Black History is Indian History Volume 2 | Florida and the Black Seminoles

 

 

 

Black History is Indian History Volume 1 | Virginia and the Slave Codes

Introduction

Spain’s First Attempt at Conquering Florida

The Seminoles of Florida

Maroons to Seminoles

Government Conspiracy

The Seminole Wars

The Aftermath

Conclusion

Introduction

In the foundations of this country and the formation of its ideals towards its dark population, we have to take a closer look at pre-colonial, colonial, and post-colonial Florida.  Where the amalgamation of the Black and Indian Persons into one tribe, the Seminole has created a forgotten legacy that still rings true today.   We will take a scholarly look into the history of this land, that was not fully penetrated by Europeans until 1842 and was in fact ruled by melanated[1] tribes since recorded history.  

We were taught that Black People in this continent came from Africa as Slaves and that the “Red Indian” was the true Native American.  We are told that the Europeans took all “Black” slaves from Africa and stole this land America specifically from the Red Indian.  This runs contrary to Italian Explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano’s letter to King Francis of France in 1524 describing the native population.  “They are dark in color, not unlike the Ethiopians, with thick black hair, not very long, tied back behind the head like a small tail. As for the physique of these men, they are well proportioned, of medium height, a little taller than we are.”[2]  When William Penn first met the Lennapi Indians of Philadelphia he described the Indians as such.  ‘‘For their Persons, they are generally tall, straight, well-built, and of singular proportion; they tread strong and clever, and mostly walk with a lofty Chin: Of Complexion, Black, but by design, as the Gypsies in England: They grease themselves with Bears-fat clarified, and using no defense against Sun or

Weather, their skins must be swarthy”[3]  There seems to be an element of dark Indians long before 1619 when “20 Negros”[4] first arrived in Jamestown.

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Many might assume that the Underground Railroad traveled in one direction: north to freedom, away from slavery and the plantations of the South. Few realize that runaway slaves also fled south into Florida for almost two centuries before the Civil War.[5]  In the forming of the slave narrative, Florida seems to be a forgotten place.  It seems as though Florida was a haven and safe place for melanated slaves and free persons before the existence of Colonial America.  This article examines exactly why this history does not often speak about.

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What is not well known is that before Virginia was colonized by Great Brittain, Spain held claim to this land.  They never could really gain hold of this land based on a Black rebel faction in Florida.  Spain at first fought against this force but after realizing that it could not defeat it, empowered this group, to begin to fight the encroaching British Army.  “…What I had to remark, was a Relation he made, that no less thaft nineteen Negro Slaves which he had in Carolina, run away from him lately all at once, under that strong Temptation of the Spaniards making all free that fled to them from the English, which he said he found verified; for he saw all his said Negroes now at St. Augustin, who laughed at him;”[6]

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We have to remember that these black rebels, warriors, and protectors of Florida were not able to tell their story.  So this article attempts to do just that.  When the fall of Grenada[7] happened in Spain in 1492,  the Moors who ruled since 711 dispersed to many locations.  One of which is Florida.  It Is interesting to note, the indigenous people of Florida have Moorish roots, and it was after the Moors were defeated in Europe that Ponce de Leon made his famous discovery. The question to ask, then: is there a direct correlation?[8]  Jamaica was one of the final destinations for many of these Moorish captives who were referred to as Negro slaves from Spain.[9] “Given the background of the Moors who were not only once conquerors establishing empires over three continents, but were also culturally enlightened people, resistance to subordination or subjugation in various forms by them became a common feature in the New World.”[10] The maroons, or the Caribbean Moors who rebelled against slavery were noted to be in the Caribbean Islands; North, Central and South America; and West Africa. Obviously, no ships transported ALL these people and put them in all those locations simultaneously, it can clearly be seen that there were dark melanated indigenous people all already in those regions BEFORE slavery.[11]

