Blackwater Hike Traces Andrew Jackson's March Into Florida

May 14, 2018

Credit Western Gate Chapter, FTA

Two centuries after Andrew Jackson’s march into northwest Florida, a local historical group plans to re-trace his steps next weekend.

Jackson’s march through the Panhandle in May of 1818, near the end of the First Seminole War, is now the 17-mile Andrew Jackson Red Ground Trail in the Blackwater River State Forest.

“There had been numerous skirmishes that were along the border of Alabama, Georgia and Florida between Indians and the settlers,” said Helen Wigersma, who chairs the Western Gate Chapter of the Florida Trail Association.

At that time, she says, Florida was Spanish territory. President James Monroe sent Jackson and a force of about one thousand to end the conflict between the Seminoles and the settlers.

“And [Jackson] decides that means go ahead and invade Florida, coming down to Pensacola where there was a Spanish garrison,” Wigersma said. “And what’s why he came down along what is now termed the ‘Red Ground Trail.’ The Spanish were saying that this was an act of war.”

At the same time, John Quincy Adams was in negotiations with Spain to purchase Florida. Under the Florida Purchase Treaty of 1819 the U.S. paid $5 million for the territory, the costs of American settlers’ claims against Spain

Helen Wigersma, Chair of the Western Gate Chapter, Florida Trail Association.
Credit Dave Dunwoody, WUWF Public Media

The idea for the hike, says Wigersma, stemmed from a conversation with Panama City historian Robert Hurst.

“He asked if we would do something to commemorate this bicentennial anniversary,” said Wigersma. “And we decided that we could do a hike on at least a piece of the official Jackson Red Ground Trail.”

But “Old Hickory,” as Jackson was known, was not the first to walk the Red Ground Trail.

“That trail was actually an Indian trading before Andrew Jackson marched down it,” said Hurst. “It was called the Lower Creek Trading path, and it went from Floridatown up into Georgia.”

Andrew Jackson visited Florida only three times: in 1814 during the War of 1812, in 1818 during the First Seminole War, and in 1821 when he became Governor for the new U.S. territory. Jackson’s march, says Hurst, exposed the weak control the Spanish government had over Florida.

“I think the Spanish realized it as well, and it resulted in the ceding of Florida to the United States,” said Hurst.

Based on those events, and later as President overseeing the Indian Removal Act, which forced several tribes westward out of their lands via the Trail of Tears, historian Robert Hurst says Jackson is admired by some, and reviled by others. 

“I had a Native American tell me that you won’t find any Creek children named Jackson, that that’s just a no-no,” said Hurst. “It’s rather surprising that he turned on the Indians; he had used Creeks in his army.”

Fast forward back to 2018. Some dos and don’ts for hikers from organizer Helen Wigersma, if you’re planning to make the 10-mile trek: wear closed-toed shoes or hiking boots to navigate the natural, non-paved terrain and bring plenty of water.

“The other thing they need to bring is sunscreen, and we always recommend bug spray,” said Wigersma. “We will be going across some beautiful little streams; flowers should be abundant in the forest right now.”

And that hike will take place, rain or shine. Kids are welcome with parents or guardians, but leave your pets at home.

A celebration with "Jackson cupcakes" will be held at the end of the hike. What is a “Jackson Cupcake?” You’ll have to take the hike to find out.

“We want them to walk clear to the end to find out what a Jackson Cupcake is,” Wigersma said.

More information on the Andrew Jackson 200th anniversary hike on Saturday, May 19, which is free to the public, is available www.meetup.com/Ftawesterngate.