Despite Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson’s claim that the Seminole and Creek wars were over, fighting continued in West Florida and South Alabama 200 years ago month. In fact, a raid by BCapt. Thomas Boyles led to one of the bloodiest incidents of the entire First Seminole War.
This article continues a special series that marks the 200th anniversary of the Seminole War of 1817-1818. Please click here to see a list of all the stories in this series.
When Jackson left the front in June 1818, he declared an end to the war waged by the United States against an alliance of Seminole, Miccouskee, Red Stick and maroon (Black Seminole) warriors. Even as he did so in a report to President James Monroe, however, the general ordered Captains Zachariah McGirth (or McGirt) and Thomas H. Boyles to raise companies of rangers and carry out mopping up operations in South Alabama and the Florida Panhandle.
The general’s orders were specific. McGirth and Boyles were to penetrate the swamps of the region “putting to death every hostile warrior that may be found.” [I]
Responsibility for leading the first of these raids fell to Boyles. Taking a company of volunteer rangers, he headed into the swamps of the Perdido River to find a band of Red Sticks believed hiding there. It did not take long for the captain and his men to find the Muscogee camp:
On Sunday evening Capt. Boyles’ company brought in five male Indians, who were taken a short time since, on or near the Perdido river. He succeeded in taking them as follows: – He possessed himself of their [women] and children, and through their means told the Indians that if they would surrender, they should receive his protection, &c. and on these conditions they surrendered themselves prisoners. [II]
Boyles kept his word to his prisoners and delivered them safely to civil authorities at Claiborne, Alabama. No sooner were the Red Sticks lodged in the jail there, though, than did the local sheriff decide that he had no authority to hold them:
…On Tuesday morning the sheriff thought proper to send them to Fort Montgomery, and addressed a line to Capt. Boyles, saying that the civil authority had no concern with them, &c. and proceeded to deliver them from jail to a guard, for the purpose of escorting them to [Fort] Montgomery. They proceeded only two or three miles from town, where they were all inhumanly murdered, and left uninterred. The guard returned and reported, that on their way they were met and attacked by a party of men, who seeing the Indians, immediately fired and killed them. [III]
Feelings against Red Sticks were undoubtedly high among the frontier whites of South Alabama, but the military and civilians alike saw the massacre as beyond the pale. A lynch mob formed:
…Yesterday a jury of inquest was held on the bodies, but have not yet reported their verdict. – The popular and prevailing opinion of the majority of the people is, that they were willfully and barbarously murdered by a party preconcerted for the horrid purpose. The friends of civil order have set their faces and their opinions against the proceedings, and seem determined that such gross violence of justice and humanity, shall not pass with impunity. A mob has already made its appearance and excited much fear and alarm among the people. I hope the civil authority will succeed in putting down all rioters and disturbers of the peace, yet I fear we shall have further trouble, originating from the above proceeding. [IV]
The excitement subsided and so far as is known no lynchings took place. Neither was anyone ever arrested or tried for participation in the slaughter. The army, however, sent no more prisoners to the jail at Claiborne.
Despite such an end to his first effort, Boyles soon took the field for more operations. More on those raids in coming articles.
To experience the sights and sounds of the First Seminole War, mark your calendar now to attend the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle in Chattahoochee, Florida, on November 30 – December 2! This fantastic annual event features living history encampments and demonstrations, battle reenactments, the keelboat Aux Arc, displays, a mobile museum, memorial services, vendors and more!
Click play to watch a 60-second preview of this year’s event:
[I] Col. Robert C. Butler, Orders of May 31, 1818, Adjutant General’s Office, Letters Received, National Archives.
[II] Letter from a gentleman at Claiborne to another in Mobile, July 23, 1818, published in the Mobile Register, August 4, 1818.