The King’s Edict

FRONT COVER


The King’s Edict’ Project, was made possible with a major grant from the Florida Humanities Council.  The Project Sponsor was Troy Community Academy and its director Jennifer Schuster. TROY Academy worked in the partnership with  the City of Miami ‘Parks and Recreation Department’ and the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. Project advisors were Dr. Paul George, Dr. Jane Landers and Gene Dinizulu Tinnie. The project director was William Keddell. 


THE SPANISH KINGS EDICT

 The Florida peninsula was the first part of the United States to be settled by Europeans. When the Spanish arrived, Florida also gained the dubious distinction of being the first state where Africans were enslaved. As early as 1581, Africans were forcibly imported to build the nation’s oldest city, St. Augustine. This, however, is the story of another Florida, the Florida that generations of Africans and Native Americans knew as a beacon of freedom.

The first part of our story tells how Florida for about two hundred years, allowed and encouraged enslaved Africans and Native Americans to escape exploitation in the colonies to the north. The second part tells how these refugees defended their freedom with unequalled tenacity and valor.

What made Florida a haven was the Spanish King’s Edict. In 1693 Charles II of Spain commanded his Governor to set free all blacks who arrived in Florida with the instruction that they accept the sacraments and the advocacy of the church.” 

The  edict


In the era that followed, populations of free Africans and Native Americans flourished. Both groups built settlements that sprang up side by side and often established special alliances including intermarriage. Consequently, for many generations Florida had a population of multi-ethnic and multi-lingual, free and independent Seminoles.

That changed in the early 1800s, when the United States military pursued an ‘all out war’ in Florida to eradicate the free Seminoles. We will see how effectively the Seminoles defended their freedom and witness the treachery by which the Americans eventually prevailed.

After the Seminoles’ defeat, the freedom of the earlier era would be largely forgotten, ignored, or repressed. Fortunately, recent research by historians and archeologists has shed light on this long neglected chapter of Florida history. The KING’S EDICT project, through a booklet, exhibition, and seminar, is an attempt to alert the general public, educators, and students to some of these groundbreaking recent discoveries.


 BEFORE THE EDICT

The King’s Edict of 1693 was not a benevolent anti-slavery gesture. The Spanish did not free the Africans already enslaved in St. Augustine. Instead, the Edict was colonial politics, pure and simple. Granting legal freedom to escaped enslaved Africans was a tool in the European contest for control of the Americas. It was not a new tactic.

We first see its use in 1572, when the Englishman Sir Francis Drake seized control of Panama. He formed a partnership with a black people who about eighty years past fled from the Spaniards.Francis Drake had arrived in Panama with only one small ship and a crew of less than four dozen men. With the aid of the rebel Africans, he was able to take the entire Colony.

With the Edict, the Spanish employed the same tool to protect their interests in Florida. To the north, the English were firmly establishing rich North America colonies by enslaving both Native Americans and Africans. Throughout the 1600s, small groups of enslaved Africans and displaced Native Americans escaped the British colonies to the relative safety of Spanish Florida. By supporting these populations, the Spanish created a defensive buffer zone between their colonies and the British. 


THE YAMASEE

The Edict of 1693 made a longstanding unofficial arrangement official Spanish policy. Now not only were Africans free of the cruelties of enslavement on British plantations, but they were also able to own land and live independently.

Between 1714 and 1716, a large migration from the British Colonies into Florida resulted from a conflict called the Yamasee War.

The Yamasee were an Indian tribe in South Carolina who had been paid by British traders for the capture and return of escaped slaves, both Native-American and African. The English paid in advance with guns, but the Yamasee failed to deliver the slaves as promised. When the English attempted to seize the Yamasee as slaves, they provoked a war. Yamasee, Creek, and Appalachee groups united to attack the Colony and many militant Africans joined the conflict. The English won on the battlefield, but many Native Americans and Africans fled into Spanish Florida.

For the Spanish, this conflict demonstrated the value of the King’s Edict. The colony was far more secure with armed, militant groups forming a buffer zone. Attempts to escape to Florida increased dramatically as knowledge of the Edict’s promise circulated. Thrown together, the exiled Native Americans and escaped Africans cemented an economic and military bond. Together the two groups would collectively be known as the “Seminoles.”

The English resented the loss of their enslaved labor to Spanish Florida. Almost immediately, the Carolina colonists called for a declaration of war against the Spanish in Florida, launching many cross-border raids and skirmishes. As a deterrent at home, the English colonists publicly flogged and executed blacks caught attempting to escape.

 GRACIA REAL DE SANTA TERESA DE MOSE

 Despite the Edict, certain officials in St Augustine yielded to British demands for the return of the Africans. In some cases, blacks were even sold back into servitude. However, this changed decisively in 1737 when the newly arrived Governor Manuel Montiano forcefully applied the Edict’s full promise of freedom.

