Sunday, November 30, 2008

Anniversary of Scott's Massacre - November 30, 1817

Today marks the 191st anniversary of the Seminole War battle remembered as Scott's Massacre.

This bloody fight took place on November 30, 1817, on the Apalachicola River in roughly the area of Chattahoochee Landing between Chattahoochee and Sneads.

The battle began when Seminole and Creek warriors attacked a U.S. Army supply boat from the Gadsden County side of the river. The current had forced the boat to navigate close to the shore, allowing the warriors to fire from point blank range.

After firing a volley of musket and rifle fire that killed or wounded most of the able-bodied U.S. soldiers on the boat, the warriors (reportedly led by the refugee Creek chief Homathlemico and others) waded into the river and overwhelmed the survivors. The incident was widely mentioned in 19th century histories of the United States, but has now faded into obscurity. Illustrations like the one shown here were used in a number of books of that era.
The attack resulted in the deaths of at least 34 U.S. soldiers, 6 women (wives of soldiers) and 4 children. Four other soldiers were wounded, but escaped by leaping into the river and swimming away to the opposite bank. Only three people survived without injury. Two of them were soldiers that escaped to the opposite bank. The third, Elizabeth Stewart, was taken captive by the warriors and held in various villages until the following spring when she was rescued by troops under Andrew Jackson.

The event marked the deadliest day in the history of Gadsden and Jackson Counties. If you would like to learn more, please consider my new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One. The book can be ordered by following the link and can also be purchased at Chipola River Book and Tea in Marianna (downtown across from the Battle of Marianna monument). It will be available through other locations in January.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Andrew Jackson and the Natural Bridge - Part Two

We continue tonight with the story of Andrew Jackson and the Natural Bridge of the Chipola River.

This article is part two of a series of excerpts from The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One, a new book published this year.


From Fort Gadsden, Jackson’s army swept east through much of the Big Bend region of Florida. He destroyed the Seminole towns of Tallahassee Talofa (“Old Field Town”) and Miccosukee and defeated a large force of Seminole, Creek and African American warriors at the Battle of Miccosukee on April 1, 1818. Turning south, he marched to the coast and forced the surrender of the Spanish fort of San Marcos de Apalache (Fort St. Marks). There he captured a Scottish trader named Alexander Arbuthnot as well as the Creek Prophet Josiah Francis and the Red Stick chief Homathlemico. Arbuthnot was accused of inciting the war, while Francis and Homathlemico were old enemies of Jackson’s from the Creek War. Both of the chiefs were summarily hanged, but Arbuthnot was held as a prisoner.

Three prisoners of the Indians were also found in the fort. William Hambly and Edmund Doyle, the traders captured at Spanish Bluff, had been turned over to the Spanish for safe keeping by their captors. With them was found a Georgia militiaman named Duncan McKrimmon. He had been captured by some of Francis’ warriors near Fort Gadsden and was on the verge of being executed when the prophet’s daughter, Milly Francis, intervened on his behalf and convinced his captors to spare his life. She later became known as the “Creek Pocahontas” and was authorized a special medal of honor and pension by the U.S. Congress in recognition of her act of mercy.

Jackson then turned east for the Suwannee, to attack the large village of Chief Boleck (also called “Bowlegs”) near what is now Suwannee Old Town. En route, however, his scouts discovered a large force of Red Sticks under the chief Peter McQueen at the Natural Bridge of the Econfina River (Note: Not to be confused with Econfina Creek). McQueen was attacked and his warriors all but annihilated in a bloody one-sided confrontation. More than 100 women and children were captured, including Mrs. Stewart, the captive survivor of Scott’s Massacre.

