THE FIRST BATTLE OF THE SECOND SEMINOLE WAR, BLACK POINT, 18 December 1835
When the United States took control of Florida in July 1821, it began
to disrupt the life of the Seminole and Mikasuki Indians. Grievous dis-
location occurred with the attempt to move the Indians onto the reserva-
tion of 4,032,940 acres defined in 1823 in the Treaty of Moultrie Creek.
Not all of them even tried to relocate in the reservation, and those who
did could not survive there. Once separated from the areas where they had
long been at home, many of the displaced natives wandered randomly. Ac-
cordingly, ninety-five citizens of Alachua County sent a petition to Presi-
dent Andrew Jackson in Jaunuary 1834 complaining that the prosperity of
the County was hindered because the Indians were constantly beyond their
borders. In the ten years since the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, they said,
about one hundred of their slaves had escaped to the Seminoles. They
wanted their slaves back and coveted others. The petitioners estimated
that about 500 Negroes lived among the Indians.1 White Floridians intended to push
the red Floridians out of the peninsula.
Constant white pressure to clear the Territory of Indians produced two
treaties: Payne's Landing in 1832 and Ft. Gibson in 1833. The white in-
terest insisted that the Florida bands had, in these two instruments,
agreed to migrate to the West; but the red interest countered that only
a few non-representative headmen had signed the documents, under duress,
and that the red bands had not agreed to move at all. Staying in Florida,
though, under the disturbed conditions there, did not produce an accept-
able life for the Indians. During the winter of 1833, they lacked blankets
and were hungry.
Blacks lived in their own villages among the Indians in a benign sort
of slavery. They pressed the Indians steadily to stay in Florida be-
cause they feared that in the migration they might be returned to the harsh
chattel slavery of the southern United States. Richard Keith Call, general
in the Florida militia, one-time military subordinate and still long-time
friend of Andrew Jackson, also a rising personage in the politics of the
Territory, requested the President's permission to buy Negroes from the
Seminoles. With their influence removed, he said, the Indians would be
more willing to migrate. President Jackson approved, but Wiley Thompson,
the Territorial Indian Agent, protested vigorously on the grounds that
opening up such a market would bring a horde of slave-speculators into In-
dian country where too many of them were already heightening red-white ten-
sions. Jackson thereupon modified his directive to prohibit prospective
slave buyers from entering the "Nation" unless they had Thompson's permission.
1835 became the critical year! Woodburne Potter, a staff officer with the
regular United States Army, estimated that the Indians had taken 25,000
beeves from white herds.4 This loss enraged white cattle owners, but the
Indians remained undernourished. Nature, without regard to Man, helped make
1835 a critical year. In February the temperature in North Florida dropped
nearly to zero. The resultant hard freeze seriously hurt both red and
white. It brought the redmen closer to starvation. At a council on 22
April 1835, held at the Agency near Ft. King (both within the reservation)
the chiefs had to ask for food for their people. Five of the headmen,
even though suppliants, denied the validity of the Treaty of Ft. Gibson,
and categorically refused to leave Florida. Wrathfully, Agent Thomspson
removed them as chiefs. The Acting Secretary of War, when he learned of
this, wrote Thompson that his action was highly irregular. "Such a proceed-
ing," he said, "has hitherto been unknown in our intercourse 5
ing," he said, "has hitherto been unknown in our intercourse with the Indians.
But as far ps the Seminoles were concerned, Thompson had intensified red-
white tensions. The Agent, on his part, aware that the natives had been
buying ammunition heavily when they had the means, prohibited the sale
of arms and ammunition, first to the Mikasukis, who seemed the most bellige-
rent, and then to the Seminoles. This deprivation, he believed, would
force them to migrate.
A new leader had come forward to stiffen the native opposition. Not an
hereditary chief, he was the sort of man who pushes himself to the front in
crises. This new power was Osceola, who since October, 1834 had been speaking
openly against leaving the Territory, and privately in Indian councils (where
there were white spies who reported what went on) was advocating death for
warriors who agreed to migrate. Late in May Osceola appeared at the Agency
to complain to Thompson. Apparently the Agent had halted the sale of liquor
to him. There were other grievances; tempers flared, the argument grew
loud, and Osceola left. Thompson, convinced that he had been insulted, a
loss of face he could not allow, sent four soldiers to bring the Indian
back. The Agent put irons on him, and the captive raged for hours like a
trapped wild animal, but the next day agreed to migrate, and, if freed, to
bring in followers to migrate with fm. Once released, he fulfilled his
word, bringing in seventy-nine of his band, but, it is generally believed,
that at the same time he marked Thompson to be killed.7
A violent incident that shaped the future took place on the Kanapaha
Prairie in Alachua County on 18 June 1835. Seven white men came upon five
Indians who had killed a cow outside the reservation. Somehow they took
the rifles away from the redmen and conmenced to flog them with bull whips.
