Rotary District 6920 Conference Main

American Revolution
In Coastal Georgia


Florida Expeditions One & Two

The Continental Congress recommended Georgia and the Carolinas launch an expedition into British East Florida. The objective was to retaliate against the cattle raids on coastal Georgia plantations by Loyalist Florida Rangers and Creek Indians, and drive them further south of the St. Marys River. In addition, they wanted to defeat the garrison of 500 British Regulars of the 60th Royal American Regiment stationed at St. Augustine, British East Florida, who were planning to invade Georgia and capture Savannah.

First Florida Expedition - June – Sept. 1776 

In June, 1776, Major General Charles Lee, Southern Department Continental Army Commander, decided to execute the first expedition into Florida. Despite the fact that he had no heavy artillery to besiege Fort St. Mark (Castillo de San Marcos) in St. Augustine, Lee believed that his 1,500 men from Carolinas, Virginia and Georgia Continental units could demolish the hundred Loyalist plantations between the St. Marys and St. John’s Rivers, and intimidate the Creek Indians to keep out of the fight. Also, the Georgia Council of Safety assumed that if the Loyalists in East Florida were forced to take refuge in St. Augustine, a lack of food would cause surrender by the British.

Lee’s Continentals captured and burned the Pagan Creek Plantation fort of the brothers of Georgia Royal Governor James Wright, Charles & Jermyn Wright, on the St. Marys River. But dissension plagued the expedition, with arguments about precedence of commission and the Georgia Council of Safety proposing missions far beyond their resources.

Unfortunately in August, Lee was recalled to the North, taking his Virginia and North Carolina troops with him. The main expedition got no farther than Sunbury, when the South Carolina Continentals were ordered to return to Charleston. As the 300 Georgia Continental Army and Militia, under recently promoted Brigadier General Lachlan McIntosh, moved in force towards Florida, disease, heat and desertions increased.  

The Georgians’ advance guard reached the St. Johns River and fought a band of pro-British Indians at the Cow Ford, now Jacksonville. This narrow part of the St. Johns River, near a clear freshwater spring was a crossing point for Indians and early travelers. The Cow Ford Historical Marker is located on the grounds of the Duval County Courthouse in downtown Jacksonville, Florida.

The Georgians also skirmished with Florida Rangers and their Indian allies on Satilla River; but never engaged the British Regulars and did not even threaten St. Augustine.

Both sides built new fortifications during the summer of 1776. Georgia’s Fort McIntosh, named for General McIntosh, was placed on the banks of the Satilla River to protect extensive herds of cattle ranging between that river and the Altamaha. The fort, a small stockade 100 feet square with a bastion at each corner and a blockhouse in the center, was garrisoned by 40 men to protect the Georgia portion of the King’s Road. The Fort McIntosh Historical Marker is located at intersection of U.S. Hiway 82 & Ga. Hiway 110 in Atkinson, Brantley County, Georgia.

British Fort Tonyn, named for British East Florida Governor Patrick Tonyn, was constructed in present-day Nassau County, Florida, near the hamlet of Mill's Ferry, about twenty-five miles upstream on the St. Marys River near the King’s Road ferry crossing.  The Florida Rangers, who were stationed at Fort Tonyn, provided the front line of defense for British East Florida, and also controlled the southern part of the colony of Georgia for two years.  The Fort Tonyn- Point Peter Historical Marker is located at Point Peter Rd. near intersection with Osborne in St. Marys, Georgia

During the early 1760’s, the Kings Road was built by the British on an old Timucuan Indian Trail from St. Augustine to the St. Marys River, and then connected with the Kings Road in Georgia.

 This major north-south route 200 miles long and 16 feet wide, stretched all the way from Savannah to St. Augustine. In the 19th Century, the road was called Post Road. The Kings Road – Old Post Road Historical Marker is located Location: Ga. Highway 32 and Post Road at the Brantley and Glynn County border.

