Jane Hall Johns Matthews
By Spessard Stone
Used with permission
The life of Jane Hall Johns Matthews was Job-like, plagued by numerous personal tragedies, of which the slaying of her first husband and her scalping by Indians were the most indelible.
Living on the borders of Trout Creek, a tributary of the St. Johns River in Spanish Florida, the Hall family was of comfortable means, described as "pious and contented Christians, floating easily down the tranquil stream of life, to the year 1813, when they were first aroused from their sweet repose of peace and quiet by the fierce yell of the savage sons of the forests." Then a devastating Seminole raid of their district led to their flight to Pearson Island where, soon after disembarking, Mrs. Hall gave birth on August 23, 1813 to the subject of this sketch, Jane Hall.
In January 1814, the Halls settled near their former home on Sweet Water Branch where they lived peacefully until April 16, 1821. On that date a second Indian attack resulted in the killing of Jane's brother and the multiple wounding of her uncle; additionally, three neighboring women were murdered. The family was again forced to seek refuge elsewhere until the restoration of peace when they established a farm at Alachua.
In January 1836, Jane Hall married Fleming Johns, known as a young man of excellent character and industrious habits. Renting a farm at what is now Baldwin, the young couple confidently began their journey of life together.
During the Second Seminole War, on September 15, 1836, an Indian attack on the Johns' home resulted in the killing of Mr. Johns and the scalping and shooting of Mrs. Johns.
An account of the incident was published in the Nile's Weekly Register of Baltimore in its issue of October 1, 1836:
"The Jacksonville Courier Extra is filled with the details of an inroad made by the Indians; a hot pursuit, and the Indians final escape. The barbarities have been perpetrated chiefly upon families.
"The Indians have appeared
within seven miles of Jacksonville. The house of Mr. Higginbotham was attacked.
There the party in pursuit found two men (one of whom was sick) and two ladies
on guard with guns in their hands. The Indians had not reappeared after their
being beaten off before Mr. Higginbotham left to report in town.
"After a little time spent in search, the party under maj. Hart found where the Indians encamped the night previous, not three-fourths of a mile from the house, and also the spot where the horses were tied while the attack was made on the house. From that spot our party took the Indians' trail. It struck the Tallahassee road, and these daring devils kept the road for 10 miles, riding at full speed as their trail showed, till they came to Mr. McCormick's house, then occupied by Mr. Johns and wife on the road 18 miles from Jacksonville.
“Our party in pursuit reached this house about 4 o'clock, P. M. It was a smouldering pile of ruins. On examination, maj. Hart states that they found the calcined bones of a human being burned in the house. A piece of the back-bone was found with some flesh upon it. The skull was to be seen, but at the touch it fell in and crumbled to pieces. The bones were mostly reduced to ashes.
"Near the house was a quantity of hair, to appearance that of a female. Thence the trail seemed to be still on the road, and our men pushed on with increased speed and anxiety, to overtake the murdering Indians. They expected to do so at the next house (Mr. Lowder's) 7 miles ahead. On arrival there they found the house abandoned by the two females and their children who lived there, but unvisited by the Indians. The inmates had evidently fled in alarm, as the dinner they were preparing was still at the fire and warm, of which our party partook-and then doubtful of the trail they were on, set out for Mr. Sparkman's four miles distant.
"It was after night when they reached Mr. Sparkman's nor was it possible for them to determine whether they were on a trail or not. Great distress filled the house of Mr. Sparkman. There was Mrs. Johns-her arm laid open with a rifle bullet-a ball shot through her neck-and her scalp, so far as the hair extended over her head, most horribly and manglingly taken off- and she still alive! Good God! who can hear the recital of such a deed, and not feel stricken at the cold-blooded barbarity! Who can hear and not feel a thirst to revenge such outrage?
"She was able to state the circumstances of the attack upon herself and her husband. They were about twenty yards from the house, between 10 and 11 o'clock Thursday morning, when the Indians showed themselves by the corner of a fence close to them. The Indians fired and wounded Mr. Johns in the left breast. Both ran for the house, and entered and closed the door.
"The Indians came up and fired on the house. They called out in English, and told them if they would come out they should not be hurt. The Indians looked in through the cracks (the house was made of logs) and told Mr. Johns and his wife to come out; but they did not consent to do so, but begged for their lives. The order was given in English to charge the house.
"The Indians burst in-shot Mr. Johns through the head-he fell, and his wife fell upon his body. An Indian dragged her to the door, and said to 'hi-e-pus-cha, go.' She asked where, and he pointed toward the head of Black Creek. At that moment she saw another Indian level his rifle-she threw up her arm-the Indian fired-and the ball passed lengthwise through the flesh of her arm, passed through her neck.