Even more importantly Governor Montiano began to exploit the Carolina blacks to their full military potential. Within months of his arrival he established a new black town and fort just two miles from St. Augustine. It was called Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose (Fort Mose).

To lead this new community, Montiano appointed a remarkable Carolina rebel to rule both the fort and settlement. Called Francisco Menendez, this African soldier already had proved his military prowess in skirmishes with the English. The Spanish armed Menendez’s force and supplied engineers to build the black fort.

In 1740, the black militia was tested by major assault on St. Augustine. Every day, for a month, the British navy’s guns bombarded the city. Almost the entire white population took refuge within the thick walls of the main fort in St Augustine at the Castillo de San Marcos. With each shell blast, the white citizenry offered up a “Hail Mary.”

However, at Fort Mose the blacks repelled the English by subterfuge. Pretending to have insufficient fighters to resist an attack, they appeared to retreat. Then the black soldiers staged a surprise 4:00 A.M. counter attack when their full force of 300 came out of hiding.

This guerilla cunning handed the British a major defeat and became a hallmark of Florida’s free Africans.

The Spanish now appreciated that they depended upon the auxiliary black militias for their survival. They invested heavily in rebuilding and strengthening Fort Mose, which had been damaged by the invasion. Writing from Madrid, the king reinforced the edict :

Make all arrangements to distribute aid between the Negroes of the Village of Mose.

This was a unique moment in both Florida and U.S. history.
For a period, Africans enjoyed a level of independence and freedom that not be approached again until the twentieth century. Many of Mose’s free black citizens moved around freely. Some joined pirates and privateers and many others, including former Captain Francisco Menendez, earned bounty in Spanish-backed raids of the British colonies from the sea.

This situation would not last long. The British had graver problems than the loss of enslaved labor to Spanish Florida. Soon, they would lose their most valuable North American colonies in the Revolutionary War.

Ironically, the British took possession of Florida in 1773 through the Treaty of Paris, which concluded the American Revolution.

Fort Mose’s blacks evacuated with the Spanish to Cuba where their free status was recognized. Many, like Captain Menendez, were given small land grants near the town of Matanzas but by all accounts, these migrants did not have an easy time in the relocation to Cuba. The lands they had been granted were barren and most struggled to survive.

Meanwhile, in Florida, the British established large plantations near St. Augustine with as many as 8,000 enslaved Africans exported from Carolina. The Seminoles near St. Augustine where now forced by the encroaching British settlements to find land elsewhere. Most moved inland to carve out new lives in the territory’s central savannahs. Some would go on to establish a thriving economy by cattle ranching at Alachua, which is near today’s Gainesville.

 THE SPANISH RETURN

 In 1784, Spain regained Florida from the British. Again, this transfer was not by military conquest, but the result of a deal between the major colonial powers. As the English packed to leave Florida, a flotilla of ships was assembling in Havana to carry the new governor, settlers and a militia of more than 500 men back to St. Augustine. There is no evidence, however, that any of the Fort Mose blacks made the return trip.

In St. Augustine, the Spanish had not forgotten the value of their alliances with Native and Black Seminoles. The new governor was empowered with a special budget to make the Seminoles gifts. In regular ceremonies, the Spanish handed out items such as food, guns, knives, rum, beads, and cloth.

The second Spanish occupation of Florida was radically different from the first for one reason: having the United States as a neighbor. To Florida’s north, this fast expanding nation of slave-owning Americans was a relentless force with an insatiable greed for land. Inevitably this meant Native-American tribal land. As settlements spread, a steady stream of displaced Native Americans from Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina sought refuge in Spanish Florida.

Blacks arrived as well. Many escaped from the U.S. plantations. Some were former British freedmen who now found themselves in danger of re- enslavement. Other Africans came with the Indians as allies or vassals.

Long before gaining independence, the Americans protested the loss of slaves to Spanish Florida. Now that they were in power, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson vigorously pushed to have the King’s Edict abolished. In 1790, at the Treaty of New York, they succeeded.

However Spain was powerless to implement the change. By the late 18th Century, he Spanish controlled only North East Florida, essentially the area surrounding St. Augustine. In the interior and the west of the state Native and Black Seminoles were now in complete control.

 ANDREW JACKSON AND JOHN HORSE

Now effectively independent of the Spanish, the Seminoles were forced to defend their freedom against the land-hungry government of the United States. In this new era two personalities emerge.

To identify the first, we need only look at the portrait on the 20 dollar bill: President Andrew Jackson. Like no other man, Jackson represented the rising power and belligerence of the slave-owning United States. He played a central role in Florida history.