The army pushed on to Suwannee Old Town, where another sharp battle took place. Boleck’s village was destroyed, but most of its inhabitants managed to escape across the Suwannee River to safety. Two British interlopers, however, were not so fortunate. Sending out parties to round up any warriors that might be hiding in the area, Jackson managed to capture a schooner that had tied up near the mouth of the Suwannee. On board were Peter Cook and Robert Ambrister. Cook was a clerk to Alexander Arbuthnot, the trader captured at Fort St. Marks, while Ambrister had been a lieutenant in the British Marines and a subordinate to Colonel Nicolls and Major Woodbine during the War of 1812.
Jackson took them back to St. Marks where a military trial was convened. Cook agreed to testify for the prosecution, as did Hambly and Doyle. Arbuthnot and Ambrister were found guilty and executed by order of the general.
Believing the war was now virtually over, Jackson ordered most of his men back to Fort Scott for discharge and then returned in person to Fort Gadsden. Upon arriving there, however, he received intelligence that Spanish authorities in Pensacola were providing arms and supplies to Red Stick warriors. Assembling a force of 1,092 men and two pieces of artillery, he marched back up the east side of the Apalachicola River and on May 9, 1818, crossed over to Ocheesee Bluff.

The army turned to the northwest on the morning of May 10th and crossed into Jackson County. Their route led them across the approximate site of Grand Ridge to Blue Spring, where they camped for the night. Captain Hugh Young, Jackson’s topographer, called the spot “Big Spring,” a name it would hold for a number of years. He described it as being “forty yards in diameter and of considerable depth with a rock bottom and a clean rapid current.”

The soldiers in Jackson’s army marveled at the beauty and richness of the surrounding countryside. Young himself kept careful records of the quality of the lands through which they marched.
(End of Excerpt)

Copies of The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One are available at Chipola River Book and Tea in downtown Marianna (on the same block as the Gazebo Restaurant, across the street from the Battle of Marianna monument). You can also order the book online by clicking here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Andrew Jackson and the Natural Bridge - Part One

The Natural Bridge of the Chipola River, seen here, is one of the most significant historic sites in Jackson County.
Now part of Florida Caverns State Park, the bridge is a place where the Chipola River sinks underground for a short distance before rising again and continuing down to eventually merge with the Apalachicola.
In 1818, the army of General Andrew Jackson crossed the bridge on its way to attack the Spanish city of Pensacola. The march provided many of Jackson's men with their first view of the area they would soon return to settle. It also provided Jackson County with one of its most fascinating legends, the story of Andrew Jackson and the Natural Bridge.
The following is excerpted from my new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One. Signed copies of the book can be purchased in Marianna at Chipola River Book and Tea (on the same block as the Gazebo restaurant, across from the Battle of Marianna monument). It can also be ordered online by clicking here. I post additional parts of this story over coming days:
Excerpt from Chapter Two: Andrew Jackson and the Natural Bridge
A fascinating legend about the First Seminole War can still be heard at Florida Caverns State Park near Marianna. The story revolves around Andrew Jackson’s march through Northwest Florida during the spring of 1818 and his crossing of the Chipola River at the natural bridge in the park.
According to the oft-recited legend, Jackson’s army was moving forward in two columns. One column, led by the general himself and guided by the chief John Blunt, crossed the river at the natural bridge. The second column, moving by a route more to the north, was forced to halt the river and build rafts so the men and artillery could get across. Jackson’s column reached the planned rendezvous point west of the river and the general, known for his temper, supposedly became irate when the second column failed to appear on schedule.
When the bedraggled men finally trudged into camp, it is said that Jackson berated their officers, demanding to know the reason for the delay. His temper supposedly soared even higher when they explained the reason for their lateness, as he had seen no river. The legend holds that it was not until John Blunt explained the phenomenon of the natural bridge that Jackson could be placated.
It is a fascinating little story and one of the few that survive about Andrew Jackson in the county that today bears his name. Mrs. Janie Smith Rhyne, a Jackson County writer and historian of the 20th century, even memorialized the event in poem:

“About first candle-light he spied
His draggled cavalcade
Emerging from the northward swamp –
No sooner seen than sprayed

With oaths as hot as shrapnel shells.
They pled, ‘We built a raft
To cross the river;’ Jackson yapped
‘No river there, you’re daft!’

‘I crossed no stream.’ ‘Then come;’ they led
Him to Chipola’s bank.
He saw, and spat another oath;
Then all his mind seemed blank.”

There is some basis of truth behind the legend. Andrew Jackson did cross the Natural Bridge of the Chipola during the First Seminole War. It was part of his only visit to the county that would later be named in his honor.

