Edmund Doyle, clerk of the Forbes Company trading post at Prospect Bluff, knew May 25, 1814, would be a bad day when he saw British Capt. George Woodbine disembark at the river landing. Although the Forbes store was in Spanish Florida, Doyle knew the British had come to fight American troops in Georgia and Alabama.
Woodbine made the Forbes store temporary headquarters for his soldiers and the escaped blacks and Seminole allies he would train to fight the Americans. Lacking provisions for the men, Woodbine confiscated Forbes’ cattle for his garrison. Then Woodbine scouted north up the Chattahoochee and Flint Rivers and drew a military map that was recently discovered in Great Britain’s National Archives. (See Figure 1)
Doyle had managed the Forbes fur trade with the assistance of Creek interpreter William Hambly since 1808. Even in good years, the store barely made a profit, but the fur trade had dried up after Andrew Jackson’s army destroyed the Creek villages and crops in Alabama in 1814. Thousands of destitute Indians moved into Florida hoping to obtain provisions from Forbes and the governor of Spanish Florida.
Hambly and Doyle both feared for the safety of their wives and children, who usually stayed several miles up the river at farms near Spanish Bluff. In June 1814, Doyle wrote to John Innerarity, “… my situation is very unsafe, It is now reported a party has been selected for some time to kill Hambly and myself privately, by the interference of Captain Woodbine… remedy at present is impossible except by withdrawing out of the country.”
British forts 1814-16
Woodbine’s forces began constructing a fort just downstream of Forbes’ store in order to unload supplies from the HMS Orpheus, a 36-gun frigate anchored outside West Pass near St. Vincent Island. The large ship could not cross the bar, so supplies were unloaded to a temporary camp on St. Vincent (then usually identified as part of “St. George’s Islands.”)
On Aug. 10, British Col. Edward Nicolls joined Woodbine and unloaded muskets and gunpowder. After an unsuccessful attack on the Americans at Mobile, the men returned to Apalachicola Bay and used a small schooner to transfer cannons, muskets, and ammunition upriver to Prospect Bluff.
Nicolls and Woodbine hired Hambly as a lieutenant of the Royal Marines to help complete the fort. They also asked Doyle to abandon the Forbes store and instead manage supplies for the British. Doyle nervously accepted the offer because the Forbes store had already been looted.
The worst trouble for Doyle and Hambly began in November, when the fort at Prospect Bluff and an outpost south of the river forks were completed to oppose American forces in Georgia. Nicolls and Woodbine garrisoned the forts with British Regulars, Black Colonial Marines, and Choctaw Indians. They began training former slaves from Pensacola and Forbes’s stores for military action, promising them freedom after the war. However, British plans ended abruptly when the Americans defeated them at the Battle of New Orleans.
Survivors of war
Col. Nicolls was making plans to attack the Americans in Georgia when he learned the Treaty of Ghent had been signed. Before withdrawing, Nicolls convened a council with Seminole chiefs at his outpost on the Flint River. He stated that Indian lands would be returned, and that the British would leave men and arms to ensure the transfer took place. However, the Americans disagreed, maintaining that land cessions after the Creek War in 1814 were permanent.
Another serious matter was the demand by Spanish and American representatives that the escaped slaves who joined the Royal Colonial Marines and Black Seminoles be returned. In March, Spanish surveyor Vicente Pintado met with Nicolls at Prospect Bluff. Pintado spoke to the black families, but only convinced 12 to leave with him as the British withdrew in April.
Lt. William Hambly was left in charge of the fort but could not maintain order in the absence of the British officers. Fearing for his safety, he turned the post over to a Black Marine named Garcon, a 30-year old former carpenter. Within a month, Hambly was serving with American Gen. Edmund Gaines as a Creek interpreter.
Destruction of the fort
Generals Jackson and Gaines agreed the “bandits” at the former British fort needed to be eliminated. They sent Col. Duncan Clinch, who linked up with two U.S. Navy gunboats near the fort. Hambly may have been present, because the Seminoles blamed him for directing the cannon fire into the gunpowder magazine.
When Americans destroyed the fort at Prospect Bluff on July 27, 1816, Edmund Doyle was not harmed because he was onboard a Spanish vessel near Pensacola. After the battle, the Forbes partners reopened their store at Prospect Bluff. They knew it would operate at a loss, but keeping it open was a condition to retain their enormous Spanish land grant called the Forbes Purchase.
In June 1817, Doyle was doing his best to update the store. “I want no more carpenters, Charles may now go back,” he wrote. “I am giving all the old Houses a thorough repair, which will do for three or four years longer when more leisure can be had for better buildings.” But when John Forbes told Doyle that he was planning to sell the Forbes Purchase, withdraw from the firm, and move to Matanzas, Cuba, Doyle knew he had no duty to continue.
