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    1. #1
      Mosi Ngozi's Avatar
      Mosi Ngozi is offline Pan-Afrikanist

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      Christmas Eve Freedom Fighters

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      William Loren Katz: Christmas Eve Freedom Fighters

      December 24, 2009

      The Battle of Lake Okeechobee

      Christmas Eve Freedom Fighters

      T his Christmas Eve marks the 172nd anniversary of a battle for liberty in 1837 on the banks of Lake Okeechobee, Florida, that helped shape the United States of America. An estimated 380 to 480 freedom-fighting African and Indian members of the Seminole nation threw back an advance of more than a thousand US Army and other troops led by Colonel Zachary Taylor, a future President of the United States.

      The Seminoles so badly mauled the invaders that Taylor ordered his soldiers to fall back, bury their dead, tend to their wounded and ponder the largest single US defeat in decades of Indian warfare. The battle of Lake Okeechobee is not a story you will find in school or college textbooks so it has slipped from the public consciousness. But in a country that cherishes its freedom-fighting heritage, Black and Red Seminoles of Florida sent everyone a message that deserves to be remembered and honored.

      Around 1776 the Seminole nation had reconstituted itself as a multicultural nation by aligning itself with escaped Africans who had long lived in the peninsula. Beginning in the early 18th century hundreds of African Americans had fled bondage in Georgia and the Carolinas to find refuge and a productive life in Florida. Though Spain claimed Florida, it was an ungoverned land in which Native Americans roamed freely as did slave runaways, pirates and whites who rejected the limitation established by European invaders.

      Generations of slave runaways established plantations in Florida, raised cattle and horses, brought up their children and took care of their elderly. For fifty miles along the Appalachacola river, African people ran plantations, and pursued a healthy, happy family life. When the Seminoles, a break-away segment of the Creek Nation, arrived in the penninsula around the time of the American Revolution, Africans were on hand to instruct them in methods of rice cultivation they had learned in Senegambia and Sierra Leone. Based on this cooperation, two peoples of color hammered out an agricultural and military alliance against US slaveholder posses that periodically raided their communities.

      In 1816 General Andrew Jackson, hero of New Orleans and commander of US Armies in Florida, determined to terminate this resistance on the southern flank of the US border. To Jackson and slaveholders who [] dominated the federal government, Florida's free Seminole people of color constituted a clear and present danger to the US slave system. They saw these free communities as holding a beacon light that could entice thousands of runaways to bolt Georgia, the Carolinas and Louisiana. Even more, the Seminoles offered escapees a safe haven. Perhaps most important, since Africans played a leadership role in the newly-integrated Seminole Nation, their villages stood as a successful, alternative societies, and refuted white claims that Africans were meant to be slaves.

      Prodded by slaveholders, Washington officials connived at destroying the Seminole alliance, and re-enslavement of the African members. Beginning in 1811 President James Madison, Virginia slaveholder and father of the U.S. Constitution, provided covert US support to this military effort. Finally, in 1819, the United States purchased Florida from Spain, and prepared to settle scores with the Seminoles. The Seminole nation, however, refused to capitulate, and rejected any surrender its African brothers and sisters members.

      The result was three Seminoles wars that lasted from 1816 to 1858, at times tied up half of the US Army, cost the Congress $40,000,000 and took 1500 US military deaths. This also represented the single largest and longest explosion of slave resistance in the United States.

      Throughout Africans played key roles. In 1837, when US troops were engaged in the second Seminole wars U.S. General Sidney Thomas Jesup, the best informed US officer in the field, wrote "This, you may be assured, is a negro and not an Indian war." He continued:

      Throughout my operations I have found the negroes the most active and determined warriors; and during the conferences with the Indian chiefs I ascertained they exercised an almost controlling influence over them.

      Because Seminoles fought in a jungle area they knew better than the white invaders, their armies ran circles around their numerically and technologically superior foe. Though they had the added burden of moving their families out of harm's way, Seminoles soldiers were able to baffle, surprise and humiliate the US army, navy and marines. In its desperation to quell resistance, the US officers ordered the taking of women and children as hostages and the violation other codes of warfare. These tactics did not achieve victory or split the red-black alliance but they indicate that the Seminole war can be viewed as early versions of US intervention and disaster in Vietnam.

