One of the more horrific historical events I encountered in my research of Alabama history is that of the Massacre at Fort Mims. This event shapes how one of my characters reacts in my story, which I’ll explain in a minute. Keep in mind that when I began to read about the early history of the state, it was with fresh eyes as I was not raised in Alabama but Maryland, so never learned anything about this state’s history. I located the History of Alabama and Incidentally Georgia and Mississippi from the Earliest Period by Albert James Pickett (Volume II, Charleston: Walker and James, 1851) where I read with interest the somewhat florid descriptions of the early history of the state.
When I came to the account of the battle and killing at Fort Mims, I really was horrified to think that people could hate so much as to murder by terrible means, scalp, and burn out men, women, and children. According to the History of Alabama, at the time of the attack, “The whole population of Fort Mims, consisting of whites, Indians, soldiers, officers, and negroes now amounted to five hundred and fifty-three souls” inside the fort, and of those about 533 died. However, the Encyclopedia of Alabama site states that “some 400 American settlers, U.S.-allied Creeks, and enslaved African Americans had taken refuge inside” and they don’t cite how many people died. But why is there such a huge discrepancy in the number of people in the fort?
I did a bit more digging and found an article entitled “Original letter describing the tragic events at Fort Mims with [films & pics]” by Donna R. Causey. Her picture of the historical marker for Fort Mims reveals a number closer to Pickett’s, thus corroborating his reporting: “Indians took fort with heavy loss, then killed all but about 36 of some 550 in the fort. Creeks had been armed by British at Pensacola in this phase of War of 1812.”
There’s a footnote on page 267 in the History of Alabama that supports that last sentence. He noted that “The Spaniards and the British agents charged McQueen’s party to ‘fight the Americans’ and if “the Americans should prove too hard for both of us, there are vessels enough to take us all off together.’”
From what I’ve read, it seems the underlying reason for the tensions between Americans and the Creeks apparently stemmed from the influx of white settlers into the area, claiming the hunting lands the natives had used for generations and converting it into cotton plantations. They did this with the approval of the U.S. government to some extent, but it’s also true that individuals, like Andrew Jackson, overstepped the letter of the law for their own benefit. The creation of the Federal Road into the region had increased the arrival of so many people seeking to find their wealth on the fertile soil.
I can only try to imagine how outraged the people who had lived and hunted on that land must have felt about those lands being taken away by force. Then to have the British incite the natives further, by arming them and encouraging violence against the Americans, lit the powder keg.
I know that people have fought and died defending their beliefs, property, and loved ones for centuries. But reading the detailed account in the History of Alabama proved eye-opening and shocking by turns. Lines such as these:
“The eastern part of the picketing was soon full of Indians, headed by five prophets, whom the Americans immediately shot down, while engaged in dancing and incantations. This greatly abated the ardor of the enemy, many of whom retreated through the gate, for the moment. They had been assured that American bullets would split upon the sacred persons of the prophets, and pass off harmless.”
“The assailants, from the old line of picketing, in the additional part of the fort, and from the outside stockading, commenced a general fire upon the Americans. Soldiers, negroes, women and children, fell.”
“His repeated discharges made lanes through the savage ranks. Fresh numbers renewed their efforts against him, and often an Indian and an American would plant their guns across the same port-hole, to shoot at each other.”
“The superior force of the assailants enabled them to constantly to bring fresh warriors into the action. They now set fire to the main building, and many of the out-houses. The shrieks of the women and children went up to high heaven.”
“The weak, wounded and feeble, were pressed to death and trodden underfoot. The spot presented the appearance of one immense mass of human beings, herded together too close to defend themselves, and, like beeves [cattle] in the slaughter-pen of the butcher, a prey to those who fired upon them.”
I won’t go into any more detail as to the various ways the women and children were killed. Suffice it to say, it’s appalling.
This event colors the reaction that Flint Hamilton, a character in The Haunting of Fury Falls (coming October 2019), has when he encounters two “Indians” sneaking around the stable one evening. He knows he’s not the best with a gun and he remembers hearing about the savage massacre in the southern part of the state. He surely doesn’t want to have a repeat occurrence at the Fury Falls Inn on his watch! So he proceeds with a fair amount of caution…
Sometimes history is difficult to digest and even more so when I try to put myself in the scene, trying to relive the experience. I had a similar experience when I wrote about how the plantation house in Undying Love (Secrets of Roseville Book 1) became haunted—imagining being the woman as she died, especially where she died makes me slightly queasy to this day.
Had you heard of the massacre at Fort Mims? Have you been to the historic site? Are you like me, interested in visiting places of historic importance?
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