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.


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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Whangdoodled on Panama Canal Contract, Billy Oliver put in a Bid to Construct G & F Railroad Through Ray City

The  contract to build the railroad line connecting Nashville, GA by way of Rays Mill (now Ray City) to Valdosta, GA,  might  not seem like a project that would attract one of the largest construction companies in America,  but the 1907 call for bids for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad did just that. To be fair, the total contract concerned not just the 30 mile stretch of railroad from Berrien to Lowndes county, but about 70 additional miles of track to connect the various shortlines that comprised the Georgia and Florida railroad.

Perhaps the most prominent bidder  for constructing the connecting lines of the G & F was William J. Oliver, the Tennessee contractor who earlier that year had submitted the lowest bid for the immensely huge task of constructing the Panama Canal.  Oliver expected that the South Georgia cotton shipped over the Georgia and Florida Railroad would eventually find its way through the Panama Canal to  meet the demand in Asian markets. When completed, the G & F line would certainly open the way for economic development in Berrien County, GA and fuel the growth of firms such as the Luckie Lumber Company at Ray City, GA.

William Jesse Oliver (1867-1925) was a prominent bidder for the contract to construct the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

William Jesse Oliver (1867-1925) was a prominent bidder for the contract to construct the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

In 1907, the early accounts indicated Oliver had a lock on the canal contract.

January 28, 1907, William J. Oliver to build the Panama Canal.

January 28, 1907, William J. Oliver to build the Panama Canal.

The first week of  February, 1907, Harper’s Weekly Magazine gave a short sketch on  William J. Oliver and his bid for the Panama Canal.

William J. Oliver, Harper's Weekly, Feb 2, 1907

William J. Oliver, Harper’s Weekly, Feb 2, 1907

Harpers Weekly
Feb 2, 1907


      William J. Oliver, in association with Anson J. Bangs, has made a proposition to build the Panama Canal for 6.75 percent, of total cost, and this bid, at the time of writing, is under favorable consideration by the government.  In the combination which made this bid, Mr. Oliver has the dominant interest.  Other bids were for 7.19, 12.50, and 28 per cent.
      Mr. Oliver is thirty nine years of age.  He was born in Mishawauka, a suburb of South Bend, Indiana.  When he was sisteen years of age he started out on the Cotton Belt railroad with s fifteen team outfit as a railroad contractor.  He has gradually progressed from one branch of railroad contracting to another, and owns one of the largest manufacturing plants in the United States for the building of contractors’ machinery.
       Mr. Oliver has also made a specialty of what contractors call “concrete work,” and has built a number of concrete buildings, viaducts, and river bridges for railroads.  He has over $30,000,000 of contracts now under way including the tunnelling of Lookout Mountain for the Southern Railway company, concrete buildings in Louisville and Nashville, a concrete dam at Chattanooga, sixty five feet high,in which there will be 50,000 cubic yards of reinforced concrete work.  He is also laying double tracks and building extensions for various railroads.
      In view of the announcement that Mr. Oliver purposes to use negroes from the West Indies as laborers on the canal, under the superintendence of white men from the South, it is interesting to recall the report that Governor Swettenham of Jamaica is opposed to the use of negroes from that island as foreign laborers, and has imposed a prohibitive emigration head tax to prevent the natives from leaving the island for America or Panama.
      In the case of an award, Mr.Oliver will go to the isthmus to superintend personally the work of construction; he will take over the entire plant owned by the government, and will at once proceed to ship additional materials to the Zone.

Ultimately, the contract for construction of the Panama Canal went to the Army Corps of Engineers.  Oliver said he had been “whangdoodled” by President Teddy Roosevelt, but his manufacturing company did end up supplying some of the construction equipment.  The completed canal is still regarded as one of the greatest engineering achievements of the modern world.

May of 1907 found Oliver not in the Canal Zone but in Augusta, GA to bid on the G & F construction project. In the May 20, 1907 edition of The Atlanta Georgian and News,  he was still protesting the politicized award of the Panama Canal contract,  but the paper also reported his comments on the global impact of the opening of the Georgia and Florida Railroad. “When this line is completed,”he said, “it will largely solve the problem involved in the big suits now before the interstate commerce commission in the matter of rates from the South to Oriental ports.  All the cotton goods and other freight that must cross the Pacific will go over this line and through the Panama Canal when it is finished,” he said.

The Atlanta Georgian and News reports William J. Oliver will bid on the construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

The Atlanta Georgian and News reports William J. Oliver will bid on the construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad.

Within a few weeks, The Atlanta Georgian and News reported that The Georgia and Florida Railroad  was ready to select a contractor.

By June of 1907, the selection of a contractor for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad was imminent.

By June of 1907, the selection of a contractor for construction of the Georgia and Florida Railroad was imminent.

But the bids came in too high and on June 22,1907 the railroad announced it would hold off on awarding a contract.

June 22, 1907 The Atlanta Georgian and News announcemed that the Georgia and Florida Railroad would not be letting a constrruction contract for some time.

June 22, 1907 The Atlanta Georgian and News announced that the Georgia and Florida Railroad would not be letting a construction contract for some time.

On August 24 the contract was finally awarded, but went to Schofield & Sons of Philadelphia.

August 24, 1907, the Georgia and Florida Railroad contracts for construction of new line.

August 24, 1907, the Georgia and Florida Railroad contracts for construction of new line.

-So in the end, the man who famously did not get the Panama Canal contract, also did not get the Georgia & Florida railroad contract.


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