Indian War Service of the Douglass Family

Special thanks to Wm Lloyd Harris for sharing research and contributing portions of this post.

In 1862, Albert Benjamin Douglass appeared as one of the deserters from the Berrien Minute Men, 29th Georgia Infantry.   He actually had a quite colorful record of service, prompting reader Wm Lloyd Harris to write with additional details relating  “the rest of the story.”   Harris is a great great grandson of Albert B. Douglass.

Military service was something of a tradition in the Douglass family.  Albert’s father and four brothers served in the Indian Wars in Florida between 1836 and 1858.

American Soldier, 1839. Depicted in winter and summer garb.

American Soldier, 1839, with an Indian guide. Depicted in winter and summer garb. Print by H. Charles McBarron.

Albert Benjamin Douglass was born in 1833, probably in Hamilton County, FL. His father, Seaborn Douglass, was born in Montgomery County, GA about 1800 and came to  Hamilton County, FL in the late 1820s. Seaborn Douglass and his family appear in the 1830 census of  Hamilton County.  The Douglass place in Hamilton County, FL was apparently located about eight miles from the home of Captain Archibald McRae.

Douglass Family  in the Indian Wars

Albert Douglass’  four brothers, Allen D. Douglass, Burrell Douglass, William Douglass, and Robert Douglass, and his father, Seaborn Douglass,  all served in  the  Indian Wars 1835-1858.

In 1836, Seaborn Douglass and his son Allen Douglass mustered into Captain Peter W. Law’s Company of the 13th Regiment, First Brigade of the Florida Militia.  Captain Law was the proprietor and post master of Law’s Store in Hamilton County (exact location unknown).  Miltary records of  the 13th regiment note that Seaborn Douglass was on foot. The company was ordered into service on June 15, 1836 at Camp Collins, Middle Florida.  This was just one month before the Indian raid on William Parker’s place and the Battle of Brushy Creek in Lowndes County, just across the state line in Georgia.  The enlistment was for six months, ending October 15, 1836.

On January 27, 1837 Seaborn Douglass mustered in at Fort Reed for six months service in  Captain Francis J. Ross’ Company of the 1st Regiment, 2nd Brigade of Florida Mounted Militia (“Old Greys”).   The fort was situated near present day Speer Grove Park, Sanford, FL according to a “Fort Reid” historic marker placed at the site. The marker indicates Fort Reid was established in 1840, but Florida Militia service records indicate a Fort Reed existed as early as 1837.  There has been much debate over the name of Fort Reed, it being alternately known as Fort Read, and Fort Reid.

“The long-gone stockade dates to the days when the Army established Camp Monroe (later Fort Mellon) as the first of a string of forts that stretched to the gulf as part of the military’s effort to drive the Seminoles out of Florida and capture runaway slaves. Fort Reid was the nearest satellite stockade, just a few miles south. It was used as a commissary and soldiers camp along a portion of the mule team trail (Mellonville Avenue) that Gen. Zachary Taylor laid out to haul supplies to soldiers at Fort Maitland, Fort Gatlin (Orlando) and Fort Brook (Tampa).

Eight two-story frame homes were erected near Fort Reid. From a cupola at one of the larger homes, settlers sent signals to the fort if they saw Seminoles.

Whitner’s history of Mellonville, though, says the settlers sometimes considered the soldiers – many of them uncouth, rough militiamen – as much a menace as the Indians.

”The soldiers depredated the farms, turning their horses into the fields, killed cattle, exterminated poultry, robbed beehives, then overturned and destroyed them,” writes Whitner.

The soldiers also amused themselves by laying out race tracks west of Mellonville Avenue.”