In 1811 Congress passed a secret bill that granted the President the authority to use force to take Florida from the Spanish. Within a year, Jackson advanced into Alabama as a general in charge of a force of Tennessee volunteers. With the aid of Creek Indians in an inter-tribal war against the “Red Stick” Indians, he came south. He not only defeated the Red Stick and annexed their lands, but he also appropriated the land the slaves of his supposed ally, the Creeks.

In a letter to the Secretary of State Jackson clearly revealed his purpose in this campaign: “ Make no mistake. This is not just a war against the Indians. This is war to regain our rightful slave possessions."


Less well-known, but equally important to Florida history, is the second personality: The Seminole John Horse ( Juan Caballo )

While Jackson was campaigning against the ‘Red Sticks’, John Horse was growing up in the heart of Seminole territory at Alachua.
He was born to an African woman, whose name is lost to history, and a Seminole Indian father, Charles Caballo. The birth name Caballo, which is Spanish for horse, reveals the hybrid nature of John’s world in which English and Spanish mingle freely with the Indian languages Hitchiti and Muskogee. John Horse’s name has been variously recorded as Cavallo, Cowaya, and Cohia but for the purpose of this narrative we will refer to him as John Horse.

 THE NEGRO FORT

In 1812, the British were fighting a second, and an undeclared war against the Americans. British forces controlled the Gulf of Mexico and all approaches to the Mississippi. Meanwhile, in Florida, the Spanish had no control of the west of the state. The British now supported the Indian and black Seminoles. As the Spanish had done at Fort Mose, the English constructed a fort on a strategic bluff of the Apalachicola River, which they called the Negro Fort.

In 1816, Jackson ordered a huge force to take the fort.
At their approach, black Seminole women and children hurried to take refuge inside. The siege began, but for the first few days the Americans’ shots had little effect. However a cannon ball, which had been placed in a fire to make it red hot, landed in the Fort’s powder magazine.

The explosion was so powerful that it was reportedly heard 100 miles away in Pensacola. The carnage was ghastly. One soldier wrote that bodies, including the remains of women and babies, were stretched upon a plain, buried in sand, and suspended from the tops of trees.   Of the more than 300 Seminoles inside, fewer than a dozen survived. 

The opening salvo of the Seminole Wars was a stunning defeat for the free blacks of Florida.

THE AMERICANS

By 1818, Jackson’s militias had wrested control of most of the Florida panhandle. They burnt Seminole settlements to the ground and returned all captured blacks into slavery, even if they had been born free.

When John Horse was a child, his family managed to escape from the Suwannee River settlement. Alerted that the Americans were approaching, his family fled to the center of the state to resettle at Alachua.

In 1821, when the United States officially purchased Florida from the Spanish, Andrew Jackson was appointed the state’s first Governor. The Seminoles clearly did not welcome his appointment.

Outside the United States, the old European powers were beginning to outlaw slavery and were bringing an end to the formal enslavement of Africans.

However in Florida, the Americans were establishing large cotton and sugar plantations on their newly acquired territory near St. Augustine. The settlers bought hundreds of Africans to serve as slave labor. Gone was any possibility for a community of free Africans in or around St. Augustine.

THE ULTIMATUM AT MOULTRIE CREEK

 The next major event for the Seminoles was the large meeting, in 1823, which took place between the Seminoles and the Governor at a place called Moultrie Creek near St. Augustine.

Four hundred and twenty five Seminole representatives attended. However, they found that the Governor was not negotiating anything. Instead, the Americans issued an ultimatum, demanding that all Seminoles move to lands reserved for them further south. The only issues to be negotiated at Moultrie Creek were compensation for the cost of removal and the surrender of blacks among them. The Seminoles were not happy about giving up prime tracts of savannah land. However, over time, most were coaxed into making the move.

Among those forced to move, for the third time in his short life, was 11- year-old John Horse.


The new reservation lands were not as productive as the savannah lands, and in the first season many of the Seminole’s cultivations were lost to floods. The disaster reduced some Seminole groups to begging for rations at the new US Army depots and Forts, which were springing up throughout the region.

In 1828, Andrew Jackson was elected US President. Two years into his presidency, he signed into law his long dreamed of Indian Removal Act, declaring that all Indians in the United States were to be moved, by force if necessary, to reservations west of the Mississippi River.

TRANSPORTATION

The Seminoles first learned of the Indian Removal Plan in 1832 at Payne’s Landing. They were promised reservation lands in Oklahoma and Arkansas. Some Chiefs traveled to inspect the western lands, returning with reports of dry and barren lands. The Seminoles also feared living as a minority among slave-owning Creek Indians, many of whom had been their former enemies.

