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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Bartram Seeks News of the Creeks and Seminoles

About to ascend the St. John's River, in April of 1774, Wiliam Bartram seeks information about a recent incident between the local settlers and Indians. Should the incident remain unresolved, he could all too easily find himself in hostile territory.

At night I ran in shore, at a convenient harbour, where I was received and welcomed by the gentleman, who was agent for the plantation, and at whose pleasant habitation near the harbour, I took up my quarters for the night.

This very civil man happened to be a person with whom I had formerly been acquainted in St. Augustine; and as he lived about twenty miles distant from it, I had good reason to expect that he would be a proper person to obtain intelligence from concerning the disturbances which were thought still to subsist between the Lower Creeks and the white inhabitants of East Florida. Upon enquiry, and conversation with him, I found my conjectures on that head to have been well founded. My friend informed me, that there had, but a few days since, been a council held at St. Augustine, between the governor of East Florida and the chiefs of the Lower Creeks. They had been delegated by their towns, to make inquiry concerning the late alarm and depredations committed by the Indians upon the traders; which the nation being apprised of, recommended these deputies to be chosen and sent; as soon as possible, in order to make reasonable concessions, before the flame, already kindled, should spread into a general war. The parties accordingly met in St. Augustine, and the affair was amicably adjusted to the satisfaction of both parties. The chiefs of the delinquent bands, whose young warriors had committed the mischief, promised to indemnify the traders for the loss of their goods, and requested that they might return to their storehouses, with goods as usual, and that they should be safe in their persons and property. The traders at this time were actually preparing to return. It appeared, upon strict investigation of facts, that the affair had taken its rise from the licentious conduct of a few vagrant young hunters of the Siminole [Seminole] nation, who, imagining themselves to have been ill treated in their dealings with the traders (which by the bye was likely enough to be true) took this violent method of doing themselves justice. The culprits, however, endeavoured to exculpate themselves, by asserting, that they had no design or intention of robbing the traders of their effects, but meant it only as a threat; and that the traders, from a consciousness of their dishonesty, had been terrified and fled, leaving their stores, which they took possession of, to prevent their being totally lost. This troublesome affair being adjusted, was very agreeable news to me, as I could now, without apprehensions, ascend this grand river, and visit its delightful shores, where and when I pleased.

Travels of William Bartram Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida, The Cherokee Country, the Extensive Territories of the Musogulges, or Creek Confederacy, and the Country of the Chactaws; Containing an Account of the Soil and Natural Productions of Those Regions, Together with Observations on the Manners of the Indians. Philadelphia: James & Johnson, 1791. (Dover Reprint, 1955.) 86-87.

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