Spain’s First Attempt at Conquering Florida

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Pedro Menendez found St. Augustine, the first permanent European settlement in what would become the United States. One place he failed, however, was his relationship with the Florida Indians.[12]  The situation deteriorated until Menendez called for the enslavement of south Florida’s Indians in 1573. To bolster his petition for, as he called it, “a war of fire and blood,” with “those taken alive…sold as slaves…to the neighboring islands, Cuba, Santo Domingo, Puerto Rico.[13]  When Spain described these Indians on Florida they described them as had light brown or dark skin[14]  The inability for Spain to conquer this Land other than the small trade port of St. Augustine, indicates that the Indigenous presence here was too strong to be taken over by military force.  Which makes Florida an anomaly of all the lands in Colonial History.  The Native population has always been at a disadvantage when factoring them in History based on “the written accounts of the time were penned by Spaniards and Frenchmen, not by American Indians.”

The Seminoles of Florida

There was a rebel faction in Florida for the entire time of Europe’s conquest and invasion of the New World that prevented them from conquering Florida until 1842.  The population consisted of melanated runaways from the Indian and African Slave Trade.  It is important to understand that being apart of the Indian/African slave trade did not make you Indian or African.  It’s important to understand the war between England and Spain, and Spain’s use of Seminole/Indians/Black Indians as their military force.  In order to not be confused on this let us take a look at the word Maroon, Symerons, and Seminoles.  

 

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John Horse

Maroons to Seminoles

When the Spanish colonist arrived in the Western Hemisphere they referred first to runaway cattle and later to Native American and African slaves as “Cimmaron….The word is defined as wild, unruly, or as a runaway slave. Perhaps the most common usage of the term “Cimmaron” comes in an abbreviated form “maroon,”[15].  By the late seventeenth century, Native Americans and Africans who were slaves of the British in South Carolina escaped into Florida.[16]  “Seminole” is an English corruption of “cimaroon.”[17]During this period the combined population of those original South Carolina cimaroons and newly arriving free Natives, plus more African runaways from both Georgia and South Carolina began to be identified as the “Seminole” by the British.  “Seminole” is an English corruption of “cimaroon”  While “Seminole” can be seen as an English corruption of “cimmaron,” it was most widely applied to Creek Indians who had never been slaves.  Generally, runaway slaves from South Carolina and Georgia will be referred to as “maroons” before the American Revolution and “African Seminole” after the establishment of the United States.[18]  The word “Seminole” is a corruption of “cimmaron” and that it came into use only after the British obtained Florida in the Treaty of Paris in 1763.  The word “Seminole” originally applied to Creeks who migrated into Florida only but came to be applied to Africans later.[19]

 

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In 1693, the King of Spain issued an order to the Spanish authorities in St.Augustine, Florida. This order is recorded in The Archives of the Indies. In the order, the King, discussing the fate of several runaway African Slaves from Charleston, South Carolina, said that these slaves which had just arrived in Florida should be set free and “given anything they need and favor them as much as possible.” [20]  After England settled in Carolina, a military conflict began between her and Spain. But as English strength grew in North America, the Spanish level of preparedness proved inadequate. Therefore, it seems the King knew from experience in Panama and Jamaica that in the maroons lay the balance of power.[21]  Additionally, as stated in The Archives, by 1738 the number of maroons had become so great that the Governor had them build combination and military fort. The fort had to be encountered before St. Augustine could be attacked. This fort, called “Mose,” stood as the first line of defense for Spain in Florida until the Treaty of Paris in 1763 forced Spain to yield Florida to the British. The fort, symbolizing maroon autonomy, existed only because of the maroon’s political significance.  “A free African town in Spanish colonial Florida,”[22] 