After convincing a first group of Seminoles to make the move, the US government presented their signatures as a compact that all Seminoles had given up their right to Florida. Furthermore, the Americans insisted that the Seminoles turn over all blacks among them. This was a contentious issue. The native Seminoles and the black Seminoles had long been allies and many, like John Horse, were the children of intermarriage.

In 1834, John Horse was 22 years old and living near Fort Brooke, which is today’s Tampa. Married and a father, he owned livestock and property, which he cultivated. He regularly supplied the Fort soldiers with game. At this time he began to serve as an interpreter because he could speak English.

PANIC

John Horse’s prosperity would not last. Seminole discontent with the Governments policy of forced transportation had reached a boiling point. The chief Osceola and his large group of warriors put the word out that they would kill any Seminole leader selling livestock to the United States in preparation for emigration.

In late November 1835, they caught up with Seminole Chief Charley Emaltha, who already had capitulated to the government. Osceola executed him on the spot and left the money that the chief earned from selling his livestock on display on his bloodied corpse. Reputedly, Emaltha’s body lay exactly where it had fallen, the money untouched.

Osceola’s actions set off a panic throughout the state. Many white settlers evacuated their families. This was the beginning of what would later be called the Second Seminole War.

WAR

The December 1835, the Seminole Chief King Philip and the chief Coacoochee, his son Wild Cat,’ led a large force to sack the prosperous sugar plantations south of St. Augustine. The enslaved plantation negros aided them and most joined with the Seminoles. By mid-January twenty-one large sugar plantations in the region lay in ruins.

Some historians believe this is the largest slave rebellion in US history and statistically they well may be right. 

The US military fought back. In the same month that King Philip began sacking the plantations, Major Francis Langhorne Dade was to lead a troop of more than one hundred US soldiers from Fort Brooke, which is at today’s Tampa, to Fort King in the heart of Indian Territory. 

Waiting in ambush, Seminoles lay on the ground hidden by low palmettos. Chief Micanopy fired the first shot, instantly killing Major Dade. His shot was the signal for attack. It was a massacre. At the end of the engagement only three US soldiers remained alive and they survived only by feigning death.

Among the Seminoles the victory was widely celebrated, but to white America the so-called Dade Massacre was reported as an outrage and it fueled public support for the war.

Meanwhile, in the US capital, the issue of slavery had been become so contentious that Congress passed a special Gag Order, which forbade all discussion on the subject from being placed in the public record. The constitutionality of the Order was vigorously challenged but the legislation was to stand as long as slave-owners held the majority in Congress.

GENERAL JESSUP

Throughout 1836, the Seminoles had the upper hand. Their hit and run ambushes, targeting only the officers, had a devastating effect on troop morale. Army troops were also slow to move because they had to maintain supply lines. Consequently they were vulnerable to the small Seminole warrior groups who traveled fast with an intimate knowledge of the terrain and how to sustain themselves.

In 1837, the battle shifted when President Jackson appointed Major General George Jessup to lead the Florida campaign. Jessup took command with a new tactic. He formed smaller, faster raiding parties who burnt Seminole settlements, destroyed their cultivations, and took their livestock. He captured women and families as hostages, and hired Alabama Creek Indian scouts on the promise of bounty for every “black” taken alive.

In a letter to the Secretary of War Jessup wrote, “ This, you may be assured, is a negro, not an Indian war.

The General realized that the black Seminoles had the most to lose, and so were among the most militant. Furthermore, because the black Seminoles could speak English, they were the principal interpreters. Jessup recognized that their interests often impeded any agreement during negotiations with the Native Americans.

In March 1837, Jessup called a meeting with the leading Seminole chiefs. An Army report states that John Horse attended, describing him as a chief in command of 15 warriors. At the same time, it is interesting to note, he was suing the army for compensation for 90 head of cattle appropriated the month before.

 A CONCESSION TO THE NEGRO SEMINOLES

At that meeting, Jessup offered the Seminoles a historic concession. For the first time, Seminole blacks were granted full Indian Rights. They could now emigrate as full Seminoles without re-enslavement. Only those who were formerly slaves in the United States could be re-enslaved.

Jessup’s concession enflamed the Florida settlers, but more important to the General was the reaction of the Seminoles, many of whom were convinced by the concession to emigrate.

By June 2, 1837, Jessup had assembled 700 Seminoles at a camp in Tampa, ready to embark fo the west on 26 ships sitting in the harbor. With the hot weather coming, the army was ready to retire for the summer season.

However, before that happened, in the dead of night, John Horse, Osceola, and Wild Cat led several warriors to spirit away all 700 Seminoles, who then fled into the wilderness. Among those making the escape was Micanopy, the hereditary leader who had fired the signal shot during The Dade Massacre.

