Dr. Motte Arrives at Franklinville, GA, 1836

In the midst of the Second Seminole War young Dr. Motte, a Harvard educated Army surgeon, found himself detailed for duty at Franklinville, GA to provide medical care for soldiers under the command of Major Greenleaf Dearborn.  The arrival of federal troops in Lowndes County in late September of 1836 followed  a series of engagements between local militia and Native Americans who were fleeing to Florida to avoid forced removal to western lands.  Levi J. Knight, pioneer settler of Ray City, GA, had led a company of men in a skirmish at William Parker’s place on July 12, 1836, and from July through August, engagements were fought at Brushy Creek, Little River, Grand Bay, Troublesome Ford, Warrior Creek and Cow Creek.

Dr. Motte recorded his experiences in Lowndes County in a journal he kept of his military service. This part of his story picks up in the first days of Autumn, 1836…

In consequence of the great alarm excited in the southern counties of Georgia by murders and depredations committed by the Creek Indians who were endeavoring to escape into Florida from Alabama, Governor Schley had petitioned Gen. Jesup to station some troops in Ware or Lowndes County, that being the least populous and most defenceless portion of the country through which the Indians were passing.  It was also liable to invasions from the Seminoles, as it bordered upon Florida.  In compliance with this request, Major [Greenleaf] Dearborn with two companies of Infantry was ordered to proceed immediately to the above counties in Georgia, and there establish himself.  These counties being so far south and in a low swampy part of the country had the worst possible reputation for health, and going there at this season of the year was almost considered certain death to a white man and stranger unacclimated.  It was necessary then to send some surgeon with the troops, that it may not be said they died without proper medical attendance; and also that they might have a chance of a surgeon in the other world to physic them. Dr. Lawson, the Medical Director, was therefore instructed by Gen. Jesup to select some on of the surgeons for this duty; and the Doctor with his usual friendly discrimination, whenever there was any particularly disagreeable duty to be done, picked upon me. [Dr. Thomas Lawson, Medical Director at Fort Mitchell, was appointed Surgeon General of the United States on November 30, 1836.] So away I was ordered, to die of fever as I thought amidst the swamps of Lowndes County.  Major Dearborn to whom I was ordered to report myself was at Irwinton [Eufala, AL], sixty miles below Fort Mitchell, on the Alabama side of the Chatahooche. It was therefore necessary for me to proceed there forthwith alone….

I found Major Dearborn encamped two miles from Irwinton, and after reporting myself to him rode over to visit Major Lomax, who was also stationed in the neighbourhood with his battalion of Artillery.

On the 29th Sept we took up the line of march for Lowndes County, Georgia, and after crossing the Chattahooche advanced fifteen miles the first day over the most wretched roads that ever disfigured the face of the earth.  We proceeded by easy marches, generally resting in the middle of the day when we took our food, which was prepared before we started in the early morn and again when we encamped for the the night. The second night I slept in a church by the roadside…The third night we slept in the midst of a pine barren. The fourth near the banks of the Kinchafoonee River upon the site of an old Indian town [Chehaw village, where Georgia militia massacred Creek Indians in 1818]

Dr. Jacob Motte's 1836 route to Franklinville, GA

Dr. Jacob Motte’s 1836 route to Franklinville, GA

The fifth night, the surgeon was coming down with fever. Of the sixth day, he wrote that the column had passed through Pindartown, in present day Worth County, GA.  According to the New Georgia Encyclopedia, Pindartown was of considerable importance in the early days. When the Creek lands changed hands in 1821, the village was bought from the Indians. Pindartown served as the only post office between the Ocmulgee and Flint rivers in the early days. The town was located at the head of navigation on the Flint River, and the stagecoach road between Milledgeville and Tallahassee, Florida, went through Pindartown.

Continuing his narrative of the travel on October 4, 1836, Motte wrote of his worsening condition.

