American Indians with African Roots Return to the "Rice Coast"
By Joseph Opala
TWO BLACK SEMINOLE men from Oklahoma were among the 'Gullah delegation' of 13 African Americans that recently made an historic homecoming visit to Sierra Leone (West Africa, December 25).
The 'Black Seminoles' were escaped slaves, who waged the longest and fiercest struggle against slavery in American history. In the 19th century they fought the US Army to a standstill, winning their freedom and the respect of their adversaries. Although they deserve a significant place in US history, they have been almost totally ignored by American scholars. The visit to Sierra Leone marks the first time that this important group of African Americans have been recognized and honored by an African nation.
President Momoh invited the black Seminole leaders, Lance and Lawrence Cudjoe, to join in the homecoming of Gullah people to Sierra Leone in late November. The Gullahs are from South Carolina and Georgia, where American rice planters preferred to use slaves from Sierra Leone and neighboring parts of the West African 'Rice Coast.'
Black Seminole war leader Abraham (c. 1840)
But not all the Gullah slaves remained on the plantations. Some escaped south into Florida which, in the 1700s, was virtually an empty tropical wilderness. Although the Spanish claimed Florida at that period, they exerted almost no political control. The Gullah frontiersmen built prosperous villages based on rice agriculture and raised several generations of children in freedom. They were joined by American Indians from several tribes, also escaping south, with whom they maintained friendly relations. But it was the Africans' knowledge of tropical agriculture, especially rice, which enabled both groups to survive in Florida. The Gullah and Indian runaways were collectively called 'Seminoles' from a Spanish word meaning 'wild' or 'untamed.'
As American settlement moved south, there was a series of skirmishes with the Seminoles, culminating in a full-scale war from 1835 to 1842. This 'Second Seminole War' has been misinterpreted by US historians as the longest and hardest of America's 'Indian Wars'. But the blacks were the backbone of Seminole resistance in Florida, and the US Army commander, General Jesup, called the conflict, "a Negro and not an Indian war." A US congressman of the period said the black Seminoles were "contending against the whole military power of the United States." In a tropical environment similar to that of West Africa the black Seminoles were able to live a free and prosperous life for generations, and to resist slavery on a massive scale without parallel in American history.
General Jesup was unable to defeat the Seminoles, who subjected his troops to punishing hit-and-run attacks, before disappearing into the wilderness. He negotiated an agreement whereby the blacks and Indians would emigrate west voluntarily, keeping their property and their weapons. But when the US government sold the black Seminoles, who had come in freely under the agreement, as slaves in order to pay off the war debt, Jesup and his troops refused, turning away the slave buyers at gun point, and defying their superiors. The soldiers feared that the black Seminoles would escape back into the wilderness and renew the fighting or, if enslaved, foment insurrections on the plantations. About 1840, the Army escorted the black Seminoles and their Indian comrades from Florida over 1,000 miles west to then unsettled territory, which is today the state of Oklahoma.
President Momoh's guests, Lance and Lawrence Cudjoe, are both members of the tribal council of the Seminole Indian Nation of Oklahoma, which is still a mixture of blacks, now called 'Seminole Freedmen' and Indians. The twin brothers are a retired lawyer and college administrator. Lance suffered a stroke in 1987, and came to Sierra Leone in a wheelchair, accompanied by his wife. President Momoh commented on Lance's courage and determination in making the long journey and some likened it to the spirit of his ancestors in Florida. The Cudjoe brothers noted that newspaper reporters in Oklahoma were surprised at the honor President Momoh extended them. None of the local newsmen were even aware of the existence of the black Seminoles, so neglected are they in American history. When receiving personal gifts from the President on his last day in Sierra Leone, Lance Cudjoe said, "You haven't heard the last of the Seminole Freedmen."
Some Sierra Leoneans have already begun to spread the fame of their black Seminole 'kinsmen' within their own country. The Freetong Players, a popular theatre group, is now featuring 'The Black Seminole Song', and is planning a full-scale drama production on the Seminole Wars. Some Sierra Leonean educators are also proposing a children's book on the Gullahs and black Seminoles for the primary schools.
