By Bob Davidsson
Unrelenting heat, an overextended supply line, swarms of mosquitoes and sand flies, debilitating "Jupiter Fever," and the constant threat of Indian raids made garrison duty at Fort Jupiter one of the least popular Army postings during the Third Seminole War, 1855-58.
The Army post was the second to bear the name Fort Jupiter. The original Fort Jupiter was established in 1838 following two pitched battles near the Loxahatchee River between U.S. Army and Navy units against the Seminole tribe in the Second Seminole War, 1835-42.
When the "Old Fort Jupiter" was decommissioned at the end of the seven-year conflict in 1842, the Jupiter Inlet was without a military presence until Congress approved funding for a lighthouse in 1853. Lt. George G. Meade, an Army engineer, designed the brick and mortar tower and selected the site where construction began a year later.
Work on the Jupiter Lighthouse was interrupted by renewed warfare between the United States and the Seminole nation on Dec. 20,1855. The direct cause of the Third Seminole War was a foolish raid on an Indian plantation by an Army surveying party deep in the Seminole's Everglades sanctuary.
The Building of 'New Fort Jupiter'
In the months prior to the renewed hostilities, New York native Major Joseph A. Haskin and the First Artillery Regiment were stationed in Key West. Haskin received orders to sail to the Indian River Inlet with Company D and assume command of Fort Capron.
Haskin was an 1839 West Point graduate. During the Mexican War, he was cited for bravery after losing his left arm in battle. Despite his disability, Haskin continued his military career until 1870, serving as the general officer in charge of artillery fortifications outside of Washington, D.C. during the Civil War.
On Jan. 14, 1855, Major Haskin received a letter from Lt. Ambrose Powell "A.P." Hill reporting his observations about the best site for the construction of a second Fort Jupiter. Lt. Hill was sent from Fort Capron on a scouting mission to survey the inland water route to the Jupiter Inlet and report on the status of the old fort.
He reported "Old Fort Jupiter" was "bare of timber and further away from the Jupiter bar (inlet) than the new post, which is a half a mile nearer, has a convenience of timber, good soil for gardening, loading and unloading of boats, and preferable to Old Fort Jupiter or any other location in the vicinity."
After completing his mission, Lt. Hill was employed as an engineer-surveyor by the U.S. Coastal Survey from 1855-60. He joined the Confederate army a year later and served as one of General Robert E. Lee's division commanders during several of his campaigns.
Major Haskin received orders from Col. Thomas Haines, assistant adjutant at the Headquarters of Troops in Fort Brooke, to sail south with Company D of the First Artillery and establish the new outpost. Its purpose was to observe the activities of Indians and provide protection to civilians during the construction of the Jupiter Lighthouse.
The Feb. 2, 1855 orders for Major Haskin stated, "In accordance with instructions from the War Department, the Colonel Commander directs you to move with your command to Old Fort Jupiter, or such other point in the vicinity as you deem advisable."
"It is hoped that after you arrive at Fort Jupiter," the letter concludes, "more frequent and expeditious communications may be established with you via Fort Myers and Lake Okeechobee."
An advance force of three officers an 38 enlisted men arrived at the Jupiter Inlet in February 1855 to begin construction of a stockade at the site recommended by Lt. Hill. Within eight months the garrison was at full strength, and a small contingent marched across the state to supplement the Army units at Fort Myers.
A field artillery company in the 19th century consisted of 100 officers and enlisted men when under full authorized strength. The actual muster rolls were often less than the maximum. A company was commanded by a captain or "brevet major" in the case of Major Haskin.
During most of the 1850s, Jupiter Inlet was sealed by sandbars and closed to shipping. Both Major Haskin and lighthouse workers had to use an inland water route to reach their destination.
The route used by the Fort Jupiter garrison was to sail and paddle south of Fort Capron along the Indian River to the mouth of the St. Lucie River. They then had to navigate a torturous tangle of mangroves in a shallow estuary known as "the Narrows" until reaching Hobe Sound.
In April 1856, Capt. A .A. Humphries and Lt. J. C. Ives of the U.S. Army Topographical Engineers published a 26-page "Memoir to Accompany a Military Map of the Peninsula of Florida South of Tampa Bay" for use by Secretary of War Jefferson Davis and the U.S. War Department during the Third Seminole War.
The document contains a descriptive profile of the Jupiter Inlet and the military paths and waterways connecting Fort Jupiter to other outposts in southern Florida and west of Lake Okeechobee. The Memoir includes the route used by Major Haskin and the U.S. Army to supply Fort Jupiter.
"The Sound (Hobe Sound) is sufficiently exposed to the wind to admit the use of sails," the Memoir states, "and is in most places easily navigated by vessels of four feet draught. It extends for eight miles to Jupiter River, from the mouth of which it is about two and half miles to the site of Fort Jupiter."
"The total distance from Fort Capron to Fort Jupiter is 40 miles," the Memoir continues. "The Mackinac boats sometimes employed upon this route are said to be unsuitable for the transportation of troops and supplies between the two posts; having to lay by during high winds and under most favorable circumstances requiring four days to complete the trip."
"The kind of vessel recommended, as likely most serviceable, is a small sloop, not drawing over three feet in water fully loaded, and most after the pattern of the old surf boats used during the Mexican War at Vera Cruz," the Memoir concludes.
Life at the Second Fort Jupiter.