Leaving Fort Scott on March 11, 1818, Jackson invaded Spanish Florida with an army of around 3,000 men. The size of this force grew as he advanced due to the arrival of two regiments of Tennessee militia and Colonel William McIntosh’s 900 U.S. Creek Auxiliaries. Pushing down the east side of the Apalachicola River through what are now Gadsden and Liberty Counties, Jackson paused briefly at Alum Bluff just north of Bristol when his men sighted supply boats coming up the river. The army was on the verge of starvation when the vessels hove into sight.

Replenished with provisions, the men continued down the east bank until they arrived at Prospect Bluff where the “Negro Fort” had stood until its destruction two years earlier. The ruins of the fort could still be seen and the site was scattered with debris including rusted muskets that, when cleaned, would still fire.
Here Jackson ordered his engineer, Lieutenant James Gadsden, to design and construct a new fort that could serve as a base for his operations in Florida. Gadsden used the surviving water battery of the destroyed fort to construct a new work that stood immediately on the face of the bluff overlooking the river. Pleased with the lieutenant’s efforts, the general named the new post Fort Gadsden in his honor.
(More coming in future posts...)

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The Remarkable Story of Elizabeth Stewart Dill

By Dale Cox

Apalachicola River – In a recent article we explored the history of Scott’s Massacre, a battle fought on the Apalachicola River between Sneads and Chattahoochee on November 30, 1817. If you missed the article, you can read it online by scrolling down this page.

The battle took place when Creek and Seminole warriors attacked a U.S. Army supply boat commanded by Lieutenant Richard W. Scott of the 7th Infantry Regiment. Casualties were severe. Of the 40 men, 7 women and 4 children on board, 34 men, 6 women and all 4 children were killed.

The only female survivor of the massacre was Mrs. Elizabeth Stewart. Twenty-nine years old and a native of Maryland, she was the wife of a soldier stationed at Fort Scott. The old fort was located on the Flint River arm of what is now Lake Seminole and was the headquarters of General Edmund P. Gaines and the First Brigade.

Although six other women and four children died in the attack, Mrs. Stewart was saved through the intervention of one of the chiefs. Taken to the Seminole town of Miccosukie near present-day Tallahassee, she was assigned to the women belonging to a band of Creek refugees led by Chief Peter McQueen. A key leader in the Creek War of 1813-1814, McQueen had fled to Florida following the Battle of Horseshoe Bend, Alabama.

Although records mentioning her captivity are rare, Mrs. Stewart appears to have performed tasks such as cooking and watching over the children of McQueen’s band. One of these was a nine year old boy then called “Billy” or “Powell.” In later years he became the great Seminole leader Osceola and it is his life that is memorialized today at Florida State University football games by “Chief Osceola,” the mascot of the Seminoles. In 1817 he was among the refugees that had fled to Florida from Alabama with Peter McQueen.

Enough mention of Mrs. Stewart appears in correspondence and military records of the time to verify that U.S. Army officers knew she was alive. The chances of locating and rescuing her, however, must have seemed remote.

In April of 1818, however, Andrew Jackson’s troops attacked McQueen’s warriors at Econfina Natural Bridge between Tallahassee and the Suwannee River. As the fight developed, Mrs. Stewart was seen hiding in the brush by Timpoochee Barnard, a Creek warrior fighting on the side of the United States. Barnard fought his way through the action to Mrs. Stewart and carried her safely to General Jackson.

Although early frontiersman Thomas Woodward told a vivid story later in life of the death of “Sergeant Stewart” at Scott’s Massacre, records of the time indicate that Woodward was repeating a fictional story. There was no soldier named Stewart killed during the battle and General William McIntosh, the famed Creek leader of Coweta, wrote a few days after Mrs. Stewart’s rescue that she had been returned to “her father and husband” who he said were with General Jackson.

The Stewarts settled about sixty miles north of Jackson County in Fort Gaines, Georgia. He died there in the early 1820s and she remarried a local merchant named Thomas Dill. The couple was one of the wealthiest on the frontier and a Fort Gaines legend holds that their riches originated during Elizabeth’s captivity. As the story goes, Native American warriors considered paper money worthless to them and would throw it away as they returned from raids. Elizabeth collected the money from the ground and stashed it away. By the time of her rescue, she is said to have collected a fortune.