As for the Cudjoe brothers, they found much in Sierra Leone to make them feel as 'kinsmen'. For them, it was a double homecoming — a return to Africa and the first meeting between black Seminoles and Gullahs since the slaves escaped into Florida 200 years ago.
From West Africa, 22-28, January 1990, p. 97.
CREEKS AND SEMINOLES
Excerpts from: Wright, J. Leitch Jr., Creeks & Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscoculge People. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln,1986.
This culture, based on commercial hunting, was the only way of life eighteenth- and nine- teenth-century Creeks and Seminoles knew. It was the one they fought to preserve, and it was the one Andrew Jackson and his contemporaries destroyed in the Southeast.
Muskocee is the language spoken by most Creeks today; Muskhogean refers to the dominant linguistic family in the Southeast, which includes Muskogee, Hitchiti, Choctaw, and other distinct languages and dialects.
Chapter 1, "The Southeastern Muscogulges"
The Hitchiti word for these Muskogees was Ochesee. English settlers founded Charleston in 1670, and within a short time Carolinians traded with Indians in the Southeast, among whom were those living on Ochesee Creek (the upper Ocmulgee River). Traders from Charleston and their packhorse trains stopped by Ochesee Creek, bartering manufactures for deerskins. They referred to the Indians there as Ochesee Creeks, Ochesees, and eventually simply as Creeks.
The term Seminole is of Spanish origin. Cimarron (wild and untamed) referred to hostile nonwhites — Indians and Africans — whom the Spaniards had to contend with on their frontiers throughout the New World.
When Britain acquired Florida in 1763 these Indians identified themselves not as Oconees or Creeks but as cimarrones. However, there is no "r" in Hitchiti or in any of the Muskhogean languages. "R" became "l" and "cimarron" became "cimallon" — in time "Simallone" and "Seminole."
Osceola was a Creek in Alabama and a Seminole in florida. He did not change — he remained a Tallassee — but white perceptions of him did. A matter of further confusion was the fact that in the late eighteenth century an observer could look closely at these Indians and discover that, though they dressed in the usual fashion, their skins were black and they had Negroid features. The African influence among these southeastern Indians was considerable.
The prominent Creek leader of the 1780s, Alexander McGillivray, had French, Scottish, and Indian forebears, and his sister Sophia Durand was married to a Negro.
Mayas kept detailed records charting Venus's path and had an elaborate calendar, all of which were more accurate than those of their European contemporaries. There are many indications that Missippians had considerable astronomical knowledge; the mounds and stelae at Crystal River, Florida, and Moundville, Alabama may have been arranged according to the solstices, something like southeastern Stonehenges.
In the folklore of the Yuchis, the sun was their mother, and these Indians were known as the Tsoyaha — children of the sun.
In addition to Indian slaves, one also found African slaves among the Muscogulges, and in the decades before the Trail of Tears, African slaves were more numerous and conspicuous than Indian. Some Negro slaves were the offspring of Africans and Indians (zambos), and both zambos and pure Africans lived in Indian villages. In the early nineteenth century separate or autonomous Negro communities emerged in the Indian country, and with some justification whites looked upon them as havens for runaway slaves or maroon settlements.
In the nineteenth century, autonomous Negro villages appeared. Whether Negroes living in them were slaves or free, in many instances they did not belong to a clan. With their separate villages and existence this was not of much consequence. In a variety of ways Africans and their pure and mixed-blood progeny entered and influenced Muscogulge Society, and in some instances the Indians we will be dealing with were these kinds of Muscogulges.
In recent times census takers have been frustrated because Indians apparently do not know their ages. That figure has had to be estimated or omitted from statistical reports. Despite the census taker's strictures, Indians do know their ages. These ages are calculated, however, on the ancient Muscogulge system.
In a general way it is fair to maintain that Muscogulge people were not literate; even so, such a sweeping assertion must be qualified. Since at least Mississippian times Indians used pictographs engraved on stone and shell or painted on hides and clay. Bartram described hieroglyphics or mystical writings on clay walls, and in 1735 Chekilli presented James Oglethorpe a painted buffalo skin that recounted the migration legend of the Creeks, that is of the Muskogees.
