An 1836 engraving of massacres in Florida, from the Library of Congress
THE MANDARIN MASSACRE
c. 2005 by
John W. Cowart
Savages -- some still dressed in costumes as Shakespearean actors -- attacked Mandarin at 1 p.m. on Monday, December 20, 1841.
"The Indians assailed the houses, yelling most furiously, and shot the inmates as they, frantic and confused, ran for the main road," said Indian fighter, Brevet Captain John T. Sprague, 8th regiment, US Infantry.
"Two men, two women and an infant were killed. The dwellings were plundered, then burnt, and for sixteen hours these savages danced around the smoldering remains and mangled corpses of the slain," he said.
This was the second major attack in the Mandarin area.
Back in 1812, when Florida still belonged to Spain, the Indians burned the plantation of Judge Francis P. Fatio Jr. on the south bank of Julington Creek.
As their home burned, the judge, his wife, two slaves, and seven children scrambled into a rowboat and rowed out into the St. Johns to escape. The Indians followed along the riverbank shooting at them. For days, the Fatios stayed on the water just out of bullet range from shore. Finally they rowed all the way to the mouth of the river and north to St. Marys, Ga.
When Spain ceded Florida to the United States (1821), the Fatio family returned to live in New Switzerland.
The Second Seminole War began about 20 years later. In 1835 frightened citizens of Jacksonville built a blockhouse at what is now Ocean and Monroe streets downtown. Local business leaders planned railroad line would have linked Jacksonville with Lake City and the north, but fear of Indian attack kept the railroad from coming to Jacksonville for years.
Early in the war, a fight brought national attention to the area. There was a blockhouse on the farm of James McCormick, between Jacksonville and Baldwin.
McCormick's grandson told what happened there:
"My grandfather was out on the range looking after his stock when he found an Indian woman with two children picking blackberries.
"At that time the Government was taking up all Indians and putting them in the fort at St. Augustine preparatory to sending them west. My grandfather took up the squaw and children and when the bucks returned and did not find them, they suspected my grandfather had picked them up, so they went to his place before day and hid themselves until he came out on the porch to kindle a fire with flint, steel and tinder box.
"Just as he made a spark, they opened fire, sticking bullets in the wall around him.
"He quickly got inside, unscathed, and barred the door. His wife and daughters loaded the guns while he and his sons shot at the Indians through the port holes in the wall. The guns were muzzle-loaders with loose powder and shot, taking considerable time to load and prime. They were able to keep the Indians off, and when the sun rose the bucks left, striking out to the west to the home of Berry Johns, two miles east of where Baldwin is now, and shot him from ambush.
"Mrs. Johns dragged his body to the house and barred the door; but they battered it down and shot her, took off her scalp, set the house on fire, raised the war whoop and left. She was not dead, however, was just able to crawl out into a pond near the road, where she lay in the water all day. That afternoon she was picked up by Samuel Waggoners and taken to the fort and cared for by my mother and her sisters."
The scalped Mrs. Johns survived and became a national celebrity, traveling to Washington and having her portrait painted to hang in the Capital building.
Greed. Encroachment. Betrayal. Retaliation. Revenge. Death.
Such were the times.
Jacksonville became the jumping off place for American troops on their way to fight Indians.
Soldiers were quartered in the Duval County Courthouse, and the major army supply depot was located here.
But usually the soldiers had to travel for miles to see an Indian. Most of the fighting was far to the south.
In fact, citizens complained that U.S. soldiers did more damage in Jacksonville proper than the Indians did. The city petitioned Congress:
"Whereas, from the destitute and ruined situation of the county of Duval in consequence of the Indian war, which renders it altogether unable to raise money by taxation, and whereas, the court house having been taken at divers times by military companies in the service of the United States and used as quarters, and from the causes aforesaid the said court house has become so much mutilated and broken that it is almost useless to the Territory of Florida, therefore..."
Therefore, Jacksonville wanted $5,000 in federal funds to repair the court house.
