By Spessard Stone
Levi Starling, a pioneer settler of Hillsborough County, Florida, was a casualty of the Simmons Hammock Massacre.
Levi Starling was born 1808, Johnston Co., North Carolina. He was a son of William Starling (born 1782, Johnston Co., NC) and Sarah Starling (maiden name unknown) and a grandson of William Starling (born 1755, Northampton Co. NC; died 1827, Johnston Co., NC) and Mary Starling (maiden name unknown). The family moved to South Carolina and later Tattnall County, Georgia.
In the 1830s, Levi Starling moved to Alabama where he settled in Coosa County. About 1834, he married Jane _______ (maiden name unknown), born ca. 1809 in Alabama.
The 1850 Coosa County, Alabama census, dated October 29, 1850, enumerated in the Hatchet Creek District in household 85 the Levi Starling family. Levi, a farmer, had real estate valued at $150. Neighbors included Joseph and Martha Casey, Christopher and Mahaley Butler, Joel and Catherine Butler, John A. and Mary Pylant. In the 1850s, the family moved to Hillsborough County, Florida, probably Ichepuckesassa. On September 21, 1854 Levi registered the following mark & brand: crop & underbit in the right ear, smooth crop in the left ear, LS.
During the Third Seminole War, Levi enlisted as a private on December 29, 1855 in Capt. Francis M. Durrance's Company and served as a teamster. On the afternoon of May 16, 1856, three wagons with grain for Capt. Durrance at Fort Fraser left from Fort Brooke. The
in its issue of Saturday, May 24, 1856 reported on the expedition, which became known as the Simmons Hammock Massacre, in which Levi and James Starling and a Mr. Roach were killed by Indians when they stopped for water at Pemberton Creek, near Simmons Hammock:
"On Saturday, the 17th inst., while a train of three wagons in the service of the state, accompanied by two men of Captain Durrance's Company, was halted at a creek about 12 miles from this place (Tampa) and 3 miles from the Campground, for the purpose of watering, a little boy, the son of Mr. Starling, one of the teamsters, inquired of his father, 'What strange man is that?' pointing to a tree but a short distance from them.
"Before the father could reply, his son lay mortally wounded at his feet-a deathful volley having been fired from behind the adjacent pines. All was confusion for a moment; as soon, however as the unfortunate men could realize their situation, they commenced a gallant defense. A Negro man, who had charge of one of the wagons, fired on the Indians. Mr. Hinson took his gun from him (the Negro), mounted the best horse on the ground, and, with the word 'charge,' started at full speed for Campground. Mr. Roach kept up a vigorous snapping, his gun failing to fire, until shot down by the enemy. Mr. Starling, whose distress at seeing his son wounded disqualified him for efficient service, received two fatal wounds. Mr. Hinson, after loading and firing several times, received a ball in the thigh, and immediately fled toward the Campground, which place he reached in safety.
"During the entire conflict, Mr. Hatfield kept up a steady fire on the Indians. He, having taking a position between two mules, was untouched. When Mr. Hinson retreated, Mr. Hatfield maintained his ground.
"Three or four Indians made a charge for the purpose of dislodging him, but seeing his gun presented, they abandoned their intention and returned to their hiding place. Mr. Hatfield then looked around him; Roach was dead on the ground; Starling was sustaining himself by the wagon, while his son was expiring inside. The old man said that he must die, and that he (Hatfield) had better make his escape.
It was but the work of a second to cut a mule from the harness and mount; at this instant a volley was fired upon him, but he escaped without serious injury-only one ball having scorched him. When a few yards distant, he ventured to look back; saw several Indians advance to the train; one presented his gun at the dying boy and blew his brains out.
"Hatfield soon reached the Campground and found that Hinson and the Negro had preceded him. A company of seven or eight men were just starting for the late scene of action. Hatfield wheeled and in a few minutes they were at the spot, but too late to encounter the Indians-they having dispatched their business and escaped to the hammock a few minutes previous. The three bodies were on the ground dead. The savages did not scalp them, nor did they do much damage to the wagons. A large pine tree, behind which several Indians were concealed during the engagement, proved that it answered its purpose-it being perforated by balls and shot fired from the train. Considerable blood was found behind this tree, and it is supposed Hatfield wounded one of them. The trail was followed into the hammock where it was lost. The hammock was secured, but in vain.
"The Indians were supposed to be 10 or 15 in number, and the same party that attacked Captain Bradley's house on the night of the 14th inst. Detachments from several companies are on the lookout for them, and the day of retribution may not be far distant.
"Messrs. Hatfield and Hinton deserve great credit for their bravery. They fought gallantly as long as fighting would avail them; and had but one or two such men been there, the tide of battle might have changed. It will be consolation to the bereaved relatives of the deceased to know that they died like men with their faces to the foe.
Where is the boasted protection of the frontier? This question may well be asked after the depredations of last week."
Hon. Simeon E. Sparkman (1851-1939) lived with his parents Elijah B. and Sarah (Mizell) Sparkman, three miles east of Simmons Hammock in the garrison at the Campground when the massacre occurred. Kelsey Blanton related that Simeon gave these further details:
"As to the killed, Starling, a man named Roach, and Starling's son. Tom Hatfield and a man named Hinson were wounded. [Professor James W. Covington of the University of Tampa identified him as Albert Hinson.] As to the number and names of the persons who were traveling with the wagons in addition to the killed and wounded, there was a Negro and the well known Dow Townsend was along. In the affray the Negro shot and wounded an Indian. [Albert DeVane, late historian of Lake Placid, identified the Negro as Jim who was owned by the Seward family of the Bartow area.]"
