Story of the War of 1812 British fort at Chattahoochee, Florida
by Dale Cox
Col. Benjamin Hawkins, the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs, arrived on today’s Lake Seminole 204 years ago for a planned strike at British forces on the upper Apalachicola River.
He commanded a force of 700-1,000 Lower Creek warriors and a handful of white frontiersmen (Please see The War of 1812 on the Chattahoochee). His most recent intelligence came from a spy who assured him that the British would offer little resistance:
…He saw twenty white and forty black soldiers below the forks of the river, about two miles east of the little old fields, where the Commissioners of Limits encamped: one officer commanded, in British uniform. They had not fort or ditch. They had one house built and were about to build another. They came up by land, and one boat came up with their provisions and other stores. [I]
The spy, however, visited the British camp in October 1814. What he saw was the start of construction on Nicolls’ Outpost, a fort that stood atop one of the large prehistoric Native American mounds at what is now River Landing Park in Chattahoochee, Florida. The reference to the “little old fields, where the Commissioner of Limits encamped” was to an old fields just northwest of present-day Sneads where U.S. Commissioner of Limits Col. Andrew Ellicott camped in 1799.
As Col. Hawkins reported on February 12, 1815, however, much had changed in the four months since his spy visited the British camp:
The Hostile force below the forks of the Rivers on the East of
Hugh McGill was an American deserter who had enlisted in the British Colonial Marines under Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls (his name is often
Nicolls’ Outpost was now much more formidable than it had been in October. The British had entrenched themselves behind earthen breastworks and were armed with artillery.
The howitzer referenced in Hawkins’ report was a short 5 1/2 inch brass cannon designed for closer range combat than a standard gun. It fired explosive shells as anti-personnel weapons and 18-pound solid shot that could crash through the decks of enemy boats. The Cohorns used by the British on the Apalachicola were portable mortars that lobbed 24-pound shells high into the air. These would explode over the head of enemy infantry forces.
The “100 whites” at the fort were from the Third Battalion of Royal Marines. The “80 blacks” were members of Nicolls’ battalion of Royal Colonial Marines, a force that consisted largely of maroons (escaped slaves) and free men of color. White and Hispanic troops also served in the unit. A different report indicated that the white men from the Royal Marines wore uniforms with red coats, while the black and other men of the Colonial Marines wore blue uniforms.
The American force camped ten miles upriver at Perryman’s Town on the Chattahoochee River had no artillery and without it Col. Hawkins knew that he stood little chance of taking the British fort.
Making matters worse, the British knew he was there. Lt. Col. Nicolls flooded additional men up the Apalachicola River from Prospect Bluff, where his central supply depot stood 20 miles above Apalachicola Bay. Hawkins reported on February 20 that the force at Nicolls’ Outpost had more than doubled in the previous eight days:
…Colo. Nicolls with 200 troops white and black and an assemblage of 500 Warriors is just below the forks. They have an
The mention that the entrenched post was “picketed” meant that it also had a log stockade as well as earthen breastworks.
“McQueen and Francis” were noted Red Stick Creek leaders. The Prophet Josiah Francis was the principal religious leader of Red Stick forces during the Creek War of 1813-1814, while Peter McQueen had been the war chief of Tallassee. An attack on him by Mississippi Territorial Militia at Burnt Corn Creek had brought the United States into the Creek War. Both men escaped to Florida after the defeat of Menawa’s Red Stick army at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.
Also present at the British fort were Thomas Perryman, the principal chief of the Seminoles; his son William; Vaccapachassee, the leader of a maroon or Black Seminole village on the Apalachicola; John Yellowhair, a prominent leader among the Apalachicola Seminoles; Lt. William Hambly, an interpreter and former employee of John Forbes & Company, and John Blunt, the Tuckabatchee chief for whom modern Blountstown is named.
A British officer wrote a vivid description after meeting Thomas Perryman, Josiah Francis, Peter McQueen, and others about six weeks earlier at the Battle of New Orleans:
…They were fantastically attired; two of the principals had on large ill-made coats of scarlet serge, with a profusion of marine buttons, tinsel
Another British officer recalled that the chiefs wore “large cocked hats” with their British uniform coats. [V]
Lt. Col. Nicolls, who commanded the British fort, was called “Fighting Nicolls” by his countrymen. He fought in more than 100 battles during his career, many of them against French forces during the Napoleonic Wars, and was wounded many times. George Laval Chesterton saw him on the field of the Battle of New Orleans:
His appearance was not at all improved by additional age and by active and disastrous service, for his enterprises had been unsuccessful. He had lost an eye; and whether it resulted from his association with his wild
The missing eye was the result of a wooden splinter that struck Nicolls after an American cannonball crashed into the warship HMS Hermes during the first Battle of Fort Bowyer the previous September.
By February 20, 1815 – 204 years ago today – Hawkins knew that he stood no chance of taking Nicolls’ Outpost. He kept his main army well away from the fort, separated from it by the Flint River and ten miles of wilderness. He maintained his position on the lower Chattahoochee, watching the activities of the British and hoping that a Georgia militia force might come to his aid.
Nicolls, meanwhile, continued to strengthen his fort, even sending up a small Royal Navy vessel that could sweep the American force with cannon fire from the river in the event of an engagement.
The site of Nicolls’ Outpost can be visited at River Landing Park in Chattahoochee, Florida. The park has reopened from damage suffered during Hurricane Michael. A historical marker tells the story of the little known War of 1812 fort. See the map below for directions.
Note: The outcome of the confrontation between Col. Hawkins and Lt. Col. Nicolls will be the focus of an article on Monday, February 25. Until then, learn more in Dale Cox’s book Nicolls’ Outpost (available in both paperback and Kindle e-book formats):
[I] Col. Benjamin Hawkins, quoted in Maj. Gen. John McIntosh to Brig. Gen. David Blackshear, January 9, 1815, in Stephen F. Miller, Memoir of Gen. David Blackshear, Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1858, Appendix: Papers Referred to in Memoir, pp. 403-468.
[II] 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.
[III] 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.
[IV] Benson Earle Hill, Recollections of an Artillery Officer: Including Scenes and Adventures in Ireland, America, Flanders, and France, Volume I, London: 1836, pp. 298-300.
[V] George Laval Chesterton, Peace, War, and Adventure: An Autobiographical Memoir of George Laval Chesterton, Volume I, London: 1853, pp. 214-215.
[VI] Ibid., Page 213.