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The Great Republic by the Master Historians
The Spanish Invasion of Georgia
by Bancroft, Hubert H.

[While the Northern colonies were at war with the French and their Indian allies, the Southern were similarly at war with the Spaniards of Florida, and the Indian wars of the North had their counterparts in the South. The troubles with the Indians of Virginia we have already described. Of the Indians of North Carolina, those in contact with the settlers rapidly disappeared, destroyed by strong drink and other accompaniments of civilization. The settlers came next into collision with more remote tribes, the Tuscaroras and the Corees, who showed decided symptoms of hostility and organized a secret attack. On the night of October 2, 1711, they suddenly fell upon the settlements and massacred one hundred and thirty persons. A war ensued, the whites being aided by a large body of friendly Indians from the more southern tribes. In 1713 the Tuscaroras were besieged in their fort, and eight hundred taken prisoners. The remainder migrated north, and joined their kindred, the Iroquois of New York. Peace was concluded with the Corees in 1715.

South Carolina, when settled, contained comparatively few of the aborigines. A long and destructive war between two tribes, and a fatal epidemic which afterwards prevailed, had decimated the Indians, and left their lands open to the settlers. In 1702, during the war of England against France and Spain which broke out that year, Governor Moore of Carolina organized an expedition against the Spanish settlement of St. Augustine in Florida. He proceeded by sea, while Colonel Daniel led a land-expedition of twelve hundred men, half of whom were Indians. The Spanish fortification proving too strong for their means of assault, Daniel was sent to Jamaica for siege-guns. During his absence two Spanish ships appeared off the harbor, and Moore, in a panic, abandoned his fleet and hastily retreated. Daniel, on his return, stood in towards the harbor, and narrowly escaped capture. This useless and expensive expedition gave great dissatisfaction to the people of Carolina. It was followed by a successful expedition against the Appalachian Indians, allies of Spain. They were completely defeated, their towns burned, and their whole province made English territory.

In 1706 a French and Spanish fleet appeared before Charleston. But the city was valiantly defended, and the invaders driven off with loss. A general Indian war broke out in 1715, comprising numerous tribes, the Yamassees at their head. For a while the colony was threatened with destruction. The frontier settlements were ruined, Port Royal abandoned, and Charleston in serious peril. At length the settlers made head, drove back the enemy, and on the banks of the Salkehatchie gained a complete victory. The Yamassees were driven from their territory, and retired to Florida. In 1719 a revolution against the Proprietors broke out in South Carolina; the settlers refused to pay their exorbitant claims, and in the name of the king proclaimed James Moore governor. The difficulty was settled in 1729, when seven of the eight Proprietors sold out to the king, and the two Carolinas were separated and became royal governments.

The colony of Georgia was first devised in 1732, by James Oglethorpe, an English philanthropist, as an asylum for the poor of England and for the oppressed Protestants of all countries. He reached America in February, 1733, with one hundred and twenty emigrants, and planted a settlement on the site of Savannah. A treaty of peace and friendship was at once concluded with the Creek Indians, a powerful neighboring confederacy. The colony rapidly increased in numbers. But trouble soon arose with the Spaniards of Florida, who claimed that the English were intruding on their territory. Hostilities being threatened, Oglethorpe returned to England, and brought out a regiment of six hundred men for the defense of his frontier. Soon afterwards, in 1739, war broke out between England and Spain, and Oglethorpe invaded Florida. He had with him five hundred men of his regiment, with other troops, and Indian allies. Several Spanish forts were taken, but St. Augustine was boldly defended, and after being nearly reduced by famine, obtained supplies from vessels that ran the blockade of the English fleet. This destroyed all hopes of success, and Oglethorpe returned to Georgia. Two years later, the Spaniards, in reprisal, invaded Georgia with a large fleet and a numerous army. Oglethorpe, with a much smaller force, withdrew to his fort at Frederica, on St. Simon's Island, near the mouth of the Altamaha River. The interesting story of this invasion we extract from the "History of Georgia," by Rev. William Bacon Stevens.]

In May [1742] the armament destined for the conquest of Georgia, consisting of fifty-six vessels and about seven thousand men, left Havana for St. Augustine. One of their large vessels, with one hundred and fifty men, was lost in passing the Moro castle; and soon after the fleet was dispersed by a storm.. Of the arrival of this force in St. Augustine, Oglethorpe was informed by his Indian spies, deserters, and the letters of Captain Hamar; and he addressed himself at once to the task of preparing for their attack. [The Spanish fleet was unsuccessful in its first efforts against the English forts.]