As the war plodded on over seven years, one by one, Indian chiefs were captured and deported to the west. Sporadic fighting went on here and there, with small bands of Indians picking off isolated farms and travelers.
Fear and frustration made Florida citizens demand relief and the government responded by bringing in 33 "Peace Hounds" from Cuba. These attack dogs were bloodhounds which had been trained to track runaway slaves.
Many American citizens objected to the use of the animals, to no avail.
A contemporary newspaper said, "The bloodhounds were intended by the people, at whose insistence Governor Call imported them, to worry, to hunt, to bite, to tear to pieces all the red devils they can catch."
On January 18, 1840, the army turned them loose to hunt Indians.
The dogs' presence escalated the war.
In May of that year, a bizarre incident occurred;
Mr. Forbes Company of Shakespearean Players traveled overland from Picolata for a performance at the opera house in St. Augustine. For protection on the road, they joined a line of government supply wagons.
Indians attacked the wagon train, killing three actors and a clarionet (sic) player.
They looted the wagons, breaking open the actors trunks.
Shortly after this, the Niles Weekly Register newspaper carried this information:
"Indians are prowling about the Mandarin settlement on the St. johns River -- About 30 Indians, belonging to the party that attacked the theatrical company near St. Augustine, came to Fort Searle immediately after the attack, dressed in actors' dresses, and danced all around the place, challenging the soldiers to fight..."
Eventually, the Indians, sporting their Macbeth, Othello and Pluck costumes, left the neighborhood for a time and the Indian threat seemed over.
In fact, by February of 1841, things seemed so safe that the residents of Mandarin felt secure enough to incorporate as a town.
The fifty families living in Mandarin could well believe they were safe. The St. Johns River protected them on three sides and an army garrison at St. Augustine on the fourth.
Besides, reports circulated that the Second Seminole War was almost over. Everyone thought the Indians had been pushed back into the swamps.
The Florida Herald newspaper for December 31, 1841, describes Mandarin as "a happy and prospering community... unconscious of danger."
But the newspaper also noted that the Indian marauders were still "hovering for some days in the neighborhood of the settlement" observing the comings and goings of the people.
The Christmas attack on Mandarin was led by Seminole chiefs Powis-fixico (Short Grass) and Hallack-Tustenuggee, both notorious for other slaughters of Florida settlers.
Captain Sprague describes Hallack-Tustenuggee as a man "savage by nature, without a virtue either of head or heart to redeem his character... Yet he was a man with physical and mental qualities far above his contemporaries."
Powis-fixico, Sprague called, "the most active and cruel of any of the Indians."
In preparation for Christmas, most men in Mandarin had organized a hunt to bag fresh venison or wild turkey for the holiday dinner.
When the Indians saw the armed men leave for the hunt, they moved in.
First, they captured an elderly slave. They robbed him of $300 and under torture, forced him to disclose information about the settlement. He tricked them out of attacking the main village by saying that soldiers were stationed at the general store.
His lie saved the center of town but the Indians, seeking gunpowder for their flintlocks, crept toward nearby homes.
Mrs. William Hartley was sitting by her fireplace nursing her baby and chatting with William Malphus and Domingo Acosta. The Indians fired through the door of the home killing her and Acosta instantly and injuring Malphus who ran toward the woods.
A warrior caught him thirty yards from the house.
The Indian slashed the wounded man's forehead and inserted his fingers in to the gash and peeled the victim's scalp back, leaving the white bone of his bare skull exposed.
Malphus did not die until the next morning.
The first gunshots alerted the rest of the village.
Leaving their possessions, families closest the river fled to the safety of a schooner anchored in the St. Johns. Others barricaded their doors and spent the night crouched with rifles pointed out the windows. They were "ready to meet the destroyer should he approach," the Herald said.
The raiders destroyed the homes of three different Hartley families and plundered the homes of the Sloan, Acosta, Sedwick, James, Flynn and three different Hagan families.
The Flynns turned their "Peace Hounds" into the yard to delay the attackers while the family escaped to hide all night in a swamp.
