The other day, one of the awesome Cracked.com authors wrote one of their list form pieces titled: 5 Historical Wars That Need Movie Adaptations. The top two on the list were The War of 1812 and the Second Seminole War. The author, C. Coville, however misses how these two events are intertwined; but it’s ok since everyone does.
First though, I love Cracked. When I was a kid I liked the magazine. As an adult I love the website. I really want to be able to write for them, but I can’t get through the initial process. They have a constant open call for submissions. But to submit something I have to do it in a way that I don’t understand. They want things done according to a bunch of writing rules that I am completely unfamiliar with and can’t seem to grasp. On top of that, submissions have to be posted to a public forum for evaluation first. This is the personal equivalent of asking me to take a poo in public. My crippling social anxiety just won’t allow me to do anything that leaves me so open to public criticism and humiliation. So I won’t be writing for Cracked until I can get a handle on all my me problems.
At Cracked, they really like history. It’s one of the biggest reasons I started really paying attention to them. They have an entire section devoted to history. And that’s why I’m writing this.
Coville seems to be an adept author and an excellent researcher who writes on a wide variety of topics. I’m not being purposefully disparaging when I point out that they missed the connections between their top two picks for movie adaptations. Very few, even in Florida, know that the two events are intertwined. Or how deeply intertwined they are.
The Florida history that I talk about is still new and really controversial. So controversial, in fact, that when I shared this history with a Florida history group, they told me I was just making stuff up.
Since they also told me that I’m glorifying black people too much, and then called me a racist, I’ve chosen to ignore them since they obviously have no idea what they are talking about.
One of the things that is considered the most controversial is the acquisition of Florida by the US. Typically, just like Coville mentions, the accepted history is that Florida was legally purchased from Spain in a way that was totally on the up and up. But that’s not really how it happened.
I’ve explained before that Florida is a state because the US was totally freaking out over how many free-roaming black and brown people were living, and making lots of money, on their southern border. They weren’t about to let this slide. Especially since so many of those “Dons” were making excessive amounts of money off of reactionary US policies.
Did I mention that these Dons also had little concern for the skin color of the women they chose to have children with? There’s a period where it almost seems fashionable to have an ethnically diverse family. Miscegenation was not uncommon in the coastal regions; where there was a greater global influence. Since Florida is nothing but coastal regions, it was a little more common…and done a lot more openly.
The US is already really pissy towards Spanish Florida. They hated that the 1803 Louisiana Purchase didn’t include Mobile and other West Florida ports. They hated that their slaves kept running away to join the Spanish or the Seminoles. They hated that the Dons had made a crap ton of money off the 1807 Embargo Act. They hated that the Dons were smuggling slaves into the US after they had banned the importation of new Africans. They hated that there were wealthy free people of color living in Florida. They hated that Florida had free black militia companies. They hated that there were free black settlements throughout the territory. They hated Fort Mose. The list goes on and on.
Really though, these were just excuses they were piling up to try and justify their desire to possess the Florida territory.
The word Seminole is already a bastardization of a word that meant “runaway”. The Seminoles themselves were an amalgamation of various other indigenous peoples who had been betrayed by America and driven out of Georgia and other parts of the US due to westward expansion.
Before they were “officially” Seminoles, these groups made a bit of a nuisance of themselves by raiding Georgia plantations. To be fair though, the plantations were located on land previously recognized as belonging to them; but taken through the Yazoo Land Scandal. Incidentally, this event also ties in to the Seminole Wars. And the raids were often to steal back stuff that the Americans had stolen from them.
Here, Coville makes another common mistake; but again, it’s completely excusable. The Seminole Nation doesn’t even fully recognize how deeply intertwined they were with the group that has come to be called Black Seminoles. In fact, the Seminoles have been kind of crappy towards their brothers and sisters of color for a while now. These days you wouldn’t know that these two groups once fought a budding superpower like the US for close to half a century just to protect each other.