Elizabeth Stewart Dill is buried in the Old Pioneer Cemetery in Fort Gaines and her beautiful home – seen above and supposedly built with the paper money collected in Florida – still stands as a beautiful landmark in the picturesque old town. Her story is truly one of the most remarkable in area history.

Editor’s Note: The story of Scott’s Massacre is presented in detail in Dale Cox’s new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One. The book is available in Marianna at Chipola River Book and Tea downtown and can be ordered online by clicking here.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Florida to Save Natural Bridge Battlefield

There was a major announcement today regarding a site closely associated with the history of Jackson County.

The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida was fought on March 6, 1865 and preserved Tallahassee's status as the only Southern capital east of the Mississippi not captured by Union troops during the Civil War.

One of the last significant Confederate victories of the war, the battle was of critical importance to North Florida and involved troops from numerous counties, including Jackson.

Major William H. Milton, of Marianna, commanded the right wing of the Confederate army during the battle. Lt. Col. W.D. Barnes, also of Marianna, commanded the Southern center. Jackson County men and boys fought at Natural Bridge in the 2nd and 5th Florida Cavalries, 1st Florida Infantry Reserves and in various artillery units.

Today, Florida Governor Charlie Christ and the state cabinet voted to save nearly 55 acres of threatened land adjoining Natural Bridge Historic State Park. The land includes the scene where Major Milton and Lt. Col. Barnes and their men held the right center and right flank of the Confederate line during the battle. It is one of the first major moves by the state to preserve an important Civil War site in Florida in many, many years.

If you would like to learn more about the battle, please click here to visit my Battle of Natural Bridge website. Also please consider my book, The Battle of Natural Bridge, Florida. The book is available at Chipola River Book and Tea in downtown Marianna (across from the Battle of Marianna monument) or for order online by clicking here.

Here is the official announcement released today by the Florida Forever program:

~Florida Forever acquisition preserves 54.74 acres adjacent to Natural Bridge
Historic State Park~

TALLAHASSEE— Governor Crist and Cabinet today approved the purchase of 54.74 acres of land adjacent to the Natural Bridge Historic State Park in Leon County. The acquired parcel is significant to the protection of a first magnitude spring and features a Civil War battlefield.

“This important purchase is a part of the Florida First Magnitude Springs project and one of the top projects on the Florida Forever priority list,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) Deputy Secretary Bob Ballard. “This acquisition ensures that the geological, historical and cultural integrity of this property and the surrounding water resources are preserved for Floridians and visitors from all over the world to enjoy for years to come.”

This Florida Forever project focuses on land that provides increased protection for Florida’s First Magnitude Springs that discharge more than 100 cubic feet of water per second. Florida’s springs, scattered through northern and central Florida, draw from the Floridan aquifer system, which is the state’s primary source of drinking water. Springs, with clear, continuously flowing waters, are among the state’s most important natural resources and are famous attractions. This acquisition brings the Florida First Magnitude Springs project closer to completion, with 7,844 acres of the 14,081 acre project remaining.

The property contains many karst features such as sink holes, natural bridges, swallets, karst windows and submerged cave systems. By preserving the surrounding land, this project will preserve the area’s geological significance and protect Florida’s water resources from the effects of commercial, residential and agricultural runoff and other potential impacts.

The property is also the site of Florida’s second largest Civil War battle. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and cited as one of the top ten endangered Civil War sites in the United States by the Civil War Preservation Trust. In 1865, during the final week of the Civil War, the battle at natural bridge preserved Tallahassee as the only Confederate Capitol east of the Mississippi that did not surrender to Union forces. Today, important historical and cultural, resources can be found on the property dating from the Paleo-Indian period (10,000 B.C.) to the Civil War. The property will eventually be managed by DEP’s Division of Recreation and Parks as part of the Natural Bridge Historic State Park.

