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.

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