The sanctuary policy adopted by Spain in 1693 brought a lot of slaves into the state. If you didn’t want to go through all the hassle of being legally declared free, you could go live with the Seminoles. If you were a slave in Florida, you could runaway and join the Seminoles. As well, Seminoles, like everyone else at the time, owned slaves.
But their slavery was different. Spanish Florida was already considered really lenient with its slaves; but the Seminole version was even more relaxed. It was very similar to the African version that they were already familiar with. Black Seminoles lived in their own villages and were almost completely autonomous. They were expected to give a portion of their resources to their Seminole leaders/owners, and offer military support when needed, but were otherwise left to their own devices. Black Seminoles were essentially considered extended family. Since there was a lot of interbreeding, they often were extended family members. One of the biggest reasons why the Seminoles fight against the US for half a century of Seminole Wars was because they were not going to consign their friends and family to slavery.
Prior to US interference, Spanish (and British) Florida had enjoyed a shaky, yet peaceful, arrangement with the indigenous tribes. It was essentially agreed that we wouldn’t bother them, if they didn’t bother us. Yes, Floridians coveted Seminole lands as much every other European; they were just taking their theft a lot more slowly.
Let me explain
First, I need to back up a bit. In the early part of the 19th century, Britain was backing the Indigenous tribes against America’s westward expansion. Since some of these tribes end up going south as well as west, they ended up in Florida. Britain held the Florida territory from 1763-1783. They remained involved in the territory after they gave it back to Spain.
As well, many of the inhabitants of Spanish Florida were from England, Ireland and Scotland. The main “Indian” trading company in Spanish Florida was a Scottish company out of the Bahamas, Panton Leslie and Company. There were as many non-Spanish involved in running Spanish Florida as there were Spanish. Of East Florida’s last three governors, two of them were Scot-Irish.
This relationship informs why Britain was so willing to offer support to Florida when the US invaded. And they did invade, not purchase, Florida.
The strategy was the same for both the Canada and Florida conflicts. Find some folks who would welcome becoming American; or just move more Americans across the borders. Pay them to make a lot of noise about how terrible conditions are under ____ rule and beg for American aid. America swoops in and saves the day. America collects more land.
The strategy fails in Canada…and fails in Florida, at least for a little while. In Florida, the US decided to use the 1812 conflict as a cover for covert operations on their northern and southern borders. They didn’t really have a legitimate reason for invading Florida.
So they decided to try and manufacture one.
The man the Americans send to Florida to stir up their little war was the same guy who was responsible for the same land scandal that had already swelled the Seminole population a few years before, George Mathews. The only men he could find to back his cause were scoundrels.
What few history books that actually mention them call them “disaffected” Floridians. But these were men who became “disaffected” by things like being punished for killing a slave. Or not having slaves returned to them after they ran to Florida for sanctuary. Or they had already been run out of Florida for trying to cause a revolt against the Spanish government. Most of the so-called disaffected, were living in Georgia, not Florida. And the militias that come in to start causing the problems that were expected to make the Floridians cry for help were all from Georgia too.
Most Floridians were fine with being Spanish and had no interest in becoming American. The accepted history makes it sound like Floridians were all clamoring for American aid. The truth of the matter was that Matthews and his cohorts had to resort to threats and kidnappings to get most of the men he claimed were in support of his cause. Again, many of Florida’s more prominent families had already said “no thanks” to being American once. These were descendants of the people who had come to (then) British Florida to escape becoming Americans during the American Revolution. In their minds, America really needed to learn no means no.
The Other War of 1812
The biggest fears of the Florida invasion were that the Spaniards would recruit the Seminoles; and that Spain would send a black militia company to reinforce Florida. At this early stage in its history America’s greatest fear was darker skinned people with guns. Spain, and Britain, on the other hand, had no problem handing non-white others weapons…especially if it meant that someone else was willing to die for their cause instead of having to do it themselves.