Originally established in 1999, the 10-year, $3 billion Florida Forever program is the largest land-buying initiative in the nation, conserving environmentally sensitive land, restoring water resources and preserving important cultural and historical sites. More than two million acres throughout the state have been placed in public ownership under Florida Forever and its predecessor program, Preservation 2000 (P2000). For more information on the Florida Forever program, visit

To view maps that outline the subject parcel in this purchase, visit the following links:


Friday, November 14, 2008

Remembering Scott's Massacre of 1817

The grave visible in the background here (near the fence) is that of Elizabeth Stewart Dill, the only female survivor of a fierce battle that took place on the Apalachicola River between Chattahoochee and Sneads in November of 1817.
Remembered today as Scott's Massacre, the devastating attack on a U.S. supply boat by a combined force of Creek and Seminole warriors was the action that prompted Washington to order General Andrew Jackson to invade Florida...
Remembering Scott’s Massacre: Forgotten Battle Took Place 191 Years Ago This Month

By Dale Cox

Apalachicola River – The deadliest battle in the history of Jackson County took place 191 years ago this month on the Apalachicola River between Sneads and Chattahoochee. Remembered by history as Scott’s Massacre, it was the event that led Andrew Jackson to invade Florida and eventually brought many of his soldiers to Jackson County as settlers.

In November of 1817, following a determined but peaceful standoff between the Lower Creek Chief Neamathla and Major David E. Twiggs, the commanding officer at Fort Scott (located on the Flint River arm of today’s Lake Seminole), Major General Edmund P. Gaines ordered the movement of nearly 1,000 U.S. troops to the fort. Supplies for the soldiers were sent via the Gulf of Mexico and Apalachicola River on boats escorted by troops from the 4th U.S. Infantry.
When he arrived at Fort Scott in person, General Gaines ordered Lieutenant Richard W. Scott to take 40 men down the Apalachicola on a boat to assist the supply vessels in reaching the fort. He then sent 250 men under Major Twiggs to Fowltown, the village of Neamathla, with orders to bring the chief to Fort Scott.
Neamathla and his warriors resisted and on November 21 and 23, 1817, the first and second Battles of Fowltown opened the conflict remembered today as the First Seminole War.
Infuriated by what he considered unprovoked attacks, Neamathla called for reinforcements from other Creek and Seminole villages across North Florida and ordered one of his sub-chiefs to stop the supply boats from reaching Fort Scott. Hundreds of warriors (some reports estimated as many as 2,000) flooded to the banks of the Apalachicola River in anticipation of a battle against the supply flotilla.
Unexpectedly, though, the commander of the flotilla did not keep all of Lieutenant Scott’s men to reinforce his own force. Instead he took only 20 of Scott’s men and then put 20 men that were sick with fever, 7 women (wives of soldiers) and 4 children on the lieutenant’s boat and ordered him to return upriver to the fort. Neither officer knew of the attacks on Fowltown or the outbreak of war with the Seminoles and Creeks.
Following his orders, Lieutenant Scott started back upriver but on November 28, 1817, was warned at present-day Blountstown by the friendly chief John Blunt and the traders William Hambly and Edmund Doyle that a large force was assembling upstream and it would be extremely dangerous for him to continue. He sent a letter overland to Fort Scott requesting help, but then inexplicably continued his journey up the Apalachicola.
On November 30, 1817, as Scott’s boat rounded the sharp bend in the Apalachicola River between today’s Sneads and Chattahoochee, he was suddenly attacked by hundreds of Native American warriors.
The Creeks and Seminoles had formed along the Gadsden County bank of the river at a point where they knew the current would force the military boat close to shore. According to the reports of survivors, they ambushed the lieutenant and his men from the cover of trees and brush, killing Scott and most of his able-bodied men with their first volley. They then waded out into the river and stormed the boat, fighting hand to hand with the rest of the soldiers and killing most of them with hatchets, knives and war clubs.
Only 6 of the 40 soldiers on the boat survived and four of them were wounded. They leaped overboard and swam across the river to the Jackson County shore and safety. Six of the women and all 4 children were also killed. In less than 15 minutes, the Creeks and Seminoles had taken their revenge for the attacks on Fowltown and killed 44 of the 51 men, women and children on Lieutenant Scott’s boat.
The six surviving soldiers made their way overland to Fort Scott with news of the disaster. The only surviving woman, Mrs. Elizabeth Stewart (or Stuart), was taken captive by the warriors and carried away to their villages. Her story became one of the most remarkable of the era and we will detail it in next week’s article.
Scott’s Massacre outraged authorities in Washington, D.C., and Major General Andrew Jackson was ordered to assemble an army and head for the frontier. His campaign would carry him through today’s Jackson County, where many of his soldiers were so impressed with the quality of the lands that they returned over the next few years as the area’s first settlers.
Editor’s Note: The story of Scott’s Massacre is told in-depth in Dale Cox’s book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One. The book is available at Chipola River Book and Tea in Marianna or for order directly from the printer at