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Government Conspiracy

Alexander_McGillivray
Alexander McGillivray

The reason Spain stayed in power for so long in Florida is based on the Fort protected by these “Maroons”, who later become known as Seminoles, who even later become to be known as African Slaves.  The New York Treaty was signed by Secretary of War Knox and several Creek chiefs. The Chiefs agreed to exist under U.S. protection rather than Spanish, and all Creeks,

including Seminole, were to remain at peace with the U.S. Additionally, the Creeks agreed to deliver all Negroes among the Seminole to the Commander of U.S. forces in southern Georgia. This treaty was signed in 1790.[23]  Creek leaders ceded a significant portion of their hunting grounds, including land stretching to the Oconee River, to the United States and agreed to turn runaway slaves over to federal authorities, although the Creek leaders averred that convincing the Creek people to honor the new boundary lines or return African-American slaves would be difficult at best.[24]  In the book Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of

America, The Author lists secret articles to the New York Treaty. He writes that these secret articles were never publicized but were kept in the State Department archives. In exchange for capturing slaves in Florida, the minor chiefs were to receive $100 per year, and Chief McGillivray was paid $200 per year. The author says that the Indian Removal Policy, as well as the Seminole War, were part of government cover-up which went back to George Washington. Giddings refers to the secret treaties of New York and Colrein. He says that the Creeks were illegally paid to be slave catchers.[25]  In The Plot to Steal Florida. Joseph B. Smith writes that in 1790, Thomas Jefferson covertly began making plans to take Florida from Spain. Smith says that in 1790, Spain began allowing Americans to settle in Florida. Jefferson told Washington that this new Spanish policy presented an opportunity to acquire Florida. According to Smith, Jefferson believed that if enough Americans settled in Florida the government could incite rebellion and acquire the territory.  The House and the Senate authorized a secret war to acquire Florida if the rebellion failed. Four hundred U.S. troops and mercenaries went into Florida from Georgia and West Florida in 1813. Smith reported that Madison sought to entice the Seminole into supporting the U.S., but he says that instead, the African Seminole led the effort against the Americans. When it was obvious that the Seminole could not be subdued, Congress ordered the troops to retreat.[26]

 

The Seminole Wars

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In the book,The History of the United States. Henry Adams writes that during the administrations of Jefferson and Madison the nation was dominated by the South.  The South was dominated by the slave interest, and the foremost issue in the minds of the slaveholders was the acquisition of Florida.  In general, the nation believed it was an Indian war. However, those in Congress who knew the truth would say nothing because to press an issue of slavery.  Key political policies which tend to suggest that African Seminole rather than Spain were the primary target of both Madison and Monroe were developed by the Federal government before, during, and after the war.  This leads to the belief that during the Madison Administration, the nation’s policy shifted from the general goal of acquiring Florida to neutralizing the African Seminole specifically.[27]

The Indian Springs Treaty distinguished the African Seminole as a special entity in the formation of national policy. Porter and Giddings acknowledge the special emphasis which the U.S. placed upon the Africans. Another so-called Indian Treaty which emphasized special treatment for Africans led to the Second Seminole War and further suggested that Africans were at the core of the nation’s Seminole diplomacy.[28]  America’s effort to separate the African and Indian Seminole initiated the Second Seminole War, the goal of which was to enslave the Africans and move Indians to the West.[29] The Seminole war was a Black war and not an Indian war.[30]

As stated earlier, the story of the Moors in Florida does not get the benefit of their side of the story based on coming out on the losing side of the battle.  When we discuss numbers and the differences between Native Americans, Africans, Maroons, we have to deduce and understand that these people are not different but the same.  