Nevertheless interpreters were essential and included every shade and ethnic background. The largest single group, however, as will be discussed more fully later, were pure and mixed-blood Africans — black Indians.
Creeks from Coweta and elsewhere on the Apalachicola River paddled or sailed over to Havana, Cuba, and to Nassau in the Bahamas. At one point they invited a white trader to accompany them to Nassau. He agreed — until he saw their dugout. then he paled. Indians and more adventurous whites, however, went and returned again and again.
southeastern Indians were not as taciturn as they often have been portrayed, as was obvious if one observed their games, especially the ball play . . . A taciturn Indian could not be found.
Chapter 2, "Trade"
In the late eighteenth century, United states Indian commissioners gave "Chinese Hookers" (opium pipes) complete with small silver tubes to the Creeks . . .
Whites, Indians, and Africans were all involved in this commercial enterprise, which was spread out over thousands of miles. We shall first turn to the Europeans and save the Creek and Seminole hunters for last.
Traders were prohibited from employing any Negro, mestizo, or Indian who considered himself an Indian or anyone "who from his manner of life" was regarded as an Indian.
Credit was essential, but it too had its limits.
A key, sometimes the most important, personage in an Indian village was the factor. He might be adopted by a clan or born into one, and possibly he was a beloved man or a tastanagi. What gave him much of his influence was that he had the weights and measures; kept the accounts; and had supplies essential for the winter hunt, a petticoat for the hunter's wife, and trinkets for his children. all of this was done on credit, and the books were not settled until skins were presented in the spring. If the hunter died, ran off, or took his skins elsewhere, the trader was out of pocket. The factor outfitted and supervised between 20 and l50 hunters, depending on the town's size, and he stayed at the trunk house until all hunters were in and accounts settled, lest the Indians decided to go elsewhere.
The factor might be a white man or even a Negro, but usually he was a mestizo.
Mestizo offspring often were genetically more white than Indian, because white traders frequently married mestizas rather than pure-blood Indians.
Mestizo factors had their father's surnames, were members of their mothers' clans and had Indian names and titles. As such they were part of two cultures, belonging to both and to neither. They were uncertain whether their father's surname or mother's clan was paramount. Some mestizos blended into white society.
Even for mestizos who remained among the Indians the pull of white culture was strong.
Chapter 3, "The Black Muscogulges"
Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, leading a forty-five-man expedition, slowly made their way up the Missouri River in 1804, exploring the upper portions of the Louisiana Purchase to find a route across the Continental Divide to the Pacific Ocean. When they arrived at the Arikara villages over a thousand miles from Saint Louis, Clark showed the Indians his com- passes, surveying instruments, mirror, and assorted other trinkets, but the Arikaras were more interested in York, Clark's black slave. The Arikaras' fascination exemplified the gulf between the culture of the Plains Indians and that of the Southeastern Indians. Africans had resided in the Southeast for almost three centuries, and in 1804 no Muscogulge rubbed any Negro's skin to see if the paint might come off.
Three groups, or "races," had long lived in the Southeast, and out of this assemblage emerged a people who, for lack of a better phrase, can be labeled black Muscogulges. They were not a cohesive group. By the late eighteenth century, "blacks" or "Negroes" or "Afri- cans," whether slave or free, resided in the Indian country in talwas, on plantations, and sometimes in sepa- rate black communities. Whatever their domicile, legal status, and ethnic background, they were numerous, and their presence was pervasive.
Other racial combinations among the Muscogulges were legion, including mulattoes of white and African parentage and zambos of Afro-Indian ancestry. Red, white, and black tri-racial mixtures had no distinct label and were to be found under any of the many classifications discussed, though their backgrounds are obscure.
The term Negro is imprecise and was variously applied to transplanted Africans, mulattoes, zambos, and in some instances to-Indians with no African genes. Jefferson divided the American population into the three categories: red, white, and black.
Afro-Indians or zambos, lived among the Mosquito Indians and the Garifunas in Nicaragua and Honduras and with the Bush Negroes of the Guianas. The coastal rim of the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, including the black Muscogulge homeland in the Southeast, was that part of the New World where one encountered most Afro-Indians and tri-racial mixtures.
