Battle of Fort Peter
The Battle of Fort Point Peter was a successful attack by a British force on a smaller American force on the Georgia side of the St. Marys River near St. Marys, Georgia. The river was then part of the international border between the U.S. and British-allied Spanish Florida; it now forms part of the boundary between Georgia and Florida. Occupying coastal Camden County allowed the British to blockade American transportation on the Intracoastal Waterway. The attack on Forts St. Tammany and Peter occurred in January 1815, after the signing of the Treaty of Ghent, which would end the War of 1812, but before the treaty's ratification. The attack occurred at the same time as the siege of Fort St. Philip in Louisiana and was part of the British occupation of St. Marys and Cumberland Island.
Forts at St. Marys
Point Peter is the first landing site on the Georgia side of the St. Marys River. It is a peninsula between the North River and Point Peter Creek, which flow into the St. Marys River. James Seagrove and Jacob Weed received land grants nearby in 1787, and a military post was established on Point Peter around that time. In July 1794 Paul Hyacinth Perrault was commissioned to built a fort in St. Marys, probably Ft. St. Tammany. The following year, costs exceeded $1,400. The War Department approved payments relating to the fort in 1797 and 1800. The garrison eventually included a fort, battery, and a mooring for naval vessels, and may also have been known as Fort Gunn in 1794.
U.S. military posted at Point Peter were responsible for enforcing tariffs and protecting the nation's southern border with Spanish Florida. The fort became involved in the Quasi-War in 1798. Between 1793 and 1805, U.S. military manned the fort, and $16,000 dollars were spent on the Point Peter garrison. However, by 1806 the fort was at least partially dismantled, and defenses relied instead solely on gunboats and a fixed battery, which might have contributed to the July 1805 St. Marys River incident involving British naval personnel and successive French and Spanish privateers. In 1809, the block house and battery that formed the new American fort were approved.
In 1811, eleven of the United States Navy's 165 gunboats were stationed at St. Marys, making it the third-largest naval station in the United States prior to the War of 1812. The gunboats were powered by lateen sails and oar, and mounted heavy artillery.
In 1811, the commander of Fort Point Peter, Lieutenant Col. Thomas Adam Smith, and his junior officers, Captain Abraham Massias, Captain Joseph Woodruff, Lieutenant Daniel Appling, Captain Fiedler Ridgeway, and Lieutenant Elias Stallings, received orders to assist an American takeover of Spanish Florida if a rebellion or invasion took place. However, few officers became involved in the Patriot War of East Florida over the next few years. President Madison and Secretary of State Monroe never gave direct orders to the Point Peter garrison to act in that conflict, unlike the later orders in the War of 1812.
Battle of Fort Point Peter 1815
On January 10, 1815, British forces under the command of Admiral Sir George Cockburn landed on Cumberland Island off the Georgia coast. The British force consisted of the three Royal Marines Battalions (560 men in the 1st & 2nd, plus the six companies of the 3rd), ships' detachments of Royal Marines from the squadron (120 men), and two companies from the 2nd West India Regiment (190 men).[Note 2]
The British land force then headed for St. Marys. On their way, they encountered a small American force of 160 soldiers of the 43rd Infantry Regiment and the Rifle Corps under Captain Abraham A. Massias. A skirmish ensued before the Americans retreated. Massias estimated the size of the British force as 1500 men. He reported that American casualties on 13 January included 1 killed, 4 wounded, and 9 missing. Although Massias believed that British suffered numerous casualties, they reported only three men killed and five wounded in the entire expedition.
On January 15 the British captured St. Marys despite Fort St. Tammany just outside the town. American reports suggest that the British looted the town's jewelry store and stole fine china and other goods from the residents. British reports are that the town's inhabitants agreed to terms under which residents gave up all public property and British troops respected all private property. British forces captured two American gunboats and 12 merchantmen, including the East Indiaman Countess of Harcourt, which an American privateer had captured on her way from India to London. Prize money for the Countess of Harcourt, the bark Maria Theresa, goods from the ship Carl Gustaff, and the schooner Cooler, was paid in April 1824.[Note 3]
The British ended their occupation of St. Marys and Fort St. Tammany after about a week. They burned Fort Point Peter, including its blockhouses and barracks, and withdrew to Cumberland Island. The officers lived at Dungeness, the former mansion of deceased Revolutionary war hero General Nathaneal Greene. Most British troops were stationed at the island's south end, and the British ships anchored in Cumberland sound. At the end of February 1815, Rear Admiral Cockburn received news of the Treaty of Ghent through newspapers, but refused to accept such as official proof and continued to ship refugees away from Florida and Georgia. In all, 1485 slaves were freed.
