Saturday, May 23, 2009

Steamboat Attack on the Apalachicola River

The Story of a Forgotten Attack of the Second Seminole War

By Dale Cox

One of the more unusual incidents of the Second Seminole War took place in July of 1840 when a party of refugee Creek warriors attacked the steamboat Irwinton as it was churning its way up the Apalachicola River between Jackson and Gadsden Counties.

There were fifteen passengers on the boat at the time, several of them children, and the boat’s captain had become somewhat alarmed after having spotted smoke rising in several locations. According to an account that appeared in New Orleans newspapers a short time later, the captain quickly advised the passengers to retire to their cabins for their safety:
They had only done so when a volley was fired, killing a cabin boy, named John Gill, of Pittsburg. The Indians fired from both shores. Some of the bullets passed through the cabin, and the passengers threw themselves on the floor and escaped the shots. The pilots also cast themselves upon the deck and were unhurt. The captain was at this time below crowding the fires. An alarm was now given that the boat was crowded with Indians, and “we are lost.”
The Irwinton was towing a barge on her trip up the river and eleven of the attacking warriors paddled a canoe out to the barge and were trying to climb aboard when the canoe suddenly overturned, dumping most of the Indians into the river. Three, however, managed to climb onto the barge and make their way over to the steamboat itself:
Two of the Indians who got on board the Irwington, were killed by the engineer and mate, who knocked them down with their wrenches, and threw them into the wheel where they were torn to pieces. The third, who appeared to be the leader, and who supposed his men were with him, entered the cabin calling loudly to the others to follow him. Most of the passengers hid themselves, and the Indian posted himself at the head of the table, apparently waiting a moment for reinforcement. Mr. P. Hendricks seized a chair, as the only weapon of defence at hand, when the chief threw a chair at him across the table. Mr. Metchner, of Randolph county, Ga., a stout man of about fifty years of age, then clasped the Indian in his arms from behind, and endeavored to force him out of the cabin, but was not able. At this time the mate came in and stabbed him in the abdomen, and threw him also in the wheel.
The attack on the Irwinton was the last reported attack on a boat on the Apalachicola and Chattahoochee Rivers during the Seminole Wars. The steamboat continued on its way upstream.
To learn more about other Seminole War events in and around Jackson County, please consider The History of Jackson County, Florida: The Early Years. The book is available at or in Marianna at Chipola River Book and Tea on Lafayette Street downtown.

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