The Seminoles

 

 

 

SEMINOLE

Memories retrace the joining of forces between Seminole Indians (refugees from the Creek nation),

maroons (free Africans residing in early America's hinterlands,

cimarones (freed Spanish African slaves),

and the estelusti (slaves escaped or stolen from plantations)

in fighting against the ruthlessly expanding English American colonies.

Seminole, a Creek word meaning runaways or rebels, identifies not a nation but rather a composite made up of many nations:

Black and Red peoples who united in rebellion to preserve their cultures and maintain their freedom.

The alliance that was feared most by the European colonists and their descendants.

BEGINNINGS, 1497-1760

Lucas Vasquez de Allyon followed the ocean route of Amerigo Vespucci in the summer of' 1526 and landed at the mouth of the Peedee River in present-day South Carolina with five hundred Spaniards

and one hundred African slaves brought out of Haiti.

The settlement was short lived for malaria took the lives of half the

Spaniards, including de Allyon himself.

Indian raids, and a slave revolt, forced the remaining colonists to flee America's east coast and return to Haiti

leaving their Black slaves to become the first permanent settlers from the Eastern Hemisphere within the confines of the present-day United States.

African maroons remained and prospered in the new land, friendly to some Indian tribes and formidable foes to others.

Since no African women were brought during early African slaving, these blacks intermarried with Indians and the AfroIndian evolved in North America.

In 1630, King Charles I of England awarded land grants to Sir Robert Heath for the territory between the 31st and 36th degree parallels, later to be named Carolina (Latin for Charles) in his honor.

African maroons and Indian warriors raided the small colony, slaves revolted, and Sir Robert's lack of intestinal fortitude caused the colony's demise.

Thirty years later, King Charles II reissued the same land grant to eight "Lord proprietors."

Agriculturally Carolina prospered from the production of rice and indigo.

Soon the colonists expanded southward into Oconee Creek country, closing fast on Spanish Florida.

To combat English encroachment from the north, Spain, in 1692, made notice in Virginia and the Carolinas that any Black slave reaching Spanish territory would find freedom.

In turn, the Spanish freed their enslaved Africans and settled them thirty miles west of St. Augustine at Mbasa Village.

Slave revolts and escapes increased in the Carolinas with the Spanish announcement.

African villages multiplied in Spanish Florida.

Fifty years later, Ahaya the Cowkeeper, a Lower Creek chief, broke away from the Creek Confederacy and relocated his tribe of Red and Black Indians at Alachua in northern Florida, the Creeks' winter hunting grounds.

Together, the Indian and African factions became known as Seminoles---outlaws, rebels.

THE SEMINOLES, 1760-1837

THE SEMINOLES WERE A COLORFUL PEOPLE, FROM THEIR brightly hued turbans and Florida fowl feathers, to the eye-catching shirt which was thigh or knee-length, and the tight fitting blue English pants, or buckskins.

Ears, arms, neck, waist and sometimes knees were adorned with rings, bracelets, necklaces, and ribbons.

A Seminole chief always dressed in an ankle-length turkey feather cloak for ceremonies.

As a result of contact with British colonists, slavery was introduced to "The Five Civilized Nations" (Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, and Seminole)

It was used as a divide and conquer tactic to turn Indians and Africans against one another and prevent runaway slaves from finding refuge among the Indians.

Except among the Choctaw, and the Chickasaw, Indian slave owners treated their slaves very differently than the Europeans.

While no system of bondage is without fault, the Indian system of slavery was typically milder and more lenient,

and, when practiced among the Seminoles, it was in name only.

Among the Creek, the Indian master allowed his slaves to live on their own land, requiring that they contribute a portion of their harvests in a system more like feudalism than chattel slavery.

Africans were not considered an inferior race, slavery was not hereditary, intermarriage was acceptable, and slaves could not be sold.

 

Slaves even mustered for battle under their own captains.

Contrary to European expectations, any estelusti that entered an Indian village, by whatever means, was quickly incorporated into the community.

Among the Seminole, the device of claiming to own slaves was often used to shelter escaped slaves,

The Black factions (maroons and estelusti) were valuable allies of the Indian Seminoles, and, although man)' Blacks preferred to marry

Blacks and live in their own towns, racial mixing continued between Africans and Indians.

Juan Caballo was born to an Indian father and a Black Indian mother, c· 1810. The Indians and Blacks considered him an "Indyen" but because of his ginger· colored skin, whites classified him as Black.

This posed problems for slave holders in reclaiming an escaped slave.

Seminole Indians always claimed Blacks as slaves, or family members, consequently slave catchers would capture any Black and claim he was a runaway.

The capture of a Black Seminole Indian drew the wrath of the tribe to which the estelusti or maroon had pledged alliance.

Concern for these Black Seminoles increased when slave importation was prohibited in 1806.

Slave prices rose drastically.

The Creek War of 1812-14, with the U.S. Army under Major General Andrew Jackson aided by the Lower Creeks, forced more estelusti and estecntn

(Red people) from other southeastern tribes into Florida.

The Seminole population tripled, and the threat of an all out war increased.

The inevitable happened in 1816 when whaleboats carrying supplies up the Apilachicola River in Florida, destined for Georgia troops, was attacked by Blacks and Indians just north of Fort Nichols, the "Negro Fort" where many Blacks and Indians resided.

The boats' crews were killed instantly from ambush along the river banks.

 

In retaliation under General Jackson's orders, a massive land force invaded Florida and the U.S. Navy, under the command of Sailing-master Jarius Loomis, ordered a continuous barrage of the fort.