Now the Americans were going to take on Spain: who boasted several free black militia companies. And Britain: who was more than willing to hand anyone who wanted to shoot at Americans a gun…two if they asked nicely. Although Britain’s contribution is minimal, and their relationship with Spain is strained, they do intervene during the 1812 invasion and lend support to Florida.
For about a year, American troops sit on St. Augustine, East Florida’s then capitol, and wait for her to surrender. Meanwhile, their Georgia militia are going crazy out on the frontier. In response, the Spanish governor sends out his best troops…the free black militia company, under the command of Prince Witten.
Spain had sent their own free black company to reinforce the state; but the governor surmised that the local company was better trained. Governor Kindelan had brought troops from Cuba when he requested transfer to East Florida. These were professional soldiers. Yet he later writes that the, part-time, militia company in this tiny, backwater, territory made his “professional” troops look like pansies.
Witten and his men had been trained by Haitian revolutionary, George Biassou. They come out on top in nearly every encounter with the Americans. Witten’s troops are brutally efficient. However, they spend most of their time scavenging supplies from the frontier to make sure St. Augustine’s citizens wouldn’t starve. Since most of East Florida’s settlers are behind the walls of the city, the men are seen as heroes and held in high regard by their community. They are also trusted enough that they are sent to negotiate with the Seminoles.
For the most part, the Seminoles try to stay out of it…but they make no bones about the fact that they’d rather be Spanish than American.
Annoyed that the conflict was interfering with the profitable deerskin trade, and really just wanting the whole thing over with, Chief Billy Bowlegs made an offer to Matthews to fight for his side. The offer was made more to allow the Seminoles to get back to trading and less because they actually gave a crap about the Americans. But Mathews said no because of the Black Seminoles. He didn’t want to ally with the very same fugitive slaves that were the supposed reason for the invasion in the first place. He also really didn’t want the Seminoles to have more guns.
Spanish governor, Sebastian Kindelan y O’Regan, sent free blacks to negotiate an alliance with the Seminoles. Benjamin Wiggins and Antonio Proctor had grown up on the frontier and were both already familiar with the Seminoles in and around Alachua. Wiggins’ sister is married to a man from a prominent white family who held power in St. Augustine. Wiggins, an officer in the free black militia, was a well known and well connected man himself. Meaning that Kindelan isn’t sending these guys out into the middle of a conflict because they were expendable. He sent them because they were the best men to do the job.
And in this case, the “job” was getting a couple hundred Seminoles to join their side….which they did.
(Notice that when the US tells Florida not to do something it becomes the first thing they want to do….this will become a pattern for Floridians.)
Eventually, Florida’s governor goes to the press about the whole affair. The rest of the world gasps at America’s unprovoked invasion of a sovereign territory. America is embarrassed into giving everything back to Spain. The invasion was the first act of war perpetrated against Spain by the United States.
(For more on what I’m talking about here please read James G. Cusick’s The Other War of 1812)
The Seminole Wars
This all ties in to the Seminole Wars through the second act of war the US perpetrates on the Spanish territory…the destruction of the Negro Fort.
During the War of 1812, the British established a fort at the mouth of the Applachicola River, on the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle, in an effort to recruit free black and Seminole allies to fight against the US. After the war, they leave the fort in the care of the 400 or so slave refugees and their Seminole allies. By 1816 more than 800 men, women, and children called the fort and the area surrounding it home.
Also in 1816, that oozing sack of crazy we call our 7th president, Andrew Jackson, starts seriously f*cking things up when he decides to build a fort too.
Fort Scott is located on the Florida/Georgia border, near the mouth of the Flint River. Getting to the fort should be done overland since another country’s territory lies directly to the south. It’s considered impolite to take troops through someone else’s territory without permission. Most countries consider this an invasion. Jackson, believing, as usual, that the rules don’t apply to him, decides to order several armed vessels to travel, uninvited, through Florida, up the Apalachicola River.
