Saturday, March 24, 2012

image courtesy of The Alabama Department of Archives and History

This biographical information was requested for this interview concerning the celebration of THE WAR OF 1812 BICENTENNIAL.

I was brought up in Dothan, Alabama. Graduated from Dothan High in '68 and came up to Tuscaloosa to go to the University. Got a B.S. with a major in Psychology and a minor in Biology in '72. After graduating, I got a job at Partlow State School and stayed in Tuscaloosa. In '74 I went back to school and got my teacher's certificate and an M.A. in Education with a concentration in Biology. For 19 years I taught in the secondary schools and worked as an adjunct instructor in jr. colleges for seven. I married the late Sharon Swindle from Northport and we have one son, Christopher, who now lives in Tuscaloosa. For the past thirteen years I've maintained property for Pake Realty in Tuscaloosa. I've published many articles concerning the formative history of the Gulf Coast and have begun my tenth year of blogging. When you google my screen name, robertoreg, you get over 58,000 results. It's also neat to search Google Images for robertoreg. That results in 15 pages of images I've posted on the Web.

1) What's your take on what the War of 1812 was about in the first place?

You could argue that the U.S. could have avoided declaring war on Great Britain in June of 1812 and that the war was unnecessary because it ended in 1815 with no clear winner, but in many ways it was unavoidable. The U.S. declared war on Great Britain because even after losing the American Revolution, the Brits absolutely refused to treat us as a sovereign, independent nation & it was hurting us in the pocketbook. Great Britain did not see our fledgling republic as permanent or destined to have dominion from sea to shining sea. The impressment of hundreds of American sailors into the Royal Navy and the confiscation of American shipping destined for Europe showed they had no intention of treating us as independent. Furthermore, encouraging the Indians to kill our settlers in order to stop American expansion and threatening to turn the Deep South into another Haiti via slave insurrection didn't help relations either.

2) How did it come off as a referendum on US military preparedness almost 40 years after Lexington and Concord?

At the opening of the war, the U.S. Navy had 6 warships. The Royal Navy had about 400.
Neither the U.S. Army nor the state militias were prepared to go to war with Great Britain in 1812. Look at what happened here in what is now Alabama in the summer of 1813 at Burnt Corn Creek and Ft. Mims. The Battle of Bladensburg, which occurred just before the burning of Washington, D.C., has been called "the greatest disgrace ever dealt to American arms" and "the most humiliating episode in American history." The U.S. had only been making muskets for about 15 years when we declared war so there weren't a whole lot of guns to go around. There are many cases of the militia being called and not many folks showing up or showing up unarmed. But the "Spirit of '76" was constantly being invoked as newspaper editors of the day asked their readers if this next generation after The Founding Fathers had "the right stuff." We were lucky that during the first two years of the war the Brits were tied up in Europe fighting Napoleon. That all changed after Napoleon was exiled to Elba in May of 1814.

3) Are we still experiencing repercussions from the War of 1812, or was it a self-contained historical event?

Yes, we are still experiencing repercussions from the War of 1812 in the present day.
Probably the most important thing to come out of the War of 1812 was the creation of our national consciousness. We still sing the "Star Spangled Banner" & "Old Ironsides", the ship that first showed the world that the Royal Navy was not invincible, still floats in Boston Harbor and is the world's oldest commissioned ship. I visited the Smithsonian last Veteran's Day and from what I could see, "OLD GLORY" was definitely the most visited exhibit in any of the museums. Unfortunately, Andrew Jackson, who first came to prominence during The War of 1812, is still used to this day by radicals on the left and the right to push their propaganda. Neo-Nazis post items on the Web like "Hitler was no worse than Andrew Jackson." The defeat of the Red Sticks and the subsequent removal of all the tribes west of the Mississippi has been called "a model for Hitler's 'final solution'."
On a more positive note, the war brought on a two century era of peace and cooperation between the U.S., Great Britain and Canada. Today, Tecumseh is considered a Founding Father of Canada by many Canadians.

4) What got your attention about the War of 1812 in the first place?

