This summer, I was contacted by a Florida historian and writer wanting some information. I was more than happy to give him a few details for an article he was writing for the magazine Flamingo.
The author, Eric Barton, then sent me his article and the tale that he spun has all the elements of a grand historical novel. It is all true and it involves a man from Hartsville!
The story includes gunfire and mayhem, Native Americans, British, French and Spanish soldiers, deceit and trickery – and ends with the only war that America has lost (our current conflicts not taken into account).
But let’s start at the beginning!
The settlement of our nation involved three great nations: Britain, France and Spain – all fighting to claim the continent for themselves.
As things worked out, France ended up with Canada and Louisiana, the British got most of the land east of the Alleghany Mountains, and Spain got Florida and the American Southwest.
But being an independent-minded people, our ancestors resisted British rule and created our own nation through the American Revolution.
Before the war for our independence even began, other things were taking place. The Southern colonies were depending more and more on slaves for the labor to work their large farms and plantations. And the American Indians did not take kindly to the intrusion of settlers, who often took land without asking.
This led to the creation of a new tribe of Indians – the Seminoles.
Their name can be traced to the Spanish who occupied what is now Florida. Because runaway slaves often found refuge with Native Americans, and because Creek Indians fled their homes for less-settled land in Florida, the Spanish called them Cimarrones, which means “wild ones” or “runaways.” That evolved into Seminoles.
Things got more complicated when the British persuaded the Seminoles to take their side in the American Revolution.
When the war was over, the American settlers in Georgia and Alabama never forgot the actions of the Seminoles and continued to think of them as enemies.
The war also left Florida still in the hands of the Spanish.
But pioneers being what they are, the new Americans eyed the Florida territory as a good place to reside.
We could write a whole book on the First Seminole Indian War – there would be three – but we will spare you that.
What we will tell you is that Andrew Jackson got into the fray.
The new nation wanted control of the Mississippi River. That led to our purchase of the Louisiana Territory, the invasion of east Florida by Andrew Jackson and later the Battle of New Orleans in the War of 1812.
Another man in the action is Hartsville’s own William Lauderdale.
Lauderdale fought with Jackson in the Creek Indian War and was with Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans.
And we introduce a new character, a 12-year-old boy named Billy Powell.
The British had built a fort on the Apalachicola River. They abandoned it and it was immediately taken over by runaway slaves and Creek Indians, or Seminoles.
Jackson wanted the fort destroyed.
The farmers of Georgia and Alabama were afraid that the fort would attract other slaves to run away and find safety in the fort, which stood in Spanish territory.
Orders went out and Brigadier General Gains entered Spanish east Florida and fired eight cannon shots into the fort’s wooden structure. Those first shots did little damage. Then the Americans fired a ninth shot – a “hot shot.”
A “hot shot” was when the cannon ball was heated till it glowed red and then placed into the cannon.
The ninth shot, deadly in its own right, has the distinction of being called “the single deadliest cannon shot in American history.” It hit the fort’s powder magazine!
The resulting blast was heard in Pensacola 100 away.
Of the fort’s 320 occupants, which included women and children, 250 were killed instantly! Others would die from their injuries.
Twelve-year-old Billy Powell, who was part Creek, black, Scottish and English, was one of the few survivors.
Billy surveyed the damages, stepped over the dead bodies of family and friends. Before escaping into the swamps, he swore vengeance!
Next Week: The Second Seminole Indian War!