Doyle knew the Seminoles blamed him and Hambly for helping Americans destroy the fort. The Seminole War began in Nov. 1817, when American troops were fired on while attempting to bring Chief Neamathla in for questioning, and the Seminoles retaliated by killing soldiers and their wives who were trying to come up the river to Fort Scott.
In Dec. 1817, Doyle accompanied Lower Creek Chief William Perryman on a mission to reduce tensions on the border. They spoke to Lt. Mathew Arbuckle at Fort Scott, but the mission led to no new talks between warring parties. One year after the destruction of the Negro Fort, the empty Forbes store was effectively closed as the Seminole War began.
Kidnap and rescue
On Dec. 13, 1817, Edmund Doyle and William Hambly were kidnapped from Spanish Bluff and presumed killed by Seminole Chief Chenubby. Lower Creek Chief William Perryman was killed defending Doyle and Hambly. Chenubby, a Fowltown chief, was probably acting on orders from Alexander Arbuthnot, a British trader and rival of Forbes.
However, Doyle and Hambly were not killed. Instead, they marched 75 miles east to Miccosukee and then 125 miles to Suwanee Old Town. Arbuthnot ordered them killed, but in February, they were taken to St. Marks and detained in custody of the Spanish commandant. Fortunately for them, a friendly Indian runner was sent to Pensacola, and a schooner was sent to rescue them. (See Figure 2)
A U.S. naval supply ship captained by Isaac McGeever intercepted the rescue ship in Apalachicola Bay. Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson’s forces had arrived in Florida and quickly built Fort Gadsden at Prospect Bluff. Doyle and Hambly were taken back to St. Marks on March 30 to await Andrew Jackson, who arrived one week later after destroying the Seminole towns at Miccosukee and Suwanee
Jackson’s forces captured Arbuthnot and a colleague named Robert Ambrister. After a perfunctory trial at which Doyle and Hambly testified, Arbuthnot was hanged and Ambrister shot.
Jackson took Hambly and Doyle back to Prospect Bluff in May, where Hambly told Jackson that hostile Indians were in Pensacola. After driving out the hostiles to end the war, Jackson sent Hambly with several Indian chiefs to meet President James Monroe in Washington, D.C.
Both Hambly and Doyle had purchased parcels of land along the Apalachicola River, and the deeds were confirmed by the Territory of Florida. However, hostilities following the fall of the Negro Fort convinced Doyle to sell his farm. Juan de la Rua bought it from him in June, 1818, for $2000.
Seeing that Florida would be transferred to the United States, Forbes hastened to sell his enormous land grant. He found buyers in Cuba who purchased the lands for $111,676 in May, 1819, just three months after the Adams-Onis Treaty was signed. The Innerarity brothers kept the stores in Mobile and Pensacola open, but their primary business became land sales.
Doyle’s letters indicated Hambly had a sizeable family. Hambly confirmed that, testifying that he had lived for about 20 years among the Creeks and was their chief interpreter. By 1824, he had moved up the Apalachicola River to Fort Mitchell, where he was working as a US interpreter with rank of colonel
As it happened, the Marquis de Lafayette’s last grand tour of the United States in 1824 took his entourage through Georgia across the river from Fort Mitchell. When Lafayette arrived at Fort Mitchell, Hambly helped him make speeches to the Creeks. In 1825, he acted as translator when the Treaty of Indian Springs was signed that ceded Creek lands east of the Chattahoochee to the United States and accelerated the policy of Indian removal.
Lafayette’s secretary noted that they met two handsome young Indians, one of whom was named John Hambly, who spoke perfect English, and invited them to his nearby home. The young man was William’s son, who later became a US interpreter, and assisted the Creeks in the Treaty of New Echota and an 1835 treaty with the Wichita and Comanche tribes in Oklahoma.
Hambly’s wife was a Creek woman whom Milly Francis mentioned meeting on the Apalachicola River and then later at Muskogee, Oklahoma. Perhaps Hambly or some of his family accompanied the Creeks across the Mississippi, after which their public record ends.
Edmund Doyle remained in the area until Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821. When Congress granted land in Tallahassee to Lafayette in 1825 and it was offered for sale, Doyle moved there. Doyle also sold land to the future governor, Richard Keith Call, and probably stayed in the land business until his death.
The 1830 federal census listed Edmund Doyle as a resident of Tallahassee who headed a household of 10 people. Some may have been Doyle’s family, because he stated he worried about keeping his family safe during the wars. Doyle, who had kept the store at Prospect Bluff open for 10 years, apparently died in Tallahassee in 1831.
Fort Gadsden was occupied until 1821. When Florida became a US territory, it had no further use and was closed. While trying to sell his lands to Colin Mitchell, John Forbes had platted a place called Colinton that encompassed Fort Gadsden. Though shown on maps around 1820, Colinton never existed, and was soon replaced by the settlement at the mouth of the river that became Apalachicola.