Twenty years ago I decided to write a driving tour of the Gulf South. After my initial research, I realized I didn't know enough to write such a guide so I began to study the formative years of the Gulf Coast in earnest. As a result I have been familiarizing myself with our local people, places and events related to The War of 1812 for two decades now. After researching & publishing many articles on the difficulties the U.S. had in establishing its first Southern Boundary in 1799, I saw that The War of 1812 represented a critical moment in America's struggle to gain dominion over Florida & other territory on the Gulf Coast.

One of my current goals is to use what I have learned to create a kind of glossary of the Deep South's role in the War of 1812 which can be used to create driving tours/maps, calenders/almanacs or be used to enhance wikipedia articles about the subject.

5) Why should the rest of us care?

The Nation in general, but Southerners, in particular, should care about The War of 1812 on the Gulf Coast because it is a terrific story that really could stand more clarification. The bicentennial celebration can show communities the need to preserve their cultural resources and the importance of passing an accurate picture of our area's story down to coming generations. The Bicentennial of The War of 1812 is a once in a lifetime opportunity to focus attention upon a story that will attract visitors to our area. Visiting historic sites and museums is one the most popular vacation activities in America. Visitors spend money and the more we make our area more interesting and entertaining, the more visitors we will attract. Heritage tourism can attract visitors from our own state as well as the entire nation.

In addition, we should encourage television production companies to film travel programs and historic reenactments at historic sites in our area. Personally, I'd be a lot more interested in watching those kinds of shows than the current epidemic of "Red Neck TV" reality shows that now fill our cable channels.

6) Alabama wasn't even a state yet, but it figures prominently in the narrative, doesn't it?

A lot happened in Alabama before it became a state, but things really started cooking after all of the area within our present state boundaries came into the United States. That didn't happen until April 15, 1813 when Old Glory was finally raised over Fortenza Carlotta at the Port of Mobile and the Spanish flag was retired forever. Mobile's population was down to about 300 in 1813. Seven years later it was up to 2800, and by 1840, almost 13,000 people lived in Mobile and it was one of the largest ports in the country. Mobile has a wonderful colonial heritage but nothing much really happened until the Americans showed up in 1813. For this reason, we hope to commemorate the Bicentennial of the Advent of the American Flag Over the Port of Mobile on Monday, April 15, 2013.

On July 27,1813, the Red Sticks were attacked by Mississippi Territory Militia near Burnt Corn Creek and on August 30, 1813, the Red Sticks retaliated by wiping out most of the defenders, women and children of Ft. Mims in present day Baldwin County. Beginning in November 1813, the U.S. Army supported by the Tennessee State Militia, the Georgia State Militia and the Mississippi Territory Militia fought many major battles in present day Alabama culminating in the defeat of the Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend on March 17,1814.

On August 9, 1814, the Treaty of Ft. Jackson, a stockade located where the Tallapoosa River and the Coosa River meet to form the Alabama, was signed and the Creek Nation extinguished its title to over 23 million acres of land in present day Alabama and Georgia.

On September 15, 1814, Americans at Ft. Bowyer on Mobile Point (present day site of Ft. Morgan) repelled an attack by British forces based in Pensacola.

In August of 1814, Andrew Jackson moved his headquarters to Mobile where he gathered men, material and intelligence in preparation for The Battle of New Orleans which occurred on January 8, 1815.

After the Battle of New Orleans, Ft. Bowyer was overrun by British forces on February 11,1815. This battle was the last land battle The War of 1812.

The only permanent exchange of territory which occurred as a consequence of The War of 1812 was the U.S. acquisition of Mobile County south of Ellicott's Line.

We have a unique opportunity during the next 3 years to celebrate the 200th anniversary of many major events that shaped our region and our nation's history.

7) So what do you think? Andrew Jackson: racist or genius?

