We have an important anniversary coming up, and I want to make sure that none of us misses the chance to do a little celebrating. Mark your calendars for June 30 – that’s next Tuesday – as the 242nd anniversary of the Battle of Alligator Creek Bridge in what is now Callahan.
People don’t usually think of Florida when it comes to the American Revolutionary War. We were a British Colony, after all. And you will probably have a problem finding references to the Battle of Alligator Creek Bridge, because it’s not on any “official” list I have come across.
Georgia Gov. John Houston began planning this invasion in the spring of 1778 and teamed up with Continental Army General Robert Howe to work out the logistics and tactics of the battle. It was not a good fit. These two men would not share their plans with one another, and they couldn’t agree on who was to be in charge of the foray into Florida.
(To clear up my own confusion about two opponents with the same name, I did a little research to discover that the Continental General Robert Howe is no relation to the British Sir William Howe, who was Commander in Chief of all British Forces in the Colonies during the war.)
Finally, on the 18th of June in 1778, General (Robert) Howe and his 1,100 regulars were waiting for the Georgia and South Carolina militias to join up. But he learned that British Colonel Thomas Brown and 300 men were holed up at Fort Tonyn on the Florida side of the St. Marys River. (The fort was about 25 miles up the St. Marys River, near where present-day Kings Ferry sits in northwest Nassau County.)
One of Colonel Brown’s scouts reported that Colonel Elijah Clark and his Georgia Militia were on the move. Brown abandoned the fort and burned it to the ground. He then proceeded along the road that led south and out of the fort, but sent a small force to circle behind the Patriots. The rest of his men hid along the road in ambush, while Major Marc Prevost established a defensive position at the bridge over Alligator Creek, some 17 miles south of the fort.
Unfortunately for Brown, at least one traitor told the Patriots that the Loyalists were sneaking up behind them. Most of Prevost’s troops who had been deployed along the road were killed or captured by the Patriots in the resulting skirmish.
After all of that, General Howe sent General James Screven and about 100 cavalry to find Brown and deal with him once and for all. Brown once again retreated. He made it to Prevost’s position at the Alligator Creek bridge, with Screven hard at his heels. With Prevost’s men firing at the Patriots, Brown once again split his force, this time in a flanking movement.
There were casualties and fatalities on both sides. General Screven was wounded, but managed to order his troops to retreat before they were trapped and captured at Prevost’s British position at the bridge.
This, then, was the end of the Battle of Alligator Creek Bridge. Governor Houston eventually gave up his plan to invade East Florida and control this British province.
This is admittedly a thumbnail sketch of the Battle of Alligator Creek Bridge. I have learned that this battle was not an insignificant skirmish as I had thought, but an important episode in the struggle for control of this area of the world.
If you want to know more about the Battle of Alligator Creek Bridge, I commend to your reading Southernmost Battlefields of the Revolution, by none other than Congressman Charles E. Bennett (D-Fla.) from Jacksonville. It is in the archives at the Amelia Island Museum of History, and I am certain that Jayne Nasrallah would be happy to share it with you.
Your reading will show you that the Battle of Alligator Creek Bridge was one of five known battles fought in Florida during that war. The Invasion of Amelia Island by Samuel Elbert on or about May 20, 1777, was the first Florida battle and resulted in homes burned and livestock either stolen or slaughtered. Next came the Battle of Thomas Creek a year later on May 17, 1778. After the Battle of Alligator Creek Bridge in June of 1778 came the Siege of Pensacola in 1781, and finally, the Battle of Cape Canaveral in 1783.
I hope this has piqued your interest about Florida’s role in the Revolutionary War. Our museum is a valuable resource for your research about the Revolutionary War battles fought in British Florida.