Sometimes, just sometimes, one encounters a fascinating account of a forgotten piece of time. While exploring the St. Petersburg Museum of History’s archives, the prolific writings of Major E.A Hitchcock, a little-known but distinguished soldier, were brought to life.
It is the 19th of October 1840, and I am still at sea on board the ship…we are now said to be about 30 miles from the entrance into Tampa Bay…
–20th of October: In sight of land, supposed to be a few miles north of Tampa Bay, but the wind is ahead as usual and we may be here all day.
–22nd at Fort Brooke: Arrived and encamped last evening.
Tampa Bay, 22nd Oct 1840:
General Armistead is here as General of the Headquarters of the Army of Florida. There are now at this place 1600 to 1800 men, all of them regular army, and it is a fine sight to survey the scene. The quarters afford shelter but for a few, most of us being in tents. There are quite a number of very large Oak trees among and around us and all of them to appearances weighed down with moss.
Some twenty days ago Capt. Beall took four warriors prisoner, one of whom…has given General Armistead statement of all the bands of Seminole Indians, with the whole number of warriors amounting to 707 men.
The General told me last evening that with regard to one or two bands he has other information coinciding with this account…This is exclusive of about 150 “Creeks” who have strayed into middle Florida and who are supposed to be among the worst desperados we have to deal with. It is also exclusive of the considerable numbers of Indians in the southern part of Florida who it appears the Seminoles have never had anything to do with. They are a mixed people with the Spaniards and run away negros, who are using the State of War for every species of license that might characterize freebootery.
“I came as a volunteer, willingly, making every effort in my power to be of service in punishing as I thought, the Indians,” continued a tired and frustrated E.A Hitchcock–grandson of Revolutionary War patriot Ethan Allen. “I now come with the persuation [sic] that the Indians have been wronged and I enter upon the most hopeless task that was ever given to man to perform.” Penned over three days in late October 1840, 12 longhand sheets update brother Sam and family back in St. Louis, of the continuing Indian Wars in Florida and Hitchcock’s travels to Fort Brooke.
Seasick for most of the 17 day voyage aboard the Isaac Hicks, Hitchcock, Major of the U.S. Army’s recently created 8th Infantry, arrived in Tampa Bay on 20 October 1840. Death and uncertainty shrouded the vessel. For the night prior, an encampment fire observed on the shore all but confirmed Indian presence. And if possible hostilities weren’t enough, just that morning a dead man was wrapped in a blanket, a few stones tied to his feet, and slid unceremoniously down the ships plank and into the tea colored bay. Absent an onboard physician, the ship’s steward speculated congestive fever to be cause of the soldier’s demise.
Life was hard aboard a vessel for weeks at a time, with unrelenting sicknesses, storms, tight working quarters, and deprivation being the norm. Food and water were constantly cached and coveted. Both often ran out. Survival in 19th century frontier Florida was equally challenging. If backcountry scrub, marshes, mangroves, mosquitoes, and swampland weren’t suitable obstacles, then malaria, alligators, outlaws, soldiers, and Florida Indians aggravated life on the frontier. It truly was a challenge that few desired, or even dared to attempt. Distraught, exhausted, and penniless, many early pioneers left, leaving behind a few persevering homesteaders and a growing number of soldiers.
Major Hitchcock and the men under the command of General Armistead (a hero of Gettysburg who had recently succeeded General Taylor) were faced with not only their own survival but in the removal of Florida Indians. Having the home-field advantage and often employing sabotage, surprise hit-and-run raids and other guerrilla-style tactics, marauding Creek and Seminoles (as well as other loosely banded Indians and run away slaves) proved more resilient and resourceful than expected.
It seems to be the opinion of officers who have been here a length of time that five years exertion has not been merely wasted on our side but that the Indians have gained in confidence and means of security. Both boys and girls who were so, five years ago have grown up in familiarity with the danger and privation and with rooted hate of us, while the old are fiercely proud of having withstood the power of the whites for such a length of time, being fully informed of all our measures, extensive means, grand preparations and signal failures.
Completed in 1824 and considered one of the largest and most important fortifications of its day, Fort Brooke sat on 4 square miles of what is present day downtown Tampa. The fort bordered the Hillsborough River. Massive moss-laden Oak trees festooned the grounds. Fort Brooke had become established as the southern anchor (with Fort King to the northeast) of a U.S. military offensive line that spanned Florida’s peninsula during the costly Seminole Wars of Removal.
To heighten the situation, it was Fort Brooke where Major Francis Dade and 108 troops began their journey to Fort King in December 1835. It was along the 100 mile Ft. Brooke–Ft. King Trail where Dade and his men were ambushed and massacred. This was the opening battle of the second round of Florida Wars.
As to my individual opinions upon this war, I go back to the beginning and say that the whites were wrong.
In 1836 I thought otherwise when I heard of the massacre of Major Dade and his command. My impression then was that the Indians had made a treaty to emigrate in good faith and had violated their engagements, signaling their violation of faith with the most wholesale and barbarous murders. In that opinion, as you know I entered Florida as a Volunteer, being on furlough at the time.
I no sooner reached Fort King and had access to officers who had been witness to the proceedings of the Government, than I entirely changed my mind and I ascertained the history of the matter to be substantially this; That some 10 years ago a treaty was made at Fort Moultrie by which the government undertook to secure the Seminoles in the peaceable possession of this country…the Indians have always held one language in regard to their understanding of the Treaty. They have understanding of the Treaty. They have from first to last uniformly declared that the deputation to examine the new Country had no power to confirm the treaty, but were to return and report the results of their observations, when they, the tribe were to assent or dissent.