Sure there's is a lot of racism and genius in Andrew Jackson's story. I'm very sensitive to those who would make Andrew Jackson a scapegoat for the way all aboriginal people have been treated in North America for the past 400 years.
It's true that Jackson killed Indians in war and many tragically died during the removal to Oklahoma but I don't see how trading land in Alabama for land in Oklahoma and moving there translates into genocide or how Jackson's decisions can be compared to the horrors of genocide in the modern day. The Cherokee's Trail of Tears occurred two years after Jackson was out of office and I believe the Indian tribes would have been moved away from white settlements and pushed west of the Mississippi whether there had been a President Andrew Jackson or not. In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson proposed their migration west of the Mississippi River if the plans for their assimilation into American society did not work and a secret clause in an 1802 agreement between the State of Georgia and the U.S. included a section for the peaceful removal of all Indians from the State of Georgia. Removal to Oklahoma was the destiny of the Southeastern Indians whether there was an Andrew Jackson or not.

8) How is the bicentennial to be observed hereabout?

This national celebration of what has been called "The Second AMERICAN REVOLUTION" kicks off next month with NOLA Navy Week in New Orleans.
Middle Tennessee State University has placed an outstanding Tennessee War of 1812 Driving Tour on the Web.

In the summer of 2013, a major event is planned for Ft. Mims in southwest Alabama. In the press materials for their promotion BECOMING ALABAMA, The Alabama Department of Archives & History has included all of the 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015 anniversaries of the major battles of the Creek War and Andrew Jackson's move to Mobile in preparation for the Battle of New Orleans. This promotion is in commemoration of The Bicentennial of the War of 1812, the Sesquicentennial of the Civil War and the 50th Anniversary of major events of The Civil Rights Movement.

As I said before, it is our wish that some sort of an appropriate celebration in April of 2013 to commemorate the Bicentennial of The Advent of The American Flag in Mobile. Hopefully, some of your readers will become involved and help promote in some way the next three years of celebrations connected to the Bicentennial of The War of 1812.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

No generation has ever had THE ONCE IN A LIFETIME opportunity we BABY BOOMERS now have to be able to say we experienced two NATIONAL BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATIONS in a single lifetime but that's exactly what my generation has coming to it in 2012 as the U.S. celebrates the tremendous impact the events associated with THE WAR OF 1812 still have 200 years later in 2012's America . I am writing to you because I am particularly interested in contacting others who have a significant interest in honoring the Deep South's role in the War of 1812 and in rediscovering the fascinating stories of the lives of those who first planted the American Flag upon the shores of the Gulf of Mexico 200 years ago. Not only do we have a chance to clarify some of the more complex issues associated with the War of 1812 but the promotion of this bicentennial celebration of the people, places and events of THE WAR OF 1812 promises to have a lasting impact through the benefits associated with increased heritage tourism in the Deep South.

This celebration gives us a unique opportunity to focus public attention upon a darker corner of our history. Although most major battles of the war occurred elsewhere, there's no denying the impact of the advent of the American Flag over the Port of Mobile in April 1813, Andrew Jackson's army's defeat of the Creek Indians in March 1814 and the events associated with the defeat of the British at the Battle of New Orleans in January 1815 which contributed to the series of Seminole Wars which gripped the peninsula of Florida all the way up to the Civil War. In fact, it has been called "The Civil War of 1812" by Pulitzer Prize winning author Alan Taylor. Now Taylor was writing about the borderlands of Canada and the U.S. but the same title could apply to the civil war that began within the Indian nations of the Deep South in December 1812 with the emergence of the Red Stick alliance within the Creek Indians.

For my part, I am presently revising for publication an article called THE CAPTIVITY & SUFFERINGS OF MRS. CRAWLEY which follows this message. I am also working on a glossary of the people, places and events of THE WAR OF 1812 which can be used in the revision of wikipedia entries, the composition of driving/hiking/boating guides, WAR OF 1812 calenders/almanacs and school curricula or academic games. I would also welcome invitations to write guest editorials in newspapers on the importance of THE WAR OF 1812 BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION.

When this WAR OF 1812 BICENTENNIAL CELEBRATION ends in 2015, America will not have celebrated an absolute victory over our enemy but we will have celebrated 200 years of lasting peace between our country and Great Britain as well as with our northern neighbor, Canada.

This national celebration of what has been called "The Second AMERICAN REVOLUTION" kicks off in April with NOLA Navy Week in New Orleans.