By the time of the American Revolution it was not considered appropriate or just for Washing- ton's contemporaries, citizens of a new republic, to enslave the noble save. Whites continued to enslave Indians, but to avoid unnecessary criticism after 1783 they usually called the enslaved Muscogulges "Negroes." Muscogulges did not have to concern themselves with such sophistry.
In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries George Washington Grayson was char- acterized as being "the most prominent and intelligent of all Creek Indians of his time," and just before Grayson's death President Wilson appointed him head chief of the Creek nation in Oklahoma. Descended from the white loyalist "Indian countryman" Robert Grierson, George Washington Grayson studied his family genealogy and Creek history in general. Grayson was dismayed by the "lasting cloud over his family's name" because loyalist Grierson's mestizo daughter had borne two children in Alabama by a Negro father. After removal to the West Grayson saw the tri-racial offspring, John and Annie, at a distance in Oklahoma, but "we haven't ever met social."
Even worse, according to Grayson, Grierson's mestizo son had married a Negro female slave, had lived with her in both Alabama and Oklahoma, and had reared a large family.
Negroes living among the Muscogulges clearly experienced racial discrimination. It must be kept in mind, however, that much of our information is derived from a later time, filtered through white and acculturated mestizo's accounts.
Mixed marriages were common among Creeks and Seminoles. James Factor, "a Seminole or Creek Indian, had a Negro wife. Powell or Osceola, also a Creek or Seminole, may also have had a Negro spouse. Frank Berry, and elderly Negro living in Jacksonville, Florida, during the 1930s, claimed that he was Osceola's grandson, that Indians had carried off his Negro grandmother from Tampa, and that Osceola had married her. Except for infrequent periods when Osceola visited white settlements or was imprisoned by whites, much of his life went unrecorded. In all likelihood, however, he did have a Negro wife, and Berry's account is accurate.
The entire area around the fall line of the Savannah River, which included Silver Bluff, South Carolina, and Augusta, Georgia, was a region where in the eighteenth century the three races converged. One glimpses this repeatedly. Polly Russell, a free black woman who lived just below Silver Bluff, married a "free man of mixed blood." After the American Revolution white men broke down the door, carried off Polly and her three children, and sold them all in Creek territory. Some of the Galphins were patrons of the Negro Baptist Church at Silver Bluff. Henry Francis, one of the earliest black ministers about whom anything is known, lived at Silver Bluff. Henry Francis, one of the earliest black ministers about whom anything is known, lived at Silver bluff until forced to leave by the hostilities of the American Revolution. On of Francis's parents was an Indian and the other a white, and this so-called Negro minister had no known African ancestry.
At the end of the eighteenth century the African influence was pervasive not only on the Muscogulges' borders but also in the heart of their territory. Black immigrants passed through no single port, no Ellis Island, and no documents have survived revealing exactly how many and at what time they arrived. Nevertheless it is possible to discover in a general way how and when Africans reached the Muscogulges. Blacks had accompanied sixteenth-century Spanish explorers and had helped found Saint Augustine. During Florida's First Spanish Period (1565-1763) roughly 10 percent of the populace were Negroes, though the entire Spanish population numbered only 5,000 or so.
After George was settled in 1733 the trustees proscribed African slavery, though slavery became legal when Georgia was made a colony in the 1750s. On the eve of the American Revolution the colony's black population almost equaled the white. Britain acquired East and West Florida in 1763, and by 1775 the ratio of blacks to whites in East Florida was two to one, and only somewhat less in West florida. Blacks equaled and usually outnumbered whites in the four British colonies bordering the Muscogulges. The great spurt in numbers of black Creeks and Seminoles occurred in the eighteenth century, and Negroes typically had come from or passed through one of the four neighboring colonies. Both in Britain's southern colonies and among the Muscogulges it was a new phenomenon in the eighteenth century to have so many blacks.
Before the American Revolution Negroes often reached the Indians illegally, having run away from owners in South Carolina or another British colony.
The American Revolution created a surge in numbers of blacks among the Muscogulges. Many loyalist traders were forced to flee South Carolina and Georgia.
