Capt. John C. Casey - Seminole Emigration Agent
Captain John C. Casey - Seminole Emigration Agent|
By Spessard Stone
John Charles Casey was born in 1809 in England, and as a child emigrated with his parents to
the United States where they settled in Paterson, New Jersey. On July 1, 1825, he was enrolled
at the Military Academy and, subsequently, graduated eleventh in his class of forty-six on July 1,
1829. Classmates included Robert E. Lee and Joseph E. Johnston.
Commissioned as Brevet Second Lieutenant in the Second Regiment of Artillery, Lt. Casey
first served in the garrison at Fort Pike, Louisiana. On January 21, 1831 he was assigned to the
Military Academy as Assistant Professor of Chemistry, Mineralogy, and Geology where he
taught until December 19, 1833. Thereafter, he was reposted to Fort Pike until early 1835.
He next commenced the start of a long tenure in Florida. On March 24, 1835, he arrived at
Fort Brooke (Tampa), and, soon after, on April 30, 1835, was promoted to First Lieutenant
From the fort, bound for Fort King, Major Francis L. Dade marched his command where in the
Wahoo Swamp, near present-day Bushnell, on December 28, 1835, Seminoles ambushed them
and thus precipitated the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
Lt. Casey engaged in skirmishes at Camp Izard on February 27-29 and March 5, 1836 and
saw action at Oloklikaha on March 31, 1836. He was Acting Agent in transferring Seminoles
beyond the Mississippi from 1836-39, in which capacity, he traveled several times to the new
Indian Territory in the west and was further involved in various staff duties, including the
Commissary General at Fort Brooke at the recommendation of General Thomas S. Jesup in
Casey was, thereafter, stationed away from Florida for over nine years. From March 1839 to
late 1841, he was Purchasing Commissary at New York City. He was variously Assistant to the
Commissary-General at Washington, D.C., 1841-47, except in 1843 when he was a Member of
the Board of Visitors to the Military Academy. On January 4, 1842, he was promoted to Captain,
2nd Artillery. On May 15, 1844, Capt. Casey was transferred to the 3rd Infantry. In the War
with Mexico, he served from August 15, 1847 to May 13, 1848 as Chief of Commissariat of the
Army, commanded by Major General Zachary Taylor.
Ill with tuberculosis and believing the climate of Florida would be beneficial to his health,
Capt. Casey requested duty at Fort Brooke, which was granted. When he arrived at Tampa to
assume his duties as Commissary of Subsistence, he was so emaciated from hermorrhages, he
was carried in the arms of his servant. Subjected to frequent attacks of bleeding of the lungs, he,
nevertheless, courageously pursued his duties. By August 1848, he was already traveling as far
as Lake Istokpoga. On September 1, 1849, he was named also Commissioner for the Removal of
the Seminole Indians from Florida.
In compliance with an order from the War Department to select a site for a new port at
Charlotte Harbor, a board of officers, which included Fort Brooke commander Major W. W.
Morris and Capt. Casey, from November 15-22, 1848 examined the area, and then on January 20,
1849 recommended as the most suitable site for a new post the Island of Guiseppe (Useppa
Island). The post on Useppa Island was established on January 3, 1850 and named Fort Casey.
Capt. Casey was instrumental in selecting a site for a new trading post for Kennedy & Darling
to replace their Indian store at Charlotte Harbor, which was destroyed in the hurricane of 1848.
On February 23, 1849, John Darling of the Tampa firm recommended a point in the fork of Hatse
Lotka and Peas Creek, fifty-one miles east southeast from the Tampa route, now Paynes Creek.
On March 21, Capt. Casey visited the site of the new store.
Capt. Casey, as Seminole emigration agent, dealt fairly with the Indians and soon earned their
trust for his honesty and integrity. A fellow officer commented: "He was known to have great
influence with the Indians...he never deceived them; never told them a lie; and never made a
promise he did not fulfill....By this simple means he gained the confidence of the whole nation."
That good will was tested when war threatened in the summer of 1849. At the Indian River
settlement near Fort Pierce on July 12, four Indians killed James Barker and wounded William
Russell. Then on July 17 at the Kennedy-Darling trading post at now Paynes Creek, four Indians
attacked and killed Capt. George Payne, the manager, and Dempsey Whidden, a clerk, and
wounded William McCullough, another clerk, who with his wife, Nancy, fled, and, though
pursued and shot, managed to escape. The Indians, before leaving, burned the store.
Upon learning of the murderers, Capt. Casey, to establish contact with Billy Bowlegs, the
Seminole chief, and others, sailed in a small sloop from Sarasota Bay to Charlotte Harbor. On
September 4 at Sarasota, he learned from three Indians, sent by Billy Bowlegs, that the murders,
without sanction or knowledge of any chief, were committed by five young Indians who resided
on the Kissimmee River, and that Assinwah had been sent to arrest them. Further, Sam Jones,
leader of the Mikasukis, had to Bowlegs sent word to urge active measures to preserve the
peace, and that Bowlegs sought a council at Charlotte Harbor on September 18.
On the appointed date, Billy Bowlegs and 37 of his sub-chiefs and warriors met with Capt.