On the 28th [of June] the Spanish fleet, largely reinforced, again appeared off St. Simon's bar, and, having taken the bearings and soundings, lay off and on, waiting for a fair wind, to run up to Frederica. All was now activity on St. Simon's. The general raised another troop of rangers, armed the planters, extended his fortifications, dismantled many of the small vessels and from them rigged out a merchant-ship, called the Success, with an armament of twenty-two guns, which he placed under the command of Captain Thompson.

The following day [July 5], favored by a strong easterly wind and a flood tide, the squadron of thirty-[fifty-] six vessels, comprising one of twenty-four guns, two ships of twenty guns, two large scows of fourteen guns, four schooners, four sloops, and the rest half-galleys, entered St. Simon's harbor.. For four hours the vessels and two small batteries of the English maintained the unequal contest; but the fleet was too numerous, and they passed up the river with a leading breeze, sinking one guard schooner and disabling several of the trading- craft.

[The English now spiked the guns and destroyed the munitions at Fort St. Simon's, and withdrew to Frederica. The Spanish vessels passed up the river, and landed about five thousand men four miles below Frederica. These marched down and took possession of the dismantled fort.]

They made their camp at the fort which he [Oglethorpe] had abandoned, and, hoisting the bloody flag on the commodore's ship, erected a battery and planted in it twenty eighteen-pounders. Among the troops landed were a regiment of artillery, a regiment of dismounted dragoons, a regiment of negroes, officered by negroes, in the style and pay of grenadiers, and a regiment of mulattoes, besides the Havana battalion, the Havana militia, and the St. Augustine forces. On the seventh a part of this force was put in motion, and reached within a mile of Frederica, when they were discovered by the rangers, and the alarm given. Oglethorpe immediately advanced with a party of Indians, rangers, and the Highland company, that were then on parade, ordering the regiment to follow, being resolved to engage them in the defiles of the wood before they could get out and deploy in the open savannah. He charged at the head of his force with such effect that nearly all of the party, consisting of one hundred and twenty- five of their best woodsmen, and forty-five Indians, were either killed, wounded, or taken prisoners... The pursuit was continued several miles, to an open meadow or savannah, upon the edge of which he posted three platoons of the regiment and a company of Highland foot, so as to be covered by the woods from the enemy, who were obliged to pass through the meadow under the English fire. Hastening back to Frederica, he got in readiness the rangers and marines; but scarcely were they in marching order when he heard firing in the direction of his ambushed troops, and, speeding thither, met two of the platoons, who, in the smoke and drifting rain, had retreated before the advance of Don Antonio Barba, who, with one hundred grenadiers and two hundred infantry, consisting of Indians and negroes, had pushed into the meadow and drove out the ambuscade with loud huzzas and rolling drums. The soldiers informed Oglethorpe that all his force was routed; but, finding one platoon and a company of rangers missing, and still hearing firing in the direction of the woods, he ordered the officers to rally their men and follow him.

In the mean time this platoon and company of rangers, under the command of Lieutenants Sutherland and Mackay, instead of retreating with their comrades, no sooner reached the wood than by a skilfully-executed detour they gained the rear of the pursuing enemy, and, at a point where the road passed from the forest to the open marsh across a small semi-circular cove, planted themselves in ambuscade in the thick palmettoes by which this narrow pass was nearly surrounded.

Scarcely had they secreted themselves near this defile, when the Spaniards, on their return, marched out of the wood, and, supposing themselves secure from attack, protected as they were on the one side by an open morass and on the other by the crescent-shaped hedge of palmettoes and underwood, they stacked their arms and yielded themselves to repose. Sutherland and Mackay, who from their hiding-places had anxiously watched all their movements, now raised the signal of attack,-a Highland cap upon a sword, - and the soldiers poured in upon the unsuspecting enemy a well-delivered and most deadly fire. Volley succeeded volley, and the sand was strewed with the dead and dying. A few of the Spanish officers attempted, though in vain, to re-form their broken ranks; discipline was gone, orders were unheeded, safety alone was sought; and when, with a Highland shout of triumph, the platoon burst among them with levelled bayonet and flashing claymore, the panic-stricken foe fled in every direction,-some to the marsh, where they mired, and were taken,-some along the defile, where they were met by the tomahawk and the broadsword,-and some into the thicket, where they became entangled and lost; and a few only escaped to their camp. Their defeat was complete. Barba was taken, after being mortally wounded; another captain, a lieutenant, two sergeants, two drummers, and one hundred and sixty privates, were killed, and a captain and nineteen men were taken prisoners. This was a feat of arms as brilliant as it was successful, and won for the gallant troops the highest praise. Oglethorpe, with the two platoons, did not reach the scene of this action, which has ever since borne the appropriate name of "Bloody Marsh," until the victory was achieved; and, to show his sense of their services, he promoted the brave young officers who had gained it, on the very field of their valor.

