Of Pensacola

Extracts from a Diary of a Prisoner of War of the British in Southern Alabama and Western Florida in the Fall of 1814

From the Richmond Enquirer of January 5, 1815

Enquirer‘s editorial introduction: “We have received from an attentive friend who resides on the Mobile, the subjoined extract of the Journal of Wm. Ellis, a man of veracity and good character.  It is a document, at this moment, of importance.  It vindicates most satisfactorily, if vindication in this case can be considered necessary, the conduct of the American government, or their general, in entering Pensacola.”

Journal of William Ellis, a Custom House Officer, stationed then at Bon Secour, a river on the east side of the bay of Mobile

“September 12th–Visited the landing in the forenoon–after dinner, commence fixing some fish-hooks, and about half past two, P. M. casting my eye up, saw two Creek Indians painted, pointing their guns at me–and in the space of a moment, the yard and the house were crowded with them–Mrs. LaCoast and her son (ten years old) Miss Betsey, her two children, and sister, were screaming in the rooms.  I continued my seat.  Several Indians came up to me, among whom was a chief, who gave me his hand.  At this moment a British officer came up, and ordered me to follow him.  I arose and observed, ‘you are a British officer, I presume.’  ‘Yes,’ said he.  ‘I may consider myself a prisoner to you.’–‘You may say that,’ he replied, ‘or I cut your head off.’  ‘I shall expect that humanity from you which belongs to your nation.’  ‘Its more,’ said he, ‘than we receive from your nation, a d–mned sight.’  ‘That’s not the fault of individuals.’

By this time we had advanced ten poles towards the river, and the Indians had taken all the canoes, and about forty started over to the landing on the other side of the river.  By this time, I suppose, they had been three minutes in the yard, 70 in number, plundering every thing they could put their hands on.  I requested the officer to go into the house, and protect the women and children; which he did immediately, and made the Indians give back almost every thing they had taken, But as soon as his eye was off them, they took the things again, even to the dirty clouts–By this time, the Indians had returned from the landing, with all James Innerarity’s negroes.  Mr. Miller, supercargo of a Spanish ship in Pensacola, Jacobs, a cooper, Henry, a labourer, Frank, an overseer, and Aaron, a carter.–A violent gust came on, and one Indian was struck in the yard with lightning, and died in a few days.  Night came on–they put out spies, and went to sleep.

Capt. Cassels of the Royal Marines (for that was his name and appellation) asked me if I knew of any troops being near them–and observed my life depended on my telling the truth.  None, I told him nearer than the point.  ‘Did you hear firing there today?’ ‘None.’ An express was sent to the point by an American called Burdue, who had been in the 2d regiment; a half breed called Sebastian, of Pensacola, and the son of Pancha, who lives at Perdido.

Sept. 13th, Removed to the landing.  The Indians indulged themselves  in plunder all day.

Sept. 14th–By this time, the Indians were out of beef; although they had killed two of La Coast’s the first day.  A party consisting of an American called M’Gill, who had deserted from the 2d regiment, about three years ago, when at Fort Stoddert, and who now lives at Pensacola, a mulatto, callled London, (who Capt. Cassels told me he had met and compelled to come back) a negro called Boston, and some Indians, were sent to Fish River; who returned in the evening with a drove of cattle, a decanter, a pitcher, and some other things.  They then killed a beef.  Madam La Coaste comes and sleeps at the landing with all her family.

Sept. 15 — The express returns this evening with the news that the marines, 75, and Indians, 130, under the command of Captain Henry, had landed at the point, and had hurled four bombs at the fort–and that the Colonel’s servant had his head carried off by a cannon ball, and an Indian had his belt cut in two by a grape shot; that the Colonel was on board the ship Armise; that the vessels were within a league of the fort.–Very heavy firing this day. About an hour after night, we heard a great explosion==suppose it to be the fort blown up.

Sept. 16–Sent an express by M’Gill and Burdua to the point.

Sept. 17–A party of Indians arrived (24) from the point at 11 A. M.  Told us the ships were beat off, and one blown up–that the balance of the Indians and marines were coming on, which proved to be the case.  In about two hours they arrived,  halted and killed several beeves, opened two hogsheads of tobacco, and several barrels of flour, refreshed themselves, and went on about 6 miles, put out spies, and encamped.  The Indians refused to obey their chief (Woodbine) and would not stand sentry.

