A Seminole war party led the attack
Various accounts, published on the historic website Fivay.org, tell the story of the Bradley Massacre, reportedly the last Seminole war party attack on a settler’s homestead east of the Mississippi River.
Capt. Robert Duke Bradley was one of the first white settlers to live south of the Withlacoochee River, according to those reports.
He wasn’t feeling well on May 14, 1856, and was awaiting supper with his wife and children that evening.
The captain, who was bedridden on his farm, was a veteran who had fought against the Seminole Indians as far north as the Suwannee River.
He had resigned his commission, because he was no longer a healthy man.
The skirmishes he’d been involved in had damaged his lungs, and for the rest of his life, he would require medical services from the army doctor stationed at Fort Brooke.
Bradley had personally surveyed a homestead in a remote area that would be later known as Darby, a community in Pasco County.
It was frontier country with its share of moccasin tracks, but the good news was that no Indian sightings had been reported for many years.
But, the evening of May 14, 1856, would forever change the 53-year-old’s life.
Bradley — who had always been willing to defend his land granted under the Armed Occupation Act — suddenly heard sounds of a war whoop and gunfire of a Seminole war party.
The attack would be recorded as the last attack on a settler’s homestead east of the Mississippi River.
Bradley’s 11-year-old daughter, Mary Jane, was quickly shot through the shoulder and heart. The captain saw her come into his bedroom, where she collapsed and died.
Fifteen-year-old William Brown Bradley was shot on the porch of the log house.
An Aug. 4, 1922 Dade City Banner story recounting the raid, reported that Nancy Bradley, the captain’s wife, “…rushed out on the porch, picked up the wounded boy, and carried him into the room and laid him on the bed. He (William) got up, grabbed a rifle, and fired through a crack between the logs, handed the gun to one of his brothers, saying, ‘fight till you die’ and fell to the floor dead.”
News of the 15-year-old’s injuries reached as far north as the Macon Weekly Telegraph, which on June 24, 1856 reported: ‘His body had been pierced by two balls.”
When Bradley realized the Indians had reached the steps of his front porch, he heard his wife yell: “They are coming in!”
What happened next was reported as far east as the Palatka Democrat, which published a May 22, 1856 account:
“Captain Bradley, who was prostrated on his bed with sickness, arose and returned a fire on the Indians with two or three guns which he had in his house, which caused them to withdraw,” according to the Palatka Democrat report.
The Banner’s 1922 article indicated that “one of the boys shot at two Indians who were trying to hide behind a tree and afterwards more blood was found there than anywhere else.”
Bradley counted at least 15 Indians attacking his log cabin.
The Palatka Democrat reported: “Captain Bradley was of the opinion that the Indians were about his house all night.”
Because he was a known Indian fighter, there are several historical sources that describe the Bradley attack as an act of revenge.
During the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), a major strategist and leader for the Indians was Thlocko Tustenuggee– or better known as “Tiger Tail” to the white man.
And, it was Captain Bradley who had tracked down and killed Nethlockemathlar, the older brother of Tiger Tail.
Reaching the Bradley homestead the next day from Fort Brooke, Capt. Thomas C. Ellis and a group of men went into the surrounding woods to hunt for the Seminoles. “The camp of the redskins was found in the big cypress swamp and nearby the grave of the Indian killed by Captain Bradley,” according to the Dade City Banner.
As the Bradley attack produced more sightings and fears of the Indians, Gen. Jesse Carter at Fort Brooke received a letter from a citizen’s committee dated May 31, 1856. It said, in part:
“… we therefore most respectfully ask that you will, at the earliest practicable moment, send to our relief a force sufficient to protect us from the cruel barbarities of this insidious foe…”
With the frontier on alert, Bradley and his wife laid to rest their son and daughter in unmarked graves. This was done to prevent the Indians from returning and desecrating the burials.
The family would learn later that the Indian war party was pursued as far south as Fort Mead “and the entire band either killed or captured,” according to one newspaper account.
Called “The Bradley Massacre” by a historical maker erected by Pasco County in 1979, the killings that night 160 years ago was one of several events that ultimately forced Chief Billy Bowlegs and the last of some 100 Seminole warriors to leave Florida at the end of the Third Seminole War in 1858.
Armed Occupation Act
Granting 160 acres to any head of a family, the Florida Armed Occupation Act of 1842 required a settler’s house to be built in one year, the clearing and growing crops for five years, and defending the homestead.
By Doug Sanders
Doug Sanders has a penchant for unearthing interesting stories about local history. His sleuthing skills have been developed through his experiences in newspaper and government work. If you have an idea for a future history column, contact Doug at .
Published March 23, 2016