On June 16, 1837, Seaborn Douglass and his son Allen D. Douglass, traveled the eight miles from their home to  the place of Captain Archibald McRae (or McRay) where they were mustered into “Captain A. McRae’s Mounted Company of the 2nd Regiment of East Florida Volunteers, 2nd Brigade Florida Militia commanded by Col. William J. Mills.  This unit entered into the service of the United States on the requisition of Major Thomas S. Jesup to serve for six months, unless sooner discharged.” The company was enrolled at Mineral Springs, FL and was reorganized July 20, 1837 into two companies, Seaborn and Allen Douglass  being placed into Captain George W. Smith’s Company.   Men of the Mounted Volunteers provided their own horses, and Seaborn’s mount was a Bay horse. Apparently, Seaborn’s horse died on December 13, days before the company mustered out at Fort Gilliland, FL.  On December 18, 1837, Major S. Churchhill inspected the company of East Florida Mounted Volunteers at Fort Gilliland, “who are hereby honorably discharged from the service of the United States.”

In 1838, Allen Douglass was mustered back into service in Captain G. W. Smith’s Company of the Battalion of Middle Florida Mounted Volunteers, Major John L.Taylor commanding, from March 22, 1838 to September 23, 1838.  The company was mustered in March 22, 1838 at Hamilton County, FL. Records note Allen Douglas was among those men absent at first muster and subsequent musters.

In 1839 the father, Seaborn Douglass, was mustered back into service in Captain Allen G. Johnson’s Company of Mounted Florida Volunteers Militia ordered into the service of the United States by General Zachary Taylor from September 6, 1839 to January 9, 1840.  A. G. Johnson’s company mustered in at Camp Bailey, Jefferson County, FL, and mustered out at the same location on January 6, 1840.

Burrell Douglass also served in this unit from September 6 until November 30, 1839, according to the sworn affadavits of Captain Allen G. Johnson; of Lieutenant Hansford R. Alford; and of Private James Lee.  Lt. Hansford R. Alford attested that Burrell Douglass rendered all service required, was well armed and mounted, and was discharged because there were more men in service than were authorized. Captain Johnson stated in 1846 that, contrary to his wishes,  Burrell Douglass was discharged.  Johnson reported that Douglass rendered good and efficient service and that he was discharged without pay.

In 1856, Allen D. Douglass and William Douglass went into  Captain William H. Kendrick’s Independent Company of Mounted Florida Volunteers Militia ordered into the service of the United States for a term of six months on December 6, 1856 at Fort Broome and marched 40 miles to station at Fort Brooke, FL. At enlistment, William’s horse was appraised at $150 with $5 worth of equipment; Allen’s horse was a $75 dollar animal with $20 tack.

In 1857, Robert Douglass served in Captain Lucius A. Hardee’s Company, 1st Regiment of Florida Mounted Volunteers. The company was organized at Jacksonville, East Florida, in July 1857 and marched from there to Ocala, FL, the place of General Rendezvous.

William Douglas mustered into Captain Edward T. Kendrick’s Company of Florida Mounted Volunteers at Fort Brooke, FL, February 16, 1858. William deserted April 25, 1858.

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By 1838, Seaborn Douglass had moved his family to Lowndes County, GA. County tax records show Seaborn Douglass was late to pay his poll tax that year, although no taxes were assessed for any land holdings or slaves in Lowndes County. Seaborn Douglass appeared in the 1840 Lowndes County census with his children;   no spouse is found in his household.

Children of Seaborn Douglass:

  1. unknown daughter (b. 1821)
  2. Allen Dickerson Douglass (1822 – 1919)
  3. Burrell Douglass (1825 – September 8, 1884)
  4. William Riley Douglass (1830 – ca. 1895)
  5. Robert Douglass (1833-1862)
  6. Albert Benjamin Douglass (1835 – )
  7. Rose or Rosean  Douglass (1839 – 1905),
  8. unknown daughter (b. 1840)

Seaborn Douglass is believed to have died about 1843 in Lowndes County, Georgia.

 

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Riders of the Troupville Circuit: Tillman Dixon Peurifoy

In 1840,  Reverend Tillman Dixon Peurifoy was a circuit-riding Methodist preacher on the Troupville Circuit in Lowndes County, GA, which then also encompassed Berrien, Cook, Tift, Lanier and Echols counties.  Two years earlier, on April 1, 1838,  Peurifoy’s family and slaves had been massacred by Indians in Florida, about 20 miles from Tallahassee, FL.