Captivity and Sufferings of Mrs. Crawley
by Robert Register

On August 9, 1814, Major General Andrew Jackson signed the Treaty of Fort Jackson with the Chiefs of the Creek Nation. Jackson's treaty mentions Creek aggressions against citizens of the U.S. "at the mouth of the Duck River, Fort Mims and elsewhere..." Here Jackson used the tragic saga of Mrs. Martha Crawley of Duck River to justify tearing 23-million acres away from the Creek Nation.
This is her story...

In June of 1812, the Creek-American War had not begun, but war clouds could be seen on the horizon. Congress had issued a declaration of war against Great Britain on June 18, so news could not have reached Hillabee Haujo's men at Black Warrior's Town, but one did not need a formal declaration of war to assess the hostile disposition of the young Creek Warriors who gathered around the cooking fires on that warm evening 200 years ago this year.

Mrs. Martha Crawley of Humphrey County, Tennessee, certainly appreciated the threat these young men represented as she stirred their hominy cooking on the fire. Three weeks earlier this courageous pioneer woman had witnessed these fellows' skills of destruction with fire and gunpowder. These angry, thoughtless young punks were ungovernable and their indiscretions would lead their tribe into a bloody civil war of annihilation.

Mrs. Crawley was in her home waiting for her husband to return when she heard the monstrous screams of the young Indians coming through her open door. Quickly shutting the door, she held it against the attacking Creeks. Her visitor, Mrs. Manly, sat in the living room of the house clutching her eight-day old infant. The last thing she told Mrs. Crawley was that it would be impossible to keep the Indians out. At that moment the war party burst through the door, slamming Mrs. Crawley behind the door and hiding her. From the temporary sanctuary of the space behind the door, she witnessed acts that would "chill the blood of any human being."
Helplessly, she watched one of her own children hide in the potato cellar as one of the Creeks snatched Mrs. Manly's baby from her arms and threw it into the fireplace. Mrs. Manly was then shot and scalped. Mrs. Crawley witnessed two of her own children, two of Mrs. Manly's children and a young man name Hays brutally murdered.

When discovered hiding behind the door, Mrs. Martha Crawley begged for her life. The Indians let her live. Maybe they needed her to cook for them on the trail south to Black Warrior's Town, or maybe those boys had their fill of killing that day.

The captive Mrs. Crawley and Hillabee Haujo's men took three weeks to cover the trail to the beautiful falls of the Black Warrior. It was now June and they had been back only one day when one of the squaws told Mrs. Crawley that the men were digging her grave and that she would be put to death right after she'd cooked supper. No longer needed for her cooking skills on the trail, Mrs. Crawley knew time was of the essence and the boiling pot of hominy was central to her plan of escape.

There are many sources that detail her captivity and escape, but the most compelling document is her own sworn deposition. On August 11, 1812, Mrs. Martha Crawley appeared before the Justice of the Peace of Humphrey County, Tennessee, and testified about her treatment during her captivity. According to her testimony, Mrs. Crawley was hurriedly taken by her captors to the mouth of Duck River, where bark canoes stashed on the river bank enabled the party to escape the Nashville militia which was assembling seventy miles to the east.

Mrs. Crawley spent her first night tied to a tree by her neck and arms. The next day they headed south for Bear Creek on the Tennessee River. After a twelve day journey, they arrived at the point near the northern terminus of the Alabama-Mississippi state line. At this place, the men spent the day smoking and drinking with some Chickasaws headed by George Colbert. Colbert, for whom Colbert County takes its name, had a family that ran a ferry across the Tennessee River on the Natchez Trace. As Chief of the Chickasaws, Colbert probably regretted ignoring Mrs. Crawley while enjoying refreshments with her gangster captors, especially after he received a letter from Andrew Jackson dated June 5, 1812. Jackson was not happy with the report that the rumor mill was sending him concerning Chickasaw Chief Colbert's indifference to Mrs. Crawley's distress. Jackson wrote:

Friend and Brother!
Mark what I tell you!
The white people will do no wrong to the Indians and will suffer the Indians to do no wrong to them. The Creeks have killed our women and children:
We have sent to demand the murderers, if they are not given up, the whole Creek nation shall be covered with blood:
fire shall consume their towns and villages:
and their lands shall be divided among the whites.

