Note: You can see the First Seminole War come to life at the second annual Scott 1817 Seminole War Battle reenactment on Dec. 1 & 2! This year’s event will be at Landmark Park, 430 Landmark Drive in Dothan, Alabama. Gates open each day at 9 a.m.
First Battle of the Seminole Wars
The Battle of Fowltown was the first significant action of the Seminole Wars, a series of conflicts that lasted from 1817 to 1858. The engagement took place south of Bainbridge in what is now Decatur County, Georgia.
Military officers estimated that the action was fought 3-4 miles south of Burges’s crossing on the Flint River in Southwest Georgia. The city of Bainbridge stands at the site of that crossing today. The site of the battle was on the margin of Fowlstown Swamp, a wetland that still bears the name of the Muscogee (Creek) town where the engagement took place.
The village of Fowltown (Tutalosi Talofa in the Hitchiti language of the Lower Creeks ) was led by the chief Neamathla or Eneah Emathla. He was an exceptionally brave man who had been a fixture on the frontier since the days of the American Revolution. The town had stood near today’s Albany and Leesburg, Georgia, until the Creek War of 1813-1814.
Intrigued by the teachings of the Alabama Prophet Josiah Francis, Neamathla and many of his warriors joined a large party from the Florida town of Miccosukee and started west to hear the Prophet in person. They reached the Yuchi town on the Chattahoochee River but were attacked there by William McIntosh and hundreds of warriors who had allied themselves with the Big Warrior and the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs, Col. Benjamin Hawkins. The Yuchi community was destroyed and the Miccosukee and Fowltown warriors retreated.
Realizing that the noncombatants of his town were in danger, Neamathla broke up the community and withdrew to a site near the confluence of the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers. After resettling briefly in what is now Jackson County, Florida, he returned to Georgia and eventually built a new Fowltown east of the Flint River by Fowlstown Swamp.
The site of the new village was near a stream shown on the 1778 Purcell-Stuart Map as Tootoloosa-Hopunga. The word “Hopunga” means “to break up” or “broken up” in the Hitchiti language. “Tootoloosa,” of course, is identical with the word “Tutalosi” of Tutalosi Talofa (Fowl Town). This suggests that Fowltown at some earlier time had stood in the same vicinity that Neamathla occupied in 1814-1817.
The new town was the center of a ranching operation. A U.S. army officer reported in 1818 that the residents had many head of cattle. They also raised chickens and had adopted spinning and weaving as well as the cultivation of row crops. Neamathla and the Fowltown warriors allied with the British during the final phases of the War of 1812. Lt. Col. Edward Nicolls, who commended a Royal Marines force sent to the Apalachicola River, gave Neamathla a British uniform coat as well as arms and ammunition. Another of the British officers presented the chief with a written letter stating that he had always been a faithful friend of the English.
By the time the British withdrew from the region in 1815, Neamathla and his followers were militarily powerful. Col Nicolls believed that the Treaty of Ghent which ended the War of 1812 restored Native American lands seized by U.S. forces during the conflict. He urged Neamathla and other chiefs of the region to defend their homes and lands in the fact of U.S. expansionism.
The United States, however, maintained that the Creek War of 1813-1814 was not connected to the War of 1812. This allowed authorities in Washington to maintain that the Treaty of Ghent did not cover the Red Sticks. Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson imposed a separate treaty on the Muscogee at Fort Jackson on August 31, 1814. It stripped more than 22 million acres of land from them, including much of South Alabama and all of Southwest Georgia. Fowltown stood on a portion of these lands.
The situation reached a critical point during the summer of 1817 as U.S. troops started to build a permanent fort on the Flint River just 12 miles east of Neamathla’s town. The post was called Fort Scott and stood on the site of a temporary camp that had been occupied for six months the previous year during operations against the Fort at Prospect Bluff (also called the Negro Fort) on Florida’s Apalachicola River.
Neamathla was not pleased with the new fort and warned its commander, Brevet Maj. David E. Twiggs, not to cut timber east of the Flint River or to let his men cross to that side. The land there, the chief warned, was his and he was “directed by the Powers above to defend it” and would do so. Twiggs informed the chief of the Treaty of Fort Jackson but Neamathla replied that he had not been a party to the treaty negotiations and did not consider himself bound by the document.
The war of words intensified and Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines ordered the 4th and 7th U.S. Infantry regiments to Fort Scott and then headed there in person to assume command. The soldiers reached the post on November 19, 1817. On the next day Gaines ordered Twiggs to go to Fowltown with 250 soldiers and bring Neamathla back to the fort.