Casey, then the chief went aboard the steamboat of Major General David E. Twiggs and
promised to give up the murders for justice. The next day he returned with a sub-chief of Sam
Jones, and they set October 19 at Charlotte Harbor for the surrender of the five.
On October 17, General Twiggs arrived at Charlotte Harbor to learn from Billy Bowlegs that
Sam Jones and some 60 warriors had been waiting nine days, three of the murders were in
confinement, one had been killed in an attempt to escape, and the fifth had effected his escape.
The next day the chief again came on board and brought with him three prisoners, and a hand as
proof of death of the fourth.
The crisis had ended to the complete satisfaction of General Twiggs, who earlier had
commended Capt. Casey: "His efforts have been crowned with great success...It is a simple act of
justice to acknowledge the important service Captain Casey has rendered in re-establishing, at
no slight personal risk, a communication between these people and ourselves at a time when it
was believed impossible by every man in this community, and thus probably averting a war
Capt. Casey and others engaged in prolonged negotiations with the various tribes to secure
their emigration. At Fort Chokonikla on January 21, 1850, Major General David E. Twiggs and
Capt. Casey met in council with Billy Bowlegs, six subchiefs of the Seminoles and Mikasukis,
and a delegate from the Tallahassees, who expressed their willingness to emigrate. On February
28, 1850, 74 Seminoles, including the three prisoners surrendered in the July 1849 murders,
sailed on the steamer Fashion at Fort Hamer on the Manatee River for New Orleans.
Further talks were broken off by Billy Bowlegs in April 1850 as he feared he and his warriors
would have been seized after he learned that among the exiles were two young men who’d come
into trade. Bowlegs stated that he desired peace and could not make war, but he would not leave
his country, nor induce his people to go.
When, on August 6, 1850, eight-year-old Daniel Hubbard was killed by Indians in Marion
County, Capt. Casey again was called to settle the case. After a lengthy investigation, he
tentatively concluded that three Indians of Echo Emathla Chopko band's had slain the boy in
retaliation for the theft of three ponies by Jacob Summerlin. On May 17, 1851, three were
arrested at Fort Myers and on May 19 sent to Tampa where Capt. Casey, after separately
examining them, learned they blamed others, and, though he feared they were scapegoats,
delivered them for trial to Justice Simon Turman. Justice was thwarted though when on May 23,
after an attempted jail break, the three Indians were found hanging by the bars of the windows.
From 1848 to 1851 the western coast of Florida was charted by the U. S. Coast and Geodetic
Survey, with Capt. Casey assisting. In his honor the inlet at the southernmost end of Little
Sarasota Bay, just south of Chaise’s Key, was named Casey’s Pass. In April 1856, a map of
Florida by Lt. J. C. Ives, in which he gave much credit to Casey, was published. Chaise’s Key
was then charted as Casey’s Key.
In Washington, D. C., custodianship of the Indian tribes had been transferred from the War
Department to the Interior Department, and it was concluded that a new special agent should be
tried to induce the Florida Seminoles to emigration Accordingly, Capt. Casey was replaced by
Luther Blake, who had achieved success with Creek removal in Georgia. Arriving in Fort Myers
in May 1851, Blake soon engaged in various junkets, including a trip to Indian territory in the
west from which he returned with a delegation in March 1852, and a jaunt with Billy Bowlegs
and others to Washington, D. C. and New York in the fall of 1852, all with little success.
After Capt. Casey expressed his fear Blake would swindle the Indians, bad blood developed
between the two. Blake retaliated by reporting Casey for interfering with the arrangements for
emigrating the Indians of Florida. On November 1, 1852, the War Department reacted by
ordering Casey to leave Florida as soon as practicable, but he so ably defended himself that he
was reinstated in July 1853.
In May 1854, Jefferson Davis, the Secretary of War, resolved that only coercive measures
would henceforth be used to induce the Florida Indians to emigrate and ordered Capt. Casey to
end talks and trade with them. Lands, previously withheld, were to be opened for settlement. In
1855 the Army began to erect a new cordon of forts and roads and intensified patrols into the
Everglades and Big Cypress Swamps.
Finding no alternative left but emigration or hostilities, Billy Bowlegs led a Seminole war
party, which on December 20, 1855 attacked Lt. George L. Hartsuff’s surveying patrol in the Big
Cypress and thus began the Third Seminole War.
Capt. John C. Casey died of pulmonary consumption on December 25, 1856. Major Morris
eulogized, "His moral character was unimpeachable, his self denial and courage admired by all
who knew him."
The war ended with the Seminoles’ agreement on March 27, 1858 to exile to the Seminole
Nation reservation in the west. On May 4, 1858 at Fort Myers, a Seminole party which included
Billy Bowlegs, embarked on the steamer Grey Cloud and on May 7 at Egmont Key more
boarded. Coincidentally, the Grey Cloud carried also the remains of Billy Bowlegs’ friend, the
late Capt. Casey to his final resting place.
References: Fred W. Wallace, "The Story Of Captain John C. Casey," Florida Historical
Quarterly 41 (October 1962); Cullum’s Biographical Register; Casey Papers, U. S. Military
Academy; Senate Executive Document No. 49; miscel. National Archives records.
This article was published in The Herald-Advocate (Wauchula, FL) as "History: The Seminole
Emigration Agent" on Feb. 17, 2005, 10C.