Friday, December 5, 2008

San Marcos de Apalache - Part Three


This post is a continuation of a series on San Marcos de Apalache Historic State Park in St. Marks, Florida. Only about half an hour from Tallahassee, this park is on a list of facilities that might be closed due to state budget cuts.

The Spanish fort at San Marcos became a focus of the United States in 1817 when an alliance of Seminole and Creek warriors took to the warpath in retaliation for a U.S. attack on the Creek village of Fowltown near present-day Bainbridge, Georgia.

Under orders from the War Department, Gen. Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida in March of 1818. Pushing down the Apalachicola River, he established a base called Fort Gadsden on the site of the abandoned British post (called "Negro Fort" by the Americans) that had been destroyed by a joint land and sea operation in 1816.

While Jackson's troops were engaged in building a new fort at the site, one of his men - a Georgia militiaman named Duncan McKrimmon - wandered beyond the picket lines to go fishing and was taken prisoner by warriors loyal to Josiah Francis, the Creek Prophet. They carried him away to Francis' town, located on the Wakulla River just above San Marcos de Apalache.

When the warriors prepared to execute McKrimmon under Creek law to avenge the death of several women during the Creek War of 1813-1814, a remarkable scene took place. Milly Francis, the young daughter of the Prophet, pleaded for his life. Moved by her pleas, the warriors relented and McKrimmon was spared and turned over to the Spanish commander at San Marcos. Milly became known as the "Creek Pocahontas" for her role in saving his life and later was one of the first women ever awarded a special medal of honor by the U.S. Congress. You can read more of her story by visiting: www.exploresouthernhistory.com/millyfrancis.

No sooner had McKrimmon been turned over to the Spanish, however, than did Jackson's forces closed in on the Spanish fort. After swinging north around Tate's Hell swamp, he struck at major Seminole and Creek villages in the area of present-day Tallahassee and then turned south and marched on St. Marks.

At the same time, a flotilla of schooners led by the U.S.S. Thomas Shields arrived in the Spanish Hole at the mouth of the St. Marks River below the fort. In an attempt to decoy any chiefs in the area aboard, the commander of the warship hoisted the British flag from his mast. It was not long before a canoe came down from the fort bearing two prominent Creek leaders, the Prophet Francis and a second chief named Homathlemico. Both were decoyed aboard and taken prisoner.

One of the Prophet's daughters (Milly's older sister) approached the ships in a canoe the next day, but realized that something was wrong and made for the shore under a hail of musket and cannonfire from the Shields.

Jackson soon arrived with his main army and, after a demand for its surrender was refused, ordered his troops to storm the gates. The attack happened so fast that the Spanish defenders were unable to fire a single gun in their own defense. The U.S. flag was raised over the fort and the ensign of Spain came down for the last time.

The schooners moved upstream with supplies for the army and the two captured chiefs. Both Francis and Homathlemico were hanged without trial or ceremony on the grounds of the fort.

Leaving a garrison at San Marcos, now called Fort St. Marks, Jackson marched east to attack additional Seminole towns on the Suwannee. Upon his return he tried two British traders - Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Ambrister - captured during his movements. Both were accused of inciting the Seminoles and Creeks to war and both were executed, sparking a dramatic international incident between the United States and Great Britain.

Our series on San Marcos de Apalache will continue. Until the next post you can read more by visiting www.exploresouthernhistory.com/sanmarcos1. If you agree that this significant site should remain open to the public, please write Gov. Charlie Crist to express your opposition to plans to close the park. His email address is Charlie.Crist@MyFlorida.com.


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