- “Wild People in the Woods”: General Jackson, Savannah Jack, and the First Seminole War in the Alabama Territory
On august 9, 1814, major general andrew Jackson, commanding the 7th Military District of the U.S., signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson. That event supposedly signaled the end of the First Creek War, which began as a Creek civil war but blossomed into a fight between the nativist “Red Stick” faction of Creeks and the United States and its Native American allies following the shocking Red Stick massacre of U.S. citizens at Fort Mims. American forces invaded Creek country from three directions and after months of fighting, Jackson administered what appeared to be a final, devastating defeat to the Red Sticks at Horseshoe Bend. He then used that victory as leverage to compel Creek leaders to sign his treaty. However, all but one of the Creek headmen who put their marks to the document did not fight against the United States in that two-year conflict. Some of these leaders had actually helped Jackson subdue the Red Sticks, but Jackson chose to blame all Creeks for the war, and he pressured their council of leaders into ceding over twenty million acres of their lands to the U.S. as war reparations. This land, most of which bordered on Spanish Florida, included much of the future state of Alabama and the southern counties of Georgia.1
But the Treaty of Fort Jackson did not end Jackson’s conflict with the Red Sticks. Their leaders did not show up at Fort Jackson to sign the document because they did not believe themselves to be responsible [End Page 191] for war with the United States, nor did they consider themselves as entirely defeated. Indeed, they consistently portrayed themselves as defenders of the Creek nation against U.S. expansionism, which the more moderate Creek headmen and people had aided with their incessant accommodations to Americans. So rather than surrender and sign an outrageous treaty, which if anything made them even angrier, some seventeen hundred Red Sticks moved down into Spanish West Florida, settled new villages in the vicinity of Pensacola, allied themselves with the Florida Seminoles, and according to historian Gregory A. Waselkov, “showed every intention of continuing their struggle against the Americans.”2 Indeed, the Red Stick flight to West and East Florida meant that interethnic conflict continued along the southeastern border of the U.S. for several more years, culminating in General Jackson’s invasion of Florida in the First Seminole War of 1818. And while historians have produced numerous books and articles on that war, their accounts tend to concentrate on the violence in East Florida and fail to note that a theater of that conflict existed in the young Alabama Territory on the very lands the Creeks ceded at Fort Jackson. Moreover, these historians have not noticed that one “Savannah Jack” Hague led the small band of Red Stick warriors who, using West Florida as an occasional place of refuge, waged periodic attacks on the white settlers in Alabama leading up to and during that fateful year of 1818. And while historians have described Jackson’s siege of Pensacola in 1818 and sought to explain his rationale, they have failed to consider that Savannah Jack’s actions gave General Jackson the excuse he needed to move into West Florida and take the town of Pensacola from the Spaniards. That capture in turn ended the First Seminole War, finally quieted the Red Stick resistance in Florida and Alabama, and helped persuade the Spaniards to cede Florida to the United States.
Historians have not given Savannah Jack proper credit (or infamy) for his role in the First Seminole War, due largely to incomplete [End Page 192] and inconsistent records. He and his exploits remain largely unknown; few old books and documents mention Jack directly, and when they do, they picture him merely as a bloodthirsty villain, a shadowy figure, or a frontier psychopath who briefly terrified the early Alabama pioneers before passing into oblivion. For example, in the summer of 1789, Alexander McGillivray, the Upper Creek headman at the time, and Vincente Folch, the Spanish commandant...