      In 1837 Chief Osceola and other Seminole leaders were seized coming with a white flag to a conference called by U.S. authorities. Osceola's personal bodyguard of 55 at the time included 52 men of African descent. US forces imprisoned the Seminoles in a cell in Castillo de San Marcos, later renamed Fort Marion, in St. Augustine. Osceola, ill and depressed, sat slumped on the floor, his life ebbing away. Army officials also captured another Seminole peace delegation that included two fire-brands of the resistance, Wild Cat or Coacoochee, 25, and his Black sub-chief, John Horse, also 25.

      Bilingual, tall, powerfully built and a commanding presence, Horse draped himself in silver amulets, rich sashes and elaborate, bright plumed head shawls. Widely respected for his knowledge of the foe, and a crack shot, Horse occupied a strategic position among the Seminoles. Revered for his often-tested diplomatic talent, calm self-assurance and courage in battle, he also was brother-in-law of Holatoochee, a leading Seminole who had the ear of Miconopy, the nation's ruler. Chiefs such as Jumper and Holatoochee repeatedly asked Horse to negotiate with US authorities.

      From their 18 foot by 33 foot cell at Fort Marion where they were held with two dozen Seminole prisoners, Coacoochee and Horse devised a plan. "We resolved to make our escape or die in the attempt," Wild Cat later wrote. They took weeks to loosen the iron bar in the jail's 18 foot roof and create a hole eight inches wide. The heavier prisoners agreed to diet in order to slip through, and some 20 prisoners, including two women, escaped through the opening. For over five days the band made its way southward gathering allies and guns and living "on roots and berries"

      U.S. Colonel Zachary Taylor raced after them accompanied by 70 Delaware Indian mercenaries, l80 Missouri riflemen and 800 U.S. regular army soldiers from the Sixth Infantry, the Fourth Infantry and Taylor's First Infantry Regiment. The day before Christmas US forces located the Seminoles, who had carefully positioned themselves at the northeast corner of Lake Okeechobee. Seminole marksmen were perched in the tall grass or in trees, the sprawling Lake a few hundred yards behind them.

      Taylor's forces advanced through a swampy area and its five foot high razor-edged sawgrass. Movement was impassable for horses, and extremely difficult for humans as soldiers sank up to their thighs in the mud and water beneath them.

      At 12:30 in the afternoon of Christmas eve Seminole snipers prepared for battle. The first shot had yet to be fired when the Delawares, sensing disaster, deserted and left. The Missouri riflemen charged toward the Seminoles but a withering fire brought down their commander, many commissioned officers and some of non-commissioned officers. The Tennesseans fled.

      Colonel Taylor then ordered his regular army troops forward but they encountered deadly rifle fire. He later reported their earliest barrages brought down "every officer, with one exception, as well as most of the non-commissioned officers" and left "but four . . . untouched." After a two and a half hour battle in which they had been outnumbered, Semnole forces fell back their canoes and made their escape.

      As Christmas Day dawned Colonel Taylor forces counted 26 U.S. dead and 112 wounded, seven dead for each dead Seminole fighter, and the US had taken no prisoners. US troops rounded up 100 Seminole ponies and 600 cattle.

      Lake Okeechobee was the US military's most decisive defeat in more than four decades of warfare in Florida. Four days after his army limped back to Fort Gardner, however, Colonel Taylor claimed victory. He said: "the Indians were driven in every direction." The US Army accepted his report, and promoted him.

      From that point, however, US officers had to recognize the unity and strength of the African-Seminole alliance. Said General Thomas Sidney Jesup, "The negroes rule the Indians, and it is important that they should feel themselves secure; if they should become alarmed and hold out, the war will be resumed."

      Based on his reputation as an "Indian fighter," Zachary Taylor was elected the 12th President of the United States. Historians continue to distort the battle of Lake Okeechobee. In The Almanac of American History (1983), Arthur Schlesinger Jr. summarized the battle in one inaccurate sentence, “Fighting in the Second Seminole War, General Zachary Taylor defeats a group of Seminoles at Okeechobee Swamp, Florida.”

