Today’s Lake Seminole was a place of military importance!

by Dale Cox

The focus of the War of 1812 on the Southern frontier shifted to the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers – today’s Lake Seminole – 204 years ago this week.

The War of 1812 was in its final days and Hawkins commanded a force of nearly 1,000 white frontiersmen and Muscogee (Creek) Indians. Believing that he would be supported by additional U.S. troops, he descended the Chattahoochee River from Fort Mitchell in Alabama and reached Perryman’s Town, the Seminole village of Thomas Perryman, on today’s Lake Seminole.

It was a critical moment in American history. Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson defeated the main British army below New Orleans on January 8, 1815. British Admiral Sir Alexander Cochrane refused to give up and marshaled his forces for an attack on Fort Bowyer at Mobile Bay.  If the operation succeeded, the way would be open for the British to move overland to the Mississippi River above New Orleans and negate Jackson’s victory. 

An exhibit on the grounds of Fort Morgan Historic Site tells the story of Fort Bowyer
and its capture in February 1815.

A second British army under Admiral Sir George Cockburn, meanwhile, seized Cumberland Island and the mouth of the St. Marys River on the border between Georgia and Spanish East Florida. He planned to move north up the coast to Savannah.

The third invasion force was on the Apalachicola River, where the British held a key base at Prospect Bluff twenty miles upstream from Apalachicola Bay. Led by Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls of the Royal Marines, a mixed force of white and black British troops and thousands of Native American warriors prepared to move upstream to Nicolls’ Outpost, a second fort at present-day Chattahoochee, Florida. From there Nicolls would lead his army up the Flint River to attack Georgia’s inland frontier.

Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River, where the British built an important fort in 1814.

If all went well, the three British armies would seize control of U.S. territory from the Mississippi River to the Atlantic Ocean by war’s end. Great Britain would then permanently control the modern states of Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia.

To counter these moves, the United States depended on Fort Bowyer at the mouth of Mobile Bay and a battery at Point Petre (or Peter) near St. Marys, Georgia, while three loosely coordinated American forces moved against the British and their allies on the Apalachicola River and in the Florida Panhandle.

Plans for the U.S. campaign called for Maj. Uriah Blue of the 39th U.S. Infantry to strike into West Florida with an army of Tennessee Volunteers, Choctaw soldiers and U.S.-allied warriors from the divided Muscogee or Creek Nation. Blue was to hit the base camps of Red Stick Creek fighters near Pensacola and on the Choctawhatchee River before penetrating on to the Apalachicola.

The authentic keelboat Aux Arc is an example of the boats that Brig. Gen. David Blackshear planned to use in his campaign down the Flint River.

Brig. Gen. David Blackshear would simultaneously lead a brigade of militia troops from Hartford to the Flint River near today’s Cordele, Georgia. After establishing a supply depot, he would push down the Flint River to its confluence with the Chattahoochee. 

Hawkins, meanwhile, was to bring his force of around 1,000 fighters down the Chattahoochee River from Fort Mitchell in today’s Russell County, Alabama. He would join forces with Blackshear and Blue at the confluence.

Fort Mitchell was the base for Col. Benjamin Hawkins as he prepared to descend the Chattahoochee River. The restored fort can be seen today in Russell County, Alabama.

Gen. Blackshear would lead the combined army against Nicolls and the British forces on the Apalachicola River. The destruction of the forts at Chattahoochee and Prospect Bluff accomplished, he would attack the Miccosukee and Seminole towns of North Florida to punish their inhabitants for supporting the British.

The American plan fell apart almost immediately. British forces easily took the battery at Point Petre on January 10, 1815. Fort Bowyer, at the mouth of Mobile Bay, followed on February 11, 1815 (please see Fall of Fort Bowyer). 

Brig. Gen. Blackshear’s army was recalled from the Flint River and ordered first to march to the support of Mobile, but then Gov. Peter Early instructed him to turn around and head for the Georgia Coast instead. Maj. Blue made it into the Florida Panhandle, capturing Red Stick forces near Pensacola and burning Holms’ (or Holmes’) town on the Choctawhatchee River, but his men ran out of food, and he was forced to withdraw.

Col. Benjamin Hawkins
Library of Congress

This left Col. Hawkins with his force of 700-1,000 Creek warriors. He spent late December 1814 and January 1815 building boats at Fort Mitchell for his campaign down the Chattahoochee to the confluence. These vessels were assembled by running a wide hand-hewed plank between two long logs. Each end was closed with additional planks to create surprisingly solid bateaus that could carry as many as 50 men each.

