General Abraham Eustis

By: Dexter Eustis of Eustis, Florida

Both Lake Eustis and the adjacent City of Eustis, Florida are named after General Abraham Eustis, a participant in the Seminole Wars.

 

The first representative of the Eustis family in what is now the United States was William Eustice who was born about 1635 and baptized that year in Bledlow, a pleasant little village alongside the Thames River in Buckinghamshire, England. His father was Joseph Eustace. William came to Massachusetts, with his new wife, Sarah (Jackson), about the year 1657. Their ten children were all born in Rumney Marsh, now Chelsea, a section of Boston. Later generations mostly spell the name Eustis. Back in Bledlow, the clerks sometimes spelled the name Ewestes. Luckily, I knew the family members well enough so that when I first looked at the original Bledlow parish register (on microfilm) and did not find them, I was also startled to see the same first names in the EWE-STES family. It slowly dawned on me that EWE, certainly as a female sheep, is pronounced YOU and, of course, this was my family.

 

The Eustace name had come into England from Normandy with William the Conquerorís companion, Count Eustace of Boulogne. There were no "last" names back then, and the Norman custom was to designate male children of someone named Eustace with the suffix "fitz" Eustace - fitz being Norman French for "son of." The name traces back through Eustache, as the French saint; Eustachius in Latin; all the way to a Greek word meaning productive.

 

Both the general and I descend from the immigrant Williamís son, another William Eustice, born in 1661 in Chelsea, Suffolk, Massachusetts, and married in 1688 to Sarah Cutler. And then, our lines diverge. The general descends from this Williamís eldest son, Benjamin Eustis. I descend from a younger son, Thomas Eustis.

Benjamin was born in 1690 and married Elizabeth Hill. A grandson was William Eustis born in 1753 who was a surgeon and a patriot, a congressman from Massachusetts, Secretary of War at the start of the War of 1812, and finally a governor of Massachusetts. Williamís brother was the Abraham Eustis, born 1757, who married in 1784 Margaret Parker and was the father of General Abraham Eustis of local interest. This younger Abraham was born 1786 in Petersburg, Virginia, where his father died two years later. The widow, Margaret (Parker) Eustis, then returned to Boston to raise her young son.

 

Abraham Eustis received his B.A. degree from Harvard in 1804 and went on to Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, where he earned a second B.A. and an M.A. in 1806. His mother was a sister to the Honorable Isaac Parker (1768-1830), an associate justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and later, from 1814 to1830, chief justice. Justice Parker took young Abraham Eustis into his law practice, and Abraham was admitted to the bar in 1807. However, in 1808, anticipating the war that did not actually begin until four years later, he entered the army as an artillery captain. In 1810 he was promoted to major and made a career of the military. During the War of 1812, he commanded a regiment that distinguished itself in the capture of York, Upper Canada, in 1813. He also served in the Black Hawk war of 1832, and in the war with the Florida Seminoles in 1835 as a brevetted Brigadier General. He was the first commander of the armyís Artillery School of Practice at Fort Monroe, Hampton, Virginia. In 1918 the army opened a coastal artillery and balloon observation school in nearby Newport News and named it Fort Eustis in his honor.

 

In 1809, Abraham Eustis married Rebecca Sprague (1786-1820), who bore him seven children. In 1822, he married Patience W. D. Izard (1786-1860). His youngest son by his first wife was another gifted military officer, General Henry Lawrence Eustis (1819-1885), an engineer, instructor of engineering at West Pont, and professor of engineering at Harvard. He assembled "The Genealogy of the Eustis Family (1878)."