For nine days the bombardment had no effect.

On the tenth day, Loomis instructed that the cannonballs be heated red hot and fired over the walls of the fortress.

the first battery of heated balls hit the ammo dump inside the fort and set off a chain reaction of explosions and fires inside.

Hundreds were killed or maimed.

General Duncan Clinch and his troops swept in from the north and took the fort with little resistance.

Garcon, the Black leader

who had stood on the walls and laughed as the cannonballs struck the sides of his impregnable walls, was executed by a firing squad.

The Florida Seminoles, enraged by the fort's destruction, struck back in what is known as the First Seminole War (1817-1818).

Comparing it to his recent war with the Creek, General Jackson stated, "This is not

an Indian war, it is a Negro and savage war. I would rather fight 500

white men than do battle with 50 Black Seminole."

The Spanish were embroiled in the war when Jackson attempted an assault on Tampa Bay invading across the international boundary line.

Eventually Jackson convinced Congress that the only way to shut off slave escapes into Florida was to purchase the territory from Spain just as they had done with the French in Louisiana.

Secretary of State John Adams met with Luis de Onis in 1819 and purchased Florida effective in 1821 after Jackson had captured Pensacola.

This was the first step in Jackson's plan to move the Indian Seminoles west of the Mississippi and enslave the Black Seminoles.

Jackson became the new territory's governor, and Americans began to encroach on Seminole land in north Florida,

but were met with fierce opposition from King Phillip in the St. Johns River region, and Chief Micanopy in central north Florida, both headmen of the Muskoghee Seminoles.

The Seminoles countered with raids on nearby plantations, freeing them and gaining more allies.

The initial step towards Seminole removal was the Treaty of Moultrie Creek in 1823.

No major chiefs were present, however, so all signatures on the treaty were useless and besides, no chief had the power to sign away land that did not belong to him.

Americans were enraged when the Seminoles ignored the timetable set forth in the treaty.

Again, the white populace screamed to the government, because "no one was safe with the Seminoles in the country."

The second attempt by the United States to obtain a treaty from the Seminoles came at Payne's Landing Florida, May 9, 1832.

All of the Seminole leaders in Florida were present, some having traveled for days and hundreds of miles with their families and escorts for this all important meeting.

Micanopy, chief of chiefs, was present with his head counselor and interpreter, Abraham.

The treaty required that the Seminoles sell all properties to the U.S. and remove to the west as all of the south and southeastern tribes had previously done, and that Blacks be returned to their "rightful" owners.

The Seminoles balked at the terms of the agreement.

Osceola, a former leader of the Red Stick movement, who continued to resist after the Creek War from guerrilla bases in the tropical Florida swamps, leapt to his feet, with-

drew his huge hunting knife and embedded it into the treaty papers.

In another attempt at persuasion, U.S. authorities invited a number of leading Seminole chiefs to Washington, D.C. and on a tour of Indian Territory where the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, and some Creek had already relocated.

When the touring Seminoles returned to Florida they were faced with the infomation that Chief Charlie Emathla, a Seminole friendly to the whites, had agreed to removal and had already sold his properties and ordered his followers to prepare for relocation.

Osceola, infuriated, attacked Charlie Emathla and killed him.

The legendary chief was on the warpath.

He proceeded to Fort King seeking revenge for an earlier insult, where he found his target, Seminole Agent Wiley Thompson dining with nine other men at a house, a half mile outside the fort's walls.

The rebel warriors riddled the house with ball shot killing everyone inside except for one soldier escort who was badly wounded but survived to tell the story.

Not far away, Major Francis Dade was marching to Fort King with two companies of men when they were ambushed by a large contingent of Seminoles dressed for war, naked and painted half black and half red.

Sniper fire killed the officers first, followed by bloodcurdling Seminole whoops that frightened the surprised infantrymen into a frenzy, scattering them into the swamps.

These incidents were the beginning of the Second Seminole War.

However, by 1837, Osceola had been captured and, after constant warfare without victory, Commander-in-Chief of Florida operations, General Thomas Jesup had reluctantly agreed that the Black Seminoles could migrate with freedom from slave traders.

It was determined that a slave once free made a poor slave, and usually caused rebellions.

The Seminoles agreed to remove and began their trek to Tampa Bay.

To Jesup's dismay, the majority of those coming in were slaves who had just escaped from plantations during the last war.

Faced with this situation, Jesup reneged.

In the dark of the night, Juan Caballo, Coacoochie (Wildcat, and their close friend, Halpatta Tustcnuggee (Alligator·) sneaked into the compound at Tampa Bay and delivered the bad news that Jesup had retracted his offer to allow all Blacks to remove.

Slaves recently escaped would have to surrender to the proper authorities.

The three Warriors aided over two hundred Seminoles fleeing back into the swamps to continue their battles against the American government.

The Seminoles defeated the United States Army and Navy but attrition took its toll on the once prosperous rebels who were forced to live in the swamps and survive on stray cattle, alligator,

snake, tallow, and prematurely harvested corn and beans grown in hidden villages in the swamps.

Still refusing to be enslaved, or removed, many Blacks sailed long boats to the Andros Islands of the Bahamas, or to Guanabacoa, Cuba, where slavery had been abolished.

The English and Spanish mechant ships also helped the Seminoles by taking them aboard and sailing them to these locations.

Others were chained and claimed by slave catchers upon their arrival on the other side of the Gulf in New Orleans.

Aside from those stolen in this way, between mid-1837 and 1843, most Black and Indian Seminoles had migrated west of the Mississippi River to Indian Territory under the leadership of Wildcat and John Horse