We crossed the Flint river, and had got beyond Pinderton in Baker county, when the exertion proved too great for me, for fever with its dreadful hold had seized on my very life-springs; and finding myself unable to keep my saddle, I was forced to dismount and lie down upon the road until one of the baggage wagons came up, when I was helped into it. The torture I endured for four days during which I was conveyed in this vehicle of torment cannot be expressed in language.  My anxiety, however, to continue with the troops, enabled me to support the greatest agony for some time. 

Motte’s description of the rude and uncomfortable travel by wagon over the stage roads matches the perceptions of  Charles Joseph La Trobe, an English traveler and writer, who in 1833 rode from Tallahassee, FL to Milledgeville, GA  via the weekly stagecoach. La Trobe observed “The roads through the south of Georgia are in the roughest state.

The rough roads in the heat of an Indian summer in south Georgia were too much for the feverish Dr. Motte.

The thin covering to the wagon afforded my burning brain no protection against the heat of a vertical sun in this latitude, and the constant jolting over the rugged roads and roots of trees was fast driving me into a dreadful tempest of delirium. Human nature could endure such suffering no longer, and with reluctance I was compelled to be left in a log-house which stood beside the road in Thomas county, ten miles from Florida. The occupant, whose name was Adams, seemed a kind hearted man, and he promised to bestow [upon me] all the care in his power. Fortunately I retained my reasoning faculties, and I was enabled to prescribe for myself the proper medicines…

… By aid of a good constitution I was at last enabled to master the disease, and after ten days confinement to bed, again stood upon my legs. …On the 21st Oct I had regained sufficient strength to ride my horse; so on that day I bid farewell to my kind and hospitable host…and following upon the trail of the troops, proceeded to rejoin them.

The route of the troops from Thomasville toward Franklinville would have undoubtedly been along the Coffee Road.     Coffee Road, the military road constructed by John Coffee and Thomas Swain in 1823 became the first route opening up the south central Georgia region to pioneer settlers.  In this section the road passed through Thomas county, Lowndes county, and present day Berrien county, continuing on to its terminus at Jacksonville, GA on the Ocmulgee River. From Thomasville heading east via the Coffee Road, Dearborn’s company could reach Sharpe’s Store which was just fifteen miles west of Franklinville, GA

Now traveling alone and by horseback, Motte’s perception of  conditions along the rough-cut roads are in marked contrast to his torturous wagon ride.

Autumn with its refreshing sunshine had now superceded the heat of summer, and its hollow winds, with mournful sound announcing the approach of dreary winter, were driving the leaves about in eddying course; their rustling alone broke the stillness of the scene as I journeyed slowly through the wide forests, which were now throwing off their garb of sturdy vigour and assuming the ostentatious and gaudy livery of the season. The beauty of woodland scenery is always heightened just before the chilly winter throws its icy influence over their bloom. and envelopes them in a robe of dusky brown.  Then it is that the gorgeous and fantastic blending of green, yellow, crimson, purple and scarlet, which tinge the distant prospect, defies the art of the painter, who endeavours in vain to imitate successfully the varied hues of nature.

On the evening of the 22nd Oct I arrived at Franklinville, which is the only town in the whole of Lowndes county, and contains only three log-houses one of which is a court-house, and another the Post-office; the third is a store. This great place is situated on the upper Withlacooché, and here I found the troops encamped. They were preparing to move farther south, and nearer to Florida; and the day after I joined, the tents were struck, the Withlachooché crossed, and after marching ten miles in a southerly direction, a new place of encampment was selected near the plantation of  a Mr. Townsend.

[Thomas O. Townsend was one of the first settlers of Lowndes County, and later owned several lots in the town of Troupville.]

