Did Alachua County incident cause the Second Seminole War?

by Dale Cox

Brevet Maj. Francis L. Dade led his column of U.S. troops north on the Fort King Road 183 years ago today, marching away from the Hillsborough River and into the wilderness. He and his men met their destiny two days later at what is now called Dade’s Battle, but was their fate determined six months before in Alachua County?

Dade Battlefield Historic State Park in Bushnell, Florida.

Historians often blame the attack on Dade’s command for igniting the Second Seminole War, ignoring the fact that fighting actually began when a party of white men brutally assaulted five Miccosukee hunters at Hickory Sink between Gainesville and Archer on June 18, 1835:

…On the 18th seven white men, citizens of Alachua county, fell in with a party of five Indians, who had evaded the guard posted on the lines, & were roaming thro’ the country in pursuit of game, & occasionally committing depredations on the stock belonging to the citizens – the party of whites deprived four of the Indians of their rifles & flogged them with their cow-whips. [I]

The natural terrain as it appears today not far from Hickory Sink in Alachua County, Florida.

A severe drought parched the Seminole country that year, withering corn crops and causing widespread hunger. The small party of Miccosukees – seeking food for their families – crossed the line between their own territory and the frontier settlements around present-day Gainesville. They reportedly killed a cow and to punish them for the offense, the white frontiersmen subjected them to a flogging with bullwhips. 

The brutal assault was underway when two additional members of the Native American party suddenly arrived on the scene:

…[W]hilst engaged in taking the rifle from the fifth Indian, two young Indian men, who had separated from the party a short time previous to their falling in with the whites, came in sight, & seeing the situation of the parties, commenced firing on the whites, & succeeded in wounding three of them, but not dangerously – The whites returned the fire, killed one of the Indians & wounded the other, when the Indians returned into the lines. [II]

An exhibit at Dade Battlefield Historic State Park provides examples of the uniforms and clothing worn by U.S. soldiers and Seminole warriors in 1835.

The white settlers, who initiated the assault, blamed the warriors for defending their friends and accused them of an unprovoked attack. Several of the frontiersmen were members of a company of mounted volunteers called the Spring Grove Guards. Their captain immediately demanded the punishment of the surviving members of the Miccosukee party.

The men were turned over to Gen. Wiley Thompson, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs at Fort King, who offered them up for punishment in the courts of Alachua County. 

Both Thompson and Brevet Brig. Gen. Duncan Lamont Clinch, the military commander in the region, believed that the surrender of the hunters closed the matter and returned the Seminole lands to a state of peace. They were wrong.

Brig. Gen. Duncan Lamont Clinch who
commanded U.S. troops in Florida in 1835.

The killing of the young warrior at what the white’s called the “Battle of Hickory Sink” infuriated his family members and their friends and they took their revenge against a military courier carrying mail from Fort Brooke (Tampa) to Fort King (Ocala):

On the 11th August private Dalton of the 3rd Artillery was despatched on a mule with the mail from Fort Brooke to Fort King & had gone about twenty six miles from the former place when he was met by a party of Six Mickasuky Indians, who murdered & scalped him; ripped open his body & threw it into a pond of water. The murderers shot the mule on which he rode also, & carried off the mail & a few other articles which private Dalton had in his possession. [III]

Gen. Clinch, the author of the above, confirmed that the attack on Dalton was carried out “on the part of these Indians to revenge the death of a relative of theirs, who was killed in the rencontre between the whites & Indians” at Hickory Sink. [IV]

The army sent troops after the warriors engaged in the attack and demanded the surrender of those responsible, leading to further escalation between the Miccosukee and the United States. Other raids took place along the frontier as summer turned to fall, continuing a cycle of violence that had started with the affair at Hickory Sink.

Osceola was a leading opponent of the
forced removal of the Seminole and Miccosukee people from Florida.

The escalating violence increased tensions even as U.S. authorities continued their demands that the Seminole and Miccosukee people prepare to “remove” from Florida to new lands in what is now Oklahoma. Large numbers opposed these demands and declared that signers of the Treaty of Paynes Landing had not represented their true will. 

The fighting that began at Hickory Sink morphed into the growing resistance to “removal” as more and more warriors took up arms rather than give up their lands. Gen. Clinch called for additional troops to be sent to Fort King and prepared to force the Seminole and Miccosukee to leave Florida.

Maj. Dade and the two companies that he led north from the Hillsborough River 183 years ago today were part of this assembling military force. With fighting already taking place along the frontier, warriors moved to prevent Dade’s command from reaching Fort King. Osceola, meanwhile, prepared to kill Agent Thompson and lay siege to the fort itself.  

The frontiersmen who assaulted the Miccosukee hunters at Hickory Sink unleashed a torrent of blood that flooded Florida for years to come.

Hickory Sink, near which the “battle” took place, is off today’s Parker Road between Gainesville and Archer, Florida (see map below). The site is now on private lands.

Learn more about Dade’s Battle and the Dade Battlefield Historic State Park by visiting https://exploresouthernhistory.com/dade/. This year’s memorial service will take place on Dec. 28 at 1 p.m. The annual weekend of battle reenactments is set for January 5-6, 2019. 

[I] Brevet Brig. Gen. Duncan Lamont Clinch to Brevet Brig. Gen. Roger Jones, June 30, 1835, Adjutant General, Letters Received, National Archives.

[II] Ibid.

[III] Brevet Brig. Gen. Duncan Lamont Clinch to Brevet Brig. Gen. Roger Jones, September 1, 1835, Adjutant General, Letters Received, National Archives.

[IV] Ibid.