Thursday, November 6, 2008

The McLane Massacre of 1840 - Part One

Note: The following is excerpted from The Early History of Gadsden County. The new book is available in both paperback and hardcover. For ordering information, please click here.
The early months of 1840 signaled a renewal of hostility between Pascofa’s Creeks and the white settlers in the region. U.S. troops had built Fort Yates at Estiffanulga Bluff following the attacks there the previous year, but when the subsequent campaign failed to uncover the hiding places of the Creeks, the fort was abandoned and a stockade and blockhouse named Fort Preston were built at Bristol. Fort Braden at Jackson Bluff also remained occupied and additional forts were constructed to the east near Wakulla Spring and at the natural bridge of the St. Marks River. The arsenal at Chattahoochee, of course, also remained occupied.

Pascofa seems to have viewed the growing military presence as an opportunity rather than a danger. The presence of the new fort at Bristol required the army to send supplies and provisions across Gadsden County by wagon and the Creeks quickly decided to appropriate a shipment for their own use. In late January they struck at a site a few miles west of Greensboro:

On Saturday last, a wagon, loaded with provisions for one of the posts, was attacked, near Carnochan’s plantation, by a party of twenty or thirty Indians. The guard, consisting of three men, attempted a defence, but were driven off, and one of their number wounded. The wagon was captured and burnt. Capt. Bullock, with his company of dragoons, is in pursuit of the savages. A few days previous, a party of Indians, supposed to be the same that attacked the wagon, were fallen upon by our troops, and so closely pursued as to abandon their packs and plunder.

The Carnochan’s plantation referred to in the dispatch was the one located near Bristol and Fort Preston, but an army map dated 1841 shows the attack site to have been well to the north at about the point where the old Federal Road passed from Liberty into Gadsden County.[ii]
The attack near Greensboro was followed by the destruction of Rowlett’s Mill to the south and a bloody massacre of the Harlan family across the Apalachicola near Iola. Troops pushed back into the rugged country between the Apalachicola and Ochlockonee Rivers in pursuit of the warriors, but again results were minimal and the militiamen returned home.
No sooner had the troops withdrawn, however, than one of Pascofa’s war parties carried out what for Gadsden County residents has become the best known incident of the Seminole/Creek wars – the McLane Massacre.
John K. McLane, then twenty years old (although newspapers of the time described him as 16), was at home with his mother and three younger children in a little log cabin not far from Telogia Creek when they were suddenly set upon by Creek warriors. One of the young girls first saw them and ran to the house to give the alarm:

…Mrs. McLean took her children, three in number, and made for the hammock, when they were overtaken and inhumanly butchered by the Indians. Mrs. McLean’s throat was cut, and her children beaten to death with pine-knots. The Indians returned to the house, where Mr. McLean’s son, about 16 years of age, had determined to defend himself, and fired frequently at the Indians.
(I will continue to excerpt the chapter on the McLane Massacre over the coming days. Please check back for more!)

[i] Tallahassee Floridian, February 1, 1840, p. 1.
[ii] Map of Operations, Middle Florida, 1841, National Archives.
[iii] Tallahassee Floridian, May 2, 1840.

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