As soldiers or civilians, able-bodied Negroes were given axes, shovels, hoes, and muskets so they could support George III's cause. Most of these Negroes, numbering twenty-five thousand or more, migrated to Charleston and other British-occupied ports. But some Negroes joined British forces in the black country. After the defeat at Yorktown large numbers of these Negroes sailed away with British forces to the West Indies, the Mosquito Shore in Central America, Nova Scotia, or even the mother country. Others headed for the Indian country, creating an influx among the Muscogulges.
Florida had a reputation of being identified with and receptive to Maroons, at first symbolized by Spanish Fort Mosa (The Negro Fort) just north of Saint Augustine, and part of that city's outer defenses. Fugitive slaves from South Carolina and subsequently from Georgia ran away to Florida, where Spain confirmed their freedom, gave them land near Fort Mosa, and enrolled them in the militia. When called upon they were to man the Fort Mosa defensive line and, along with Indians in the vicinity, help defend the capital. This community at Fort Mosa was one of the earliest black settlements in territory that later became the United States. Spaniards did not regard Fort Mosa Negroes as Maroons, but South Carolinians and Georgians did.
When Britain took over Florida in 1763 Fort Mosa blacks almost to a man wisely sailed away to Cuba with the departing Spaniards.
Hundreds of defiant Negroes congregated on Tybee Island at the mouth of the Savannah River, which alarmed the Carolina merchant Henry Laurens. He was anxious to send in troops and get on with the bloody and "awful business" lest the contagion spread.
During the attendant confusion thousands of Negroes asserted their freedom. At the end of the war most but not all departed with British forces; the remainder returned to their old haunts on the lower Savannah or fled farther inland and joined the Creeks and Seminoles. As a result an unprecedented infusion of blacks among the Muscogulges occurred. Negroes lived in native villages and plantations as well as in their own separate communities. Before 1763 Fort Mosa was the most notorious Maroon abode. After the Revolution Maroon encampments proliferated and were to he found on the Chattahoochee River, at Miccosukee in northern Florida, at Tampa farther south and in other transient locations. These "black Indians" were those Indians whom Americans so feared and distrusted.
We do, however, know something about the one at Miccosukee, east of Tallahassee near the Georgia- Florida boundary. In 1800 the Indian village here was the largest Lower Creek- Seminole town, and the Negro settlement a mile and one-half off may have constituted the largest concentration of Maroons.
In 1823 the American William H. Simmons visited a Negro village in Florida near Big Swamp below Alachua and described how he slept on a bed of deerskins in a large new building that the Negroes had erected in the town's center. It was constructed in Indian fashion without nails; the boards and shingles were lashed to the posts and rafters with strips of oak. Large, almost gigantic Negroes cultivated crops in fields that had been abandoned by the Indians long ago, and the blacks were healthy and seemingly content, though ever vigilant for the appearance of soldiers or pro-American Indian raiders.
This Maroon encampment and the one at Miccosukee are only two examples of those scattered about the Southeast. They existed — or flourished — in the same era as the Haitian revoir. In the 1790's blacks on Haiti rebelled, killed or forced into exile thousands of whites, and founded a Negro republic. Stories about Haitian atrocities circulated throughout the South and consciously or subconsciously influenced the whites' perception of "black Muscogulges."
Britains' recruitment of and reliance on southern Negroes serves to bring the Maroons among the Muscogulges into sharper focus. One hears about them, particularly from Americans concerned about runaway slaves, living at or near the British (Negro) fort on the Apalachicola River, at Miccosukee, Palatka, Tampa, and elsewhere. These Negroes, along with those in Indian villages and on Indian plantations, from time to time visited the Bahamas to beseech George III not to forsake them. The British flag flying over the fort commanding Nassau's harbor snapped in the breeze, and Negroes witnessed at first hand the implications of Britain's abolition of the slave trade. That black Muscogulges regarded George III as their friend, protector and liberator worried Andrew Jackson, and this was one reason why he seized Pensacola in 1814 and swept deep into Florida four years later during the First Seminole War.
Muscogulges traditionally welcomed new dances, and some that were performed in the Southeast were of African origins. A white observer noted that southeastern Indian dances were "highly martial and graceful" while those of blacks were lively, awkward, and vulgar.