Both the new Fort Jupiter and future Jupiter Lighthouse were built within the 9,088-acre Jupiter Military Reservation. The military zone was established during the Second Seminole War, and was located northwest of the inlet.
The 1856 Military Memoir states, "Half a mile distant from the old fort, upon an eastern point made by the creek and river, is the new post, now called Fort Jupiter. Here the pine land is still more elevated and continues for five miles back; the timber coming down to the water's edge, and water itself being of sufficient depth for small boats, close to shore."
"Abundance of wood, suitable for building purposes, can be conveniently obtained," the Memoir continues. "The soil is fertile. There is an excellent anchorage and a good place for loading and unloading boats, making the site at the present fort preferable to that of the old one or any other location in the vicinity."
A post office was established at the fort, and a mail carrier was assigned to carry correspondence between Forts Capron and Jupiter, and south to Cape Florida.
The commencement of the Third Seminole War delayed work on the Jupiter Lighthouse for three years. Lt. Meade, the chief engineer for Florida's lighthouse projects, was so concerned about the safety of his civilian workers that he petitioned the Key West Navy Base commander for arms and ammunition on Jan. 7, 1856.
Just 12 days later, Meade informed the U.S. Light House Board of his decision to store supplies for the Jupiter Lighthouse on Key Biscayne and "postpone for the present the commencement of the work." He then boarded a ship in Key West and departed Florida, never to return to the Jupiter Inlet.
Seven years in the future, Meade would command the U.S. Army of the Potomac at the Battle of Gettysburg, and while serving under Lt. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, continued to lead the army during the final two years of the Civil War.
The garrison at Fort Jupiter patrolled the waterways in boats between Fort Capron to the north, and south to Fort Dallas near Miami, searching the lakes and rivers along these routes for Seminole encampments.
The closing of the Jupiter Inlet by sandbars in the 1850s disrupted the natural tidal flows and flushing of its estuaries. As a result, some of the waterways near the fort became stagnant. Health conditions at the outpost were poor. The problem was analyzed and reported in the 1856 Memoir.
"The closing of the inlet causes the locality - at other times salubrious - to be an unhealthy one," the Memoir states, "the water on the inside of the bar thus becoming fresh, and inducing a rapid growth of vegetable matter, which decaying taints the atmosphere and engenders disease."
The disease cited in the Military Memoir was called "Jupiter Fever". The ailment encompassed a number of infectious diseases spread not by "the atmosphere," but by a plague of mosquitoes and sand flies at the fort. "Jupiter Fever" may have been an outbreak of malaria or possibly yellow fever.
At one point it was reported 60 of the 68 soldiers in the garrison were listed on sick call. A visiting Army surgeon in May 1855 also reported two cases of "scorbutus" (scurvy) at Fort Jupiter caused by poor diet.
Due to the unhealthy conditions at Fort Jupiter, its officers and enlisted men were often rotated between Fort Jupiter and Fort Capron, where there were better medical facilities and fewer insect carriers of disease.
Efforts to Open the Jupiter Inlet
One solution to the unhealthy conditions at Fort Jupiter was to reopen the Jupiter Inlet. The garrison attempted to dig a channel twice without success.
The 1856 Military Memoir reported, "Objections exist to it (Fort Jupiter) now as a military position, from the fact that the inlet is closed, and the post rendered inaccessible from the sea to the smallest coasting vessels."
According to the Memoir, the inlet stayed open until 1847, when it closed. During the year 1853 it briefly opened itself, but "remained in that condition only a short time."
"In 1855, Major Haskin, First Artillery, in command of the post endeavored again to clear the channel," the Memoir reports. "Sand hills of considerable size which had accumulated were cut through, and the attempt would have doubtless been successful but for the low condition of water during an unusually dry year."
"A small amount of labor expended under favorable circumstances would in all probability effortlessly open the inlet," the Military Memoir concludes, "and render the harbor one of the best upon the eastern coast. At times it has admitted vessels drawing eight feet, and the entrance is protected from north winds by a ridge of rocks."
In his history of the "First Regiment of Artillery," William L. Haskin, the son of Fort Jupiter's first commander, wrote the following commentary: "The Florida war brought little glory to any unit taking part in it. The climate was an enemy more successful than the Seminoles, and its victims counted not by single files, but by platoons if not battalions."
In February 1858, Lt. Charles H. Webb of Company E, First Artillery, took command at Fort Jupiter during the final months of the Third Seminole War. The conflict was declared over by the U.S. Department of War on May 8, 1858, following the deportation of tribal leader Billy Bowlegs (Holata Micco) to Oklahoma on the steamer "Gray Cloud".
It is estimated less than 300 Seminole and Miccosukee Indians remained in the Everglades. Fort Jupiter was permanently evacuated a short time after the war's end.
(c.) Davidsson, 2018.
*NOTE: This article also was published in the Nov. 29 edition of the Jupiter Courier and the Gannett/USA Today Treasure Coast Network. See additional articles archived below and in Olders Posts.
A Rich Historical Heritage
The "Origins & History of the Palm Beaches" digital archive contains 40 original full-text articles profiling the history of Palm Beach County. The archive is a companion site to "Palm Beach County Issues & Views." Both sites are edited by Robert I. Davidsson, author of the book "Indian River: A History of the Ais Indians in Spanish Florida" and related articles about Florida's past. This archive is the winner of the Florida Historical Society's 2019 Hampton Dunn Digital Media Award.