Saturday, November 8, 2008

The Abstract Office - Marianna's Oldest Business Structure

This charming little frame building facing the west side of Courthouse Square in Marianna has been known to generations as the "Abstract Office."

It is actually the oldest commercial structure still standing in Marianna. Believed to have been built by Dr. W.S. Wilson as a medical office in the 1840s, it was originally located on nearby Market Street. The building was moved to its present location on South Jefferson in 1910.
Wilson was practicing in partnership with Dr. William H. Whitehead by 1858 and provided medical services to Marianna residents through the Civil War.
On September 27, 1864, he was among the citizens that turned out with the Marianna Home Guard to defend the city against Union attack. The doctor fought in the Battle of Marianna and treated wounded men after the fight. Some may have been brought to this structure for care.
Dr. Wilson died in 1868, but his office has continued to serve the community ever since. It was the home of Marianna's first telephone exchange and later served as an abstract office for Florida Land Title and Trust for over 90 years.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Jackson County Soldiers Accused of Seminole War Attrocity

This image from the Library of Congress shows a Native American town in Florida at the time of the Second Seminole War.
The war attracted widespread criticism in the United States, largely because of alleged attrocities and growing national sympathy with the plight of tribes such as the Seminoles and Creeks.
It was in this environment that a unit of militia soldiers (equivalent of today's National Guard) from Jackson County became involved in a bloody incident remembered today as the Alaqua Massacre.
“One of the Most Outrageous Acts Civilized Men Could Be Guilty Of”
Jackson County Soldiers Accused of Seminole War Atrocity

By Dale Cox

Marianna – During the spring of 1837 brutal warfare spilled over into Northwest Florida from Alabama as militia forces from that state drove a large party of Creek warriors and their families down the valley of the Choctawhatchee River. Fighting soon broke out between the warriors and the early settlers of Walton County and appeals for help went out to other area counties. Jackson County responded by sending a force of local militia (the equivalent of today’s National Guard) to join the fight.

Commanded by Colonel Levin Brown, the force of 73 drafted men left Marianna on the morning of May 6, 1837, and marched to Campbellton where supply wagons were waiting. Supplies to put in the wagons were difficult to obtain, however, and it was not until the morning of May 11th that the little army marched west for the Choctawhatchee River.

Two days later the soldiers crossed the river at Pittman’s Ferry in what is now Holmes County and then turned south for the community of Eucheeanna, the original county seat of Walton County. They did a lot of marching back and forth, but encountered no Creeks until the 23rd of May when Brown and his men succeeded in capturing a party of four warriors and thirteen hungry women and children near Alaqua Creek.
Colonel Brown tried to force one of the warriors to lead the soldiers on to where the main party of Creeks was hiding, but instead he intentionally led them astray. After spending a day hacking their way through dense forests and wading in waist-deep mud, the Jackson County soldiers let their frustrations get the best of them.
As Colonel Brown reported in a letter to Florida’s governor, things turned violent when the men of Captain Stephen Daniel’s company suddenly opened fire on their unfortunate guide:
Captain Daniels’ company having charge of the prisoners in the rear, when Capt. D. and nearly all his company fired on the Indian prisoner who had led us through so many difficulties during the night. The women and children, taking fright at this, started to run, when they were all shot down, and left on the ground.
The massacre of the unfortunate women and children was one of the great tragedies of the conflict remembered today as the Second Seminole War and undoubtedly was one of the darkest days in the history of Jackson County.
Lieutenant J.G. Reynolds of the regular U.S. Army investigated the incident and made clear in his report that the attack was even more brutal than described in Colonel Brown’s account:
The shrieks of the poor children were distinctly heard at the house, distant, I should think, one-quarter of a mile. Several were scalped and all who had earrings had their ears slit with knives in order to possess themselves of the silver. I do think this is one of the most outrageous acts civilized men could be guilty of.
Despite the severity of Reynolds’ report, no action was ever taken against the Jackson County soldiers for their role in the Alaqua Massacre.
Note: This article is based on a chapter in the new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One. The book can be purchased from Chipola River Book and Tea in downtown Marianna or online at