"She fell. The Indian came up-dragged her into the hall of the house, (the house is what is called a double log-house), and then taking out her comb and tearing the string from her hair, scalped her. He did not tear the scalp off, but cut it as butchers take the skin from a beef. During this operation Mrs. Johns was sensible to what was doing. She saw the Indian's scalping knife, and says it was a round pointed common butcher knife- she lay as if dead.
"The Indians plundered the house, taking a pair of portmanteau containing $100, and every thing of value-set fire to the house-and one Indian applied the torch to her clothes - left the house-gave a hoop, and hurried off in the direction, she thought from their noise, off the head of Black creek. She felt the fire of her clothes upon one leg, and as soon as she dared to move so much, grabbed in her hand a quantity of her own clotted blood, with which she put out her burning clothes. And then when the Indians were out of hearing, she got up-saw her murdered husband's body unscalped and unmoved from the position in which he at first had fallen except that the Indians had put one foot up on the edge of a table.
"The house was on fire-she made her way out of it, fainting every few minutes. She reached the edge of a swamp-got out some water, and there lay down, unable to get farther. There she remained till 10 o'clock, P. M. when three men, Mr. Johns, the father of her husband, Mr. Lowder, and McKinney came along. They saw the burning house all fallen in, except the corners of the logs, the body therein burned-and discovered her, whom they took to be an Indian at first, then a squaw. On advancing to her, what must have been the feelings of her father-in-law, to recognize in the butchered, bloody, almost lifeless woman, his daughter-in-law-and to know that the burned human frame in the house was that of his son!
"These men carried her to Mr. Lowder's, and giving the inmates of the house the alarm, and taking them, the two females and their children, went on to Mr. Sparkman's-where our party in pursuit of the Indians found them, as above stated.
"It was the trail of these men that was mistaken for that of the Indians. The Indians were all mounted, and the trail was therefore easily mistaken.
"That these cursed butchers, so bold as to come within seven miles to commit their depredations, should escape from so ready, rapid, and hot pursuit, and that too, from men of known bravery and perseverance, and determined at every hazard to overtake and chastise them, gives us great mortification and pain. They did all that men could do, except running, only 20 strong, and without any forage, into the nation after them, which would have been folly and rashness."
Extract from the Journal of Dr. Andrew Welch also gave details of the Johns' plight. In it (as reproduced in DeVane's Early Florida History," Volume 2, Mr. Johns given name is recorded as Clement, but F. C. M. Boggess, Jane's brother-in-law, in an article in the Florida Times-Union of February 6, 1888 gave his name as Fleming Johns. Dr. Welch, who was the post surgeon at the military station at Jacksonville, cared for Jane at the Sparkman home and she afterwards returned with him to Jacksonville. Adding to her sorrow was the death of her infant child, stillborn on October 6, 1836. Soon after occurred the death of her father at Black Creek on January 17, 1837.
After she was physically recovered,
an Englishman persuaded her to go to Washington, D. C. to get a pension, and
she was exhibited to the people for show as a scalped woman was a great
novelty. The Englishman, however, proved to be an unscrupulous rascal and
decamped with the money she had earned as a sideshow attraction.
Jane then returned to Florida where she had a brother and two sisters, one of whom was Margaret Hall Boggess, wife of F. C. M. Boggess of Fort Meade and Fort Ogden. (The 1850 census of Hillsborough County, October 29, Pease Creek Settlement, enumerated in the Isam Dees household # 135/136: Mary Hall, 65, b. Fla.; Milly Ann Heck, 37, b. Fla.; Margaret Hall, 25, b. Fla.; Georgia Ann Heck, 6, b. Fla.)
In his autobiography, A Veteran of Four Wars, F. C. M. Boggess noted of Jane:
"She lived with the author of this book for many years, being a sister of his first wife. When they lived at Josh's Creek, DeSoto county, the Indians often came to their place. At one time there came about twenty of the Indians; they were old warriors. They would point at her and make signs as if scalping a person and jabber to one another. She said she recognized two of the Indians, and the one that made her go and shot her. His name was Tallahassee, one of the chiefs, and one who never became friendly to the whites. Ossian, another chief, was another she recognized. He was never friendly to the white people."
Jane Hall Johns Matthews died in 1874 and was buried in the cemetery at Fort Ogden. Boggess remembered his long-suffering sister-in-law as a Christian lady who could not endure the looks of an Indian. In view of what they inflicted on her and her family, one can well understand her Old Testament wrath, and, as Boggess, wish, "Peace to her ashes."
This article was published in The Herald-Advocate of June 1, 1989.