 

Of special interest to those who live in Eustis, Florida is Abraham Eustisís service in the Seminole Wars. The first "Seminoles" were of African extraction. Slaves escaping from Carolina plantations, if they could dodge the slave hunters and make their way through the dangerous Georgia Indian country, could gain freedom by crossing the St. Maryís River, an international boundary that divided British and Spanish colonial territories. So many fled here that, in 1693, the Spanish government set them up as freedmen and encouraged their settlement along the northern sector as a buffer against encroachment by English settlers. Soon, they were joined by native Americans displaced by European settlers in the Carolinas and Georgia - from tribes such as the Creeks, Hitichi, Yamasee, and others. Together, the Blacks and Indians became known as Seminoles - thought to be a Spanish term meaning "runaway" or "secede." Sometimes, they were distinguished from each other as Black Seminoles and Red Seminoles, but there was considerable intermixing.

 

In the War of 1812, the British had encouraged the native American tribes to fight the former British colonists, instigating a high degree of animosity towards each other. When Andrew Jackson became president of the United States, he ordered all Indian tribes to be removed to Indian territories west of the Mississippi River - principally into what is now the State of Oklahoma.

The Seminoles had two principal objections. Number one, they were lumped together with the main body of the Creek tribe - a group toward whom they were ill disposed at that time. Number two, there had by now been considerable intermixing and interbreeding with escaped slaves - whom the government did not recognize as Indians and would not tolerate in Indian territory. A smallish proportion of the Seminoles went peaceably on "the trail of tears" to Oklahoma - these were mostly pure Red Seminoles. The majority remained in Florida, and President Jackson sent in the army to round them up and ship them out. Thus, the Seminole Wars.

 

There was a First Seminole War about 1820, and a Second Seminole War about 1835. General Eustis served in both, coming to Florida first in 1821 when the United States accepted the territory from the Spanish. He advanced to Brigadier General in 1834 and was sent by General Winfield Scott, Army Chief of Staff to avenge the so-called Dade massacre by Chief Micanopy and the killing of General Wiley Thompson and members of his company by Chief Osceola at Fort King near Ocala. Those attacks touched off the Second Seminole War, which lasted seven years.

 

The Seminole wars were the subject of intense controversy at the time and are still rehashed in military circles and in ethnic studies. Northern abolitionists were adamantly opposed to government policy that would return the Black Seminoles to slavery in the South. The warfare was unpopular with the military commanders, inexperienced in guerilla tactics - schooled in conventional European battle tactics. The Seminoles had better weapons. Their European rifles provided by the British and Spanish were far superior to the slow-loading smooth bore muskets then issued to American troops. The Black Seminoles were merciless warriors, and many of them really were recently escaped slaves from Georgia and South Carolina. Major hostilities started with an attack by 180 Red Seminole warriors on 108 soldiers under the command of Major Francis L. Dade near the Black Seminole village of Peliklakaha - a little south and west of here, near present-day Plymouth. The soldiers quickly erected a triangular barricade and were successfully holding off the assault until the arrival of mounted Black Seminoles from Peliklakaha. They had hastened into the fray upon hearing sounds of battle from their village. Overrunning the barricade with their horses, they took no prisoners, hacking and chopping the wounded with long knives and axes. Unintentionally, they left two survivors.

General Eustis later descended on the village from his bivouac at present-day Tavares, and finding it empty, he had it and surrounding Seminole croplands torched and utterly wasted - making him very popular with the soldiers, white settlers, and slave owners. They began calling the lake where he had bivouacked "Lake Eustis," and the name stuck. The town that developed was briefly known as Pendryville, but the inhabitants insisted on calling it Lake Eustis Village until it was finally incorporated as the Town and then City of Eustis.

 

Abraham Eustis also is known for skills as a surveyor and mapmaker - providing some of the earliest maps and charts of the local terrain, thus allowing the military to maneuver without getting bogged down in the swampy, jungle-like areas so prevalent in this part of Florida. He blazed trails and established early (military) roads.

