Lt. Col. Ethan Allen Hitchcock was sent to Florida in 1842 to ‘clear out the Indians,’ a duty he accepted but vowed to do without shedding blood.
He was the grandson of Ethan Allen, the famed Vermont Revolutionary War general, but he struggled with questions of right and wrong during his long military career. The Mexican War, for example, disgusted him because he viewed it as an insult and an encroachment on the rights of the Mexican people.
He also respected the Indians he was ordered to ‘clear out.’
He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point, commissioned a third lieutenant and quickly rose through the ranks of the U.S. Army. He served in the Seminole War in Florida and as the right-hand man of Gen. Winfield Scott during the Mexican-American War. He also served as a major general in the Civil War.
Hitchcock was a devoted scholar, an admirer of Spinoza and a collector of books on alchemy and flute music.
On Aug. 31, 1842, a band of Creek warriors attacked the Perkins family in Washington County, Fla., killing them all in their home. The attack terrified settlers in the area and the state militia failed to track down the Indians. Hitchcock was ordered to join his regiment in Florida.
Ethan Allen Hitchcock commented on his assignment in his diary:
I have been much with Indians and look upon them as a part of the great human family, capable of being reasoned with and susceptible of passions and affections which, rightly touched, will secure moral results with almost mechanical certainty. I repeatedly urged Mr. Poinsett, when he was Secretary of War, to voluntarily assign to the Indians some small part of Florida, and they would soon be willing to go West. One reason why the Indians would not surrender is that they were under the impression that they would be killed if they did so. Years of bloody pursuit of them makes it absolutely necessary to give them assurance of protection and security. …Even if the war was originally unavoidable, which I do not believe, there have been many lives and at least ten million dollars wasted to pay for a ridiculous pride in warring against a handful of abused savages.