For Jessup, the raid was a terrible setback. The Seminoles now had all summer to regroup, re-arm, and gather supplies. The General had lost all the gains of his first season.

CAPTURE

Furious about the failures of the previous season, General Jessup renewed his Florida campaign earlier than usual. His efforts were bolstered by the arrest of rebel leader Chief King Philip.

In early October 1837, Jessup invited all the leading Seminole warriors to a meeting with his representative General Hernandez. John Horse arrived with Osceola, Coacoochee, and a total of 15 warriors, all under the flag of truce.

Disregarding all rights of truce, Hernandez had his troops surround the chiefs and arrested them unceremoniously. The chiefs were imprisoned in the famous Castillo de San Marcos, now called Fort Marion. On the road to St. Augustine, crowds gathered to catch a glimpse of the warriors. They were especially eager to catch a glimpse of the famous Osceola.

In Washington, many viewed the treachery by which the chiefs were seized as an outrage. For former President John Quincy Adams, who was leading the fight against Congress’s Gag Rule, the incident proved effective fodder for his cause.

Jessup, for his part, was exultant. He believed he had finally broken the back of Seminole resistance. Indeed Seminoles were heading to the relocation camps in unprecedented numbers and many plantation runaways were turning themselves in, rather than face starvation in the wilderness. This was a turning point in the Seminole Wars.

The army was confident that Fort Marion’s thick walls would hold the warriors. They even allowed Osceola’s family and supporters to visit him. The Army commissioned artist George Catlin to paint the portraits of the Indian Seminoles, but not the Black Seminoles. American romanticism took a strange pride in the nobility of the rebellious Indians, but a very different attitude prevailed toward rebel blacks. Consequently no oil painting records the nobility of black warrior John Horse.

ESCAPE

On the night of November 29, 1837, John Horse, Coacoochee and several others miraculously escaped the fortress. They broke the bars, then squeezed themselves through a tiny hole. With bedding shredded to make a rope, 20 or more Seminoles lowered themselves into the moat and disappeared into the night. It was a stunning escape. Osceola was too ill and King Philip too old to make the journey, so both remained behind at the fort.

King Philip’s son, Coacoochee, along with John Horse and the other escapees headed south and joined the other resisters. Jessup’s troops pursued. On Christmas Day, the troops took many casualties at the famous Battle of Okeechobee and then in the New Year, they took more losses at the Battle of Loxahatchee. The rebels might be have been diminished numerically, but their fighting skills remained sharp.

In fact, Jessup decided that pursuing the Seminoles south into the Everglades was not worth the army’s effort. He suggested as much in a letter to the Secretary of War but his suggestion was firmly rebuffed.

Like the other Seminole chiefs, the famed Micanopy also was arrested under a flag of truce. By the end of January, he was dispatched to west to Oklahoma. Shortly after, the famous Chief Osceola died and his family was transported to Oklahoma to join Micanopy.

EMANCIPATION

Following Osceola’s death, General Jessup made a historic announcement. He invoked war-power rights to grant freedom to the remaining Black Seminoles. This, in 1838, was the first act of emancipation of Negroes in the United States, preceding Lincoln’s Proclamation by 25 years.

Many of the black Seminoles then surrendered. John Horse was among those who presented himself to receive his Certificate of Freedom. Still in his 20s, he emigrated and was reunited with his sister Juana and other family members in Oklahoma.

Meanwhile his friend and ally Wild Cat refused to surrender. Coacoochee, Billy Bowlegs, Sam Jones, and an estimated 600 to 800 other Seminoles held out in the Everglades.

 COACOOCHEE

John Horse did not stay long in Oklahoma. Within months he was back in Florida on the army’s payroll, his name recorded as “Cowayo.” Because of his knowledge of the land and of the Muskogee and Hitchiti languages, as well as his personal relationships with the main Seminole warriors, he served the US Army as a guide and an interpreter. Despite all his activity, John Horse found time to take another Seminole bride, Susan. There is no record of what happened to John’s first wife, but we know that Susan was with him until his death.

In 1841, Horse surrendered his old friend and ally, the famous warrior chief Coacoochee. The Army was pleased with Horse for delivering the warrior that Americans knew best, after the deceased Osceola.
With his father, Wild Cat had sacked the plantations and freed hundreds of slaves. With Horse, he had liberated Micanopy and 700 Seminoles at Tampa Bay, escaped from Castillo – Fort Marion, led the Battles of Okeechobee and Loxahatchee.

