In last week’s article, I introduced you to three key players in a drama that unfolded in the swamps and scrublands of Florida in 1816: General Andrew Jackson, Hartsville’s own William Lauderdale and a young boy named Billy Powell.
Our saga started with the end of the American Revolution and the growing pains of a new nation.
As the newly minted Americans crossed the Allegheny Mountains into Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and Mississippi, they cleared land, built large farms and prospered.
But to prosper, they also took land from the Native Americans and used African men and women as slaves to work their plantations.
And Florida lay on the horizon, ready for the taking! Except for the fact it was owned by the Spanish.
That is where General Jackson comes in. He, along with most Americans, wanted to control both banks of the Mississippi River. That ultimately led to Jackson entering Spanish land, taking Mobile, the Battle of New Orleans and the beginning of the first Seminole Indian War.
The Seminoles were not a true tribe, but were a loosely organized group of Indians from several tribes (mostly Creek) that had fled the white onslaught. Runaway slaves added to the mix.
In 1816 at the prompting of Jackson, General Edmund Gaines destroyed a wooden fort occupied by 320 men, women and children of the Seminole tribe. Because a cannonball hit the fort’s powder magazine, the fort blew up in a pile of dust, splintered wood and the bodies of 250 of the occupants.
One survivor was the 12-year old Billy Powell, but Billy’s family was wiped out in the explosion.
Billy Powell was typical of many of the Seminoles in that he was a mixed-race child. His parentage included Creek Indian, African, Scottish and English.
As young Billy fled the smoldering ruins of the fort, he turned his face to the Americans who were responsible and vowed to get even – and he would be true to his words!
Our third player in this deadly game was William Lauderdale of Hartsville, Tennessee!
Born in Virginia, young William had moved to Middle Tennessee with his parents in 1792.
His family owned more than one large tract of land in the area and they were prominent in local business, political and military affairs. They were also friends with Jackson.
William would form a company of local men to fight in the War of 1812. He also fought in the Battle of New Orleans and the Creek Indian War.
In 1816 when Billy Powell made his vow, William Lauderdale was back in Tennessee, farming his local land holdings. But he and Billy would meet in the future.
Now you are probably saying to yourself, “I have never of this character Billy Powell. How is he so important?”
And you would be right – sort of!
You see, Billy had the advantage, because of his mixed origins, of being able to speak both English and Creek. He also had a strong personality!
As the Americans forced the surviving runaway slaves from the demolished fort back into slavery and considered themselves heroes, the few Creeks and Choctaws who escaped began a deadly series of raids on the white settlers in the grasslands of Florida.
One of them was Billy, who became known for his rousing speeches to the scattered Indian villages. He was a tough fighter and began to lead the raids on poorly defended cabins and their white occupants.
Oh, and one more thing about young Billy.
He changed his name. He was now calling himself a more traditional name – he was now “Osceola!” That is a name you will probably recognize!
The raids by Osceola and his followers led to the First Seminole Indian War.
The Americans, with more men and better guns, won that war and sent the Seminoles across the Mississippi to new reservations.
But as you may have guessed, some of the Seminoles didn’t accept defeat and merely retreated further into the swamps of Florida. Osceola was one of them.
Meanwhile back on the banks of Little Goose Creek, young William Lauderdale was getting married and starting a family. He was unaware that he and the hostile Osceola would one day face each other in the Second Seminole Indian War.