The Florida Indians
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Condition of East Florida
“And there are tales of sad reality
In the dark legends of thy border war.”
By this time grievous injury had been done by the Indians to the settlements in East Florida. Philip was the principal leader in the devastation’s that took place in that region. New Smyrna, at Mosquito Inlet, was destroyed, and the plantations upon Halifax river, to the northward of the town, were ravaged and the settlers driven off. The white inhabitants of the interior were everywhere obliged either to abandon their homes, or to erect defenses and to establish a regular watch.
General Scott’s Campaign
General Scott having been appointed to the command of the army in Florida during the spring of this year (1836), formed a plan to penetrate the heart of the country, with a large force, from three different quarters simultaneously, and thus surround the Indians and cut off their retreat. Generals Clinch and Eustice, and Colonel Lindsey were appointed to lead the three divisions. General Clinch s party was attended by General Scott in person. The army was put in motion in the latter part of the month of March.
Garrison Besieged On The Ouithlacoochee
The service was accomplished, but with little good effect. The Indians, possessing perfect knowledge of the country, instead of opposing the advancing columns in force, hung about the flanks and rear of the army, and kept up a vexatious skirmishing. No important engagement took place, and the three divisions, after lying for a few days at Tampa, were again put in motion. Separate detachments were ordered to proceed, one to Fort Drane, one to attack the enemy at Pease Creek, to the southward, one to ravage the country in the vicinity of the Ouithlacoochee, and another to march to Volusia.
Little benefit appears to have resulted from the campaign: a careful attention to the plans of Indian warfare laid down, at an earlier age, by Captain Benjamin Church, of New England, or by the redoubtable pioneer of Virginia, Captain John Smith, might have produced effects far more decided.
A small detachment of troops had been left, about the middle of March, to guard a quantity of provision, stored in a rude building fifteen miles up the Ouithlacoochee. Not having been heard from for many weeks after, they were supposed to have been cut off by the Indians, and no attempt was made to relieve them until towards the latter part of May, when three of the garrison managed to escape the vigilance of their besiegers, and to convey intelligence of their condition to Tallahassee. The small party had been defending their post gallantly for more than two months against hosts of the enemy; their block house had been partially destroyed over their heads, so that they were exposed to the inclemencies of the weather, and their provision consisted entirely of corn. A steamer was sent to the river s mouth, and the company was brought down to it in a barge.
Occurrences During The Summer Of 1836
As the season advanced, the enervating influence of the climate produced its natural effect upon the troops. The fevers of the country attacked those who were not acclimated, and the rest were but poorly conditioned for an arduous campaign. Active operations for the most part ceased; the volunteers were discharged, and the regular soldiers distributed among the different forts extending from St. Augustine across the country to the Suwanne. The Indians were free to roam where they listed through the immense wilderness to the southward, and to lay plans of secret attack upon every exposed settlement or plantation.
About the end of April, a terrible massacre took place at Charlotte Harbor; and in May and June, the country between the St. Johns and the Atlantic, nearly as far north as St. Augustine, was generally ravaged by the Indians. Their attacks extended to the vicinity of Mandarin, only sixteen or eighteen miles south of Jacksonville. A Mr. Motte, residing at that place, was murdered, and his establishment was destroyed.
Early in June, the Indians, emboldened by success in the destruction of plantations, and the expulsion of the whites from such extensive districts, beset the fort at Micanopy, which was garrisoned by a company under the command of Major Heillman, then at the head of the army west of St. John’s River. They were driven off, but not without some loss on the part of the whites.
In July, Fort Drane had become so unhealthy that it was thought necessary to abandon it. As the troops were on their march upon the evacuation of the place, they had a sharp brush with some hundreds of Indians who lay in wait for them near Welika Pond, in the vicinity of Micanopy. Towards the close of the month the lighthouse at Cape Florida was destroyed. The keeper, named Thompson, was singularly preserved by clinging to the top of the stonewall of the building, while the woodwork was burned out from within. After the Indians had, by their own act, cut off the means of access to the summit, they descried the unfortunate man, half dead with the heat and smoke, and shot at him a long time without effect. He was able to crouch in such a manner upon the top of the wall as to elude their aim, until they took their departure.