The food shortage the Georgia Council of Safety had counted on to cripple St. Augustine did develop. By early 1777, British East Florida Governor Patrick Tonyn addressed the problem by planning a cattle raid well north of the St. Marys River. In February 1777, Florida Rangers Lt.Col. Thomas “Burnfoot” Brown encountered the Patriot’s new stockade post on the northeast bank of the Satilla River. After fighting of about five hours, Brown approached Fort McIntosh with a flag and demanded its surrender. The following day, February 18, British Lt.Col. Valentine Fuser sent Continental Captain Richard Winn a message telling him to come out and examine the British preparation for the attack. After some negotiations, Winn surrendered the fort.

After burning the fort the British returned to St. Augustine with nearly 2,000 head of cattle. The Georgia Council of Safety now realized the gravity of a British invasion, and asked the Continental Army to support them again. Also, the Council granted President Archibald Bulloch absolute executive powers to take action for the expected British attacks, but Bulloch died mysteriously at his home a few days later, only 47 years old.

Second Florida Expedition - April – June, 1777

Late in February 1777, the Georgia Council of Safety elected Button Gwinnett to succeed Archibald Bulloch as its President and Commander of the Georgia Militia. Gwinnett decided to capture St. Augustine in retaliation for the raids by Florida Loyalist into Georgia, and asked Continental Major General Robert Howe, Lee’s successor as commander of the Southern Department, for Continental troops.

Howe was reluctant to commit his limited resources to launch another invasion of East Florida. Although he did order the 600 man Georgia Continental battalion, commanded by General Lachlan McIntosh, to proceed to Sunbury, Howe took his 1,000 South Carolina Continentals to Charleston. Gwinnett proceeded aggressively with his plan without consulting McIntosh, but the Militia failed to muster a sufficient number of volunteers — fewer than 200 men, and Gwinnett had to request McIntosh’s aid.

As divided Georgians prepared for their invasion of East Florida, the British acknowledged their need for a general officer in Florida. Colonel Augustine Prevost was appointed Major General and given control over all Florida British forces- the Regulars, Rangers and Indians.

Heading south from Savannah, General McIntosh and Button Gwinnett, repeatedly fought over command, so much so that when the expedition reached Sunbury there were orders waiting for both men to return to Savannah. The Georgia Council of Safety placed Colonel Samuel Elbert in charge of the expedition. Elbert’s brigade was poorly equipped; the soldiers were furnished raw deerskins with which to make their own moccasins, and some of the riflemen carried only spikes.

With a planned rendezvous on May 12 at Sawpit Bluff near the mouth of the Nassau River (twelve miles north of the mouth of the St. Johns River), Colonel Elbert divided his forces at Sunbury. On April 27, he ordered Lieutenant Colonel John Baker to proceed overland to join Colonel Thomas Sumter’s South Carolina Militia at Fort Howe on the Altamaha, and then proceed to the appointed rendezvous on the Nassau River. Baker’s forces included 150 to 180 horsemen; composed of 109 volunteers from the Georgia Militia and those of his Georgia Continental Light Horse Regiment who possessed mounts. 

Elbert then embarked 400 Continentals, from First and Second Georgia Battalions, on vessels commanded by Commodore Oliver Bowen including: three galleys, two armed sloops, and some transports carrying twenty cannon to travel through Inland Passage to Sawpit Bluff near the south end of Amelia Island. This water route offered protection from unpredictable weather and harsh conditions of the open sea.

At Fort Howe, Baker learned that General Howe had ordered Sumter and his South Carolinians back to Charleston. The rivers were so swollen by spring rains that Baker spent two days crossing the Altamaha. Indians attacked his camp, and two Georgians, Lieutenants Robeson and Frazer, were wounded and one Indian was killed. They faced additional delays when crossing the swollen Satilla and St. Marys rivers.

 Baker finally crossed the St. Marys River on May 10, and two days later they arrived at the rendezvous point, Sawpit Bluff, at the appointed time. Baker found that Elbert had not arrived, and learned that Elbert’s flotilla was still north of the St. Marys River. Baker erected a fortified camp at Sawpit Bluff, and ordered forty mounted men commanded by his brother, Major William Baker, to conduct reconnaissance patrols as far south as the Cow Ford. During the next three days, they learned that the British knew of their approach and were planning to challenge their advance.