      This is the nation of Patrick Henry and “Give me Liberty or give me death!” The United States was born in struggle against British colonial rule. It proudly declared people had natural rights and dedicated itself to self-determination. The heroic, freedom fighting struggle of the Seminole nation stands as a milestone in the American battle for liberty.

      William Loren Katz is the author of Black Indians: A Hidden Heritage. His new, revised edition of The Black West [Harlem Moon/Random House, 2005] also includes information on the Philippine occupation, and can now be found in bookstores. He can be reached through his website: William Loren Katz | Black Indians. Black West.

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    2. #2
      Pragmatic's Avatar
      Pragmatic is offline Moderator

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      The Christmas Rebellion: Remembering Sam Sharpe-OUR Afreekan Hero

      Jamaica Gleaner Online Email Edition for Sunday | December 25, 2005

      Remembering Sam Sharpe
      published: Sunday | December 25, 2005

      by Arnold Bertram

      DECEMBER 27, marks the 174th anniversary of the Emancipation rebellion
      organised and led by Sam Sharpe. It forced the British Parliament to
      recognise that if they did not abolish slavery from above, the slaves
      were determined and able to do so from below. The extent to which this
      rebellion determined the timetable for the emancipation of slavery in
      Jamaica and the British Empire, should make its anniversary a most
      important national celebration. Equally, the life and work of Sam
      Sharpe deserve a special place in the collective memory of the nation.


      Emancipation was one of the highpoints in that period between the
      American declaration of independence in 1776, and the Emancipation
      proclamation by Abraham Lincoln in 1863, in which the most profound
      advances in human freedom were achieved. There were four distinct but
      interrelated currents, which transformed the world of plantation
      slavery into the economic system of capitalism based on individual
      freedom and the industrial revolution.

      The first stream was the movement for self-determination which took
      centre stage with the American War of Independence (1776-1783). This
      was the blow which shook the British colonial empire and fuelled the
      aspirations of colonial peoples worldwide.

      The second was the idea that "all men are equal", which formed the
      centre piece of the American Declaration of Independence, and was even
      more forcefully expressed in the slogan of the French revolution of
      1789 * "freedom, equality and fraternity"! Revolutionary France gave
      impetus to the British Abolition Society led by Granville Sharp and
      Thomas Clarkeson, and took the revolutionary decision of abolishing
      slavery in the French colonial empire in 1794.

      Third was the campaign to establish the superior productivity of free
      labour over slaves, which was the theme of Adam Smith's Wealth of
      Nations, published in 1776. Seven years later, James Watts' invention
      of the steam engine provided the basis for the industrial revolution
      in Britain and established factory production. Industrial output could
      no longer be produced or consumed by slaves. Free labour and free
      trade became the absolute prerequisites for the emerging world
      capitalist system.

      The fourth and final stream was the revolutionary movement of the
      slaves to win their own freedom. Some 4,000 blacks fought in
      Washington's army against the British. In 1791, Toussaint L'Ouverture,
      a slave in the French colony of Saint Domingue (Haiti), led the most
      successful slave revolution, which defeated in turn the local whites
      and the soldiers of the French monarchy, a Spanish invasion, a British
      expedition of some 60,000 men and a French expedition of similar size
      under Napoleon's brother-in-law to establish the first independent
      Negro state.

      It was in this international movement that two Jamaican slaves rose to
      prominence. The first was John Brown Russwurm, born in Portland in
      1800, who in 1826 became the third black man to graduate from an
      American College. The following year, along with Samuel Cornish, he
      started Freedom Journal, the first black newspaper in North America
      and the first organ of the black liberation movement. The second
      Jamaican slave, Sam Sharpe, achieved even greater eminence and is
      fittingly the subject of this essay.


      Samuel Sharpe was born the same year as Russwurm in 1800, and
      consistent with the custom of the time, took the name of his master
      who owned Croydon Estate, a small property near Montego Bay. Sharpe, a
      literate and highly intelligent house slave, kept abreast of local and
      international events by reading both the English and Jamaican
      newspapers of the day, and was also a member of the Native Baptist
      Church. All those who knew him were struck by his intelligence, his
      powers of oratory, his commitment to freedom and his organising

      In the decade preceding the Emancipation rebellion, there was a marked
      increase in slave rebellions and a growing belief that the British
      Parliament had granted emancipation, which was being held back by the
      local Assembly of white planters. The agitation for emancipation
      received a major impetus in 1829 with the publication of The Watchman
      by Edward Jordan, a freed man of colour and Robert Osborn, a mulatto.
      Finally in May 1830, the British Anti-Slavery Society proposed the
      immediate emancipation of slaves.