Troupville was then the seat of government of Lowndes County.  Methodist pioneers in Lowndes county had been served from the creation of the county first by riders on the Tallahassee District, then the Lowndes Mission and later, when there were sufficiently strong churches to support at minister, the Troupville Circuit. Among these early Methodist ministers were Josiah Evans, John Slade, George W. Davis, and  Robert H. Howren.

The earliest Methodist church in Ray City was organized in 1910, but a Methodist church had been established at Troupville about 1832. Other Methodist churches that would have been on the Troupville Circuit ridden by Reverend Peurifoy included  Oak Grove Church, Concord Church, Bethlehem Church,  and Salem Church.  Pre-dating any of these churches was the annual Methodist revival held at the old Lowndes Camp Ground, later called the Mount Zion Camp Ground.

Tillman Dixon Peurifoy. Image source: Robert C. Peurifoy

Tillman Dixon Peurifoy. Image source: Robert C. Peurifoy

Tilman Dixon Peurifoy was born January 21, 1809 in Putnam County, GA.  At nineteen years of age he was admitted to the Georgia Conference [Methodists], having been converted at the age of fifteen.  He was married when a young man to Miss Louisa Ann Bird, daughter of Captain Daniel Bird, of Edgefield, SC.  After a few years he moved to Florida and settled in Jefferson County in 1833.  The war with the Seminoles was then going on, but from the place of his settlement the nearest Indians were a hundred miles distant, and no apprehensions of danger were felt by him or by any one in that section. Mr. Peurifoy was frequently absent for a long time attending to his preaching appointments.

It was during one of these absences, and he was sixty miles distant attending Quarterly Conference, when the attack, so disastrous and terrible, was made upon his home.

Newspaper accounts document that the attack on the Peurifoy home occurred April 1, 1838.  The attack was part of the continuing violence between Native Americans and encroaching pioneer settlers. In Florida, hostilities were greatly escalated in December 1835 by the Dade Massacre, where Seminole Indians resisting forced removal to the West wiped out a force of 110 regular army troops under the command of Major Francis Langhorn Dade.  When violence spread across the Wiregrass  in 1836 local militia units fought engagements in Lowndes county, 200 federal troops were detailed to Camp Townsend near Franklinville, GA, and conflicts continued into the 1840s.

In terrible grief, Reverend Peurifoy wrote to his Bishop, William Capers, reporting the death of his children and slaves, and the grievous wounds inflicted on his wife. Peurifoy’s tragic letter was published in the Southern Christian Advocate, and the story was picked up by the Raleigh Weekly Standard and other newspapers all across the 24 states.

Reverend Tillman D. Peurifoy writes of the massacre of his family, April 1, 1838

Reverend Tillman D. Peurifoy writes of the massacre of his family, April 1, 1838

Raleigh Weekly Standard
June 13, 1838

Murder of a Missionary Family

The Southern Christian Advocate publishes the following letter, giving a moving description of a massacre by the Florida Indians. The writer is Superintendant to the Alachua Mission on the Tallahassee District:

        “Dear Brother Capers, I am ruined! While engaged in my labors in the Alachua mission I received a letter bearing awful tidings. It informed me that the Indians had murdered my family! I set out for home, hoping that it might not prove as bad as the letter stated; but O my God, it is, if not even worse! My precious children Lorick Pierce and Elizabeth, were killed and burned up in the house. My dear wife was shot, stabbed and stamped, seemingly to death, in the yard. But after the wretches went to pack up their plunder, she revived and crawled off from the scene of death to suffer a thousand deaths during the dreadful night which she spent alone by the side of a pond bleeding at four bullet holes and more than half a dozen stabs – three deep gashes to the bone on her head and three stabs through the ribs, besides a number of similar cuts and bruises. She is yet living – and O help me to pray that she may still live. My negroes lay dead all about the yard and woods, and my every thing else burned to ashes. Pray for me.
        My family was on a short visit to my father-in-law, for the purpose of having some supplies sent up from our plantation to our temporary residence in the mission, and during this brief period the awful catastrophe took place.

