Captain Pitcairn Morrison was assigned as Emigration Agent for removing the Seminoles from Florida. He arrived in St. Augustine in November 1837, two weeks before 20 Seminoles escaped from Fort Marion, which was the old Spanish fortress. At Fort Marion, many of the Seminoles were ill, including Osceola, and Capt. Morrison himself was very ill from late 1837 to the middle of 1838. The old fort in St. Augustine had been condemned and declared uninhabitable by Army Engineers right before the war. The Seminoles were moved to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina where it was believed that the healthier climate would be beneficial for their health.
Above: A picture of Pitcairn Morrison showed up a few years ago when he presentation watch showed up on an auction.
Morrison’s career was not very good when it came to handling Indians. In 1861 in Arizona territory, Colonel Morrison sent a young officer, Lt. George Bascom, to negotiate with Apache Chief Cochise, which became known as the infamous Bascom affair. Because Bascom totally mishandled things, it led to 25 years of warfare with the Apache.
In late 1837, Morrison hired Dr. Frederick Weedon as attending physician to the Seminoles (and for himself.) Weedon was former mayor of St. Augustine, at one time a militia officer; but most famous, or infamous, as the one who removed Osceola’s head at death.
Above: Dr. Frederick Weedon from Floridamemory.com
I found on the microfilm of letters of the office of Indian Affairs, Capt. Morrison’s contract to hire Dr. Weedon. The contract states of Dr. Weedon, “…that no competent physician can be obtained at a lower rate.” Of course in Government speak, the lowest bidder often means the lowest quality! Here is a transcription of Morrision’s letter:
Letter from Capt. P. Morrison to C.A. Harris, Commissioner of Indian Affairs in Washington, D.C.:
3 February 1838
C.A. Harris, Esq
Comm of Indian Affairs
I have the honor to transmit a copy of a contract enclosed into with Doctor Weedon to attend to the Indians at this Post. It was the best contract I could make as no experienced physician could be had for a less sum.
This contract would have been forwarded before, but I have been extremely sick for the last few weeks and am now just able to get out of bed.—
With much respect
Your obt serv
Capt., 4th Infy, Supt Disbs
Agent Seminole Emigration
According to Dr. Weedon’s surviving notes in the Alabama archive, when Osceola died, Capt. Morrison insisted that Osceola’s items be removed and sent to Washington. The Army and Navy Chronicle says that these items were given to Major J.H. Hook as personal gifts from Morrison, who had a large collection of Native American artifacts, which he apparently had collected during his tenure as Commissary of Subsistence Agent, to provide for feeding the Indians during removal. (Seems like Hook is the one who benefitted from the contract!) What Morrison did by plundering these items from Osceola’s body and giving them to Hook was clearly unethical, and these days would have gotten him court martialed and drummed out of the Army.
When Major Hook died a couple years later, his estate sold his collection, and the Osceola artifacts were purchased by Captain John Casey. Casey was an Army officer much friendlier to the Seminoles. He was formerly in the Second Seminole War at Camp Izard, and later became Indian Agent in Florida after the war in 1849. He fluently spoke the language of the Seminoles. (I don’t know if that was the Mikasuki, Creek, or both.) He was also a good friend of Billy Bowlegs. Casey was afflicted with Tuberculosis and died in 1856 in Florida at age 47. The Osceola artifacts that he had disappeared. I hope he returned them to Billy Bowlegs or the Seminoles?
Dr. Weedon, infamously known for taking Osceola’s head, was said to have treated the Seminoles kindly. But his attitude of kindness only went so far as his racial attitudes, from evidence by Dr. Andrew Welch, who transcribed from newspapers accounts of what Dr. Weedon did with the head. It is said that the head was loaned to a medical museum in New York, where people were more sympathetic to Osceola. A mob threatened to burn down the museum, so the head was returned to St. Augustine, where it was displayed in a jar of spirits in a drug store owned by Dr. Weedon. (Page 201-202 of the facsimile edition of “A narrative of the early days and remembrances of Oceola Nikkanochee, prince of Econchatti”)
Now Dr. Weedon can be remember as not only as a co-conspirator in the plundering of Osceola’s body and personal items, but as being the cheapest doctor money could buy for the Army.