The official story is that the gunboats were totally not hostile and were just using the river to go from one place to another. Then, as they stopped their boats with guns on them near the Negro Fort, a “misunderstanding” occurred. Since the Negro Fort was technically a military outpost, the soldiers therein, assumed that an armed and uninvited foreign vessel that stops near their fort was up to no good, and shot at them. Four soldiers were killed.
Jackson’s rage-crazed assessment was, basically, if the brown people hadn’t been there his troops wouldn’t have died. He then ordered a retaliatory attack on the Negro Fort.
Let me repeat that, Jackson sent his own men on a completely avoidable suicide mission to create a justification for a counter-attack. He walked into someone else’s house and pulled a gun on them….then acted surprised that he got shot…then blamed the homeowner for being there with the gun in the first place. (‘Merica!)
Basically Jackson wanted to make sure that the next time the US invaded Florida, they’d damn sure have some shaky moral ground to traverse along the way. The Negro Fort made an excellent target. He was even later able to dig up a letter from a planter on the opposite side of the state of Georgia that went “The black people way over there living freely and not bothering me are so scary! Do something!” as justification for his act of war.
In retaliation for the deaths of four soldiers who, as directed by their superior, unknowingly wandered into the line of fire, Jackson orders the Fort destroyed. Jackson recruited some Creeks with the promise that they could have what they plundered from the Fort. In retaliation, and since the people settled in and around the Negro Fort were friends and family, and also because they already had beef with the Creeks, the Seminoles helped fight them off. While the men of the garrison and the Seminoles were away handling these related skirmishes, the Americans opened fire on the fort.
The way the story goes is that the fort totally fired first, but caused no casualties. The reports even mention that the guys manning the cannons weren’t so much “soldier” as “caretaker” since most of the small garrison was already in the field. All that was really left in the fort at this time were women, children, and elderly sheltering behind the protection of the fort’s walls.
The US returned fire and, according to their story, a “hot shot” found its way into the powder magazine and blew the fort apart.
There were approximately 330 people in the fort at the time.
The explosion was heard for 100 miles. 250 people were instantly destroyed, along with the fort itself. The deaths were mostly the children, women, and elderly that had sought refuge in the fort. Many more would later die of their wounds. The destruction was so horrific that some of the soldiers will later voice remorse and sorrow at the level of barbarity they had just perpetrated on so many defenseless lives. As the Seminole Wars progress, this becomes a common theme among soldiers.
Survivors were rounded up and sold into slavery. Black and Seminole leaders who tried to defend the fort were executed without trial.
Outraged at the severity and brutality of the attack, a Miccosukee leader called Neamathla warned the Americans not to cross the Flint River into his territory unless they wanted to find themselves deceased. This threat prompted the US to send 250 troops in to try to arrest a single man who did little more than shout “stay off my lawn” at some trespassers.
Georgians had been raiding Spanish and Seminole cattle for decades. But the US only chose to pay attention when the Seminoles or Spanish went in and took them back. Following the Negro Fort massacre, they used these raids as the reason they were attacking Neamathla’s Fowltown settlement….in Georgia.
The entire settlement is destroyed, and the tribe is driven off their land.
The engagement, which occurred in November 1817, is considered the official start of the Seminole Wars…even though it’s actually an extension of the Florida leg of the War of 1812; and the long-standing Creek War.
For its part, Spain was trying to fight wars on several fronts at this time and the result was that their power had been greatly reduced. Again, the world gasps at the brutal audacity of the Americans. However, since everyone was involved in their own conflicts at the time, no one was really willing to do anything to help Florida.
Sensing blood in the water, several smaller factions begin to try and chip away at Florida. In December 1817 a French Pirate claims Amelia Island for Mexico. America goes in and takes it from him, offering to “just hold it” for Spain….unfortunately, they decide not to give it back.