The colonel’s first objective was Perryman’s Town, the home of principal Seminole chief Thomas Perryman. The village stood on the east bank of the Chattahoochee River nine miles above its confluence with the Flint. The site was later called Fairchild’s Landing and is near today’s Fairchild Park area in Seminole County, Georgia. 

The site of Perryman’s Town in Seminole County, Georgia.

Perryman served with the British during the American Revolutionary War, as did his son, William Perryman, who lived across the river near today’s Parramore Landing Park in Jackson County, Florida. Both supported Great Britain in the War of 1812 and held rank in Lt. Col. Nicolls’ auxiliary forces.

British Royal Marines commonly visited Perryman’s Town, and two non-commissioned officers trained Native American warriors in light infantry tactics at the town during the summer of 1814. Supplies of arms and ammunition were stockpiled there in 1814 for distribution to Red Stick Creek and Seminole warriors.

The focus of British activity shifted to Nicolls’ Outpost, the new fort at Chattahoochee, in late 1814, but Perryman’s Town remained a key target for Hawkins and his command.

Chief Ben Perryman, a relative of Chief Thomas Perryman, as painted by George Catlin in 1834.
Smithsonian American Art Museum

The American colonel expected to begin his move down the Chattahoochee River on January 9, 1815, but delays prevented him from doing so. As late as January 11 he was still at Coweta, an important Lower Creek town near today’s Phenix City, Alabama. He soon began his descent of the river, however, with part of his command moving by boat and the rest on horseback by land.

The army reached Perryman’s Town – which Hawkins’ dubbed “115 Mile Camp” for the estimated distance it lay from Fort Mitchell – in early February. Hawkins reported to Gov. Peter Early of Georgia that his boats handled the river well:

The river is fine for boating without any obstruction from Fort Mitchell. The Indians have gone in a boat with four oars and a steersman from this in eight days the counter currents are favourable to its return navigation. The lands on the East margin are of the first quality, below your line, not subject to overflow, the banks of the river nearly 50 feet high. [I]

Sam Perryman, another relative of Chief Thomas Perryman, also painted by George Catlin in 1834.
Smithsonian American Art Museum

Perryman and the people of his town withdrew ahead of the U.S. force, taking their cattle and what supplies they could move to the British fort at Chattahoochee. Col. Hawkins and his men scavenged the Seminole houses, finding “50 muskets and 650  musket flints.” [II]

The colonel did not know until he arrived at today’s Lake Seminole that Brig. Gen. Blackshear’s command was not coming. This proved of great concern to the chiefs and warriors in his army:

We were enrolled in public service by order of General Jackson, promised soldiers pay and rations, and ordered to take care of this frontier. We had selected some of our best men to garrison the posts, we were promised by Colo. Hawkins and General McIntosh a force of white troops to act with us, and while we were out on duty we hear 300 men have taken possession of the posts, our women and children are there and we well know these men are rude and ungovernable. We find we are to have no meat. If white soldiers were with us and would live without it we could and would do it. We hear not of the white force promised us, and why is it these people did not come to help us, and not stop where they have nothing to do? [III]

Col. Hawkins and the men of his command thus found themselves alone and poorly supplied, deep in the wilderness near the border of Spanish Florida. Intelligence received before they left Fort Mitchell indicated that only sixty British marines held the unfinished fort just below the confluence of that Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. They were about to learn otherwise.

Tomorrow’s article will tell the story of Nicolls’ Outpost and the situation there in February 1815. To learn more before then, please consider Dale Cox’s book Nicolls’ Outpost: A War of 1812 Fort at Chattahoochee, Florida.

The site of Perryman’s Town is protected by Federal law and inaccessible by land. Fairchild Park, shown on the map below, is near its location:

References:

[I] Col. Benjamin Hawkins to Gov. Peter Early of Georgia, February 12, 1815, Telamon Cuyler Collection, Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.

[II] Col. Benjamin Hawkins to Gov. Peter Early of Georgia, February 20, 1815, Telamon Cuyler Collection, Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.

[III] Statement of Chiefs and Warriors of February 21, 1815, appended to Hawkins to Early, February 20, 18115, Telamon Cuyler Collection, Hargrett Rare Books and Manuscripts Library, The University of Georgia Libraries.