Friend and Brother!
You tell us you are the friend of the whites.
Now prove it to me.
Send me the names of the Creeks who have killed our women and children:
Tell me the towns they belong to; and the place where they carried the women.

I am your friend and brother.
Andrew Jackson
5 June 1812

After leaving Bear Creek, another week on the trail took the Indians and their captive across the Tennessee Valley Divide, down the Tombigbee and east to Black Warrior's Town. Soon word that a captive American woman was being held at the falls of the Black Warrior traveled downriver to St. Stephens and into the Choctaw Indian Trading House of George Strother Gaines. The bearer of the news was Tandy Walker, Choctaw agency blacksmith and one of the most extraordinary backwoodsman on the Alabama frontier. Since 1811, Walker had secretly informed Gaines of Ocheocheemotla's schemes to support the British in a new war where Ocheocheemotla would pillage Gaines store at St. Stephens on the Tombigbee.

Gaines' wife also heard Tandy Walker's information and she pleaded with this daring frontiersman who spoke the Muskogee language to rescue Mrs. Crawley and bring her down the river to St. Stephens.

While Tandy Walker paddled up the Black Warrior to attempt the rescue of Mrs. Crawley, there was no time to be lost in getting her out of Black Warrior's Town. The squaw's warning about the freshly opened grave let Martha know it was time to act. After stirring the thick hominy, Martha Crawley told one of the men by sign language that the hominy was too thick and she asked permission to take a tin cup to the spring for water.

She made her escape in the dark woods but instead of wandering aimlessly through the night, she hid in a hollow log. Daybreak found her uncertain and confused. It was afternoon before she decided upon her strategy. She would follow the setting sun toward the Tombigbee. Martha knew where that river was located. She and her captors had traveled south down the Tombigbee after leaving Bear Creek and she was certain that this pioneer trade route from the Tennessee River to the settlements around St. Stephens was her only hope for finding Americans who could protect her from the Indians.

Hungry after two days of subsisting on blackberries as well as wet and weary from her attempt to cross the swamps, Martha turned back east. By nightfall she approached an Indian town on the Black Warrior. The first Indians she saw gave her some exciting news. Her prayers had been answered. The Indians signaled that there was someone in their town who spoke English.

Could this be an American trader capable of effecting her rescue? Filled with anticipation, this pioneer woman followed the Indians to their town and she entered the dark door of the English speaker.

Anticipation turned to panic. There was no English being spoken in that house. In the dimly lighted cabin room, all Martha saw was a bunch of Indians.

Immediately she used sign language to tell the squaw she needed to step outside. With the squaw's permission, Mrs. Crawley began her second attempt to escape and ran into the night.

This time she did not seek the refuge of a hollow log. Now she walked all night and into the next day. At about one o'clock in the afternoon, an Indian with a gun walked up to Mrs. Crawley as she walked through the woods. He signaled for her to follow him back to the town on the Black Warrior. Martha refused. A little animal noise came from the armed Indian's lips and it was answered immediately by an identical noise from the woods. Martha Crawley and her new captor were soon joined by other Indians and for the third time she was heading back to the Black Warrior.

On this trip back to town, Martha did meet an English speaker. He was standing by a cowpen. Tandy Walker had arrived from St. Stephens under the pretense of coming upriver for a beef cattle buying trip. By offering a reward of $25 to anyone who could find Mrs. Crawley, Tandy had turned his buying trip into a dramatic rescue of a captive American woman.

With war with the Creeks inevitable, Walker probably never squared up with the Indians over the $25 reward. He and Martha took his canoe down river and soon Mrs. Crawley was mending her sore hands and feet in the comfort of Strother Gaines' Choctaw Indian Trading House located in the old Spanish fort of St. Stephens.

After recovering, Martha returned to her home on the Duck River with a group of Mr. Gaines' friends who were heading north to Tennessee through the wilderness.