The Indians were believed to have been the same band who attacked the Willoughby Tillis homestead, south of Fort Meade, on June 14 and were pursued to the Peace River swamplands where another battle was fought June 16. On June 19, 1856, Capt. William B. Hooker reported that on June 17, near the scene of the battle fought June 16, there was found a dead Indian beneath a wagon cover which had been stolen from the Hatfield place in Simmons Hammock. Hooker further stated that in nine days of actions the Indians lost 20 killed and five or six wounded. Thus retribution had been exacted.
At the time of the ambush, Jane Starling was visiting in the Fort Meade area. A wagon with an armed patrol was sent for her. Due to slow transportation and security reasons, it took a week for Jane's return. Meanwhile the bodies had been buried near the fort at Moore's Lake (Campground). Jane, however, was not satisfied with the burial place and had the bodies dug up and removed to a site a short distance away, which was later known as Bethlehem Cemetery.
On January 20, 1857 in Hillsborough County, Jane Starling married Blake Faulkner, a widower born ca. 1785 in North Carolina. Rev. J. M. Hayman officiated.
On April 6, 1859, Jane Faulkner was appointed guardian of Mary Ann Hinson, William Henry and John Starling "infant children of Levi Starling, decd." On December 24, 1859, the brand LS with a crop in each ear and underbit in the other was registered for William H. and John Starling. In the 1860 Hillsborough County census, the families of Blake Faulkner, Joseph Casey, and Enoch Collins, Sr. were neighbors. Blake Faulkner died, probably, in the 1860s. Jane Starling died in the late 1880s, probably
1889, and she was buried in Bethlehem Cemetery, north of present-day Dover on Bethlehem Road, between what is now State Highway 574 and U. S. Highway 92. Her tombstone reads simply, "Jane Faulkner Wife of Blake Faulkner Age 80 years." Albert DeVane gave her life span as 1805-85, but censuses variously place her birth as 1809 or 1810.
On October 23, 1922, W. H. Starling (son of Levi) requested information concerning application for Indian War pension made by Levi Starling sometime in the late fifties or early sixties that might have been made in the name of Jos. Casey or the said Levi Starling. Apparently nothing came of this as on August 3, 1923 Hon. Herbert J. Drane, Congressman of the 1st District, Florida, enclosed a letter from W. H. Starling, Route 6, Box 44, Tampa, to the Commissioner of Pensions, Washington, D. C. On August 13, 1923 Washington Gardner, Commissioner of the Invalid Division, responded, "I have to advise you [Congressman Drane] that it does not appear that any claim for bounty land or for pension has ever been filed on account of the service of a Levi Starling who was killed by Indians in 1856, as alleged in your correspondent's letter."
On December 31, 1956, the Hillsborough County Historical Commission erected the county's first metal highway historical marker on the Tampa-Plant City highway known as U. S. Hwy. 92, some 13 miles from Tampa. Erected on an alcurite post seven feet high, the plaque, 36 by 42 inches, frames the legend of the site in antique lettering large enough to be read by the passing motorist:
Here a SUPPLY TEAM of the
3 wagons & guards
from Ft. Brooke (Tampa)
to inland encampments was
AMBUSHED & MASSACRED
SEMINOLE INDIANS, May 17, 1856.
Issue of Levi and Jane Starling:
1. Martha Jane Starling, born February 16, 1835; died March 13, 1917; married about 1850 Joseph Casey.
2. Temperance Starling, born ca. 1839; died ca. 1908; married (1) John Haywood, November 2, 1856; (2) Enoch Collins, Sr., April 25, 1858; (3) Thomas E. Boyett, October 31, 1889; (4) ______ Townsand.
3. Mary Ann Starling, born October 24, 1843; died November 11, 1926; married (1) Albert "Eddie" Hinson, January 1, 1857; (2) Solomon Godwin, April 26, 1866.
4. James Starling, born 1845; died May 17, 1856.
5. William Henry Starling, born 1848; married Josephine Adams, May 5, 1870.
6. John Starling, born May 10, 1850; died May 20, 1930; married on November 2, 1866, Mrs. Martha Ann (Keen) Miley, daughter of James M. and Apsilla Keen and the widow of David M. Miley
References: 1850 Coosa County, Ala. census; 1860, 1880 Hillsborough Co., Fla. censuses; Bethlehem Cemetery, Dover; Soldiers of Florida
, 1903; Florida Peninsular of May 24, 1856, reprint of article on Simmons Hammock Massacre in Pioneer Florida
, Volume 11; Gen. Jesse Carter, "Report of the Attack on the Wagon Train at Simmons Hammock," May 17, 1856 reprinted in DeVane's Early Florida History
, Volume 11; James W. Covington, The Billy Bowlegs War
, 1982; Quintilla Bruton and David E. Bailey, Jr., Plant City: Its Origins and History
, 1977; Kelsey Blanton, "Simmons Hammock Wagon Train Fight," in Pioneer Florida
, Volume 11; Albert & Park DeVane, DeVane's Early Florida History
, Volume 1; Hillsborough County marriages; "Hillsborough County: Old Guardianship," South Florida Pioneers
17/18 (July/Oct. 1978); "Hillsborough County Early Marks and Brands," South Florida Pioneers
9 (July 1976) & 11 (Jan. 1977); pension application of Martha Arnold Starling (Mrs. Levi Starling of Lee, Madison County, Fla.); Helen Albritton of Bowling Green, FL; pension application of Mary Ann Godwin (Mrs. Solomon Godwin of Fort Meade, Fla.); Arthur L. Miller of Orlando, Fla. (ancestry of Levi Starling), Jan. 23, 1995.
This profile is adapted from the author's article in South Florida Pioneers
49/50 (July/Oct. 1986).
February 12, 2001 & links = October 17, 2001 & midi = "Rose of Alabamy," arranged by Taylor's Traditional Tunes.