T. D. PEURIFOY”

By mid April, newspapers all over the country were reporting on the Peurifoy Massacre and Indian attacks in Florida. On April 19, 1838, the story was published in the Edgefield Advertiser.  Edgefield, SC was the birthplace of Mrs. Peurifoy.

Edgefield Advertiser reports details of the Peurifoy Masacre.

Edgefield Advertiser reports details of the Peurifoy Masacre.

Edgefield Advertiser
April 19, 1838

MORE INDIAN MURDERS.

     A gentleman, just arrived from Tallahassee, says the Darien Telegraph, of the 6th inst. informs us that on the night of the 1st inst. a family of the name of Purifoy, were murdered within 20 miles of Tallahassee.  The Indians burned the dwelling and two white children in it; two negro women were also killed; and Mrs. Purifoy received two shots through her body and was stabbed by the Indians. She crawled, however, into a thicket, where she concealed herself. Dr. Taylor, of Monticello, stated to our informant, that she could not possibly survive.
     The Jacksonville Courier of the 5th inst. says: -By a letter to our excellent Mayor, Col. Dell, from his brother in Alachua county, dated April 1, from the bearer of the letter, Mr. Brooks, our worst apprehensions of farther – indeed, of continued Indian murders, are confirmed.  “They killed two Irishmen on the place that Brush cleared on the Micanopy pond.” Signs near Camp Fanning are spoken of.  “God only knows what we are to do; but still hope Jesup will be able to relieve us.”  Hope deferred; and still farther to be deferred as may be seen by the General’s own showing.
     Mr. Brooks gives the further information that two volunteers were fired upon at Suwannee, Old Town – and severely wounded; that Indians have been seen at the Echetokamy Springs [Ichetucknee Springs], and signs about Fort White, and near Newnansville.

Further Particulars. – On Saturday evening last, about dark, a party of Indians, supposed to number 30 or 40, attacked the dwelling of Mr. Purifoy, residing in the vicinity of the previous depredations, murdered to children and three negroes, plundered and set fire to the buildings, and made their escape – the children were burned in the dwelling. Mrs. Purifoy, although severely wounded, miraculously made her escape from the savages.  When the attack was made there were none but females about the premises, a fact supposed to have been known to the Indians.  Mrs. P. was lying in bed with her two children, heard a noise in her room and on looking up found it filled with Indians, who commenced discharging their rifles, several of them aimed at herself and children.  The children it is supposed were killed at once. Mrs. P. received a ball in her shoulder, which passed out at her breast. The savages next commenced hacking and stabbing her with their knives, and inflicted a number of severe wounds on her head and several parts of her body.  Their attention was a moment directed from her to a noise made by the servants in an adjoining rom, when Mrs. P. taking advantage of this circumstance escaped to the yard, where she was again shot down, but succeeded in gaining the woods, intending to reach her father’s residence, Capt. Daniel Bird, about two miles distant.  Faint from the loss of blood and the severity of wounds, she was unable to proceed more than half a mile, where she was found next morning.   Mrs. P. received, we understand, ten distinct wounds, several very sever, but her physician entertains strong hopes of her recovery. – To heighten the catastrophe, Mr. Purifoy, whose children and slaves were slain, was absent from home, fulfilling his ministerial duties.
     As soon as the attack was discovered, the troops at Camp Carter, under Capt. Shehee, were sent for, but the Indians had dispersed in three parties and fled. Maj. Taylor with Capt. Newsam’s company joined Capt. S. on Monday morning, and have followed the several trails, but with what success we have not understood.
   The house attacked is several miles within the frontier settlements – the houses of most of which are picketed in. We trust the occurrence will awaken the United States authorities to do something more for the protection of our frontier. – Tallahassee Floridian

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A longer narrative of the event appeared some 5o years later in a text titled History of Edgefield County: From the Earliest Settlements to 1897 : Biographical and Anecdotical, with Sketches of the Seminole War, Nullification, Secession, Reconstruction, Churches and Literature, with Rolls of All the Companies from Edgefield in the War of Secession, War with Mexico and with the Seminole Indians.