Following the massacre at Neamathla’s Fowltown, Jackson ordered his own brand of discipline to the rest of the native peoples. Let’s keep in mind the Fowltown was actually located on the Georgia side of the border, so the US had not yet launched their full scale invasion of Florida.
The full scale US invasion of Spain’s territory happens three months later in March 1818. Remember that the following was the American response to a handful of soldier and civilian deaths. Those deaths were, more often than not, instigated by Americans who decided that the rules everyone else follows didn’t apply to them. The deaths occurred because people chose to go, or were sent, to areas that they had already been warned to stay out of. The US casualties did not even come close to the hundreds who were murdered in the Fowltown and Negro Fort massacres; but they still used those deaths to justify a full scale invasion of Spanish Territory. Also, there were scary brown people with guns.
The full on terror the Americans felt at the people who inhabited Spanish Florida, and the true nature of the invasion, is evidenced in the number of troops they brought with them in contrast to the number of people they were attacking.
In March 1818, Jackson has 800 regulars, 1000 Tennessee volunteers, 1000 Georgia militia, and 1400 Creek allies.
That’s a total of 4,200 troops.
To attack a total statewide indigenous population (including women and children) of less than 1,500 people. The entire free population of Florida, at this time, was estimated at less than the number of troops Jackson brought in. To give you an idea of how small the population was; it’s believed that every free person in Spanish East Florida during the 1812/13 invasion filed a damages claim against the US for losses incurred during the invasion…all 200 of them.
Jackson marches down the Apalachicola River to the site of the ruin of the Negro Fort; leaving a path of chaos and destruction in his wake, of course. In a twisted display of conquest and genital waving, he orders a new, American, fort built in Spanish territory, without the permission of the Spanish government, on the bones of the one he had destroyed a little over a year earlier.
After that, Jackson marches his men east to St. Mark’s. At St. Mark’s he trumps up some charges against British traders and brings them before the military tribunal. The tribunal decides to sentence the men to the lash; but Jackson’s heart is set on murder so the men are executed. Also executed, but without any kind of hearing, are two Creek-Seminole leaders who were lured in by an American ship flying the British flag.
Congress wasn’t happy with what Jackson had decided to do. They especially didn’t like that Jackson had invaded a Spanish territory and executed the two British citizens the way that he did. They were trying to avoid an all out war with Britain and Spain; then Jackson had gone and started one. However, apparently most everyone in the country was also as crazy as a sack of wet cats and really liked Jackson; so Congress didn’t really want to do anything about his war crimes. (None of this sounds familiar at all)
During all of this Secretary of State John Quincy Adams was in negotiations with Spain for the “purchase” of Florida. The negotiations were really all about making the US pay for the property that was damaged during their little siege. Also, Floridians were trying to make sure that their diverse population wouldn’t suffer under American rule. And everyone wanted to ensure that the US wasn’t going to treat this treaty like they had treated all the others before this one.
Part of the argument that the US was using to support its acquisition of Florida was that Spain wasn’t keeping their Indians and blacks under control….the ones that Jackson was slogging, uninvited, through Florida to attack, slaughter, and round up. Basically the US went onto someone else’s property and kicked a hornet’s nest…then got pissed at the property owner when the hornets started stinging them.
By 1821, most of Spain’s power to hold its territories in the New World had eroded so they had no choice but to let the Florida territory go in order to keep some of their other territories.
About 1821-1845 is Florida’s Territory Period. This was the time when the social dynamic was hovering between the more inclusive and free-willed society that they had, and the oppressive, binary, system that was trying to come in.
It is during this time that the new administration begins stripping away the rights of all the non-white others in the territory. The color of your bloodline became all encompassing as the new Florida government quickly adopted the “one drop rule” and forced people into their arbitrary categories.