The immediate consequence was the murder, by the Indians of the principal Chief who was favorable to the emigration, which was followed by the murder of the Indian Agent, whose arrogance and insolence had been conspicuous in Council with the Indians, extending theusurpation of authority by which he confined Osceola in chains and went through the form of degrading sundry Chiefs from their dignity in the tribe, as being unheard of before and impossible in execution from the nature of the case.
Essentially spanning some 40 years with intermittent interludes of serenity, three wars were fought by the United States against the Seminole Indians of Florida from 1817 to 1858. United States policy that had once favored treaties and territorial purchasing gave way to the Andrew Jackson sanctioned Indian Removal Act.
The 1830 bill authorized the exchange of approved lands west of the Mississippi to Indians currently residing in any of the states or territories. While the Indian Removal Act contained specific language issuing consent and compensation to be made accommodating tribes, the reality of the situation was that those who did not go without incident were forced. In conjunction with the Treaty of Moultrie Creek (which restricted Indian Territory to swampy, uncultivable lands in Central Florida) the Indian Removal Act delivered the needed catalyst for the perpetuation of the longest and most expensive Indian war in U.S. history.
…we are now after five years exertion and some 30 millions expenditure no nearer its termination than when we commenced; while Florida, from its present condition opens a field for runaway negros and desperate white men, where they are rather growing stronger than weaker every day and there is reasonable doubt whether fewer than 20,000 men could quiet the country short of five years to come and it might require ten years.
In less than two years the war was over, but the ceasefire was short lived. Tension and fear mounted with the 1842 removal of federal troops until a series of conflicts initiated the Third Seminole War. Once again, soldiers were garrisoned at Fort Brooke.
From 1856 to 1858 the fort quartered, fed, trained and prepared troops to trample through the wilderness in a vain attempt to flush out the remaining small bands of Florida Indians. Defeated and exhausted, both sides were clearly at a stalemate. Refusing to surrender their native homeland, a persistent and proud people remained.
Expensive and unpopular throughout the nation, a general consensus regarding the Indian Wars had been reached: The decades long conflict was too costly to continue hunting for a few desperado tribes hidden in Florida scrub and swampland. The United States, after decades of warfare and millions of dollars, had decided to unilaterally remove troops and allow the small number of natives to remain.
Fort Brooke, captured in 1864 by Federal troops during the Civil War and subsequently abandoned, was eventually decommissioned by the U.S. Army in 1883. The small support community of “Tampa Town” surrounding the fort continued to idly survive. With the coming of the railways, and the opulent Tampa Hotel in 1891, change was imminent. Having railroad king Henry Plant’s newly laid rail line and the wisdom of three influential Spaniards: Gavino Gutierrez, Vicente Martinez Ybor, and Ignacio Haya, Tampa quickly became known as the Cigar Capital of the World.
The cigar trade ignited Tampa Bay with a wave of new residents and immigrants seeking a fresh start in the New World. Tampa’s “Cigar City” was a true cultural melting pot. Cubans, African Cubans, Spaniards, Italians, and a small number of Germans and Romanian Jews all contributed to Ybor City eventually out-producing Havana in cigar production.
Nearly gone is the art of hand rolling cigars and forever gone are the ramparts of historic Fort Brooke. Ironically–and seemingly in Florida fashion–the footprints of the fort are filled with a city parking garage and the Tampa Convention Center; while Seminole remains discovered on the site made way for legalized gambling in Tampa.
The 1980 construction of the Fort Brooke parking garage in downtown Tampa uncovered the graves of Florida Indians buried in the 1830s. As Seminole Chairman, James Billie secured the current 8.5 acre site near Interstate 4 and Orient Road as a location in which the bones could be re-interred. The surprise to many however, was when the Seminole Bingo Hall opened to instant fanfare and fortune in 1982.
Relocated 20 years later to make room for the Seminole Bingo Hall’s replacement (a 12 story Hard Rock Hotel and Casino), a small unceremonious plot of land pays homage to those Indians buried at Fort Brooke whose remains made this possible.
As for Ethan Allen Hitchcock, he left Fort Brooke in 1841 for a brief stint as chief of the Florida Indian Bureau. At the end of the Second Seminole War, Hitchcock went on to serve in the Mexican war with honors before resigning his commission. With the Civil War raging Hitchcock (reactivated as a Major General) completed his service as a war advisor to President Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin Stanton and remained a vocal opponent to the maltreatment of America’s indigenous peoples.
The history of Fort Brooke may not be the stuff of which school books overflow–however, Major General E.A Hitchcock’s personal narrative of the Seminole Wars and Fort Brooke is Tampa Bay history, and rightfully so.
Once home to small bands of fishing Indians, an occasional bartering Cuban boater, and Indian hunting soldiers, Tampa Bay has become home to several of the largest and most populated cities in Florida. The bay and its surrounding glen, boasting an active seaport, several convenient airports, award winning beaches and many outstanding museums, play host to international trade, commerce, and tourism. In addition to the rich culture, architecture, and heritage, Tampa Bay owes much to the forgotten men and history of Fort Brooke.
CIGAR CITY MAGAZINE- MARCH/APRIL 2006
Art & Photography Contributors: Hillsborough County Public Library, Tampa Bay History Center, The Florida State Archives, The Tampa Tribune/Tampa Bay Times, University of South Florida Department of Special Collections, Ybor City Museum Society, private collections and/or writer.
Nevin is the Director of Education and Outreach at the St. Petersburg Museum of History and holds a Master's Degree in Florida Studies from the University of South Florida, St. Petersburg. He is a contributing author of Florida's Historic Places, The Rivers of the Green Swamp Anthology and provided historical consultation for Florida's Fabulous Lighthouses.
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