This diagram of Fort Mims is called the Claiborne Map, but in truth, we don’t know who drew it. It was probably drawn by one of General Claiborne’s men who came to bury the dead after the massacre.
When Samuel Mims moved to the Tensaw Region in 1780, in what would become the Mississippi Territory, he settled near Lake Tensaw just north of Spanish-held Mobile. Here he built his wealth. By 1811, he owned lots of land and cattle and a profitable ferry that crossed the Alabama River. In addition to this, he owned and sold slaves. Befitting a man of his means, his house was an expensive, one-story frame structure with ten outbuildings—not the more common log houses most pioneers lived in.
When hostilities broke out at Burnt Corn Creek, Territorial Governor Thomas Holmes ordered General Ferdinand Claiborne’s Mississippi Territorial Volunteers to the Tensaw and Tombigbee settlements.
The settlers, though, weeks before the battle, had already begun building stockades. In total, there were fifteen. After he arrived at Fort Stoddert, General Claiborne reduced this number to five and put Major Daniel Beasley in command of Fort Mims, the largest of them. Its timber pickets (sharpened stakes) enclosed Mims’ house on 1¼ acre of land. Settlers poured into it and nearby Fort Pierce. So crowded had Fort Mims become, and so close to swamps, that disease afflicted many of its inhabitants.
Prior to the Creek War Beasley had served in the Mississippi Territorial Legislature (1811-1812), and had also served as a sheriff and a justice of the peace. But he had a drinking problem too – a poor choice of a commander on Claiborne’s part.
After an inspection on August 7, General Claiborne ordered Beasley to build two more blockhouses in addition to the one already partially built and to strengthen the fort in other ways. Beasley failed to do this, grew complacent because of numerous false reports about Red Sticks lurking nearby, and doubted he’d be attacked. He even left the main gate wide open. Over a period of time sand (or more likely clay) built up around the gate, so hard and thick, that it couldn’t be moved. This would play a major role in the fort’s demise.
The Red Sticks
In late August, after many days of hard rain, Red Stick war parties assembled on Flat Creek on the Alabama River under the overall command of William Weatherford. One thousand strong and coming from thirteen towns, the chiefs and prophets had asked him to lead the attack on Fort Mims because it had been his idea.
A small part of this army, under command of the prophet Josiah Francis, broke away from Weatherford’s force and headed to another fort, Fort Sinquefield.
Weatherford, with seven hundred warriors, proceeded to Fort Mims. On the evening of August 29, they camped near it undiscovered. With two other warriors, he scouted it out in the evening, sneaking right up to its pickets undetected. He heard the people inside it carrying on as usual. He noticed that the pickets’ rifle holes were made about four feet from the ground, which made them easy to capture. And its gate was wide open. Weatherford was convinced that no one inside expected a thing. Tomorrow, August 30, catching the fort by surprise was certain.
Upon his return to camp, it’s believed that he told his warriors to spare the women and children, but instead, capture them and make them slaves. “Only kill warriors,” he is said to have told them, referring to the white and métis males.
Sadly, tragically, no one would heed his words.
Bunn, Mike and Clay Williams. Battle for the Southern Frontier: The Creek War and the War of 1812. Fourth Printing. Charleston, SC: The History Press, 2013.
Waselkov, Gregory A. A Conquering Spirit: Fort Mims and the Redstick War of 1813-1814, Tuscaloosa, AL: The University of Alabama Press, 2006
NEXT WEEK: The Massacre at Fort Mims