History May 23, 2022 at 04:04 pm

A brief history of how Black Seminoles found freedom from slavery in Florida

Mildred Europa Taylor | Head of Content

Mildred Europa Taylor May 23, 2022 at 04:04 pm

May 23, 2022 at 04:04 pm | History

Maroon and Seminole Reenactors, December 8, 2016 (Seminole Tribune)

They were also known as the Black Maroons of Florida, the Seminole Maroons, and Seminole Freedmen. The Black Seminoles were a group of free Blacks and runaway slaves (or maroons) that fled plantations in the Southern American colonies and joined with the Seminole Indians in Florida from the late 17th century.

Most of the Black Seminoles were mostly Gullah fugitives who escaped from the rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia before joining the newly formed Seminole groups who broke away from the Creek people, according to BlackPast. Slavery had been abolished in 1693 in Spanish Florida, and so that territory became a safe haven for runaway slaves. Many runaway slaves and free Blacks who lived in Florida throughout the 1700s with the Seminoles ended up helping the Seminoles fight against their oppressors.

It is documented that the Native American Seminoles who were living in Florida at the time were not made up of one tribe but many tribes, who had formed an alliance to stop European settlers from moving into their territories. As the Black Seminoles lived with them, the two groups intermarried and some Black Seminoles even adopted Indian customs, wearing the same dress as the Indian Seminoles, eating same foods and living in houses that were similar. But all in all, the Black Seminoles lived separately in their own villages from the Indians.

While the Native American Seminoles spoke a variety of Muskogean languages, the Black Seminoles spoke an English Creole also called Afro-Seminole Creole. African and Christian rituals were contained in their religion with some traditional Seminole dances included.

The Native American Seminoles practiced slavery but their system of slavery was much different from the Florida one. “Enslaved people had to surrender a portion of their harvests to the Seminole, but they lived in their own villages without oversight,” according to JStor Daily. With this, Black Seminoles were able to build wealth through their farming and hunting activities.

And when land and freedom of the Seminole Indians came under threat, the Black Seminoles were there to help them fight while also helping the Seminole Indians to understand the language of their oppressors. The Black Seminoles indeed showed their bravery during the First Seminole War in 1817.

“That conflict began when General Andrew Jackson and U.S. troops invaded Florida, destroying African American and Indian towns and villages,” Encyclopedia.com writes. “Jackson ultimately captured the Spanish settlement of Pensacola, and the Spanish ceded Florida to the United States in 1821. About that time, some Black Seminoles chose to leave Florida for Andros Island, in the Bahamas, where a remnant of the Black Seminoles still remains, although they no longer identify themselves as such.”

In 1830 when the federal government enacted the Indian Removal Act, it was to move the Seminoles from the southeast portion of the United States to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. That resulted in another conflict as the Seminoles refused to leave. Black Seminoles fought in the Second Seminole War for seven years. By 1845, most Seminoles and Black Seminoles had however been resettled in Oklahoma, where they were ruled by the Creek Indians. There, things were tough for the Black Seminoles, and so many of them left for Coahuila, Mexico, in 1849. They worked as border guards in Mexico, protecting it from attacks by slave raiders.

Land disputes in Florida between Whites and the few Seminoles living there led to the Third Seminole War in 1855. Three years later when the war ended, only about 200 Seminoles continued to stay in Florida.

Slavery would eventually end in the U.S., and that was when Black Seminoles in Mexico made plans to leave. The U.S. government offered them money and land in 1870 to return to the U.S. and work as scouts for the army. Many came back and worked as scouts, but they never got land that was promised them. Today, small communities of descendants of the Black Seminoles are still living in Texas, Oklahoma, and Mexico.

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