Other Negroes had comparable experiences to those of the Bumbo fellow, and they were required to learn a variety of languages, or at least pidgins. This is why they were in such demand as interpreters and spies. Supposedly the Master of Breath fished Africans out of the water last. Both Indians and white, however, relied heavily on black linguists, and this gave Negroes status and power — even if the water had been muddy.
These black interpreters are repeatedly mentioned in extant accounts. When a Creek delega- tion unexpectedly arrived in Nassau in 1802 only Panton's Negro, who happened to be there, could tell the authorities what the Indians wanted.
Not infrequently Negro women served as "linguisters." Lower Creek John Walker was not so acculturated that he did not have to ask his slave, the Afro-Indian Rose, to tell him what the whites were up to. Seminole Chief Bowlegs, whose photograph appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1858, and who was one of the last Indians to relocate in Oklahoma, spoke English; even after arriving in the west, he still communicated with whites through his trusted Negro interpreter. Muskogees occasionally referred to Negroes as "outsiders,'" those speaking a foreign tongue; but the foreign languages involved were not West African, but English, Spanish, Yuchi, Hitchiti, and other Indian languages. all of which we incomprehensible to Muskogee speakers.
Chapter 6, "The Creek War, 1813-15"
Black Muscogulges in no small measure contributed to the outbreak of fighting and to the bitterness of the hostilities. They were scattered throughout the Indian country, but semi- autonomous Maroon communities were most numerous in east florida. Patriots streaming into that province were promised land and booty, the latter including black Muscogulges who might have been slaves, freedmen, Africans, zambos, or Indians classified as Negroes. Whatever their background, slaves commanded a high price on auction blocks in the lower South's booming Cotton Belt. Black Seminoles understood this. One of them from Alachua went to the outskirts of Saint Augustine to spy on the patriots, and the black Seminoles were happy enough when the scalp of the Negro courier in American employ was circulated throughout Upper Creek towns. Seminoles, many of whom were black, defeated Major Daniel Newnan in a pitched battle lasting days west of Saint Augustine. Despite this defeat and the failure to take Saint Augustine, patriots eventually fought their way to alachua, where lands were distributed, and the district of Elochaway in the republic of East Florida, though enfeebled, at least existed.
The great fear of the whites was that black Muscogulges might incite a servile insurrection throughout the South like the one in Haiti, which helps explain why Americans ruthlessly torched black Seminole villages whenever the opportunity arose and were pleased whenever "Indian" prisoners proved to be black.
The final red stick to be discussed is the Prophet Abraham tSouanakke Tustenukke), though he was neither a true prophet nor even an Indian. He was a West African, a slave employed in Pensacola by Forbes and company (or possibly by a Spaniard), who in 1814 escaped and joined the hostile Indians.
As we have seen, the causes of the hostilities were complex. They included the status of Spanish Florida and the involvement of the United States, Britain, and Spain in the War of 1812; the revival of pan-Indianism; a resolve by many Muscogulges to retain and defend their lands and their commercial hunting-droving economy and not to become civilized; the strident reforms of the prophets; the aspirations of black Muscogulges; and age-old ethnic divisions.
Chapter 7, "Old Hickory and the Seminoles"
Whether characterized as Africans, Afro-Indians, Creeks, or Seminoles, Negroes simultane- ously restrained and encouraged American expansion. southern white slaveholders were reluctant to bring their chattels into a region where Maroons were present, but they urged Jackson to take his forces and stamp out these sources of potential insurrection.
Well-armed Maroon communities existed at the Negro Fort, Miccosukee, the Suwannee River, and Tampa Bay and black Muscogulges lived among and were an integral part of the Creeks and Seminoles. The "main drift" of the Americans was to destroy these blacks. A number of them were fugitive slaves, having escaped from white Georgians, Innerarity and his associates in Florida, and McIntosh and other friendly Creeks.
This is why American forces converged by land and sea on the Negro Fort in August 1816. General Clinch with troops from Fort Scott and McIntosh with a large friendly Creek delegation came downstream, and American gunboats sailed upriver from the Gulf. American troops and friendly Indians prepared for the assault. Including women and children, Garcon commanded just over three hundred defenders, most of whom were black Muscogulges. A close analysis of forces arrayed on both sides in and around the fort reveals that the old ethnic divisions among the Muscogulges were far from dead, and McIntosh's warriors skirmished with a vengeance.
