The Crisis of 1849 and the establishment of Fort Hamer

1860 map of Manatee County depicting the location of Fort Hamer.
1860 map of Manatee County depicting the location of Fort Hamer. Courtesy of the FCIT USF library

During the 19th century, the United States was a rapidly growing nation, acquiring many new territories. This rapid acquisition of land led to a direct need for settler expansion in these newly formed territories. After the end of the Second Seminole War in 1842, the United States legislature passed the Armed Occupation Act, which allowed settlers to homestead in the Florida Territory. Soon settlers began to push closer to the Seminole Reservations, located in the center of the state. By 1848, the governor of Florida began to restrict Seminoles to the reservations and organized the removal of the Seminoles to the “Indian Territory” established by the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In 1849, the majority of the Seminole population lived within a 6,700-square-mile reserve located in Big Cyprus Swamp.

During the summer of 1849, a small group of men referred to as “outsiders” started to attack various pioneer outposts throughout Florida. It is important to note, that while these men were Seminoles, they had been previously outlawed by the tribe, and forced to remove themselves. Soon they became a group that freely roamed outside of the reservation lines. The first outpost to be attacked during this period, called “The Crisis of 1849,” was a small town north of Fort Pierce, on the east coast of Florida. Next, traveling inland, the men attacked the Store of Kennedy and Darling along the Peace River. Soon after hearing of the two attacks, Secretary of War George W. Crawford sent Maj. Gen. David E. Twiggs to Florida. While the men who committed the attacks were caught by Billy Bowlegs and brought to Twiggs, the damage had already been done. In October 1849, a full removal of the Seminole people from Florida was ordered.

Twiggs planned for a campaign that required a 200-mile stretch of forts stretching from the Manatee River to the Indian River. Out of the many posts established across the state, four of these were located in the area that would eventually become Manatee County in 1855, which is comprised of modern day Manatee, Desoto, Hardee, Sarasota, and parts of Charlotte counties. That November, Twiggs ordered a supply depot be built at the mouth of the Manatee River, due to the accessibility of the port. Located along the south bank of the river, the fort was placed on a high spot west of modern day Gates Creek, seven miles upriver from Manatee Village.

On Nov. 28, Fort Hamer was established and named in honor of Gen. Thomas L. Hamer, a brigadier general of the Florida Volunteers. The fort was hastily constructed and consisted of several log buildings, though it lacked a palisade. The fort had a hospital, a commissary, a hay barn, and three sheds to accommodate the three companies stationed at the fort, totaling 165 men. Yet despite these buildings, the fort was not an impressive installation. By 1850, Twiggs began to offer Seminoles financial incentives to any group who surrendered peacefully. On Feb. 28, 1850, the first group of 74 Seminoles were shipped from Fort Hamer to New Orleans.

The stretch of forts constructed under Maj. Gen. Twiggs’ command were abandoned only a year after opening. In 1856, during the Third Seminole War, Fort Hamer was once again used in service, if only for a brief time. Here, a detachment of 10 men in Capt. William Hooker’s Company from the Florida Mounted Volunteers were stationed. Twenty-seven years after the fort was first established, Fort Hamer was decommissioned. On Feb. 26, 1876, the War Department formally turned over the property to the Department of the Interior. After the closing of the fort, the property had many owners, including cattlemen.

Bridget Donahue-Farrell, curator at Manatee Village Historical Park, can be reached at Bridget.Donahue-Farrell@manateeclerk.com or 941-741-4075. Donahue loves learning about local history and finding comparisons to larger topics within the scope of United States history.