TRADERS HILL INDIAN MASSACRES OF MARCH 1793
By Jack R. Mays, Charlton County, Ga. Historian
Traders Hill, on the banks of the Saint Marys River, is one of the nation’s oldest, and most historic communities. It existed as a center of commerce before the Revolutionary War and the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Used by the Indians before the coming of the white man to the settlement, the Indians resented the white man’s encroachment on the river banks at Traders Hill.
Among its other attributes, the Okefenokee Swamp afforded protection, both for wildlife and for people. In 1792 it sheltered the Creek Indians from the white man. Often the Indians would come out of the great swamp, and attack white families who had settled nearby. Such an instance is described by Albert Hazen Wright in his book, “Our Georgia Frontiers”, published in 1945. At that period, the Okefenokee was spelled Okefinokee. Historic Traders Hill on the St Marys River was the focus of Wright’s story.
One fact learned from Wright’s book is the early recognition of Traders Hill as a community. Events depicted in Wright’s book occurred in 1793 in the settlement on the banks of the St. Marys River known as “Traders Hill”, a bustling river town which became Charlton County’s first seat of government in February 1854.
Wright’s research for one incident at Traders Hill was centered around the activities of James Seagrove, the U.S. Government’s Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Southern Department. Lake Seagrove in the Okefenokee, near the observation tower from Camp Cornelia, is named for him.
From late 1791 until 1796 Traders Hill, Coleraine and St. Marys were important centers for negotiations between the Indians and white man because of Seagrove’s visits there. Wright wrote: “The Spaniards had established a strong post on the St Marys, at a place called Newhope, twelve miles above Coleraine and four miles below Traders Hill.”
At the time of the Traders Hill incident, George Washington was the young nation’s president. Thomas Jefferson was his Secretary of State. Faced with growing Indian hostilities in the Northwest Territory, Congress passed the Militia Act which authorized the states to draft all able-bodied free white men between the ages of 18 and 45 into militia brigades.
Writing of the incident at Traders Hill, at that time a boisterous river settlement, Wright told of Indian Agent Seagrove’s attempt to get large quantities of grain from President George Washington for the Creek Indian nation in the south. Seagrove was attempting to make peace between these Indians and the white settlers of the southern region.
But, on March 17, 1793, Seagrove wrote two displeasing letters to the governor of Georgia, warning of immediate danger in the Traders Hill area.
Seagrove’s letter said, “Since I had the honor of writing you from Savannah, on the 3rd of January last, I have been on this frontier, where everything in my department appeared in perfect tranquility, and all my advices from the Creek nation promised a continuance of peace and friendship, until the 11th instant, when I received information from a friendly Indian, of a party of about thirty of the Lower Creeks being on our frontier, near Traders Hill, on the river St. Marys, and that, from what he could discover, they were bent on doing mischief.”
The letter went on to describe an event which took place on the night of March 11, 1793, when hostile Indians broke into the store of Robert Seagrove at Traders Hill, and killed John Fleming, Seagrove’s storekeeper and Daniel Moffitt, who was there attending to business. Another white man was missing.
They had robbed the store of over two thousand pounds sterling in goods. Seagrove was accosted by the Indian that had first told him of the murders. The friendly Indian told Seagrove that he had followed the murderers over thirty miles back to their nation and they had plenty of provisions and fast horses. Seagrove decided not to chase the Indians further.
Then information reached Seagrove that the Creek marauders had broken into homes at Burnt Fort and killed four people there on the Great Satilla. Seagrove gathered a posse of 23 men and proceeded to Burnt Fort.
There he found the bodies of three men and a girl, inhumanly butchered by the Indians. Seagrove and the men trailed the Indians for nearly 40 miles before giving up the chase. He had the bodies buried there and returned to Coleraine.
Seagrove then called on the Governor to establish a fort at Burnt Fort, Coleraine and at Traders Hill for the protection of the settlers. He enclosed an affidavit from Robert Brown, describing the murders at Traders Hill. Seagrove said that one of the Indians involved in the Traders Hill murders had been captured, and that he prevented the captors from killing the Indian and had him in custody.
The affidavits described the events at Traders Hill. A group of men were at Seagrove’s store at Traders Hill, when asked by the storekeeper, John Fleming, to join him in a drink. As they were consuming their drink, three Indians stepped into the store, offering for sale three or four deer skins.
Fleming bought the deerskins, and paid the Indians their money. Then a gun was fired from outside the store by another Indian, striking Moffitt and killing him instantly. Moffitt was standing beside the store counter when the fatal shot was fired.
John Galphin and Robert Brown ran out the front door attempting to head off further gunfire, but the Indians had fled into the surrounding woods. Galphin and Brown returned into the store and began talking with the storekeeper, John Fleming.
Suddenly, three Indians burst into the front door of the store again. Galphin and Brown ran into the woods and hid. The Indians then gave their war whoop and began murdering the storekeeper Fleming with their hunting knives.
Brown and Galphin remained hidden in the woods for over three hours while the Indians plundered through the store and abused two small children of Mrs. Ann Gray, who were in a room adjoining the store.
When the Indians had left, Brown and Galphin entered the store and saw the bodies of Moffitt and Fleming and comforted the small children. Then they found Mrs. Gray, beaten, abused and tied, but still alive.
Brown then swam the St. Marys River into Florida and went to the home of a Mr. Fitch and succeeded in getting him to accompany them back to the store at Traders Hill to view the damage and to seek help.
Brown’s affidavit was witnessed by Seagrove, Thomas King, J.P. and Elihu Hubbard, J.P.
Later, during the years of the Indian War in the 1830s, Traders Hill became known as Fort Alert. It retained this name until after General Charles Floyd and his Georgia Militia men chased the Indians from the Okefenokee and into the Florida Everglades. When the Indians were chased from the Okefenokee the Indian uprisings near Traders Hill, Burnt Fort and Coleraine, ended and white settlers came into the area in increasing numbers.
The documentation of the Indians at Traders Hill indicates that the small community on the St. Marys has been a part of the nation’s history since its beginning.