde& Barancas is to the peace & security of our southern frontier & to the growing greatness of our nation,” he wrote, before advising that “the hords of negro Brigands must be drove from the bay of Tampee and Possess ourselves of it, this cuts off all excitement by foreign influence, by keeping from there all foreign agents.” [II]
Tampa Bay, in fact, was not the only prize on Jackson’s mind:
The reduced state of the 4th & 7th Infantry, the 4th Betalion of artillery not being filled, the Posts being garrisoned by our Infantry has reduced our disposable force too small to hazard many excursions through our country in pursuit of the enemy – from the calm in north, could not Genl. Miller of the 5th Infa. be spared to the south. This additional force with the 22 gun Briggs, would insure Ft. St. augusteen, add another Regt. and one Frigate and I will insure you cuba in a few days. [III]
His army’s ability to take San Marcos de Apalache without firing a shot and the unexpected surrender of San Carlos de Barrancas undoubtedly led Jackson to overestimate his ability to easily take St. Augustine and the entire island of Cuba. No army had ever taken the Castillo de San Marcos at St. Augustine and the terrain and fortifications of Cuba were another matter altogether.
Many American leaders shared Andrew Jackson’s dream of adding Florida to the United States, President Monroe among them. The general had forced his country’s hand by exceeding his orders, however, and the nation’s leadership now had to decide how far it would go in supporting its greatest war fighter. Only time could give the answer.
Jackson, meanwhile, was at the limit of his endurance. As he informed Monroe, he might even resign his prized commission:
…I am at present worn down with fatigue and by a bad cough with a pain in my left side which produced a spitting of blood, has reduced me to a skeleton. I must have rest, it is uncertain whether my constitution can be restored to stand the fatigues of another campaign – should I find it so I must tender my resignation. When I reach Nashville I will again write you. [IV]
The general also expressed concern for the men of his army, especially the Tennesseans and Kentuckians who had provided their own horses and clothing:
Our marches have been fatigueing, the privations great, the continued wading of the water & swamps has first destroyed our horses, and in the next our shoes, the men are literally barefoot and I think it but Just that the Government should give them a pair of shoes each which I am trying to obtain, and Justice requires that every horse that is lost be paid for by the Government, a great number of the horses that has gave out & are left will be regained by the Government. Indians have been employed to hunt & take care of them, sound policy as well as Justice require that the soldier receive pay for his horse. These are the men who will defend your Eagles in the day of danger – these are the auxiliaries, that will aid in Possessing the government of Ft. St. Augustine & Cuba, when thought necessary to be Possessed by the american republick. [V]
Jackson’s belief that holding St. Marks, Fort Gadsden and Pensacola ended the Seminole and Creek Wars demonstrated a lack of understanding on his part of the true causes of the conflicts. The appetite of the United States for more and more land – as demonstrated by Old Hickory himself at the Treaty of Fort Jackson in 1814 – was the real cause of these conflicts.
The Creek War of 1813-1814, for example, exploded from a civil war over whether the Muscogee (Creek) people should keep their traditional way of life or should give up the hunt and assimilate with white culture as small farmers. The United States favored what it called the “civilization” of the American Indians, in large part because it would allow the whites to take possession of vast hunting grounds. The Prophet Josiah Francis and the Red Sticks opposed this plan and fought against it. The war did not involve the whites directly until the Mississippi Territorial Militia carried out an unprovoked attack on Red Stick forces at the Battle of Burnt Corn Creek in present-day Alabama. The Red Sticks retaliated by storming Fort Mims.
The Seminole Wars resulted from the U.S. seizure of nearly 22 million acres under the terms of the Treaty of Fort Jackson. Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines demanded that Neamathla and the people of Fowltown leave the treaty lands but the chief refused. U.S. troops then attacked his town twice on November 21-23, 1817 (please see The Battle of Fowltown). Warriors carried out the attack on Lt. Richard W. Scott’s command in revenge (please see Bloodiest U.S. Defeat of the First Seminole War).
Despite Andrew Jackson’s statement that the wars were over, in truth they were only beginning. The Seminole, Miccosukee, Muscogee (Creek), Yuchi, Black Seminole and other groups never surrendered in 1818 and to them the war never ended. Many Seminoles and Miccosukees believe that they fought one long war with the United States, not three as most historians claim.
There is great merit to this position as conflict continued almost unabated from 1813 to 1858. If we treat the episodes of fighting separately, there were two Creek and three Seminole wars during this 45-year time period. The chiefs and warriors also took part in the Southern Campaign of the War of 1812 and there were other raids, attacks and fights in the so-called times of peace.
Historians often note that the Cherokee called Kentucky a “dark and bloody ground.” In truth, the United States shed far more blood to gain control of the Creek and Seminole lands of Alabama, Georgia and Florida. Even the phase of bloodletting that took place in 1817-1818 was not yet over. Fighting would continue for six more months.
To learn more about Fort Mims and the Creek War of 1813-1814, which led to the Seminole conflicts, please watch Two Egg TV’s documentary Battle for Fort Mims. On your television, it is available free on Amazon Prime Video or the Two Egg TV channel on your Roku device. You can also watch it by clicking here:
[I] Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson to James Monroe, President of the United States, June 2, 1818, Collections of the New York Public Library.