Sixth image Book


Shortly before his surrender, Coacoochee had led a raid against a troop of actors who were touring Florida and made off with their costumes. Consequently, Wildcat surrendered to the British dressed as King Hamlet. If this seemed comedic, his statement which the army recorded while he was chained to the deck of the emigration ship, was anything but. His soliloquy was pure tragedy and as heart-rending as anything in Shakespeare

...I asked but for a small piece of these lands, enough to plant and to live upon, far far south, a spot where I could lay the ashes of my kindred, a spot only sufficient upon which I could lay my wife and child. This was not granted me. I was put in prison; I escaped. I have again been taken; you have bought me back; I am here; I feel the irons in my heart.” 

BROKEN PROMISES

By 1843, the Army calculated that it had induced almost 3,900 Seminole and 500 of their black allies to emigrate west. The report estimated that between 600 and 800 remained in Florida.

Shortly after Coacoochee was forcibly transported, John Horse also came west. What the chiefs found was that their worst fears had come to pass: There were Creeks living on their land and only Micanopy, who had agreed to live under the Creeks, had any property at all. Coacoochee and 1,500 Seminole were squatting on lands given to the Cherokees and they were so hungry that they were drawing rations from the Army. Meanwhile, the Creeks were arguing that the Seminole maroons were slave property. Whites eagerly encouraged this argument and stood by with cash to buy them. The Seminoles themselves split over the issue, with one chief, John Jumper, leading a pro-slavery faction.

Coacoochee and Horse headed to Washington to demand that the promises they fought for be made good. On May 16, 1844, the two chiefs sat down to dinner at the K Street home of their old nemesis, Major General George Jessup. After dinner, Jessup’s daughters sang to chiefs in the parlor.

Though Jessup was widely vilified for his treachery against the Seminoles during the war, he now proved himself a man of principle. The General actively took up the Seminoles’ case. Jessup angrily told the President that not only had the army been dishonored, but his own personal honor had been violated by the broken promises to the Seminoles.

As John Horse and Wild Cat returned west, the man who had engineered their removal, Andrew Jackson, died. There is no record of their feelings about Jackson’s death, but his legacy was tragic for the Seminole chiefs and their people. The US Congress canceled Jessup’s momentous emancipation ruling, and between 30 and 50 percent of the Black Seminoles were re-enslaved, including John’s eldest nieces and nephews. Fellow chief Micanopy died in Oklahoma and the pro-Creek, pro-slavery chief John Jumper was appointed in his place as Seminole leader in exile. Upon John Horse’s return, the Creeks attempted to kill him and he was forced to live with US troops at Fort Gibson.

MEXICO

Given the hopeless condition for the Seminoles in Oklahoma, John Horse and Coacoochee decided that they have no choice but to flee. In November 1849, they led a desperate exodus of Seminoles to Mexico.

Slavery had been outlawed in Mexico, so the Seminoles prayed that they could find freedom there. Getting there required a dangerous journey across hundreds of miles of Comanche territory. The Seminoles encountered both hostile and sympathetic Comanches along the way. At times the Seminoles split up to evade capture.

Miraculously they made it. On July 12, 1850, more than three hundred Seminoles presented themselves to the Mexican military and were granted temporary permission to stay. John Horse remained to help establish a settlement in Mexico while Coacoochee, ever the warrior, headed back to lead more Seminoles out from under the tyranny of slavers.

MIAMI

Although the Second Seminole War was waged further north in Florida, Miami also felt the war’s effect. In 1835, following the Dade Massacre, Seminole groups rampaged across the state. One group killed the entire family of William Cooley, a settler at New River, today’s Fort Lauderdale. That same Seminole group also was thought responsible for the deadly attack upon the Cape Florida Lighthouse.

Consequently Miami’s first big slave plantation, owned by William Fitzpatrick, was quickly evacuated and for the first time US troops were sent to Miami where they built Fort Dallas at the mouth of the Miami River. 

In the 1840’s, Fitzpatrick sold his Miami plantation to his nephew, William English. English built the historic stone slave house which today still stands in downtown Miami’s Lummus Park for some of his hundred enslaved Africans. William English remained mindful of the Seminole threat and he lent enslaved Africans to the army to build more forts.

In 1847, we find that two of his enslaved Africans are apprehended while attempting a daring escape. They had been part of a crew building Ft. Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas islands off Key West. During the night they made off in a stolen boat with several others. They were attempting to reach the Bahamas but after two days later they were found at Indian Key. On arrest they were recorded only as Jack and George- slave possessions of William English.


ANDROS ISLAND

The capture of Jack and George while en-route to the Bahamas reveals an interesting phenomenon. In the British Bahamas, slavery had already been abolished and many blacks in Florida had made the short journey across the straits to Andros Island and freedom.