These new Americans were still pissed off that the Seminoles wouldn’t give them their slaves back; and wouldn’t stop letting new slaves join them. The 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek had a clause in it that said the Seminoles could have a smaller chunk of Florida, and not be forced west, if they agreed to behave themselves and return all their friends and family members to their “rightful” owners. They bullied a few lesser Chiefs into signing the treaty against their will. Then the Americans decided that that the guys they intimidated into signing spoke for all of the red, black, and brown people in the state and swore that they would hold the Seminoles to the agreements…even though they never really agreed.
Then the Americans started picking fights with the Seminoles and daring them to say anything about it. Assholes kept coming in and stealing people and wrecking villages. And since the Seminoles knew that the US was looking for any excuse to accuse them of breaking their side of the treaty, they let a lot slide for a while. They were trying to avoid letting the Americans provoke them into war. But they still weren’t agreeing to the treaty.
One of the biggest stalls on getting the Seminoles to sign any treaties was that they always included a provision that said the Seminoles would agree to return any and all runaway slaves….this included slaves that had run away decades before.
After Florida opens up to US expansion, everyone starts asking about slaves that had run away. Some as far back as the mid 1700’s. And they didn’t just want the slave, they wanted all the children they had as well. One woman writes officials to ask about the return of a former slave woman who was now a grandmother in her 70’s and living with the Seminoles. Since slavery was considered a hereditary condition that was passed through the mother, the inquirer was hoping to get the original woman, all of her children, and all of her grandchildren and great grandchildren too.
The rewards being offered for the capture of “runaways” incited some of the more enterprising scoundrels to just kidnap any dark skinned people they came across…even on the reservation. The Seminoles did their best to put up with the constant harassment of the settlers coming into Florida. The general consensus of the people of Florida (mostly Spanish holdovers) was that once the US stopped harassing the Seminoles and allowed them to settle in, everything would be fine. Leave them alone and stop stealing them.
But then the +100 psycopathy that is Andrew Jackson becomes president and tears up the former treaty in favor of his Indian Removal Act of 1830.
Jackson wants the Seminoles out of Florida completely so his people come up with the Treaty of Payne’s Landing. This treaty dictated that the Seminoles would move west within three years, and, again, give up all their black people. Some few Chiefs finally capitulate and agree on the grounds that they can first tour the area they are being forced to move to. Because cars and jets hadn’t been invented yet, it takes nearly two years for everything to be seen and discussed.
During all this time, the Seminole chiefs are being subjected to a constant barrage of threats, insults, and intimidation by the agents of the American government. It’s so bad that even common soldiers recognize the duplicity of the US’s Indian Agents. Stranded in the Midwest, the Americans essentially told the chiefs to sign the treaty or they would be left where they were. The seven Chiefs in the delegation are finally browbeaten into agreeing to sign.
Once they came back to Florida, the chiefs immediately denounced the treaty, saying that they had either not signed or had been forced to sign. They also disputed the time limit. The Seminoles believed that the time would start once the chiefs returned with their assessment. The government told them that the time had actually already started and now they only had one year left to pack up their entire population and move west.
They were also still refusing to allow the Seminoles to take their black friends and family members with them. As well, the US takes away the Seminole’s second amendment rights. It was now illegal for anyone whom the US considered to be a non-white other to own/sell/buy the tools to hunt and provide for themselves, or to defend themselves.
A brief pause
This went over badly among the racially diverse citizens of Florida. This new law went right along with others that had banned the sale of alcohol to/by non-whites. Since there were several free black tavern owners and general merchandisers in Florida’s major cities, this law essentially further undercut the ability of non-whites to be self-sufficient.
In fact, Jackson and his Florida cronies had botched Florida so badly that Floridians, both old and new, placed the blame for the Seminole Wars, and especially the Second Seminole War, firmly on the shoulders of the US government.
It was so bad that even the judges who were sent by the American government to oversee the Patriot War Claims, the claims against the US for damages incurred by citizens during the 1812-1819 invasions, agreed that the Second Seminole War was completely avoidable. For the most part, even many of the soldiers sent to remove the Seminoles were sympathetic towards them.
