The Black Seminole

After Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1821, slave owners in the southern states were unnerved by free blacks across the border who were armed and prepared to fight. They put constant pressure on Congress to address this problem that threatened the institution of slavery. The trouble for the maroons and Black Seminole worsened on March 4, 1829 when Andrew Jackson was sworn in as the seventh president of the United States. This is the man who had ordered the destruction of the Negro Fort, burned black settlements on the Suwannee, and brought southern-style slavery to Florida. As he had done before, Jackson would try to break up the Seminole maroon settlements and force the blacks into southern-style bondage.


A few of the Black Seminole became translators for other tribes or in some cases were a “sense bearer” or spokesman for Seminole leaders such as Abraham was for Micanopy. During the Second Seminole War in particular, the Black Seminole often took the lead in stirring up a fierce resistance. General Jesup informed the War Department, “This, you may be assured, is a negro and not an Indian War.”

 

In addition to the expected challenges of surviving life on the frontier, the Black Seminole and many of their offspring also faced the risk of capture from American slave raiders. There is no doubt they had a vested interest in the Seminole War as it was understood the outcome would impact their lives for generations to come. When captured, Black Seminole and maroons were often not returned to slavery on the plantations because it was feared that as seasoned warriors, they would wreak havoc on southern plantations and rally other slaves to revolt. Instead, many of them were relocated to Oklahoma with their Seminole allies in the Creek territory. This proved problematic for the Black Seminole as the Creeks had proven themselves to be hostile to the Blacks in Florida and they had their own system of slavery that threatened to once again subject the Blacks to slavery. Many of them eventually escaped to Mexico where they could finally gain their freedom. Descendants of the Black Seminole continue to live in Mexico, Texas, Florida and in Oklahoma where they are organized as “Seminole Freedmen” bands.

 

Historians speculate that the Black Seminole proved to be the most successful black freedom fighters and one of the largest slave rebellions in United States History. The group has never been recognized as a Native American community.


General Edmund P. Gaines described the carnage at the Negro Fort in his correspondence:


“The explosion was awful and the scene horrible beyond description. You cannot conceive, nor I describe, the horrors of the scene. In an instant lifeless bodies were stretched upon the plain, buried in sand or rubbish, or suspended from the tops of the surrounding pines. Here lay an innocent babe, there a helpless mother; on the one side a sturdy warrior, on the other a bleeding squaw. Piles of bodies, large heaps of sand, broken glass, accoutrements, etc., covered the site of the fort... Our first care, on arriving at the scene of the destruction, was to rescue and relieve the unfortunate beings who survived the explosion.”


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