All of this prompted expansionist Secretary of War Calhoun, with the president's approval, to order Andrew Jackson to raise an army, chastise the hostile Indians and Negroes, and, according to the doctrine of "hot pursuit," follow them into their Florida sanctuaries if necessary. This was all the encouragement Old Hickory needed; he was convinced he had authority not only to discipline the Seminoles but also to take Spanish towns. Jackson assembled Tennessee and Georgia militia, United States regulars, and McIntosh's friendly Creeks on American soil near the forks of the Apalachicola River at Fort Scott. Before Jackson arrived an altercation had occurred with the Hitchitis at Fowltown across the river, and in the aftermath the Hitchiti villages had been burned.
Still relying on these blacks after 1835, Ambrister, in conjunction with George Woodbine, Luis Aury, and other Spanish-American revolutionists, expected to lead them and help liberate Spanish America. In the aftermath Florida might be associated with Bolivar's Bran Colombia or parts of Central America. Blacks and Afro-Indians were insurgents in all these areas. Heading a contingent of lack Muscogulges, Ambrister planned to sail from the Suwannee and seize the Spanish fort at Saint Marks. In Jackson's eyes one of Ambrister's greatest crimes was that he did not understand that capturing that fort was part of America's destiny. But when the British soldier was captured and he silently made his way northward toward Saint Marks with Jackson's troops, whatever Ambrister's dreams might have been, they had been crushed.
Chapter 8, "Prelude to Removal"
Blacks constituted an important component of the Muscogulges, especially of those living in Florida. For years McIntosh and Jackson had persecuted them, destroying the Negro Fort, Miccosukee, and bowlegs Town and sending off prisoners in strings to Georgia and Alabama. Even so, many had escaped and during the 1820s lived in swamps, hammocks, and islands in the vicinity of Tampa Bay. Seminole agent Gad Humphreys recaptured the fugitive Negro John, who belonged to a Saint Augustine widow, chained him first about the neck, and subsequently ordered the blacksmith to put on handcuffs and leg irons. But John escaped again . . . and again . . . and again, in each instance apparently aided by a black Seminole. Slave and free Negroes resided in Indian villages scattered throughout Florida, on Indian plantations on the Apalachicola River, and with whites in Saint Augustine and Pensacola, and they were variously known as Negroes, Negro-Indians, and Indians. A continuous and easy intercourse existed between black Muscogulges in Indian settlements and Negroes serving in Florida, Alabama, and Georgia on white plantations as field hands or in Saint Augustine and other cities as domestics, artisans, and fishermen.
With President Jackson's enthusiastic blessing, the United States Congress in 1830 had passed the famous Indian removal bill, which provided for relocating eastern Indians beyond the Mississippi.
Chapter 9, "The Defiant Muscogulges, 1835-42"
This was not to be, and as good an explanation as any was the Negro controversy. The southeastern underground railroad ran not north to Canada but south through Florida to Cuba and the Bahamas, and white concerns about fugitive slaves and the collusion of Indian- Negroes with plantation slaves were justified. Such concerns were what Floridians ha in mind when they insisted that the Seminoles who were truly Indians must be separated and removed from Negroes and whites in their midst if the Indians were to recover their ancient spirit and vigor.
According to the best information available, Osceola had two wives, one of whom was a Negro, and it is probable that Osceola himself had African ancestry. For whatever reason Seminole-Negroes deeply concerned Osceola. As whites saw it, Osceola and the Seminoles were refractory in part because of the Negro influence, and whites blamed William Lloyd Garrison and his northern abolitionist friends.
All this omits black Muscogulges. They killed their share of Dade's command, and their conduct perhaps best explains why Dade's men were caught off guard. Negroes were depicted by abolitionists in heroic terms: living in maroon communities or independent settlements and valiantly striving to preserve their African culture. When threatened they banded together and took up arms to become freedom fighters.