Major Dearborn apparently found the environs of Franklinville unsuitable to military discipline, this despite the fact that the only buildings were the courthouse, post office, an inn operated by William Smith, who was also clerk of the court and postmaster, and the residences of Sheriff Martin Shaw, and of John Mathis and James Mathis. Still, Franklinville was the only “town” in all of Lowndes County and was on the stage road from Jacksonville.   In reflecting on the early history of Lowndes County, Hamilton Sharpe, who operated Sharpe’s Store on Coffee Road, intimated that Franklinville was a rowdy place of drunkenness, at least on days when citizens gathered from the countryside of meetings of the circuit court.

In any event, Major Dearborn soon had his troops relocated to a more remote location.

Related Posts

Dr. Jacob Rhett Motte: Army Surgeon

In the fall of 1836 at the onset of the Second Seminole War, Dr. Jacob Rhett Motte became perhaps the first surgeon in Lowndes County, GA, which then encompassed a vast area including all of present day Lowndes, Berrien, Brooks, Cook, Lanier and Echols counties. Motte was the first of the medical men anywhere in the vicinity of the pioneer homesteaders at the settlement now known as Ray City, GA. Dr. Motte, a U.S. Army surgeon detailed to serve under the command of Major Greenleaf Dearborn, had come to Franklinville, GA which was the first government seat and post office of Lowndes County.

The early pioneers of the area cheered the deployment of federal troops, and the arrival of a doctor was especially welcome.  But to Dr. Motte, the assignment for duty in Lowndes was most unwelcome, in his words the county “being so far south and in a low swampy part of the country had the worst possible reputation for health, and going there at this season of the year was almost considered certain death to a white man and stranger unacclimated.”

The Milledgeville Federal Union reported the arrival of United States troops in Lowndes County.

September 27, 1836 Milledgeville Federal Union reports Major Greenleaf Dearborn and 200 federal troops have taken up position in Lowndes County, GA.

September 27, 1836 Milledgeville Federal Union reports Major Greenleaf Dearborn and 200 federal troops have taken up position in Lowndes County, GA.

 Milledgeville Federal Union
September 27, 1836

United States Troops in Lowndes.

It is stated that Gen. Jesup has ordered Maj. Dearborn with about two hundred United States regulars, into Lowndes county, for the protection of that and the surrounding country against the depredations of Indians. It is anticipated that when operations shall be renewed in Florida, parties of Creek Indians, perhaps accompanied by the Seminole allies, will return through our southwestern counties to their ancient homes; and this force is designed, we learn, as a preparation for such a state of things. – Gen. Jesup has been at Tallahassee, and it was there understood, that he would be invited by Gov. Call to take command of the Florida forces.

As Native American inhabitants of Georgia, Alabama and Florida forcibly resisted removal to western lands, the summer of 1836 had erupted into a string of violent encounters. On or about July 12, 1836 Levi J. Knight led a company of men in a skirmish at William Parker’s place. In subsequent days, engagements were fought at Brushy Creek, Little River, Grand Bay, Troublesome Ford, Warrior Creek and Cow Creek.

About Dr. Motte…

Young Jacob Rhett Motte,  descendant of two distinguished and colorful South Carolinian families, graduated with an A .B. degree from Harvard University in 1832. Disappointed at his failure to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point, he returned to his home in Charleston. There he entered the Medical College of South Carolina and served his apprenticeship under the direction of a Doctor J. E. Holbrook. Upon the completion of his medical studies he became a citizen M. D. at the United States Government Arsenal in Augusta, Georgia. A yearning for a military career finally led the young physician to Baltimore where in March, 1836, he was examined by the Army Medical Board. His application for a commission as Assistant Surgeon was approved on March 21, and around the first of June he was ordered to active duty with the Army in the Creek Nation. For seven months he participated in the so-called Second Creek War in Georgia and Alabama-an action which was nothing more than the employment of about 10,000 regular and volunteer troops in a giant round-up of the demoralized and dispossessed Creek Indians. Early in 1837 he was transferred to the Army in Florida and for the next fourteen months took part in the campaigns against the Seminole Indians.