On May 14, British Loyalist Lieutenant Colonel Brown embarked about forty Rangers and Indians aboard a schooner and sailed from the Cow Ford up the St. Johns River to Trout Creek, where they began searching for Baker and his men. Within three hours, they found the Georgians camped nine miles away. Before Brown could attack, his men were seen by a sentinel and retreated to his ship on Trout Creek to notify Major Marc Prevost, now commander of the British Regulars. Brown ordered fifteen Indians, led by a warrior named Black Creek Factor, to steal some of the Georgians' 250 horses.

The next morning, the Indians and forty horses were found by Baker’s detachment; a brief skirmish ensued where two Georgians were wounded, and one Creek was killed. The Georgians scalped their Indian victim, an act which drove the Indians into uncontrollable rage. The Georgians were to regret this action in the aftermath of the Battle of Thomas Creek. Brown then returned to the Cow Ford to rejoin the British Regulars.

Not finding Elbert at the Nassau River, but knowing that the British were aware of the size and location of his command, Baker decided not to wait any longer for Elbert’s Continentals. He moved to a place on Thomas Creek he felt was more favorable from which to retreat if attacked by a superior force. 

Meanwhile, Major Marc Prevost, commander of the 60th Royal American Regiment, crossed the St. Johns River with 100 British Regulars, 100 Loyalist Florida Rangers and a few Indians. They marched northward to Frederick Rolfe’s Saw Mill on Trout Creek (eleven miles north of Jacksonville), and encamped on May 16th to await news of Baker’s location. During the night, one of the Rangers located Baker’s force east of King’s Road on the south bank of Thomas Creek, and reported the news to Prevost.

At about 10 o’clock in the morning of the May 17, the British force surprised Baker’s men. The plan was for Brown to engage Baker’s men while Prevost advanced from the rear. Brown positioned some Rangers on Baker’s flank, while his main body fired at Baker’s oncoming mounted troops at a range of 50 yards. Baker had no alternative but to retreat directly into Prevost’s Regulars who were advancing rapidly in three columns with fixed bayonets. A large number of Baker’s men, surrounded by Regulars, Rangers and Indians, simply deserted or fled at first fire. In the ensuing action, the remaining Georgians responded, but were quickly overwhelmed and retreated into the swamp.

Baker’s casualties included a number killed, including Lieutenants John Frazer and McGowen; nine wounded, including Lieutenant James Robeson, many of whom died in the nearby woods; thirty-one surrendered or captured, included Lieutenant Ignatius Few and Captain William Williams. In revenge for the mutilation of the Indian earlier, the Creek Indians killed and scalped two dozen of the prisoners. According to Major Marc Prevost, the remaining prisoners were saved with great difficulty. Colonel Elbert wrote a letter to Prevost protesting the treatment of the prisoners, concluding with “if Savages can’t be restrained, why are they Employed?”

Colonel Elbert had arrived on the north end of Amelia Island on May 18, and dispatched Lieutenant Robert Ward with about twenty men to the south end of the island to round up the inhabitants and prevent them from relaying Elbert’s position to Loyalists on the mainland. An additional group was sent to obtain cattle and other provisions. Some Loyalists fired on Ward’s party, killing him and seriously wounding two others. In retaliation, Elbert ordered

Leutenant Jacob Winfree to burn every house on Amelia and destroy all the stock. For six days, the Georgia galleys tried to get through the Amelia Narrows into the Nassau River, but with too much draft and too much weight including the eleven cannons on board, they could not. Elbert’s Amelia Island Historical Marker is Located at the Railroad Depot Plaza in Fernandina Beach

The British found a complete set of plans in Baker’s camp for the invasion of Florida, but it didn't matter since Elbert and his men could not navigate the Amelia Narrows, had been stricken by disease on the boats, and had decided to wait for Baker at Amelia Island. Only Baker and eighteen of his men escaped to join Elbert. 