The first known Seminoles reached the Bahamas shortly after the Spanish withdrew from Florida in 1821. At that time, some Seminole chiefs unsuccessfully petitioned the British authorities for residency. Within a few years the British attitude would change.

In 1828, a British official found 97 “Florida Blacks” on Andros Island. Without proper Bahamian papers he shipped them to the capital, Nassau. The British colonial government permitted all 97 to remain. Consequently small groups departed from Florida’s shores to find freedom only a few miles away. Many left from Miami’s Cape Florida. It is hard to know the total number who found freedom by this route. Estimates vary from 300 to 800.

Today however, on the northern tip of Andros Island, there lives a community of Seminole Blacks whose blood, oral traditions, and Indian names link them directly to Florida. Most of them live in a remote community called Red Bays.

$500 IN GOLD COINS

In 1850, at age 38, John Horse became Juan Caballo again.
His heritage and language skills served the Seminoles well in their new country, but across the Rio Grande his old foes plotted his recapture.

Within weeks Texas newspapers were running bounty notices offering $50 for each black captured. When Coacoochee returned from leading the second exodus, he told tales of attacks by Comanche bounty hunters and of losing some of their party. Within a year of his return to Mexico, John Horse was captured by white American bounty hunters who had pursued him over the border. If not for Coacoochee, the chief would have been enslaved. Instead Wild Cat secured Horse’s release for 10 times the posted bounty. He paid what was then the outrageous sum of $500 in gold coins.

As in Spanish Florida, the Seminoles were welcomed in Mexico for their military skills. For the next few years, the Seminole warriors were paid to defend Mexico from Apache, Comanche, and US raiders. They were also given 27 square miles of good land at Nacimiento.

Some historians have hinted that there was some strain in the alliance between the Indian and black Seminoles, as it seems the blacks were quicker to establish prosperous farms at Nacimiento.

COACOOCHEE’S DEATH

Back in Oklahoma, the Indian Seminoles were allocated their own reservation lands and were finally free of Creek domination. Some of the Indian Seminoles in Mexico wanted to return, but Coacoochee refused to budge.

Then in 1857 Coacoochee died suddenly. His end is not a glorious warrior’s death. Instead the charismatic leader and rebel hero was the victim of a smallpox epidemic. In America, the warrior’s death went unnoticed. No marker records his remarkable life.

We have no record of John Horse’s reaction at the death of his great friend and ally. For 20 years, he and Wildcat had lived like brothers. Side by side they shared journeys and battles. Besides, John owed his freedom in Mexico to Coacoochee for paying his ransom.

After Coacoochee died, his successor led some of the Seminoles to the new lands in Oklahoma, depleting the community of Seminoles in Mexico.

THE THIRD SEMINOLE WAR

In Florida there was a final Seminole War from 1855 to 1858, known as the Third Seminole War. The US Army attempted to dislodge the last of the Seminoles from the state, but the warriors were entrenched in the Everglades. They lived in settlements on remote dry hammocks within the impenetrable river of grass.

The US troops knew that pursuing the Seminoles in these settlements was an impossible task. In this war, there were no grand battles, only occasional skirmishes in which the troops generally lost.

At the Miami River, more than 100 soldiers were stationed at Fort Dallas. The troops requisitioned William English’s stone slave house and his other plantation buildings. In 1858, the US Army estimated that only 150 to 250 Seminoles remained in Florida, so the leadership argued that further war was not worth the effort. Finally the US government agreed and granted the remaining Seminoles the right to stay in Florida.

Today, Florida’s Seminole people are justifiably proud that they are the only tribe never conquered by the United States. Their victory against the power and might of the US Army is by any standards an epic achievement.

However for the Seminole Nation as a whole the victory was won at a huge cost. About 4,000 formerly free Seminoles were exiled to a bleak infertile Oklahoma reservation at a place called Wewoka.

Equally devastating, most of the black maroon and mixed-blood Seminoles were enslaved or forced to flee to remote parts of the Florida Keys, or to far-away places like Cuba, the Bahamas, Texas and Mexico.

TO MEXICO CITY

To escape the slave raids from Texas, the Black Seminoles moved again in 1859. They traveled 300 miles further south to a town called Parras.

The Mexicans referred to the Seminoles as “Los Mascogas.” meaning free Negroes. Witnesses remember that John Horse had become a colonel in the Mexican Army and that he rode a white horse called “American.” They also remember that he rode upon a silver-plated saddle with a gold-plated pommel.

Shortly after the Black Seminoles’ journey south, the Civil War led to the abolition of slavery in most of the United States in 1863 ( and in 1865 in Texas) The threat of abduction by Texas slavers ended and John Horse reclaimed the good lands that the Government of Mexico had originally given the Seminoles at Nacimiento.