During his period of service with the Army in Georgia, Alabama, and Florida, Motte faithfully kept a journal in which he recorded, in a fascinating style, his travels, experiences, activities, observations and impressions.

-James F. Sunderman

According to The Army Medical Department, 1818-1865,

President Jackson decided that it was necessary to move Army units into Georgia, Alabama, and Florida to force the removal of the Seminoles and Creeks, a step that had the added effect of intimidating the most reluctant members of the other three tribes. Although the Creeks put up less resistance to removal than the Seminoles, the possibility of wholesale active resistance caused the Army to order sixteen companies of regular troops from artillery and infantry regiments, more than 1,000 men, south by mid-1836 to assist over 9,000 state troops in rounding up the reluctant members of this tribe in preparation for their removal. In the course of the following six months, over 14,000 Creeks left the area under Army escort.

The Medical Department provided medical supplies for some of those going west, including the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Chickasaws, for which it was reimbursed from a special fund by the “Indian department,” and medical officers also vaccinated large groups from the various tribes for smallpox. At least one Army surgeon, Eugene Abadie, was sent with the Creeks and specifically designated “Surgeon to Emigrating Indians” although, except for surgeons assigned to Army escorts, physicians accompanying groups of migrating Indians were apparently usually civilians. Abadie reported that many Indians fell sick during their march, fevers, dysentery, and diarrhea being the most common ills, and that many died, especially the very old and the very young. Abadie appears to have left the Creeks shortly after their arrival in the West, for he was at Fort Brooke, Florida, in August 1837.

Some of those whose duty it was to assist in the removal of the members of these tribes were well aware of the tragedy involved. Although he was not assigned to accompany the Creeks as they moved west, Assistant Surgeon Jacob Rhett Motte, who was then attached to one of the artillery units in the territory of the Creeks, studied their language and learned to respect them as a people. He watched at least 500 Creeks being brought in chains to Fort Mitchell, Alabama, and deplored the melancholy spectacle as these proud monarchs of the soil were marched off from their native land to a distant country, which to their anticipations presented all the horrors of the infernal regions. There were several who committed suicide rather than endure the sorrow of leaving the spot where rested the bones of their ancestors. The failure of his attempt to escape the round-up drove one warrior to self destruction; the fact that the only weapon at his disposal was an extremely dull knife did not deter him. With it he made several ineffectual efforts to cut his throat, but it not proving sharp enough, he with both hands forced it into his chest over the breast bone, and his successive violent thrusts succeeded in dividing the main artery, when he bled to death.

The troops based at Fort Mitchell during the Creek removal suffered primarily from dysentery and diarrhea, which Motte blamed on “the rotten limestone water of the country.” The sick were sheltered in two small buildings, each with a ten-foot wide piazza shading it from the summer’s sun. Both structures were in poor condition, with split floor boards and rooms without ceilings. Neither had been intended to serve as a hospital, but the building constructed for this purpose was on private land and had been taken over as a home, apparently by the family owning the land. The diseases endured by the men who came to the facility were, for the most part, fevers, probably malarial, and, in hot weather, diarrhea and dysentery. An epidemic of measles broke out in the fall of 1836, and the surgeon was occasionally called upon to treat the victims of delirium tremens or even of poison ivy. By the summer of 1836 the facility was serving as a general hospital, taking in both Regular Army patients from the garrison and men from the Alabama volunteers, recently back from Florida and the war against the Seminoles.

Character of the Second Seminole War

A brief show of strength served to eliminate Creek resistance, but an increasing number of attacks on white families and ambushes of small Army units emphasized the determination of the Seminoles never to leave their homes. In the last weeks of 1835, the conflict erupted into open warfare. In the guerrilla struggle that followed, Army regulars and members of various state units sent to subdue the Seminoles fought in an unfamiliar and dangerous land, “healthy in winter but sickly in summer; . . . a most hideous region,” where insects and bacteria alike throve and multiplied.”

Related Posts