Florida’s people of color understood how the Seminoles felt all too well. Formerly Spanish slaves were also feeling sympathetic. Spanish Florida had operated under a completely different system from the one the Americans were trying to force onto them. Simply put, money changed everything. There were several free black, or otherwise ethnically blended, Floridians who were in serious danger of finding themselves enslaved if they stayed.
You’d have to read Jane Landers’ Black Society in Spanish Florida to understand all of the ins and outs of how people of color were able to enjoy a much more open and tolerant social structure…at least compared to other places that still considered humans as property. In Florida your race mattered significantly less than your money and your faith. By 1821 there are hundreds of thousands of acres of Florida land that are about handed down to a bunch of free people of color. America was having none of this.
During the run up to the Second Seminole War, Florida’s free people of color were trying to solve things civilly through the proper legal channels. When a racists tax was passed that charged more for men of color than for white men, several of St. Augustine’s more prominent free black families brought suit. Backed by community support, the law is repealed…it will be the last major legal battle they win. At the same time, these people were fighting for their inheritance rights. They were also fighting against having to have a “white guardian” appointed to manage them. Free blacks and slaves had been completely stripped of a whole lot of rights and responsibilities they had previously enjoyed. Not being able to continue to make a living also increased the likelihood of being forced into slavery for debt.
Average Floridians didn’t really care about the new laws and did very little to help enforce them. There are several new Floridians working in various official capacities who outright refuse to enforce some of these laws. For example, the law that said newly freed slaves had to leave the state within thirty days was ignored as often as it was enforced. In St. Augustine, a curfew was enacted that only applied to people of color; a patrol to enforce the curfew was also created. White men were expected to show up for all night patrols as their name came up. Since most of St. Augustine had been living side by side with these people for decades, and did not consider them a danger, patrols were often short several men. Those few who did show up for patrol duty more often found themselves policing soldiers instead of slaves or free blacks.
In addition, most Spanish era Floridians didn’t own that many slaves. Compared to the US, Florida was not as heavily reliant on slave labor. Most people rented slaves instead of owning them. This made many Floridians remain wholly uninterested in the plights of these new large slave holders and really didn’t much care what happened to them.
Back to the Seminoles
In 1827 it is reported that the Seminoles are on their reservations and all is peaceful.
As far as the Seminoles themselves were concerned, what we call the Seminole Wars was actually one long conflict. Meaning that “peaceful” was up for interpretation. What the US was calling peaceful, the Seminoles were calling annoying. Slave raids into Seminole territory by whites were still a regular occurrence. Violence against them was still a regular occurrence. And raids on their cattle were still a regular occurrence. But it was the fallout over the Treaty of Payne’s Landing that really pissed the Seminoles off.
When the Seminole Chiefs refused to go along with the treaty, the US tried to have them removed from their positions. Things grew even worse when whites attacked Seminoles who were sitting around a campfire. The situation escalates when more Seminoles arrive. Not long after this a mail carrier is ambushed by Seminoles. This was a signal that the Seminoles were now 1000% done with America’s shit.
After having sufficiently primed their war machine, the US prepared for a Seminole attack.
America raises troops…for the other side
Florida’s free people of color, used to taking advantage of the opportunities available through military service, first offered to lend their support to the Americans. Under Spanish and British rule, everyone was expected to defend the territory. Florida had a free black militia company in place for centuries.
Slaves as well were ready to serve. Before US rule, volunteering for military service could earn a slave their freedom, land, and prestige. Exemplary military service was a fast-track to freedom and wealth. They expected the same thing under the US…especially since the Adams-Onis treaty basically said that formerly Spanish citizens were to be treated the same as they had been treated under Spanish rule. (this isn’t exact, go read the treaty for yourself)
Military service often came with rewards. Volunteers were often offered land for their service. As well, men who served together tended to help each other out later. This gave the free black companies a way to increase their social networks. Which in turn often gained them a wider range of opportunities.