 

A monument of Florida stone was placed near the original site of Fort Mason by the Oklawaha Chapter of the D.A.R. July 18, 1934. "Sketch of the History of Fort Mason" by Dr. H. J. Chaffer of the Research Department, U.F., said of Fort Mason in 1836: "Near this site the Left Wing of General [Winfield] Scottís Army, under the command of Brigadier General Abraham Eustis, camped March 28th and 29th, 1836, awaiting the construction of a bridge over the Oklawaha River near Lake Eustis, 31 miles south of Volusia and three miles north of Lake Eustis. Here the troops entrenched, building an earthworks finished at the top with pine logs. This was named by the South Carolina Volunteers "Camp Butler" in honor of Lt. Col. P. M. Butler. Regiments of South Carolina Volunteers and Major Kirbyís 4th Company of 1st Artillery, along with a Battalion of Georgia Cavalry constituted the Left Wing." This camp later became Fort Mason.

 

We have a report that a Battalion of Mounted Volunteers of Goodwynís South Carolina Regiment scoured the "East Coast" where they picked up the 2nd Company of 1st Artillery. With these, they took the road back to all of General Eustisís men who were at Volusia and that day he issued 13 days rations and March 26th they crossed the St. Johns enroute for Chickuchatte in a cove of the Withlacoochee. This campaign had for its purpose the hemming in of the Indians at Chickuchatte, their chief stronghold.

 

Little was accomplished toward bringing the Indians to heel, and General Scott turned over the Florida command to General Eustis, while Scott returned to Washington to report to President Jackson in response to criticism that he had failed.

General Eustis suggested ending the Second Seminole War by allowing the Indians to remain on a small reservation in South Florida, but the suggestion was rejected "by Washington," according to "Who Was Who in Florida, "but 513 Indians who had expected the proposal to be accepted by the U.S. Government were captured when they gathered near Federal forces stationed at Fort Jupiter, in expectation that General Eustisís proposal would be accepted.

 

General Eustis established the military road linking a chain of blockhouses from St. Augustine to Fort Brooke, now Tampa. The blockhouses offered protection from Indians and enabled settlers to take up homesteads and settle in Central Florida after passage of the Armed Settlement Act of 1842.

 

A War Department record of General Eustis reads: Brevet Brigadier General Eustis, United States Army, served in Florida during the Florida Indian War. He was appointed Captain, Light Artillery, 3 May 1808, from the State of Massachusetts; was appointed Major, 15 March 1810; transferred to the 4th Artillery, 1 June 1821; appointed Lieutenant Colonel, 2nd Artillery, 8 May 1822; transferred to the 4th Artillery 2 August 1822 and was promoted to Colonel, 1st Artillery, 17 November 1834. He was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel, 19 September 1813 for meritorious service, brevetted Colonel, 10 September 1823 and Brigadier General, 30 June 1834.

 

Fort Eustis, on the Virginia Peninsula, near Newport News, formerly a Coast Artillery post is officially named for General Eustis. This is confirmed by the former War Department [now the Department of Defense]. After the Civil War, during the period of reconstruction, there was apparently some deliberation over changing the name of Lake Eustis - perhaps the town as well as the body of water.

 

General Abraham Eustis married (first) 6 July 1809 Rebecca, daughter of John & Rebecca (Chambers) Sprague of Dedham, Massachusetts. She died at Jamaica Plains [near Boston] 8 June 1820, and the General married (second) Patience W. B. Izard of South Carolina. They had no further children, and she died in 1860. Children by the first wife were: William born 1810 at Newport, RI; Horatio Sprague born 25 December 1811 at Newport, RI; Henry Langdon died in infancy; Alexander Brooke born 30 January 1815 at Dedham, MA; Frederic Augustus born 12 June 1816 at Newport, RI; John Fenwick born 3 November 1817 at Boston, MA; Henry Lawrence born 1 February 1819 at Fort Independence in Boston Harbor.

 

The generalís final resting place is at Mount Auburn Cemetery, across the Charles River from Boston in Cambridge, Massachusetts, among his Bostonian ancestors.