Two Indians, not yet involved, came upon the beating scene, and fired,
wounding three white men. This produced an exchange of gunfire that
killed one Indian and wounded a second. Later Thompson ordered the headmen to give up
the red offenders. The chiefs complied, but in the end the white authorities
returned the men for the tribe to discipline. This did not suit the local
white men who had organized a volunteer company 100 strong, and who informed
Thompson that the next time the Indians were out of bounds they would take
justice into their own hands. This affair created added festering in red-
An Indian-hating white land owner captured three of the native men.
One escaped, but he bound the other two hand and foot and threw them in
his barn where they lay for two days without food or water. The ropes cut
into their flesh. Indians related to the captives demanded their re-
lease, were refused, and then rushed the barn and freed their bandsmen.
The barn-owner opened fire which incited the redmen to burn the barn to the
Atrocities continued. Especially provocative was the murder of Private
Lnsley H. Dalton, U.S. Army on 11 August by six Mikasukis as Dalton travel-
led his regular route to deliver mail between Ft. Brooke and Ft. King. The
whites understood that this was done to revenge the death of one Indian
in the Kanapaha incident of 18 June. Brigadier General Duncan Lamont
Clinch, commander of the Army in the Territory since 1834, stepped in and
demanded that the chiefs surrender Dalton's six murderers. But an armed
band of Mikasukis assembled to protect the six, and the transfer never
Soon thereafter, Agent Thompson delicately suggested to the administration
that it might be willing to use some already appropriated money to bribe
certain red chiefs. Secretary of War Lewis Cass rejected this suggestion.11
Most of the chiefs with 500 other Indians who had agreed to go west
migrated to Ft. Brooke for protection. Charley Emathla did not. Having
made up his mind to leave Florida, he went to Ft. King to present a list of
his property to be sold. On his return, a band of intransigents, led by
Osceola, shot him and left his body for the scavengers. This fateful date
was 26 November 1835.12
Up to this time twenty-two houses had been burned to the ground in Ala-
Chua County. R.K. Call informed the President that the entire country from
the Suwannee River to the St. Johns River for fifty miles north of the
Indian boundary was abandoned by white people. When this news, plus that
of the Dalton murder and the assassination of Charley Emathla reached An-
drew Jackson, he scribbled an endorsement on the letter, directing General
Clinch to go to the Indian towns and subject the redmen to "merited chastise-
ment." Clinch then began to concentrate the troops available to him, re-
gular and volunteer, at Ft. Drane, [His own plantation home and out buildings
surrounded by a palisade.]3
General Call recruited 250 mounted riflemen in the Tallahassee area and
moved toward Ft. Drane with them. Somewhere near Payne's Prairie he joined
forces with Colonel John Warren of Jacksonville who had raised 250 mounted
volunteers from Duval and Nassau Counties. Call assumed command of the 500
men, and General Clinch enrolled them in federal service for just four weeks.14
So far there had been life-taking violence in Florida in the 1820s and
1830s, but not a battle. To qualify as a battle an armed action must be
between antagonists who have weapons, who are organized for combat, and
who have recognized military commanders. The first battle of the Second
Seminole War, 1835-1842, was imminent. John Lee Williams who lived near
the St. Johns River throughout the war wrote the most detailed account of
this battle in a book called The Territory of Florida, published in 1837.
One cannot find in the scanty record that he was a participant, but he
must have talked to men who were.
As far as it is known, R.K. Call gave the order to Colonel Warren to go
on separately to Ft. Drane, He directed a Captain Richards to take a small
detachment, apart from the rest of Warren's command, to escort three supply
wagons and a cart. It is not certain that Richards took the road from
Newnansville to Micanopy, only that he went around the west side of Payne's
Prairie which was then full of water. He placed an advanced guard 'under W. Lives
100 paces ahead of the wagons, and a rear guard of five, under J. Sumeral
at the same distance. Thirteen men marched beside the horse-drawn wagons.
It was 18 December 1835. None of the few persons who commented on the
action spoke of the weather. On the south rim of the Prairie the high
ground poked out into the basin at a place called Black Point. In the
vicinity of that Point, an organized body of Indians (between 50 and 80)
directed by Osceola waited to ambush the baggage train. They held their
fire until the point guard was past, then opened fire on the wagons at
point blank range. Someone, probably Captain Richards, ordered the
front and rear detachments to close on the center, but only Ives,
Sumeral and a man name Sparkmen and two more men without guns did so.
According to Williams the rest, including the captain, ran away at the
first fire. One of the party who tried to hold the ground, a man named
Tillis, fired three times before being shot through the body. Ives,
Sumneral and Sparkman loaded him into the cart and tried to retreat.