The British departed from Cumberland Island on March 15, although a ship stuck on a sandbar and Albion remained in Cumberland Sound until March 18.
Point Peter 1815-1821
By the Civil War, Fort Point Peter had become a ruin. In 1870, Daniel Proctor purchased the property from the United States, who sold it to Alexander Curtis.
In 1953, Georgia placed a historical marker at the Point Peter battlefield. In 2002, a planned housing development at Point Peter spurred archaeological interest in the former forts. The developer, required to survey the cultural resources being disturbed, hired Scott Butler (an archaeologist for Brockington and Associates) to conduct a study. As of 2009, archaeologists found thousands of artifacts, including cannons, muskets, musket balls, knives and uniform buttons.
Fort St. Tammany, the fort in St. Marys, was located where Howard Gilman Memorial Waterfront Park is today. It is identified as site 9Cm164, although no detailed study of the ruins has been conducted.
A semi-permanent exhibit, "The Forgotten Invasion," was opened at the Cumberland Island National Seashore Museum in downtown St. Marys in remembrance of the battle, and includes a recovered sunken anchor from a British warship in addition to finds from Scott Butler's excavation.
History of Camden County, Georgia
Notes, citations, and references
- The vessels were: Albion, Dragon (74-guns), Regulus (44 guns; en flute), Brune (56 guns; en flute), Severn (40 guns), Hebrus (36 guns), Rota (38 guns), Primrose (18 guns), Terror and Devastation (both bomb vessels of 8 guns), and the schooners Canso (10 guns) and Whiting (12 guns).
- One source reports a deployment (from the force) of Captain Wills with 150 men of the 1st Battalion. In addition, Lieutenant Fraser with a company of the 2nd Battalion, and Lieutenant Agassiz with a company of the 3rd Battalion, and a company of the 2nd West India Regiment amounted to 160 men.
- A first-class share of the prize money was worth £17 2s 0½d; a sixth-class share was worth 3s 6¼d.
- Jane Lucas de Grummond (ed), and George S. Gaines, Richard Terrell, Alexander C. Henderson, Andrew Jackson and Alexander Cochrane. "Platter of Glory", Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Autumn, 1962), pp. 316-359.
- Smith, Gene (2013) The Slaves' Gamble, Choosing Sides in the War of 1812. Palgrave McMillan.
- Elliott, 4-6.
- Reddick, 26-27.
- Elliott, 9.
- Cusick, 75.
- Nicolas, Paul Harris - "Historical Record of the Royal Marine Forces", Volume 2, pp. 266-268, 287.
- HSC Heritage Auctions Manuscripts Auction Catalog #6031, Heritage Auctions, Inc., Editor James L. Halperin.
- The London Gazette: . 3 April 1824.
- Bullard, 120-22.
- Reddick 1976, 25.
- Mike Toner. The Last Invasion. Archaeology Magazine. January/February 2007.
- (Georgia Archaeological Site Files 2002)(Elliott 4)
- Elliott, Daniel T. "Point Peter and the St. Marys River Forts". The LAMAR Institute, Vol 62. August 2002.
- Waciuma, Wanjohi. Intervention in Spanish Florida, 1801-1813: A Study in Jeffersonian Foreign Policy.
- Cusick, James G. The Other War of 1812: The Patriot War and the American Invasion of Spanish East Florida. University of Georgia Press, 2003)
- Bullard, Mary R. Black Liberation on Cumberland Island in 1815. (University of Georgia Press, 1983).
- de Grummond, Jane Lucas(ed), and George S. Gaines, Richard Terrell, Alexander C. Henderson, Andrew Jackson and Alexander Cochrane. "Platter of Glory", Louisiana History: The Journal of the Louisiana Historical Association, Vol. 3, No. 4 (Autumn, 1962), pp. 316-359.