Because of their previously outstanding military record, regular East Floridians too were eager to see their free black troops in action again. Older St. Augustinians still remembered Prince Witten and his men saving the city and hold the abilities of black soldiers in high regard.
Quite a few of St. Augustine’s free blacks tried to sign up to fight the Seminoles. Some were able to come in as musicians or other un-ranked positions. Going over the family names I noticed that the ones who were accepted were men who were light enough to look white, even though they were legally considered black. Most who volunteered were refused. And no one was about to hand a slave a gun in the US.
Reading the writing on the wall, free blacks, slaves, and other people of color started flocking to the Seminole cause.
And the rest is history.
Floridians were of all races, beliefs, and social classes. Their society wasn’t all rainbows and kittens, but it was better than what they feared they would face under American rule. Spain’s administration of the territory had been bad, but the racism of American policies was seen as even worse. Floridians would have been fine with being under the control of anyone except the United States.
Floridians fully recognized the potential for disaster in American policies. Spanish holdovers repeatedly chided the US government for her handling of both the black and native populations. They were warned repeatedly that their racist policies were going to bring trouble by turning both groups against them.
This was why, when the two groups finally got fed up and fought back, most Floridians just went to the cities to wait it out. Or they left the state/country entirely.
They had little sympathy for these new Americans who were complaining about their loss of property. Especially considering that many of those who were now complaining about how hard it was to live in Florida were the same men who were part of the invading forces of 1812. Since the Floridians had lost so much of their property to them; they felt it was sort of poetic justice that they were now losing theirs in the same manner.
As well, it is during the Second Seminole War that the largest portion of the Patriot War Claims are being settled. Testimonies given during this time paint a terrifying picture of US policies and accepted practices. A common tread woven throughout the proceedings is how all of these incidents, first perpetrated by the Americans in 1812, were the reason the Seminoles and blacks were attacking through the 1830’s. Floridians of every description recognized that America had made one bad decision after another and had created the whole problem herself.
Prior to the Second Seminole War, Seminole attacks on settlers often resulted in the deaths of slaves as well as settlers. Before the US starts screwing up Florida, slaves and settlers had a (oppressive) working relationship with each other. As well, slaves had much more freedom under Spanish rule. And Free blacks, especially wealthy ones, were essentially treated just like whites.
When the US decided that it didn’t trust its own citizens with the means to defend themselves and the territory, that was the last straw. It was the spark needed to ignite a race war that would bring the power of the US government down on its own people; right after they had decided to claim them as their own people.
For Florida’s free blacks, refusal to let them properly defend themselves and their families–in addition to, racist taxes, not allowing them to earn a living or retain property inherited from white fathers, and forcing them to be overseen by whites in everything they did–was too much.
As the Seminoles and slaves are storming the countryside, free blacks begin boarding vessels bound for anywhere but America.
Following the Second Seminole War those who agree to go west are allowed to take their black friends and allies with them. By this time, many of these people had experienced war their whole lives. This greatly colored their decision to finally be moved.
Although the newspapers of the time printed a different viewpoint; new discoveries being made about Florida’s early Spanish and British history have started painting a more sympathetic view of how the Seminoles were treated. While the papers were screaming about slaves running to conspire with the Seminoles; the people were acquitting slaves being brought up on conspiracy charges. It would still be a couple of decades before enough of the Spanish holdovers die off, and enough Americans to move in, to allow Florida to reach the levels of racist insanity we all know and love.
Had the US not decided to take Florida from Spain in the manner she had, the Second Seminole War might not have happened. Had they not harassed Seminoles trying to live peacefully without interference, it might not have happened.
As well, had we, as a country, remembered the lessons of the Florida part of the War of 1812, and its resulting Seminole Wars, we may have been able to handle other similar conflicts with better results.