The Fight Against Spain
There was trouble in Florida. United States President James Madison, nearing the end of his second term, was afraid that the alliance between England and Spain would give the British the support they needed to quash the "Second American Revolution." With a base in Florida, Monroe and especially Georgia governor, David Mitchell, feared that Georgia would bear the brunt of an attack from the south.
A revolution of sorts began when five wealthy Floridian landowners approached former Georgia governor George Matthews about the United States acquiring Florida from the Spanish government. When all efforts to purchase the peninsula failed, Matthews led the efforts to spark a revolution in the territory of what was once called "East Florida."
In the beginning, Gov. David Mitchell was critical of the Monroe administration's policy, vowing to use his power as governor and head of the Georgia militia to end the occupation of northeastern Florida.
"The East Florida revolution has been extremely embarrassing. In all my years of service, the government has never been placed in such a distressing dilemma," exclaimed President Madison. The President vowed that the territory must never go back to Spain, promising American support for the Patriots of the revolution.
Gov. Mitchell was rightly concerned about Spanish retaliation against the port cities of the state, possibly with the aid of Indians tribes in Florida and southern parts of Georgia. However, the governor was concerned that he lacked the power to send the state's militia into a foreign nation's territory.
President Madison appointed Gov. Mitchell as a commissioner to negotiate with Spanish officials in Florida. While expressing a desire for peace, Madison demanded the full support of the Patriots.
In May 1812, while pressures were escalating with Great Britain in other places around the Atlantic, tensions in Florida erupted into war. When Spanish naval ships fired on Americans and Patriots at Moosa Old Fort, Mitchell was given even more reasons to keep the country and Georgia involved in the rapidly unfolding crisis.
On June 18, 1812, the Congress of the United States declared war on Great Britain, the world's greatest superpower, primarily to rid the oceans of the arrogant British Navy and Great Britain's dominance of Canada. Meanwhile, the Patriots and Gov. Mitchell had much more pressing concerns. Mitchell ordered an additional 100 patriots from Savannah to report to East Florida with orders to counterattack if attacked.
Col. Daniel Newnan was ordered to return the capital in Milledgeville to recruit troops for deployment in Florida. Volunteers in Laurens County were already organizing a company even before the declaration of war the following day. Newnan was ordered to obtain men from Scott's and Brown's Brigades and assemble in Dublin on or before July 4, 1812. It was desired that 3500 men, one-eighth of the state's militia, be assembled for the action in East Florida.
On July 1, 1812, Col Newnan published a notice in the state's newspapers. Newnan wrote, "Young men will show their spirit and patriotism by immediately flocking to the standard of their country and joining those brave young men who have already volunteered." Newnan invited all volunteers to join those already in Dublin to depart with the force on July 8 for an expedition in Florida. The Colonel prayed that Georgia have the honor of commencing the war and depriving the enemy of having a strong hold on the Southern states.
In the capital city of Milledgeville, a grand celebration began at noon on the 1st of July. The Georgia Argus reported, "At 12 o'clock they assembled before the State House, surrounded by a large course of people, to exchange the parting salutations... Parents separating from their sons, wives from their husbands and connections, unfolded a scene affecting and sublime." After a hearty meal and July thirst quenching beverages, the militia marched south toward Dublin with hails and farewell cheers and an artillery salute by the Milledgeville Artillery.
Newman's force began the arduous river boat journey down the Oconee and Altamaha rivers to Fort Barrington. From there, the force engaged in a seemingly endless trek through the hot Georgia coastal swamps toward Point Petre near St. Mary's, Georgia. Along the way, Benjamin Winkham, Benjamin Brantley, Jeremiah Cauley, Eli Boothe and Obediah Garrett left Captatin William Hamilton's company organized out of Laurens County. Several others from Capt. Humphrey's Company left for their homes in Twiggs and Wilkinson County as well.
John C. Spinks, an alleged deserter from Jones County, wrote in the Georgia Journal, "We arrived at our rendezvous Point Petre, where we remained for twelve days doing nothing. I soon became heartily sick of idleness, which of all things to me is the most disagreeable, especially in a place like Point Petre." Spinks quickly became disenchanted with his commanding officer, Major Humphreys, and the president's direction not to attack East Florida.
For nearly a month and one half, Newnan's men were delayed in their attack against Spanish and Indian objectives in Florida. Finally on September 24, 1812, Newnan's battalion began its march toward the Florida interior. His goal was to launch a swift strike at Alachua against the Seminoles under the command of King Payne.
Three days later, Newnan's men ran headlong into King Payne and his force of about 80 warriors. Newnan had lost the element of surprise and had no other alternative but to fight on the spot. Other Seminoles and some Negro men in the area rushed to the aid of King Payne and his men. The morning began with neither side in a commanding position.
The Georgians dug in. When the morning came, King Payne rallied his men and counter attacked the embattled Georgians. In the fighting, the 80-year-old chief was mortally wounded. The Seminoles commenced a siege against the fort. Facing certain defeat, Col. Newnan ordered his starving, aching and exhausted men to leave their fort under the cover of darkness on October 4, 1812. The retreating army was ambushed the following day as they passed through the remnants of trees left lying on the ground after a recent storm.
The Georgians withstood the attack and marched a sufficient distance away where they established a second fort. When Newnan's men arrived at Kingsley Plantation, they were given a hero's welcome.
The noble mission which began right here in Dublin on July 1, 1812, two hundred years ago this week, ended in a humiliating defeat. Despite the mission's ultimate failure, the fighting continued in Florida, eventually merging into the real War of 1812. All enmity finally died out when the United States signed a treaty to purchase Florida in 1819.