War with the Seminoles
The political fabric was not the only aspect of the Union showing signs of wear during the Age of Jackson. Violence between settlers and Indians had reached epidemic proportions during the War of 1812 and never really subsided thereafter. During the war, General Jackson had scored a major triumph against the “Red Stick” Creeks in the lower Southeast, extorting from them the cession of vast tracts of tribal lands. Closely allied with the Creeks were the Seminoles, who lived in Florida and Alabama. The Creek land cessions made the Seminoles all the more determined to hold their own homelands. When the British withdrew in 1815 from the fort they had built at Prospect Bluff, Florida, it was taken over by a band of Seminoles and a group of fugitive slaves. Now known as “‘Negro Fort,” it posed a military threat to navigation on key water routes in Florida, Georgia, and Alabama. Moreover, slaveholders were angered that the fort sheltered their escaped “property.”
In 1816, General Jackson ordered Brigadier General Edmund P. Gaines to build Fort Scott on the Flint River fork of the Apalachicola in Georgia, In July of that year, Jackson dispatched Lieutenant Colonel Duncan Lamont Clinch, with 116 army regulars and 150 white-allied Coweta Creeks, to attack Negro Fort. Ordered to recover as many fugitive slaves as possible, Clinch attacked the fort on July 27 and was supported by a pair of riverborne gunboats. The skipper of one of these vessels decided that bombardment would be most effective if he heated the cannonballs red hot and fired them with an extra-heavy charge. The first projectile launched in this way landed in the fort’s powder magazine, setting off a spectacular explosion that has been described as the biggest bang produced on the North American continent to that date. Three hundred fugitive slaves and 30 Seminoles were blown to bits, and the Indian tribe was propelled to the brink of war.
Late in 1817, a Seminole chief named Neamathla warned General Gaines to keep whites out of his village, Fowl Town. In response, Gaines sent a force of 250 to arrest Neamathla. The chief escaped, but the troops attacked the town, and the First Seminole War was underway.
Andrew Jackson led 800 regulars, 900 Georgia militiamen, and a large contingent of friendly Creeks through northern Florida, bringing destruction to the Seminole villages he encountered and high-handedly capturing Spanish outposts in the process. The taking of Pensacola on May 26, 1818, created a diplomatic crisis, which was resolved, however, when Spain decided to abandon Florida and cede the territory to the United States. With that, many more settlers rushed into the region, overwhelming the battered Seminoles and their remaining Creek allies. A minority of these tribes signed treaties in 1821, 1823, and 1825, turning over 25 million acres to the United States. The Seminoles were ordered to a reservation inland from Tampa Bay; few actually went to it. A majority of the Creeks repudiated the land cessions but were mercilessly persecuted under the policies of Georgia governor George Troup. When the Creeks appealed to Andrew Jackson (now president) for help, he advised them to move to “Indian Territory” west of the Mississippi. Ultimately they did just that.