Black participation in the hostilities did not conform to this or any other stereotype. A percentage of the black Muscogulges or Indian-Negroes were highly acculturated, blacks or Negroes in name only, and in reality Indians, dressing like Muscogulges and belonging to a Muscogulge family, clan, and talwa. Like the Indians proper, some black Muscogulges fought each other, allied with whites, or struggled manfully against the Americans. Other black Muscogulges, Africans and Creoles alike, were conscious of their African ancestry, were aware that they were blacks or Negroes, not Indians and thus often looked down upon and degraded by whites and to a lesser extent by Muscogulges. Blacks might dream about or hope to return to Africa, but that was a chimera. The reality was that they were, and were likely to remain, in the New World. Life among the Indians often seemed the best way to preserve something of their identity and their freedom. Warriors with Negroid features were among those awaiting Major Dade's approach. Some thought of themselves as Tigers, Alligators, and Potatoes; others as Hausas, Mandingos, and Fulanis.
The Negro Luis Pacheco was at Dade's ambush — not hidden behind saw palmettos but instead in the van guiding Dade's men.
Jesup viewed the Seminole War not as a civil conflict but in another light: "This, you may be assured, is a Negro, not an Indian war; and if it be not speedily put down, the South will feel the effects of it on their slave population before the end of the next season ." Aboli- tionist congressman Joshua R. Giddings from Ohio agreed with Jesup on this point if little else. In speeches and writings Giddings used the nineteenth-century Seminole wars to illustrate his crusade. He charged that all of the wars — the destruction of the Negro Fort, Jackson's 1818 incursion, and the protracted Second Seminole War — were brought on by the rapacity and inhumanity of white southern slaveowners. Giddings scrutinized government reports, got firsthand accounts from abolitionist colleagues, and used them to publish the Exiles of Florida in 1858. His exiles were Negroes or Indian-Negroes, and Giddings described how during the Second Seminole War these exiles — men, women, and children — often starving, had to flee from one hammock or burned out plantation to another.
Seldom did the United States Army penetrate the Florida interior without being accompanied by a Negro-Indian spy-guide-interpreter.
After scores of Negroes were captured in this fashion Jesup ordered that friendly Creeks not keep the captives, but instead be reimbursed $20 per slave and the captives be disposed of in the Southeast or better still sent to Africa. Sometimes black Muscogulges stayed in the Southeast; on other occasions, because Americans were so anxious to remove the Indians, Negroes were allowed to accompany emigrating parties of both friendly and hostile Indians. Debates over Indian-Negroes, exiles, or Maroons — along with the Creek and Seminole conflicts and the accompanying civil war — all helped set in motion the dispersal of most of the Muscogulge people from the Southeast, a major turning point in their unfortunate history.
Chapter 10, "Dispersal and Survival"
As time passed, more and more black Florida Seminoles stayed in the islands. The broad outline of this movement, of this southern underground railroad, can be seen. After the destruction of the Negro Fort on the Apalachicola river in 1816 and Jackson's invasion two years later, it seemed probable that the United States would acquire Spanish florida. In consequence many black Seminoles moved farther south down the peninsula. Their Maroon settlements could be found around Tampa Bay, at Angola on Sarasota Bay, and elsewhere on the Gulf Coast, and also at Biscayne Bay and the Keys on the Atlantic. Fishermen, turtlers, privateers, soldiers of fortune trying to liberate Spanish America, and wreckers carried parties of harried Negroes over to the Bahamas. Zephaniah Kingsley, probably the largest slave trader in Florida in the 1820s with a plantation north of Saint Augustine, complained that two of his slaves had run off to the Bahamas. How they got there or their point of departure is unknown; perhaps they used a dugout canoe. Other black Seminoles did, and such dugouts long survived on Andros Island, symbols of black Seminoles' journey to freedom.
Cuba was another terminus of Florida's "underground railroad." The institution of slavery was entrenched there, and Cuba did not have the same reputation for freedom as did the Bahamas. Nevertheless black Seminoles, particularly those associated with fishing ranchos on Florida's Gulf Coast, had easy access to Havana and took advantage of the opportunity. In many instances black Seminoles regarded themselves as free but realized that southern planters and McIntosh's followers had different ideas.
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Deborah J. Tucker
Wayne State University
June 22, 1994
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