On May 26, Elbert decided to return to Georgia and reached Cumberland Island with 300 men, including Baker’s horsemen. His troops reached the Satilla River on June 1; where he left wounded and then marched to Fort Howe. Elbert ordered the galleys to transport the troops remaining on the Satilla back to Savannah, where all returned by June 15.

The second invasion of East Florida ended with the loss of about 250 men, many from disease contracted in the heat and swampy conditions, and no success in preventing the Florida Rangers and Indians from continuing to raid coastal Georgia plantations. Samuel Elbert urged that all cattle be driven north of the Altamaha River. He said that the cattle between the Altamaha and the St. Mary’s Rivers were a “Magazine (storage) for our Enemies.” 

Historical Marker--Battle Of Thomas Creek   

When the American War of Independence began, the new British colonies of East and West Florida did not seek separation from England. East Florida remained comparatively free from serious fighting throughout the course of the Revolutionary War. In the summer of 1777, however, Americans initiated an invasion aimed at capturing St. Augustine. The expedition was composed of Continental Army troops and Georgia militia forces under the command of Lt. Col. Samuel Elbert. Preparations for the defense of east Florida involved the East Florida Rangers, a force of mounted provincials, British Regulars, and Indian allies.  On May 17, 1777, a portion of the invading American expedition was attacked by a detachment of British Regulars under Maj. J.M. Prevost assisted by Rangers under Col. Thomas Brown and Indians. The battle took place at a site on Thomas Creek south of its confluence with the Nassau River. After suffering heavy casualties, the Americans, already discouraged by lack of supplies and the heat, began their retreat from Florida. Only one more unsuccessful invasion of East Florida occurred during the remaining years of the American Revolution. Florida Society, Children of the American Revolution in Cooperation with Department of State, 1975 

The Thomas Creek Historical Marker is located on U.S. Highway 1 where it crosses Thomas Creek, about four miles south of Callahan on the border of Nassau and Duval Counties.

Although not specifically located, the site Battle of Thomas Creek is believed to have occurred in what is now a part of the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve, National Park Service. It is approximately thirteen miles north of downtown Jacksonville.

Duel of Button Gwinnett and Lachlan McIntosh – May 16, 1777

Contention for civil and military dominance existed between the Georgia Whig factions- “Radical” and “Conservative.” Button Gwinnett, Dr. George Wells, John Adam Treutlen, Dr. Lyman Hall, Edward Langworthy and Joseph Wood led the Radicals. They were based not only in St. John Parish – Midway and Sunbury--on the coast, but also in the Backcountry --the Ceded Lands, St. George Parish, and St. Paul Parish, including Augusta. John Wereat, Joseph Clay, Joseph Habersham, George Walton, Samuel Elbert, and Lachlan McIntosh led the Conservatives, located primarily in Savannah. The Radicals were the dominant political faction during most of the American Revolution and directed more of their fury against the Conservatives than their common enemy, the British.

Button Gwinnet's arrest of George McIntosh, the brother of General Lachlan McIntosh, for suspected treason fueled the animosity between Radical and Conservative Georgians. At the height of the controversy, Gwinnett decided upon an invasion of Florida. As President and commander of the Georgia Militia, Gwinnett refused to cooperate with McIntosh, who commanded the Continental soldiers. Disputes over command of the expedition caused the Georgia Council of Safety to recall both Gwinnett and McIntosh to Savannah.

This struggle led to a duel between Lachlan McIntosh and Button Gwinnett on May 16, 1777, (one day prior to the Battle of Thomas Creek.) Both men fired low and both were wounded; McIntosh recovered, but Gwinnett died several days later. The Radical Whigs raised such a cry against McIntosh that Congress transferred him out of Georgia for service under General George Washington at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. 

Prepared by Bill Ramsaur, Marshes of Glynn Chapter, Georgia Society Sons of the American Revolution, Revised 2/15/2014


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·         Coleman, Kenneth. The American Revolution in Georgia, 1763-1789 (Athens, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1958)

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