They held off the attack until the cart horse was hit and fell dead.
They might have been done for if the attention of the redmen had not
shifted to removing ammunition from the wagons and setting them on fire.16
At this critical moment, white reinforcements arrived. Major John
McLemore, second in command in Warren's group, (a medical doctor in civil
life) swept in with thirty mounted men. Williams says that the major and
his orderly, Sergeant Hurst, charged toward the foe. He does not say what the
rest of the detachment was doing. Hurst received a shot in the body, and
McLemore lost first one horse then another. On foot now, he ordered
another charge, and led it brandishing a sword. This time twelve or fifteen
men followed him, but as they could not see the force they were assailing
[the redmen all being behind trees or bushes] while they were fearfully aware
of the hostile bullets, they all withdrew. McLemore now had no choice but to
retreat to Ft. Crum on the northwest rim of the Prairie where about 200 local
citizens had already gathered for protection.17
The only official report of this phase of the battle was made by R.K. Call
directly to the President. He wrote, "A few days since a Detachment of Coln
Warren's command while on their march in the margin of the Alachua Savannah was
attacked by a party of Indians. His baggage guard was defeated and his
Call then continued to report the second phase of the action in these
words: "Two days after I marched on the same ground, recovered one waggon
a carryall and the greater part of the baggage ... my spies and advance
guard ... observed a house on fire they pressed forward and found the trale
of a small party of Indians leading into a thick hammock they gave pursuit
and drove them into a pond in which there was a thick undergrowth ...
The volunteers lead by Coln Read the Brigade Inspector galantly entered the
water and fought most bravely at half pistol shot ...when the fight was
over we found but four of the enemy killed!19
During this second phase of the first battle of the Second Seminole War
Call reported four wounded, one of whom later died. As far as can be told
from the scanty record, eight white men died in phase one and two were
wounded. Six horses were also killed. The white side had no way of
knowing what the Indian casualties were.20
The history of this small battle is a good case study of the difficulty
of knowing the truth about minor military actions. This is especially 8o
when Indians were involved, for there are no documents from their side
since they did not develop written languages. What oral Indian history
exists has been filtered though white reporters. On the white side, in-
formation is scarce and flimsy. The only official report to be uncovered
was made by R.K. Call and has been noted above. If Warren reported to Call
or McLemore to Warren, their reports are lost.
Most of the story comes from three contemporary books by men who were
not in the fight. These books by Woodburne Potter, W.W. Smith, and John
Lee Williams have already been fully cited in the notes. Neither Potter
nor Smith identified themselves on their title pages or elsewhere. Their
names had to be ferreted out. It is not clear how Smith and Williams got
their information. Potter seems to have had access to official memoranda
that waee never published and are not now available. Here as in many
similar cases, one has to use the sources that are inbeing, however flimsy,
or leave the event untreated.
Abbreviations Used in the Notes:
AG Adjutant General
CO Commanding officer
HR House of Representative
SW Secretary of War
1. Petition to Andrew Jackson, Jan. [no day] 1834, "Supplemental Report on
Causes of Hotilities," HR Doc. 271, 24 Cong. 1 sess, pp.30-33. For added detail
on the gathering trouble in Florida see John K. Mahon, History of the Second
Seminole War, 1835-1842, Univ. of Florida Press, 1967, chapters 5, 6. 7.
2. Capt. William M. Graham, CO 4th Infantry Regt. to SW,, 20 Nov. 1833;
same to Indian Commissioner Elbert Herring, 22 Nov. 1833, HR Doc. 271, pp.97, 98.
There was no Indian agent in Florida at the time, so Graham was handling
3. R.K. Call to Andrew Jackson, 22 March 1835; endorsement by Jackson;
Wiley Thompson to C.A. Harris, Acting SW, 17 June 1835, Thompson although a
Georgian recognized why the Negroes did not wish to return to United States
style slavery: '~t anyone at all acquainted with the condition of the negro,
as connected with his Indian owner here, could not fail to admit that the
change with him would be oppressively great." Jackson endorsed Thompson's
letter on 6 July 1835, HR Doc. 271, pp.40-43, 69, 70.
4. The War in Florida, Being an Exposition of Its Causes and an Accurate
History of the Campaigns of Generals Clinch, Gaines, and Scott, by a Late
Staff Officer [Woodburne Potter], Baltimore, 1836, p.5.
5. C.A. Harris, Acting SW to Thompson, D.L.Clinch & J.W. Harris, Dis-
persing Agent to the Indians in Florida, 20 May 1835, "Hostilities in Florida,"
Sen. Doc. 152, 24 Cong. 1 sess., p.42.
6. Thompson to George Gibson, Commissary General, Subsistence, 27 April
1835, HR Doc. 271, p.182.
