Friday, July 24, 2009

Scott's Massacre of 1817

On November 30, 1817, one of the most critical battles of the Seminole Wars took place on the Apalachicola River at present-day Chattahoochee, Florida.

A large U.S. Army boat was making its way up the river under the command of Lieutenant R.W. Scott of the 7th U.S. Infantry Regiment. On board were 40 soldiers, roughly 20 of whom were severely ill with fever, 7 women (wives of soldiers) and four children. They were en route to Fort Scott, a U.S. post on the lower Flint River in what is now Decatur County, Georgia, but did not know that war had opened between the United States and an alliance of Seminole and Creek warriors.

On November 21 and 23, 1817, U.S. troops had attacked the Creek village of Fowltown near present-day Bainbridge, Georgia, in an effort to drive its inhabitants from lands claimed by the United States following the Treaty of Fort Jackson. The Indians in the "Big Bend" region of Florida viewed the attacks as unprovoked and unwarranted. They were outraged and several hundred moved to the Apalachicola River where they planned to cut off the shipment of supplies by boats up to Fort Scott, the post from which the Fowltown attacks had been launched.

The warriors took up a position on the east bank of the Apalachicola River just south of today's Chattahoochee Landing. The actual site has been washed away by the river, but its general vicinity can be viewed from the dock at the nearby landing.

When Scott's boat rounded a sharp bend of the river, the current forced he and his men to navigate close to the shore. The warriors opened fire, killing or disabling the lieutenant and most of his able-bodied soldiers with their first volley. They then waded into the river and stormed the boat, killing most of the others with war clubs, hatchets and knives. By the time the brief fight was over, Lieutenant Scott and 34 of his men were dead, along with 6 of the women and all four children. Seminole and Creek losses are not known.

Six soldiers, four of them wounded, escaped the boat by leaping overboard and swimming away underwater to the opposite bank. They made their way to Fort Scott on foot with news of the disaster. The other survivor, Elizabeth Stewart, was taken prisoner and held in slavery until she was freed the following spring by troops under Andrew Jackson.

The attack was a great victory for the warriors, but proved a disaster for them on a larger scale. When news of the slaughter reached Washington, D.C., authorities ordered Major General Andrew Jackson to the frontier. Jackson invaded Spanish Florida, destroyed major Seminole and Creek towns, captured St. Marks and Pensacola and destroyed the power of the northern branch of the Seminole Nation.

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