The savages slaughtered livestock, pillaged and burned homes, and hacked down the groves of orange and mulberry trees which accounted for Mandarin's prosperity.
They returned to burn Mrs. Hartley's home where the attack had started.
"Her infant child was still alive and perished in the flames, still clinging to the breast of its murdered mother", the Herald reported.
The Mandarin raid supplied the Indians with pounds of gunpowder which they needed to continue fighting. One Seminole had declared, "Let us alone and we will not attack you... but if you make war on us we will fight as long as our ammunition lasts and, when this is gone, we will take to the bow and arrow."
At dawn, dazed Mandarin residents saw the smoldering ruins and anticipated another attack. Some gathered what was left of their belongings and fled to Jacksonville.
In a letter dated Jan. 1, 1842, Jefferson Belknap, a mulberry planter, said, "This is the third time I have been obliged to abandon my place and sacrifice time, money, and everything but my life."
Everyone questioned where the army was at when the Indians attacked.
The Christmas Eve issue of the Herald warned, "Protect yourselves, for the war authorities are not protecting you."
The Herald portrayed the army as sitting around the barracks singing a ditty: "We could whip the Injunes -- If we could find 'em."
Sprague said, "Washington had serious doubts whether the Florida army had not been in a state of enjoyment and repose, instead of in the field in pursuit of the enemy."
Fifty-one citizens of Mandarin petitioned Col. W.J. Worth, Commander of the Army of Florida:
"We now most humbly pray that you will allow us a mounted force for our protection... If not, the whole settlement will be abandoned... as there can be no possible security until the last Indian is hunted out of Florida."
Smarting at these aspersions on his soldiers, Col. Worth replied, "It is to be regretted... that some of the fifty-one signers... had not been found to give some account of so despicable a foe. Nevertheless..."
Nevertheless, Col. Worth dispatched Company K, 2nd Infantry to capture Hallack-Tustenuggee's band.
This mission lasted six months and stretched the length of Florida. The Indian chief crossed and recrossed the St. Johns. He doubled back through swamps where the supply wagons of his pursuers bogged down to the axeltrees.
Sprague summarized the chase:
"Tracks seen. Fields destroyed. Country waded. Troops exhausted. Indians gone."
Besides the terrain, yellow fever, malaria, unseasonable rains, and homesickness, great depression added to the troops' problems.
One earlier Seminole fighter wrote, "The misery of soldiering in this place was certainly very great, yet under all circumstances let us never despond but keep our hearts lifted up to God. He can save us and, in His own good time, give deliverance. We now lost one of our first lieutenants, who in his despair, forgetting that God ruled all things, fired his pistol into his mouth and thus blew out his brains, hurling his soul to perdition."
Perdition well describes the situation and terrain of the chase.
When the Secretary of War inquired about the delay in punishing the Indians, Col. Worth replied, "At present the secretary does not see how a band of Indians could penetrate so far north as Mandarin settlement, commit depravations, and return south, unseen and unmolested by the troops; nor will the honorable secretary make this discovery until (which God forbid) he becomes more intimately acquainted with this country."
Finally, the army captured Chief Short Grass's son and used him to lure his father out of the swamp. Sprague said, "The band was well armed with rifles, selected with care from among the citizens murdered... and provided with ammunition in the same manner... These were the most active participators in the attack on Mandarin."
The pursuit of Hallack-Tustenuggee continued until he and two of his wives rode into Col. Worth's camp to discuss peace terms. The army captured him under his flag of truce. He was one of the last Seminole chiefs to be taken.
Sprague, who took part in the chase and capture, reevaluated his enemy: "Whatever sins may be laid to the charge of this Indian chieftain, or however diabolical the instinct of his nature, his land was dearer to him than life. For it he had fought boldly and unceasingly... If this trait in the savage be patriotism, Hallack-Tustenuggee's name should stand eternally side by side with the most distinguished of mankind."
As for the settlers at Mandarin, Sprague said, "Large numbers re-occupied their plantations, free from danger, and after the lapse of a short time, were surrounded with every comfort."
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