      The response of the local planters to the resolution took the form of
      parish meetings conducted in the full view and hearing of the slaves,
      which denounced the British Parliament and the Abolition movement. The
      resolution from the parish of St. Ann expressed the sentiment of
      planters islandwide who declared, "When we see ourselves scorned,
      betrayed, devoted to ruin and slaughter... we consider that we are
      bound by every principle, human and divine, to resist". The parish
      meeting in Trelawny went even further to petition the King, "that we
      may be absolved from our allegiance and allowed to seek that
      protection from another nation, which is so unjustly and cruelly
      withheld from us by our own".

      It was in this context that Sam Sharpe came to the inevitability of
      revolution and started organising. The Baptist Church, with its
      established decentralised corps of class leaders, who exerted real
      power and authority, provided the ideal vehicle for Sharpe's plan.
      Riding horseback at nights for as much as 26 miles, he converted the
      class leaders in the five western parishes to his cause and organised
      them for revolutionary action.


      Sharpe's plan was to call a general strike immediately after the
      Christmas holidays, and to refuse to do any further work on the
      plantations until a system of wage payments was agreed on. It was the
      refusal of the planters to yield to this demand and the
      counter-revolutionary violence of the white militias, led by General
      Sir Willoughby Cotton, the officer commanding the British troops in
      Jamaica, which escalated the conflict.

      The signal for the start of the rebellion on the night of December 27
      was the torching of Kensington Pen in the parish of St. James by an
      enslaved man, John Dunbar. The razing of this property was perfectly
      suited for sending a clear signal to rebels on the other properties to
      join the protest. The fighting lasted until the end of January 1832,
      and involved close to 60,000 men and women. It not only engulfed the
      parish of St. James, but also spread to the other four western
      parishes as well as to Manchester, and even as far away as Portland
      and St. Thomas. It is significant that Sharpe's army also included a
      number of freedmen and one white man, a Mr. Ellery.

      The suppression was brutal. Six hundred and nineteen rebels were
      killed, of which 312 were executed by the slave courts and Courts
      Marshall. In contrast only 14 whites were killed and another 12
      wounded. Sharpe himself was executed in the square at Montego Bay. The
      Methodist minister, Henry Bleby provides us with a moving account of
      how he met his death. "He marched to the spot where so many had been
      sacrificed to the demon of slavery with a firm and even dignified
      step, clothed in a suit of new white clothes?..He seemed to be
      entirely unmoved by the near approach of death and addressed the
      assembled multitude at some length in a clear unfaltering voice".

      The following year the British Parliament abolished slavery. While
      many factors contributed, there is no doubt that Sam Sharpe and the
      Emancipation rebellion forced the timetable. It is to Sam Sharpe's
      merit that the Emancipation rebellion was the first to demand freedom
      for all. All previous rebellions, including the Maroon wars, had
      limited their demand for freedom to those who fought.


      In 1978 the administration of Michael Manley declared Sam Sharpe a
      National Hero. The justification written by the eminent sociologist,
      Edward Braithwaite, provided invaluable insights into Sharpe. However,
      the first major study on Sharpe had been undertaken as early as 1954
      by Richard Hart, but only published in 1980. Hart, a Jamaican born in
      the upper classes of Jamaican society, has devoted his considerable
      intellect and energy to the struggles of the poor. Since Hart's study,
      there has only been a monograph by the Baptist minister, Sam Reid. The
      noted historian Verene Shepherd is to be commended for publishing an
      essay, which for the first time brings to light the other leaders who
      assisted Sharpe in the planning and execution of the rebellion.

      Despite these efforts, Jamaicans by and large remain ignorant of the
      immense contribution of Sam Sharpe. As we again ignore his anniversary
      this year, the question we must ask is whether Jamaica can really move
      forward with the self confidence and sense of pride, without making
      its most fundamental achievements a part of the national

      Arnold Bertram is a former Member of Parliament.

      Peace be upon you

      Submitted by: Sistah Kentake.

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