It would be impracticable, in a sketch of this kind, to give full particulars of the skirmishing, plundering, and murders which were to be heard of on every side during the summer of 1836. About the middle of August, it was ascertained that Osceola and a large company of his followers were staying in the vicinity of the abandoned Fort Drane, for the sake of securing the corn growing upon the neighboring plantations. They were attacked and defeated by Major Pierce.
In September a marauding party of Indians made their way to within seven miles of Jacksonville, where they attacked the house of Mr. Higginbotham. There were only two men in the house, but having a number of guns, and receiving resolute assistance from the women of the family, they successfully resisted the assault. After the Indians had retired, Higginbotham hastened with all speed to Jacksonville, and procured a party of twelve men, under Major Hart, to pursue them. Taking the Indian trail, the company followed it to the house of Mr. Johns, ten miles distant from the scene of the attack. The building had been reduced to ashes, and the half-burned body of its proprietor lay among the ruins. Mrs. Johns had been scalped, and left to perish. Before their departure, one of the savages set fire to her clothes, but she managed to extinguish the flame, and to creep away from the burning building. In this miserable condition she was discovered, lying by the border of the swamp, and kindly cared for.
The perpetrators of this outrage, having secured good horses, effected their escape.
Arrival Of Creek Allies
Before the end of this month, additional forces from Tennessee were brought into Florida, and a body of nearly a thousand Creeks, led by the chiefs Paddy Carr and Jim Boy, came to lend their aid against the Indians of the peninsula. An army of from one to two thousand men, including the Tennessee brigade, under Governor Call, marched, in the beginning of October, to the deserted Fort Drane, but found that the Indians had recently left their quarters in that neighborhood. The trail of the fugitives was followed towards the Ouithlacoochee, but the pursuit of savages, in their own country, especially in such a country as Florida, by regular troops, encumbered with baggage, and ignorant of the fastnesses of the enemy, proved as futile in that instance as upon former and subsequent occasions. Little was accomplished against the enemy, who were enabled, at any time, to retreat beyond the reach of their pursuers, and only showed themselves where they could attack the whites at a disadvantage. Under existing circumstances, the main force was obliged to return to Fort Drane, not without the loss of a great number of their horses from hard service upon indifferent food.
Colonel Lane’s Expedition From Tampa
Colonel Lane, with a strong force of Creek Indians and regular troops, made an excursion into the enemy s country from Tampa Bay, during the early part of this month. Near the Ocklikany Lake, called the Spotted Lake, from the great number of small wooded islands which cover its surface, about sixty miles from Tampa, an Indian trail was struck. -The party followed this track to the south ward, and came successively upon several considerable Indian villages deserted by the inhabitants. Large cornfields were seen in the vicinity of these settlements, and some hundreds of cattle were secured by the Creek Indians of the company. At one advantageous post, where the thick under wood on the borders of a small lake offered protection to an ambush, the Seminoles attempted, unsuccessfully, to resist the invaders. They were driven out into the open country and dispersed. Lane and his detachment joined General Call at Fort Drane on the 19th. He survived this service but a few days, being found in his tent, nearly dead, with the point of his sword thrust into the brain over his eye: there was little doubt among those conversant with the circumstances of his death, but that it occurred accidentally.
Battles Of The Wahoo Swamp
The combined army, of more than two thousand men, marched to the Ouithlacoochee in November. This region, which had been a favorite resort of the Seminoles through out the war, was now found entirely abandoned, and trails were discovered trending towards the great Wahoo Swamp. That the main body of the enemy had moved in that direction, was also affirmed by an old Negro, found at an abandoned village on the river. Taking up the pursuit, a portion of the American forces followed the trail, and had a sharp engagement with the Indians on the border of the swamp. There was, however, abundant space for the fugitives to retreat into, where the whites were unable to follow them, and no heavy loss occurred on either side.
Another battle took place on the 21st, in which the Seminoles displayed more resolution, and stood the charge of the regular troops with greater firmness, than had ever before been observed in them. The dangers of the extensive morass to which they retreated proved more insurmountable than those attendant upon the contest with the savages themselves.
General Jessup Appointed To The Command In Florida
Provisions being nearly exhausted, and it being impossible to procure supplies in such a wilderness, the army proceeded to Volusia, between Lake George and Dexter s Lake. There it was joined by General Jessup, who had been appointed to the chief command in Florida, with four hundred mounted volunteers from Alabama.