In the 1870s the US Army employed 30 of the black Seminoles as scouts. They built houses near the US Army’s Fort Clarke at the border. John Horse’s sister Juana and her two younger children lived here.

The US Army valued what they called the “Seminole Negro Indian Scouts” in the very highest terms. However some white Texans resented the presence of the black Seminoles and mounted vicious attacks against them. The worst was in 1876 when John Horse was shot four times and his horse American was also wounded. In that incident, the Seminole Titus Payne was murdered. However John Horse survived his gun shot wounds and recuperated at Nacimiento.

But now John Horse faced another battle. Corrupt Mexican officials attempt to sell the land that was earlier granted to the Seminoles at Nacimiento. In desperation, the rest of the Seminoles elected John Horse to press their claim to the president of Mexico, Porfirio Diaz.

At age 70, El Coronel Juan Caballo left for an arduous 1000 mile journey to Mexico City. In the 1940s, an American historian interviewed an old Nacimiento Seminole who recalled witnessing John Horse’s departure. He remembered that John’s white horse, American, was elaborately adorned with feathers and braids. He remembered watching John’s delegation head south, growing smaller and smaller on the horizon until they were lost from sight.

THE END OF AN ERA

That was the last of the Seminoles saw of John Horse. He would never return. His death was recorded in Mexico City, but there is no record of how he died or of whether he met with the President before his death. However Seminole oral traditions record a meeting and we know for certain that Porfirio Diaz personally intervened to uphold the Seminole claim at Nacimiento. John Horse’s descendants still live there today.

John Horse’s remarkable life and death nearly coincide with the entire second act of Florida Seminole history. From his birth in 1812, this Cimmaron mulatto led his people as a warrior, farmer, entrepreneur, husband, father, and statesman.

The recent work of historians and researchers hints that there are more untold stories just as moving as John Horse’s. These could be found in family records and remembrances in the far-flung destinations where Seminoles sought freedom, including:

  • Matanzas, Cuba
  • Red Bays, Bahamas
  • Nacimiento, Mexico
  • South Texas
  • Oklahoma
  • South Florida

    • At the Miccosukee Reservation
    • At the Seminole Reservations


FORT CLARKE

For twenty more years, the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts served the US Army at Fort Clarke, on the Texas border. The Army valued the scouts highly and four Seminoles received the Medal of Honor.

The Seminoles served the Army with the understanding that they would be granted land in Texas. When the troop was disbanded they received no land. Perhaps the US Army never intended to hand over the land, or perhaps it promised more than it could deliver. Either way for the Seminoles the broken promise was all too familiar.

At the Seminole reservation in Wewoka, Oklahoma, Micanopy’s successor, Chief Jumper, did not permit the black Seminoles to reside among them. However, some returned from Mexico and Texas unofficially.

SEGREGATION

As we have seen much of the story of the Florida’s free black Seminoles has been defined by an anti-African racism. Sadly, today the issue is the same.

During the era of segregation that characterized much of the 20th Century, the survival of Seminoles in the United States depended in large part on whether an individual appeared to be African or Indian. Some mulattos succeeded in being judged as Native American. Others were perceived, and treated, as black.

However, even though the era of segregation is supposedly over, the problem still persists. A recent lawsuit challenged a $56 million dollar settlement allocated by Congress to the Seminoles of Oklahoma in the early 1990s, claiming that some Seminoles were wrongfully excluded from the settlement based on their classification as African Americans rather than Indians.

In May 2003, the Center for Civil Rights submitted the challenge to the US Supreme Court on behalf of black Seminole Sylvia Davis and other plaintiffs. The Supreme Court declined to hear the case.


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REFERENCES

The above narrative is only an introduction only to a vast and largely neglected aspect of Florida history. Fortunately however, recent research by historians and archeologists has shone new light on the subject.

Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida, University of Illinois Press (1999). In this book Dr. Lander’s delves deep into Spanish records to unearth many new details of the Spanish era of Florida.

Howard, Rosalyn. Black Seminoles in the Bahamas University Press of Florida (2002) has only very recently uncovered this very important chapter of African exiles of Florida.

Porter, Kenneth Wiggins. The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom- Seeking People. University of Florida Press, 1996.

Twyman, Bruce Edward. The Black Seminole Legacy and Northern American Politics, 1693-1845. Washington: Howard University Press, 1999.

A very good source for information on the subject can be found at Wikipedia under the tag Black Seminoles. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Seminoles

However the most useful classroom and teacher resource on the subject is at http://www.johnhorse.com/ .  This remarkable site created by J.B.Bird of Austin Texas is unequalled. With interactive maps and images plus quotes this is the ideal first stop for researchers.