Mrs. Crawley's story does not end with her return to Humphrey County and to the smiling faces of her surviving children. In the newspapers and political offices of the Old Southwest, Martha had become a cause celebre'. On June 25, 1812, Willie Blount, Governor of Tennessee, wrote Secretary of War John Armstrong to demand an invasion of the Creek Nation and claimed Martha had been stripped and paraded naked through the Indian villages along the route south to the Black Warrior's Town(In his extensive research on the Creek War published in Petitioner's Exhibit No. 410, Creek Nation East of the Mississippi versus the United States, Dr. James Doster, professor of history at the University of Alabama, writes,"I find nothing in the published statements of Mrs. Crawley or other eye witnesses to support this [Blount's] statement)." The Tennessee legislature also believed that it was a time "to kill or be killed," and called for troops to eliminate the Creeks.

A Nashville newspaper, THE CLARION, declared that the Creeks "have supplied us with a pretext for the dismemberment of their country."

Andrew Jackson, enraged by President Madison's delay in delivering him his commission to be a Major General of United States Volunteers, wrote Governor Blount on July 10:

When we make the case of Mrs. Manly and her family and Mrs. Crawley our own-
when we figure to ourselves our beloved wives and little prattling infants, butchered, mangled, murdered, and torn to pieces, by savage bloodhounds, and wallowing in their gore, you can judge of our feelings. What feelings can a government have, who can hear the recital, and await the slow progress of dispatches thro the channel of a mail to an Indian agent..

Ironically, the actions of the Creek Indian agent, Benjamin Hawkins, may have contributed more to war than Jackson's threat to "penetrate the Creek towns, untill the Captive, with her Captors are delivered up, and think myself Justifiable, in laying waste their villages, burning their houses, killing their warriors and leading into Captivity their wives and children, untill I do obtain a surrender of the Captive, and the Captors." Agent Hawkins assembled a Creek council that administered the death penalty to Mrs. Crawleys captors in August of 1812. This kind of leadership of the Creek Nation by Hawkins split the Indians and led to the formation of the Red Sticks.

One year later Jackson got his wish. The Creek-American War commenced when the Red Stick forces of Red Eagle (a.k.a. Billy Weatherford) attacked Ft. Mims. More than 300 people "were butchered in the quickest manner... The children were seized by the legs, and killed by batting their heads against the stockading. The women were scalped, and those who were pregnant were opened, while they were alive, and the embryo infants let out of the womb."

Angie Debo in her book on the Creeks, THE ROAD TO DISAPPEARANCE, writes about the impact of Ft. Mims,"...when the savage din died down, one hundred-seven soldiers, one hundred-sixty civilians and one hundred Negroes were lying dead and their bloody scalps were dangling from the belts of their exultant foes." The Creek Nation had been unable to restrain their own young hoodlums so now the militias of Tennessee, Georgia and Mississippi with their unquenchable appetite for Indian land had the excuse they needed to burn and murder Indian friends and foes alike.

On about September 12, 1813, Colonel John McKee, later to become Tuscaloosa County's first U.S. Representative, was in Nashville when the messenger from General E.P. Gaines, Strother Gaines' brother, arrived with the news of Fort Mims. One of General Jackson's first orders directed McKee to gather Choctaw and Chickasaw warriors to march a diversionary force against Black Warrior's Town at the Falls of the Black Warrior.

McKee, with the assistance of John Pitchlynn, who lived on the Tombigbee near the mouth of the Oktibbeha, assembled six hundred Choctaws and Chickasaws for the Black Warrior expedition, and on January 7, 1814 this army reached its objective.

They found Black Warrior's Town deserted. Standing at the falls of the Black Warrior as his men burned what was left of the abandoned town, which was twice ordered burned by General Andrew Jackson, the professional land surveyor in McKee must have considered how nature had provided that the falls of the Black Warrior would make it the gateway to the Gulf of Mexico
for the Tennessee Valley. In dealing out vengeance for Mrs. Crawley, Colonel McKee had sealed his own fate.

Four years later he began building his plantation, Hill of Howth, near the junction of the Black Warrior and the Tombigbee. Three years after that he became Tuscaloosa's first prominent citizen when he opened the land office and sold the first lot in downtown Tuscaloosa.

So the next time you consider the rocky shoals underneath the backwater of the Black Warrior River, think about the Indian captive at the Black Warrior's Town and how her torment shaped Tuscaloosa history.