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Rough and Tumble Election of 1849

As Jackson County voters go to the polls for this year's General Election, it should be a peaceful experience. In our modern times election day is still exciting, but doesn't quite involve the bodily risk that it did in earlier times! Consider the election of 1849 for example.

The following is excerpted from my new book, The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One...

One of the more fascinating documents to survive from the early days of Jackson County is an autobiography written by Dr. Charles Hentz. The doctor maintained a medical practice in Port Jackson on the Chattahoochee River in the year 1849. His writings, based on his memories and a shorter diary he kept during his time in the area, reveal much about the rough and tumble nature of life in the rural areas of Jackson County during the late 1840s.

In one fascinating passage, he described the election of 1849 as a day of drinking, rowdiness, drug use and murder:

…It was an eventful day, in more ways than one. In the forenoon, some of the reckless, drinking men came to me to ask me to give them some chloroform; they having heard of its wonderful effects in the way of sudden exhilaration; I did my best to get rid of them; told them they had too much aboard already &c., &c., but they insisted so perseveringly, and declared that I should be held blameless, I finally announced loudly from my window what was going to happen, and warned everybody to look out; I got several of them – the two Keels, a man named Bowers, &c., &c. – to roll their handkerchiefs up, & I poured in a good dose of chloroform into each, and told them to walk up and down under the cotton shed, & smell deep and hard. It was not long before I regretted my folly.

It is difficult to imagine such a scene today. Not only was Hentz a trained physician, but he was the clerk and inspector for the Port Jackson precinct in the election that was underway. In addition to administering chloroform to the crowd of rowdy voters, he was also accepting ballots through the window of his office.

His description of what happened next is nothing short of bizarre:

…A wild scene of confusion took place; yelling & screaming; & flying fists created for a while a pandemonium; one of them came bounding in the window, seeking shelter from one of the Keels, who looked like a raging demon.

Old Tommy Hair (sic.) was leaning against a cotton bale, in a state of blissful repletion with his favorite beverage, not noticing the wild chloroform excitement, when he received a clip on the side of the head that sent him off in a summerset to one side….

Once he recovered from the attack and discovered the cause of the frenzy, Hare grabbed a stick and rampaged up and down outside Hentz’s office, cursing him for giving the men “stuff that made them crazy.” Apparently it was a lesson well learned, as Hentz noted that he was “careful never to give any chloroform again to such a set of people as we had about us there.”

It might have been expected, however, that such a day would not end without further violence. It came later in the afternoon when a man named Jordan left the voting precinct accompanied by a second man named Lott Owens. Jordan had been accused of paying improper attention to the wife of one of his neighbors, B.F. Wood. Jordan and Owens had not been gone from Port Jackson for more than about thirty minutes when Owens suddenly reappeared:

…Owens made his appearance, on foot, out of breath from running and excitement; and called out to the crowd about the store, “Boys, Wood has killed Jordan, get on your horses all, & come up the road.” There was immediately wild excitement; everybody mounted, I had my horse saddled, & joined the crowd.

The party found Jordan lying face down on a dirt road. Upon examination it was found that he had been killed by a shotgun blast to the chest. Owens, who had witnessed the killing, described how he and Jordan were riding in a wagon along the road when they saw Wood approaching them on foot with a whip in one hand and a shotgun over his shoulder. Wood blocked the road, dropped to one knee, aimed his gun and showed “Stop Sir.” At that, Owens said he took shelter behind a tree, but Jordan tried to rush their assailant. Wood fired and Jordan was killed.

If you are interested in purchasing a copy of The History of Jackson County, Florida: Volume One, please visit for information on how to order the book directly from the printer.