Hidden Histories

The Fort Mims Massacre of 1813

Monday, 6/25/12

Many events that occurred during the War of 1812, like so many other periods in American history, are now largely forgotten and unknown to the general public. Atrocities or barbarities perpetrated against the Indians by settlers are well attested facts, yet the opposite is often ignored in current histories pertaining to the time period in question. The Fort Mims Massacre is one such account that transpired on August 30, 1813, in Baldwin County, Alabama.

Located about 35 miles from Mobile, a stockade had been erected by an early settler named Samuel Mims. By the summer of 1813, the population totaled approximately 553 people, most of whom were white settlers as well as those of mixed Indian-white origins and slaves. Additionally there were about 265 soldiers at the fort, under the command of Major Daniel Beasley of the Mississippi Territory.

Many settlers or immigrants had continued to enter traditional Creek Territory, contrary to the Treaty of New York of 1790 in which the Federal government had promised the Creek Nation that their borders would be recognized. As a result, the Creek War was occurring during the War of 1812. The native inhabitants of the southeast, especially the so-called hostile Red Sticks of the Creek tribe, were already disgruntled over the encroachments upon their lands, and were encouraged by both the British and Spanish to take revenge upon the Americans.

We often fail to realize that, in many of our nation's conflicts with Native Americans, the latter were often of mixed-race ancestry and well educated, as was the case with certain members of the Creek Nation. The Creek Nation had leaders such as Alexander McGillivary, who was the son of a former Tory and an Indian educated in Charleston who served as an agent for the British during the Revolutionary War. Other members of the Red Stick faction of the Creeks, such as Wiliam Weatherford (Red Eagle), Peter McQueen, and David Tate, all were of mixed-Creek/White ancestry, while Dixon Bailey, educated by Quakers in Philadelphia, was pro-American and considered to be an arch enemy of Red Eagle.

On the morning of August 30, 1813, security at Fort Mims was surprisingly inadequate. A few days prior at nearby stockades black slaves and scouts had warned of large bands of Indians in the area, but they were ignored and even whipped for what was considered to be a false report. At noon the eastern gate of Fort Mims was wide open, giving approximately 1,000 Indians ample availability to its interior, even though they had to walk across an open field 150 yards wide in order to reach the fort itself! Coming within thirty steps of the fort's walls, a sentry finally gave the cry of alarm but by that time it was too late. With war whoops and rapid movement, the Creek Red Sticks of Chief William Weatherford stormed into the stockade, tomahawking the commanding officer Major Beasely, who was also "shot through the belly" near the open gate.

As early contemporary accounts attest, as in such publications as Niles Weekly Register for December 18, the battle lasted about three hours. Buildings were set on fire with many of their defenders burned alive. Plunder and carnage were rampant and even "pregnant women were cut open; and the unborn infant taken out of them and tomahawked!" Some of the children were "seized by the legs, and their brains knocked out..." Only thirty-six individuals were left alive after the attack. Many of the invaders were fluent in English, some of whom had even been raised among the white people, but "became the murderers of their benefactors--the horrible assassins of women and children."

At one point, Chief Weatherford himself attempted to stop the cruelties being committed upon the women and children, but was threatened with death by many of his warriors. He would later state how, "my warriors were like famished wolves, and the first taste of blood made their appetites insatiable." A few of the fort's inhabitants survived. Twelve men of the garrison escaped into the swamps. Hester, a African American woman though shot in the breast, made it to a canoe and paddled to Fort Stoddart. She was the first person to give information to General Ferdinand L. Claiborne as to what had transpired. The other black slaves of the fort were spared by the Creeks or were made their slaves.

Ten days later, after the invading party had taken their victims' scalps to the British agents in the area, a military party of Americans arrived on the scene to bury the dead. The fort was a charred symbol of the violence that had occurred, while buzzards and dogs are said to have been present feasting upon the remains. All those lying within the fort had been scalped, as were bodies found nearby on the plains and within the woods nearby. Many soldiers sought revenge, making the cry Remember Fort Mims a rallying call of Americans, just as Remember the Raisin had served the same purpose as Kentucky troops and civilians had been massacred to the far north, in what is now Monroe, Michigan, a few months before.

Thus would enter a famous military figure and future president of the United States, Andrew Jackson, who with volunteers and militia from Tennessee, Georgia, and Mississippi Territory, attacked the Upper Creek towns of the Red Sticks resulting in such engagements as the Battle of Horshose Bend and others by which the Creek War eventually ended. Many documents and contemporary publications relative to the events and participants of this oft forgotten period of American history may be found within the collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

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