The First Seminole War of 1817-1818 is one of the least known yet most significant conflicts in American history. It raged across North Florida, South Georgia and South Alabama 200 years ago this year.
One of the bloodiest battles of the war took place when several hundred Seminole, Miccosukee, Muscogee (Creek), Yuchi and Black Seminole warriors attached a U.S. Army keelboat at what is now Chattahoochee, Florida. Remembered as the Scott Battle of 1817 or Scott Massacre of 1817, the engagement ended with the deaths of Lt. Richard W. Scott, 33 U.S. soldiers, 6 women and 4 children. An unknown number of the attacking warriors also died.
The attack was carried out in retaliation for U.S. Army raids against the Lower Creek village of Fowltown that left a number of the Native American inhabitants dead. Infuriated chiefs and warriors concentrated on the Apalachicola River and fired on Lt. Scott’s boat as it reached the site of today’s River Landing Park.
News of the battle led President James Monroe to order that Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson be sent to invade Florida and “punish” those responsible for the attack. Jackson’s 1818 invasion convinced Spain that it could no longer defend its Florida colonies and they were surrendered to the United States in 1821.
One question that has always lingered about the Scott Battle is what happened to the bodies of the men, women and children who were killed in the attack. There is no indication in military records that the remains were recovered and taken to Fort Scott on today’s Lake Seminole for burial. The keelboat, however, was salvaged and the army soon returned it to use on the Apalachicola River.
U.S. Army records do include the names of many of the men known to have been killed with Lt. Scott, while others are listed as missing. This indicates that an effort to retrieve the remains did take place but that not all of Scott’s party could be found.
An answer in the case of at least some of the dead is that their bodies were recovered and buried in the largest of a group of seven prehistoric Native American mounds at what is now Chattahoochee’s River Landing Park. This large mound is preserved at the site today and from its summit artifact collectors in the 1960s removed a large cache of human remains. Kept in a box by a local resident for several years, these bones came from a number of individuals. Found with them were U.S. military buttons and other artifacts from the time of the First Seminole War.
The collector later reburied the bones somewhere in Chattahoochee but never revealed the site where he did so. Due to the presence of U.S. Army buttons and other uniform items with the bones, there is little doubt that they were from soldiers from Lt. Scott’s command. Clearly the bodies were collected and buried in a single mass grave atop the ancient mound.
The fate of the missing soldiers from Scott’s boat is answered by the diary of Edward Brett Randolph, the Paymaster of the 4th U.S. Infantry. Assigned to bring two supply boats up the Apalachicola River, he tied off for the night just north of the River Styx on February 15, 1818:
…Came too a little before sun set about one mile above the Styx, near to a pile of driftwood on which was saw the bones of some of our slaughtered soldiers, who were massacred with Lt. Scott. The keel boat fell back a considerable distance & did not get up until 8 o’clock at night. [I]
The River Styx enters the Apalachicola River near today’s White Oak Landing in the Apalachicola National Forest between the communities of Bristol and Sumatra. The stream, of course, takes its name from the mythical River Styx that was the boundary between Earth and Hades. So far as is known, Randolph and his men were the last people to see the bones that had become snagged in driftwood. No further mention of them has been found.
Here are the names of those known to have been killed in the attack. [II]
Twiggs’ Company, 7th U.S. Infantry:
Richard W. Scott, 1st Lieutenant
Frederick McIntosh, Sergeant
James Edwards, Corporal
John Asbury, Private
David Brooks, Private
John Henderson, Private
Smith Irvin, Private
William Jones, Private
Samuel McDonald, Private
Henry Moore, Private
George Mullis, Private
Allison’s Company, 7th U.S. Infantry:
James Thompson, Private
Bee’s Company, 7th U.S. Infantry:
John Gravit, Private
Jesse Greenlee, Private
Alfred Simmons, Private
Henry WIlliams, Private
Birch’s Company, 7th U.S. Infantry:
William Darby, Private
Jonathan Driver, Private
James Holley, Private
Corbaly’s Company, 7th U.S. Infantry:
Charles Craft, Private
Dinkins’ Company, 7th U.S. Infantry:
David Brewer, Private
Montgomery’s Company, 7th U.S. Infantry:
William C. Sisson, Sergeant
Reason Crump, Private
James O’Neal, Private
Jackson Scarborough, Private
Spotts’ Detachment, 7th U.S. Infantry:
Bannister Young, Corporal
Muhlenberg’s Company, 4th U.S. Infantry:
Edward Deserrne, Private
Neilson’s Company, 4th U.S. Infantry:
William Wall, Private
Donoho’s Battery, 4th Battalion, U.S. Corps of Artillery:
Nathan Gorman, Private
Four additional soldiers were killed, but their names and units are unknown. In addition, six women and four children lost their lives aboard Scott’s vessel.
The number of Seminole, Miccosukee, Muscogee (Creek), Yuchi and Black Seminole warriors killed in the battle is not known. The Red Stick chief Homathlemico, who led the attack, was executed at St. Marks, Florida. Two additional warriors reported to have taken part in the encounter were executed at Fort Gaines, Georgia.
Memorial Day is an appropriate time to remember these unfortunate men and the other dead from both Scott’s command and the force that attacked it. The battle is commemorated each year in Chattahoochee at the Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle reenactment and living history event. This year’s event is set for November 30 – December 2 and will feature battle reenactments on both Saturday, December 1, and Sunday, December 2. Please click here for more information.
To learn more about the original battle and the First Seminole War, please consider the books at the bottom of this page.
[I] Diary of Edward Brett Randolph, February 15,1818, University of North Carolina.
[II] Dale Cox, The Scott Massacre of 1817: A Seminole War Battle in Gadsden County, Florida, Old Kitchen Books, 2013 & 2017.