[The retreating enemy were pursued into their camp. On the next day Oglethorpe withdrew his forces to Frederica. The misfortunes of the Spaniards caused dissensions among their leaders, learning of which, Oglethorpe resolved to surprise them by a night attack.]

For this purpose he marched down, on the twelfth July, five hundred men, and, leaving them within a mile of the Spanish quarters, went forward at night with a small party to reconnoitre, intending to surprise them, but was prevented by the treachery of a Frenchman among Captain Carr's marines, who, firing his musket, sounded the alarm, and, favored by the darkness, deserted to the enemy. Finding himself thus discovered, the general distributed the drums about the wood, to represent a large force, and ordered them to beat the grenadiers' march, which they did for half an hour, and then, all being still, noiselessly returned to Frederica.

Aware of his weakness, and fearing that the disclosures which the Frenchman might make would embolden them to surround and destroy him, which their superior force by land and sea easily enabled them to do, he devised an ingenious stratagem to defeat his information and retrieve the effects of his desertion. The next day he prevailed with a prisoner, and gave him a sum of money, to carry a letter privately and deliver it to that Frenchman who had deserted. This letter was written in French, as if from a friend of his, telling him he had received the money; that he should strive to make the Spaniards believe the English were weak; that he should undertake to pilot up their boats and galleys, and then bring them under the woods where he knew the hidden batteries were; and that if he could bring that about, he should have double the reward he had already received; but if he failed in thus decoying them under the guns of the water-battery, to use all his influence to keep them at least three days more at Fort St. Simon's, as within that time, according to advices just received, he should be reinforced by two thousand infantry and six men-of-war, which had already sailed from Charleston; and, by way of postscript, he was cautioned against mentioning that Admiral Vernon was about to make a descent upon St. Augustine. The Spanish prisoner got into the camp, and was immediately carried before the general, Don Manuel de Montiano. He was asked how he escaped, and whether he had any letters, but, denying his having any, was strictly searched, and the letter found in his possession. Under a promise of pardon, he confessed that he had received money to deliver it to the Frenchman, for the letter was not directed. The Frenchman denied his knowing anything of its contents, or having received any money, or having had any correspondence with Oglethorpe, and vehemently protested that he was not a spy.

[The contents of the captured letter seriously perplexed the Spanish commander, for whom the Frenchman had acted as a spy among the English. Most of the council looked on him as a double spy, believed the information of the letter, and advised an immediate retreat. While the council grew warm in their debate, word was brought to the commander that three vessels had been seen off the bar. Supposing this to be part of the threatened fleet, the council no longer doubted the truth of the letter, and resolved to fly before they should be hemmed in by sea and land. They set fire to the fort, and hastily embarked, abandoning a quantity of their military stores in their hurry to escape. Oglethorpe followed them with the vessels at his command, and hastened the rapidity of their flight.]

Thus the vigilance of Oglethorpe, the skilfulness of his plans, the determined spirit of resistance, the carnage of Bloody Marsh, the havoc done to the enemy's ships, and his ingenious stratagem to defeat the designs of the French deserter, saved Georgia and Carolina from falling into the hands of the Spaniards. The force employed by the Spaniards in this invasion comprised.. over five thousand men, commanded by Montiana, governor of St. Augustine, and brought to Georgia in fifty-six vessels. The command of Oglethorpe consisted of only six hundred and fifty-two men, including Indians and militia. The triumph of Oglethorpe was complete. For fifteen days, with only two ships and six hundred men, he had baffled the Spanish general with fifty-six vessels and five thousand men, and at last compelled him to retreat, with the loss of several sail, scores of his best troops, and much of his provisions, munitions, and artillery. The repulse of such a formidable invasion by such a handful of troops is unparalleled in colonial history.

[The news of this victory was received with universal joy in the North, and Oglethorpe was warmly congratulated on his victory by the governors of the other English provinces. In the succeeding year an attack was made on St. Augustine by an army under Oglethorpe. This expedition proved unsuccessful. There no further movements of invasion, though Georgia experienced annoyance from the Florida Indians, who were stirred up by Spanish hostility.]

William Bacon Stevens


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