Wednesday, March 14, 2012

"The enemy entered Palatka"

Palatka (where I live) is a small town on the St. Johns River about 40 miles south of Jacksonville, Florida. The name of the town comes from the Seminole-Creek language, meaning “ferry" or "crossing”, as the width of the river narrows substantially here, affording a place to cross more easily. For the citizens of Palatka, the morning of 14 March 1862 dawned uneventfully, that is until someone looked out on the river. Steaming upstream towards the city, belching coal smoke from its funnel, was an imposing black-hulled warship flying the stars and stripes of the Union.

The minutes of the Session of the First Presbyterian Church of Palatka indicate:

“On March 14, 1862, the enemy entered Palatka . . .”

In his diary on this same date, Confederate sympathizer and blockade runner Richard J. Adams recorded:

“Federal Gunboat arrived at Palatka at 8½ A.M. – I took to the woods.”

The gunboat was the USS Ottawa, under the command of Lt. Thomas H. Stevens, a veteran of 25 years of service in the US Navy. We have met Lt. Stevens before, as he and his ship were involved in a bizarre chase with a train departing Fernandina about a week ago. The Ottawa was involved in the first Union occupation of Jacksonville on 12 March, helping land troops of the 4th New Hampshire Regiment. The next day, Stevens and his ship made the journey up the St. Johns River to Palatka. In his report to the S. Atlantic Squadron command, dated 17 March 1862, he wrote:

“Since my last communication I have made a reconnaissance as far as Palatka, and found no hostile demonstrations; on the contrary, the assurance I gave that we did not come to molest peaceable citizens has had a good effect . . .”

Stevens also was informed by the local folks that the famed racing schooner America was scuttled upriver in Dunn's Creek. The boat had been purchased by an English citizen, after winning what became known as the "America's Cup", and turned into a blockade runner, but when the Navy arrived at Jacksonville and sealed off the river he had it towed upriver and sunk. Navy personnel raised the boat a few days later and it was turned into a Union blockader.

Thus the first contact folks in Palatka had with Union forces was with Navy men. For much of the remainder of the year, US Navy officers and men had numerous intractions with the Florida citizens living along the St. Johns, assuring them that they were there to protect the folks and their property. The efforts of the USN personnel went a long way towards garnering good will towards the Union.

1 comment:

  1. An similar old Native American word.

    Dear Answer Girl:

    Q: What does Pascack mean?

    N.Y.B., River Vale, NJ

    A: Pascack, or Paskack as it was more commonly written in former years, is an Indian word given to the area compromising the Pascack Valley and its stream of water, the Pascack Brook.

    Very few Indian words in this area have retained their original meaning, mainly because the Indians (Lenape) were gone many years before an interest arose in what the names meant or why they were used. Much of the existing explanation, therefore, is conjecture and sometimes-pure imagination. The Indian language was never a written one and had a variety of dialects. The spellings found in early deeds and grants in New Jersey and elsewhere are purely phonetic in large variety.

    It has been accepted by many historians that Pascack comes from the word Pachgeechen which the Lenape Dictionary translates as “ where the road forks”, but perhaps other words in the dictionary come nearer to the pronunciation of Pascack and have general enough meanings to apply as well: Paschajeek, a valley; Pachat, to split; Packchack, a board. Possibly Pascack means where the land is “split” by the river. There we will leave it since one can only venture a probability with the information at hand.