Sept. 18–Arrive at Pancha’s on the Perdido at 3 P.M. all the marines and some few Indians crossed the Perdido Bay.

Sept. 19th–Arrived in Pensacola at half past 12, and quarter with Captain Woodbine; towards evening Woodbine takes me and old Alexander, of Fish River (who had been plundered of all that was dear to him, and brought a prisoner to this place.) before the Colonel, who told me he should make a prisoner of war with me.  He thought, however, he would look over the cartel arrangements, and, in the mean time, I and Alexander must confine ourselves to Captain Woodbine’s quarters, and we should be well treated.  Consequently, we did so.

Sept. 20th–The balance of the Indians crossed the Perdido, and got into town.

September 21–A party of the expedition who were left behind to drive cattle, arrive at 9 A. M. and bring news that they had got over 25 head of bullocks, and that the Americans came on them and compelled them to retire.  This occasioned much bustle in the town.  The Indians are called into Captain Woodbine’s and a great talk takes place between him and the head chiefs.–A detachment is sent to the Perdido, where it is said the Americans are crossing.

September 22–An express arrives this morning from the Ferry, and brings news that a party of Americans had crossed over the Perdido, and taken all the boats from the eastside, and retired to their encampment on the west.  Their number was supposed to be about 500.  The Governor calls and observed that he wished Capt. Woodbine, to send a party of Indians, consisting of two hundred to the Ferry, and that he would send 50 men with them to impede the crossing of the Americans; that this measure ought to be particularly attended to.  Woodbine not being in, Capt. Henry informed his Excellency, that it should be attended to with the earliest attention. The Governor then went over to Col. Nicholls.  In the afternoon a quantity of blankets, linens, &c. are hoisted up into the lost of Capt. Woodbine’s quarters.  About 4 P. M. 65 Indians received 3 days rations, and march, it is said, to the Ferry on Perdido.

Friday 23d”

[Here the Journal ends.  For some reason or other, the British officers became jealous of Mr. Ellis, and sent him on board . . . one of their vessels in the Bay; and have probably carried him to the West-Indies.  The Journal was handed by capt. Woodbine to another American citizen, who had been made a prisoner of by the British in Pensacola, but was afterwards liberated.–Enquirer]

Events occurring in the same time span–Ellis’ dating may be off.  News from St. Stephens, dated Sept. 18 (in the Nashville Clarion September 27, 1814)  “The Post rider from Mobile reports that on Thursday the 17th, inst. Mobile Point (Fort Bowyer) was attacked by the British, Indians and Spaniards, & that after a severe fight, the enemy was beaten, and retreated leaving behind them upwards of 300 killed & wounded.”  On the other hand, a letter from Andrew Jackson, of September 17,  says, “The admiral’s ship is blown up and a brig sunk–not more than 20 of the crew saved.  The attack commenced on the 15th.”  So Ellis may have heard the admiral’s ship blow up, not the fort.

An Account of Pensacola in early August

Letter to Judge Toulmin from W. & J. Pierce, dated Tensaw, August 5, 1814.  (printed in the Nashville Clarion August 30, 1814)

“We have this moment received the following information from a Mr. John Morris, who has just arrived from the neighborhood of Pensacola, he left them three days ago.–He states that about ten days ago, some British officers called the Indians together, about a mile or two out of town and gave them a talk (no Americans, & but a few Spaniards were permitted to hear it) . . .  He further states that the town is guarded principally by Indians under the command of British officers, there are now three in town; all the British troops at Appalachicola were daily expected, and soon after their arrival a part of the British and Indians were expected to come up this way, another part were expected to go on to the Coweta.—They direct the Indians to kill every American who attempts  to go into Pensacola, they are also instructed, on the arrival of the British to confine every American in & about Pensacola, if they refuse to fight for them.”

About the Author

Mary Bowden is a researcher working at the Texas Collections Deposit Library at the University of Texas. A little-known but invaluable treasure of U.S. history and the history of American journalism is archived in the collection of bound United States’ Newspapers at the University of Texas at Austin. The collection began more than a century ago and has been stored in recent years in the Texas Collections Deposit Library on the campus of the University of Texas. The sizeable archive is currently in the early stages of being digitized before being moved to a more climate-controlled environment at the J.J. Pickle Research Campus of the University, on the north side of Austin.

Mary Bowden