During the Second Seminole War in the 1830s, United States Commander General Jessup informed Secretary of War Poinsett that Florida was an unexplored wilderness, “the interior of which we were as ignorant as the interior of China.”  With the only fraction of the later United States manpower and resources in Florida, it is unlikely that colonial Spain or Britain were any better informed about the number or location of rebel African slaves.[31]

The Aftermath

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The continuous presence of militarily autonomous rebels helps explain African slavery and the “Five Civilized Tribes.”  It was encouraged by the British in the Southeastern colonies, and it seems that those with European fathers and Native mothers were the key participants.[32]  So what we have is a new Indian population that has separated from the ancient population-based on European Fathers now leading the tribes and directing them to align with the Federal Government.  The displaced Darker-skinned tribesmen and women are now labeled as African Slaves.  Neither the British colonial government nor the United States would allow neutral policy by Natives on the subject of slavery. Even before the Washington administration, the Continental Congress had stipulations in treaties with at least thirteen Native peoples for the return of escaped slaves.[33]  Southern whites worried that Indians and Blacks might combine against them. .It is my contention that Whites in time passed on to the Southern Indians some of their more derogatory perceptions of the Blacks and … the five civilized tribes followed whites in enslaving, disliking, and pulling apart from Blacks. The Cherokees, Chickasaws, Creeks, Choctaws, and Seminoles were known as the “Five Civilized Tribes.”[34]  Except for the Seminole, the Five Civilized Tribes produced written constitutions which included slave codes. Though slavery among the tribes was perhaps milder than among whites, still many instances of cruelty to Africans occurred.[35]  United States Congressional Documents from at least 1821 to 1842 specifically state that “Negroes govern the Seminole Indians.” This documentation was submitted to Congress from Florida governors, Seminole Indian agents, United States army generals, and slaveholding citizens of Florida.[36]  Even though the resources indicate that both slave and free Blacks live among the Seminole, at times all Blacks are referred to as “the slaves,” who “rule” the Seminole.[37]  There is a lack of specific knowledge about the relationship between the Negroes and Indians. In order to protect their allies, the Indian had to insist to white authorities that the Blacks were all slaves which they intended to defend from the depredations and claims of Americans. Also, although many army officers came to sympathize with and respect their Indian enemies, they suffered from the blindness of their time; they could never see the Negro enemy as capable of the dignity and intelligence they were willing to bestow on the chiefs. Joshua Giddings, alone, saw the role of the Negro in Florida as that of an equal partner, the roles of masters and slaves, between African and Natives, had been reversed.[38]  Through the alliances with Spain and the Indians of Florida, rebel slaves had the capability to resist slavery from 1693 until 1842.  Scholars believed that Native Seminole claimed all Africans among them as slaves as a political ploy to protect them from United States slave Holders. Most of the data concerning the Seminole came from individuals who had some relationship to the slave industry, which sought to reclaim a fortune in slave property among the Florida Natives.  Sources which contend that the rebels were slaves of the Natives must be viewed parallel to those which project them as leaders among the Seminole.  Though it is possible that some Africans were subjected to enslavement by the Seminole, this study takes the position that for the masses of rebels in Florida it was a physical impossibility.[39]  From 1693 to 1842, Black Seminoles launched a consistent assault against the institution of slavery on the North American continent.  Not as an act of war, only for freedom, not for just themselves but for every enslaved person on the continent.  

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Conclusion

We can no longer look at back history as a simple cut and dry narrative.  The reality that the African Slaves had a history and a legacy previous to slavery.  Even during colonialism, the black factor is extremely nuanced and much more rebellious than previously stated in history books.  Slavery existed in the form of invasion and war in the State of Florida.  For most of recorded history, the black and Indian man was free in the land of Spain.  In 1842 After the Second Seminole War the State of Florida was explored by American settlers.  23 years later, the emancipation proclamation freed the slaves throughout the colonies.  So Chattel slavery only existed in Florida for 23 years.  We have a free and prosperous black civilization we know little about based on losing the power to tell our story.  I hope this article opens your mind and empowers you to begin to do your own research and realize that there is more to the story than initially presented.  