7. Wiley Thompson to George Gibson 3 June 1835, Sen. Dec 152, p.43
D.L. Clinch to AG, 30 June 1835, ibid., pp.44-48; Sketch of the Seminole
War and Sketches During a Campaign, by a Lieutenant of the Left Wing
NOTES, page 2.
[W.W. Smith], Charleston, S.C., 1836. Smith, p.10 says that at the time of
the dispute Osceola showed the "Effect in some measure of late inebriation."
Potter, War in Florida gives liquor as one issue between Osceola and
8. D.L.Clinch to AG, 30 June 1835; S.V. Walker to Wiley Thompson,
22 June 1835; Thompson to AG, 1 Aug. 1835, Sen. Doc. 152, pp.44, 45, 48.
9. Potter, The War in Florida, pp.93, 94.
10. D.L. Clinch to AG, 12 Sep. 1835, Sen. Doc. 152, p.51.
11. Wiley Thompson to George Gibson, 21 Sep. 1835; SW to Thompson, 28
Oct. 1835, HR Doc. 271, pp.213, 225.
12. Robert R. Reid to J. Forsythe, Acting SW, 3 Dec. 1835, MS, P.K. Yonge
Library of Florida History, University of Florida; Wiley Thompsontto George
Gibson, 30 Nov. 1835, Sen. Doc,.152, p.52. John T. Sprague says, "He
(Charley Emathla) had in his handkerchief a sum of gold and silver received
from the agent for his cattle. This Oseola said was made of the rq man's
blood, and forbid any one touching it, but with his own hands threw it in
every direction." The Origin, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War ,
1848, reproduced in facsimile by the University of Florida Press, 1964,
note p.88. Reid in the letter cited above does not mention this part
of the event; in fact says that the main sale of Indian goods at the Agency
took place on 2 December.
13. Louis Fleming to P.B. Gregory, 28 Dec. 1835, MS, Florida Historical
Society Collection, University of South Florida Library; [The number of houses
burned comes from this letter]; Call to the President, 22 Dec. 1835 said the
"Indians [were] traversing the Country at will burning and destroying where
ever they appear.", Territorial Papers of Florida, Vol. XXV of the Terri-
itorial Papers of the United States, Clarence E. Carter, ed., p.216. Jack-
NOTES, page 3.
The President's endorsement is on the letter Reid to Forsyte, 3 December 1835,
MS, P.K. Yonge Library, University of Florida; R.W. Patrick, Aristocrat in
Uniform: Duncan Lamont Clinch, Univ. of Florida Press, 1963, p.93
14. R.K. Call to President 22 December 1835, cited in note 13.
15. John Lee Williams, The Territory of Florida, New York, 1837 reprinted
in facsimile with an introduction by Herbert J. Doherty Jr., Univ. of
Florida Press, 1962.
16. Ibid., p.220. Williams says that the ambush occurred about forty y8&
from Black Point. If this is correct, Richards' detachment could not have
been travelling the Newnansville-Micanopy Road. Call in his 22 December letter
says they were on "Their march in the margin of the Alachua Savannah."
Smith, Sketch, p.16 did not use Williams' pejorative term, that most of
Richards' men ran away. He says they escaped to Micanopy.
17. Williams, Territory of Florida, p.220; Smith, Sketch, p.16.
18. R.K. Call to President, 22 Dec. 1835, fully cited in note 13.
19. Ibid. The spelling is Call's. Potter, War in Florida, p.101,
says the attack into the hammock was led by Colnels Reid and Parish with
100 men from Leon.and .Gadsden Counties.
20. Smith, Sketch, p.16 gave the casualties and no other source presents
different ones: 1 sergeant, 7 privates killed, 6 wounded of whom one later
Present locations, 1987: Black Point is close to where U.S. Highway 441
rises out of Payne's Prairie on its south side. Ft. Crum stood in the
vicinity 9f the J.D. Henry house which overlooks the Prairie off State
21. Potter does not appear in Francis B. Heitman, Historical Register
NOTES. page 4
and Dictionary of the United States Army, 1789-1903, 2 Vols., GPO, 1903
He is obscure, but served with the regular army, probably on Winfield
Scott's staff. He was very critical of the War Department and the Adminis-
tration for locating too few regular soldiers in Florida at a time when
tensions were mounting toward conflict. W.W. Smith was a lieutenant with
Colonel Abbott Hall Brisbane's regiment of volunteers from South Carolina.
The map is of one of the squares, twenty miles on each side, established
by Zachary Taylor in 1839. It was drawn by Captain Gabriel J. Rains who
ended his military career as a brigadier general in the Confederate force.
The original is in the Map Division of National Archives; this is a copy
from a copy in the P.K.Yonge Library of Florida History, University of