Mrs. Peurifoy was lying quietly and happily upon her bed reading that comforting book, “Heavenly Recognition,” when the door was suddenly opened almost without noise, and a tall Indian, in feathers and war paint, quietly entered the room. The house, which was a double log cabin, with a wide passage between, had been surrounded quietly by a party of fifty or sixty Indians. A negro girl about twelve years of age, who was in the room with Mrs. Peurifoy, quickly understood the situation and tried to make her escape. She immediately darted out of the room between the Indian’s legs as he stood for a moment in the door. She made her escape, but was fearfully wounded in the effort. She was still living near Augusta at the close of the year 1890, and may be living even now, 1891.

Before Mrs. Peurifoy swooned away she remembered seeing the savage kill her daughter, Elisabeth. The fate of her little boy she did not know. When she revived and came to herself she found the room full of Indians, and they were hurriedly eating the ham and potatoes and what other food they were able to find. Hoping that she would not be observed she made a great effort to escape. She was able to get out of the house and had reached the ground when she was shot and the bullet pierced her shoulder blade. Almost at the same time another bullet struck her thigh and she fell forward on her face. The savages then surrounded her, stabbed her in the back and cut her person fearfully. They cut her throat, but a shawl or handkerchief about her neck and shoulders saved her from death. They then beat her over the head with a lightwood knot, but unconsciously she raised her right arm to protect her head, and that was terribly bruised and broken. They did not scalp her. She became unconscious, and they left her for dead. When she came to herself again the savages were plundering the house and setting it on fire. She then crawled towards the kitchen, hoping that her cook, who had nursed her when she was a baby, might be able to help her. The cook herself was dying from wounds she had received, and could only spread her handkerchief on the ground for her mistress to lie on, when she quietly passed away.

After this, suffering from intolerable thirst, Mrs. Peurifoy dragged herself to a swamp or pond three quarters of a mile distant, where she was able to get some water to assuage her thirst. Here she lay that night, and until sunset next day, when she was found by the searching parties. Her father, who lived only a few miles distant, was with the searchers; and he, it seems, had a presentiment that she was still living, and would be found alive. The charred remains of the two children, Elisabeth and Lovick Pierce, were found in the ruins of the building. Mr. Peurifoy, on his return from Conference, was within twenty miles of home before he received any intimation of the terrible disaster. Upon sheets Mrs. Peurifoy was carried to her father’s, near Monticello, Florida. For many weeks she breathed through several of her wounds, and for months she could only be moved and turned upon sheets. After these terrible events they removed to Georgia, and in 1849, came to Edgefield County and settled near Butler Church, where Mr. Peurifoy died June 3rd, 1872, and Mrs. Peurifoy, July 5th, 1878.

Three negroes, besides the cook already mentioned were killed in a house which was used for a church. One woman, who fought them to the last, was killed by having her head beaten to pieces with a lightwood knot. Her baby was saved by the door being thrown down in the scuffle and falling over the cradle in which the baby lay. This child was alive in 1890.

Mr. and Mrs. Peurifoy left several children; Eliza, who married Mr. [Frank] Yarbrough, and Hon. D. B. Peurifoy, named after his grandfather, Captain David Bird. D. B. Peurifoy, familiarly called “Dan,” by his friends, has been a member of the Legislature, but declined to be a candidate in 1890.

Thomas Bird, whom I knew at school, and who, I thought was a young man of very lovely character, was, if I mistake not, a son of Captain David Bird, and brother to Mrs. T. D. Peurifoy.

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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.

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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.”

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