 

 

 


[1]  any of various black, dark brown, reddish-brown, or yellow pigments of animal or plant structures (such as skin or hair) https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/melanin

[2] Giovanni da Verrazzano Letter to King Francis 1 of France 8 July 1524

on his voyage to the New World http://nationalhumanitiescenter.org/pds/amerbegin/contact/text4/verrazzano.pdf

[3] Source: William Penn to the Committee of the Free

Society of Traders in 1683

[4] The first Africans arrived in Virginia because of the transatlantic slave trade. Across three and a half centuries—from 1501 to 1867—more than 12.5 million Africans were captured, sold, and transported to the Americas. https://historicjamestowne.org/history/the-first-africans/

[5] https://www.floridamemory.com/blog/2013/02/06/floridas-underground-railroad-part-one/

[6] Source: Allen D. Candler, ed. The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, Vol. IV, Stephens’ Journal 1737-1740, Atlanta, GA, 1906, pp. 247-248.

[7] The Battle of Granada was a siege of the city of Granada fought over a period of months leading up to its surrender on January 2, 1492. The city was captured by the combined forces of Aragon and Castile (recently united as Spain) from the armies of the taifa Muslim kingdom of Granada.

[8] https://miami.cbslocal.com/top-lists/5-historical-facts-you-didnt-know-about-south-florida/

[11] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maroon_%28people%29

[12] Arnade, Charles W., “The Failure of Spanish Florida.” The Americas, Vol. XVI (1960), 271-81.

[14] Discovering the New World, Based on the Works of Theodore de Bry, edited by Michael Alexander (New York: Harper & Row, 1976).

[15] Catherine Schwarz, ed.,Chambers Concise Dictionary (Edinburgh: Chambers Ltd., 1988); Price, Ibid,

1-2;

[16] J.W. Fortescue, ed. Calendar of State Papers. Colonial Series. America and the West

Indies 1681-85. vol. 13. (London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1898; 2nd edition.

[17]Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845

 https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[18]Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[19] Freedom on the Border. Kevin Mulroy

[20] Spanish Sanctuary: Fugitives in Florida, 1687-1790https://www.jstor.org/stable/30146288?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

[21] Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[22] Jane Landers The Archives of the Indies.

[23] Alexander McGillivray, also known as Hoboi-Hili-Miko (December 15, 1750 – February 17, 1793), was a Muscogee (Creek) leader. The son of a Muscogee mother and a Scottish father, he had skills no other Creek of his day had: he was not only literate but educated, and he knew the “white” world and  merchandise trading well. These gave him prestige, especially with European-Americans, who were glad to finally find a Creek leader they could talk to and deal with. (Prior to contact with Europeans, the Creek did not have leaders or rulers in the European sense.) He used his role as link between the two worlds to his advantage, not always fairly, and became the richest Creek of his time.

[24] Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[25] History of the Second Seminole War 1835-1842 https://ufdc.ufl.edu/AA00061387/00001

[26] 11/07/1814: Jackson takes Pensacola, FL

Without authorization, Andrew Jackson takes Spanish-held and British-occupied Pensacola, Florida, in pursuit of Creek warriors. https://millercenter.org/president/james-madison/key-events

[27] https://millercenter.org/president/monroe/foreign-affairs

[28] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Indian_Springs_(1825)

[29] Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[30] The Presidency of Martin Van Buren. Major Wilson

[31]  Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[32] Christine Bolt, American Indian Policy and American Reform (London: Allen Unwin, 1987) 151-53.

[33] CharlesKappler, ed., Indian Affairs. Laws and Treaties, vol. 2, (Washington DC:

U.S. Government Printing Office, 1904) 4-8, 14, 16

[34] Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[35] Bolt, American Indian. 155; Littlefield, Chickasaw. 5; Littlefield,

Cherokee. 1-11.

[36] Clarke and Lowrie, American State Papers. Class vni 2, 411; Ibid,

Class V. vol. 6, 68-69; Ibid, vol.7, 832-35; Sprague, 309-10.

[37]Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[38] Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

[39] Black Seminoles and North American politics 1693-1845  https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/9f22/15744f7cca569394e45119945f95e81c2a9c.pdf

 

 

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