The troops marched out on the evening of November 20, 1817, and reached the village early the next morning. Twiggs ordered the soldiers to surround the village, but as they were moving into position the dogs of the Native American families began to bark. Neamathla and his warriors emerged from their homes to see what was wrong, realized that soldiers were all around them in the predawn darkness, and began to fire on them. The companies of soldiers responded by firing a single volley into the town’s men, women and children.
Twiggs claimed that his men killed four warriors and one woman. Warriors from the town later told Bahamian trader Alexander Arbuthnot, however, that their actual casualties were 2 warriors and 1 woman. Neamathla and his men escaped into the swamps with their families and the military’s attack ended in failure.
Both the Indians and the soldiers felt they had been attacked and each blamed the other for starting the war.
Twiggs returned to Fort Scott without the chief prompting Gaines to make one more attempt. He ordered Lt. Col. Matthew Arbuckle to go back to Fowltown with 300 men and a small cannon. The soldiers were to raid corn cribs for provisions, round up cattle, confiscate horses and bring in Neamathla.
Arbuckle reached Fowltown without incident after sunrise on the morning of November 23, 1817. one more time. The village was abandoned with the soldiers arrived so they took up positions in and around the Indian cabins. A wagon was pulled up to one of the corn cribs and some of the men went to work filling it with corn. Suddenly, Neamathla emerged from the surround swamp with about 60 of his warriors and attacked the soldiers who were stealing the food of the Native American families.
The sudden assault took the soldiers by surprise and they fell back in confusion as outraged warriors charged them with war cries, musket fire and tomahawks. Arbuckle and his officers tried to rally their men and one of the regimental musicians, a fifer named Aaron Hughes from the 7th Infantry, climbed atop a Creek cabin so the soldiers could hear the sound of his fife. Musicians were important sources of information for soldiers in battle. The tunes they played served as instructions for the men. Hughes, however, was shot down from his perch and killed.
The soldiers rallied and counterattacked, driving the Creek fighters back to the edge of the village. Neamathla, however, then rallied his own men and led another charge against the soldiers who again gave ground and fell back. The battle continued this way for 15-20 minutes, with each side attacking and then giving ground. The warriors finally began to run out out of ammunition, however, and fell back into the swamp until they could get a new supply. Lt. Col. Arbuckle took advantage of the lull to pull his men out of the village and lead a retreat to the Flint River.
Arbuckle estimated Indian losses at 6-8 killed while reporting that his command lost 1 killed and 3 wounded. Native American warriors told trader Alexander Arbuthnot that they lost 2 killed in the fighting. Others were likely wounded.
The casualty list was small when Fowltown is compared to battles as Gettysburg, Chickamauga and Shiloh, but the fight had massive implications for the course of American history. The small skirmish in Southwest Georgia ended any hopes of a peaceful resolution in the dispute between Neamathla and the U.S. officers at Fort Scott. Seminole, Miccosukee, Red Stick Creek, Yuchi and maroon (Black Seminole) forces poured from their villages in response to the chief’s call for help. The United States Army had unwittingly ignited a shooting war on the Southern frontier.
Arbuckle was pursued by warriors from Fowltown and nearby Attapulgus as he withdrew and realized that his troops would likely be attacked as they attempted to cross the Flint River. To secure the crossing point at Burges’s Bluff – the site of present-day Bainbridge – he halted and threw up a small fort that he named Fort Hughes in honor of the fifer killed in the battle. He was buried somewhere either in or near the new stockade.
The Seminole Wars continued for more than 40 years after the ill-conceived attacks on Fowltown. Thousands of lives were lost to battle wounds, disease and exposure and tens of thousands of Seminole, Miccosukee and Muscogee (Creek) people were forced west to what is now Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears. The fighting continued until 1858, by which time the country was more worried about the growing confrontation between North and South than the few remaining Miccosukee and Seminole hiding in the Big Cypress Swamp and Everglades. The United States did not formally reach terms for peace with them until the mid-20th century.
The Battle of Fowltown is interpreted with a Creek Heritage Trail exhibit at J.D. Chason Memorial Park in Bainbridge, Georgia. The park is the site of Fort Hughes, traces of which were located by archaeologist Brian Mabelitini in 2018. A federal monument was placed there in the late 19th century to mark the grave site of fifer Hughes. Chason Park is open daily during daylight hours and is free to visit. It is at the intersection of Jackson and Donalson Streets. The map at the bottom of this page will help you find it.
The exact site of Fowltown is believed to be on private lands south of Bainbridge. A marker stands on GA-97 (Faceville Road) south of Bainbridge.
To learn more about the fight, please consider Dale Cox’s book Fowltown: Neamathla, Tutalosi Talofa & the first battle of the Seminole Wars.
Click the play button below to learn about the archaeological search for Fort Hughes, the stockade built by U.S. troops following the Battle of Fowltown: