“On September 18, 1823, at Moultrie Creek just south of Saint Augustine, the major Seminole leaders signed a treaty ceding their claims to all of Florida except for a reservation, far to the south, cut off from the sea. In return for this cession and a pledge to apprehend runaway slaves, the Indians were promised a little property and some money.
Interestingly enough, during the Moultrie Creek negotiations, Neamathla, the Mikasuki chief and principal Seminole spokesman, refused to enumerate the blacks among his people. But a rough census taken the previous year estimated the number of ‘slaves,’ ‘Maroon Negroes,’ or ‘half slaves’ (as they were called) at about eight hundred, including 150 men. Neamathla did submit the names of thirty-seven Indian towns with a total of 4,883 inhabitants but did not list Peliklakaha, the main Black Seminole community.”
“One autumn morning in 1826, Andrew the black cook of Lt. Col. George M. Brooke, commander of the cantonment, appeared at the officer’s door. Andrew told him there was a young black Seminole wanting an interview. He also said the youth had some ‘gophers’ (land turtles) for sale. Since arriving in Florida, Brooke had developed a taste for their succulent meat and owned a pen of rails for keeping them.
Presently, between his quarters and the kitchen, the colonel met a ‘long legged, lathy negro boy of some fourteen years.’ His long, crinkly hair and copper complexion indicated some Indian blood. The officer’s main interest, however, was in the youngster’s large fiber bag. Brooke asked to see the terrapins and John tumbled out two unusually fine specimens. The officer eyed them covetously and asked their price. After a moment’s hesitation, the youth said ‘about two bits.’ Brooke took a coin from his pocket and gave it to the boy. Then he turned toward the kitchen and told his cook to put the reptile inside the pen. After learning the young salesman’s name, the Colonel asked John for a steady supply in the future. If possible, he wanted more brought tomorrow. For the next few days, John returned with more gophers for sale. Colonel Brooke gladly paid a quarter for each new acquisition. Then he began planning a great feast for the post’s officers. Terrapin would be the main course.
Days later, and shortly after one of John’s visits, Brooke finalized the menu and asked Andrew to count the turtles in the pen. He was stunned when informed that there were only two; the same pair John had delivered that morning. Upon reflection, the officer realized that the youngster had repeatedly sold him the same ones.
Enraged, Brooke commanded his orderly to go immediately to Tholonotosassa and fetch John. The soldier soon reappeared, shoving the ashen-faced lad before him. The officer, barely containing his fury, confronted John. Desperately searching for words while trying to conquer his nervous stammer, John mumbled that his only intent was not to disappoint the colonel.
The ingenious excuse deflated Brooke’s anger. Rather than punishing him, he ordered the youngster to provide, eventually, the turtles already purchased. The officer then nicknamed him Gopher John lest he forget his dishonesty. This sobriquet stayed with him for life.”
Sources:The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom Seeking- People by Kenneth W. Porter. Revised and edited by Alcione M. Amos and Thomas P. Senter. University Press of Florida, 1996. p. 30; and McCall, George A.  1974. Letters from the Frontier. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. Facisimile
Mark your calendars. The fifth stop of the summer “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour” is coming up. Check back here at www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, August 3rd to see our next black historic destination. Enjoy the trip, and check it out. You’ll learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons
SAINT AUGUSTINE — The legendary Zora Neale Hurston and the town of Eatonville, are almost inseparable. Eatonville is one of the nation’s oldest all-black townships and the literary, if not spiritual, home of Ms. Hurston.
But, you won’t find a state historic marker erected in Ms.Hurston’s honor in the town that freedom built. For that, you have to travel to a far older quaint, historic community — St. Augustine, Fla.
There, at the corner of King and McLaughlin Streets just over the city line, sits a weathered two story Vernacular construction house, one of Florida’s few surviving structures that is associated with the famed author’s life.
Zora Neale Hurston once lived here.
In 1942, Ms. Hurston taught literature at the Florida Normal and Industrial Institute, a small “Negro” college that later was relocated to Miami. The name changed, too. It’s now Florida Memorial College.
Ms. Hurston’s time in St. Augustine was well spent. She taught, lived in modest comfort in the then-on-campus building, and she completed her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road.
Making tracks is pretty much what we’ve done on this initial Florida Black Historic Marker Tour. We’ve trekked across the Sunshine State from Delray Beach to Rosewood, back to Fort Lauderdale and finally to St. Augustine. There is one more stop, a bit of a disappointment for me, but an adventure nevertheless.
Our last stop can only be described as the eerie remains of a brutal war involving an early black settlement located in what may now be Florida’s most inaccessible historic site.
Douglas C. Lyons is the founder of www.blackinfla.com.
Accessibility: Easy. From I-95, head east into St. Augustine on SR 16, which is Charles Usinas Memorial Highway. Take it to North Ponce de Leon Boulevard (SR 5) and turn right. Take North Ponce de Leon Boulevard to West King Street. The marker is about two miles away at 791 W. King St.
Area Attractions: The marker is located in a residential community. So there’s not much to see in the area. The best bet is to hop back in your car and head east on King Street into St. Augustine for sightseeing and entertainment.
Castillo de San Marcos is the big tourist attraction in the city historic district. Take King Street from the marker to Avenida Menedez (A1A). Turn left and continue north for less than a mile. You’re also close to the bridge to St. Augustine Beach.
Fort Mose Historic State Park is the first of two black historical attractions that should be on anyone’s itinerary when visiting St. Augustine. The waterfront site contains plenty of park amenities and an interactive museum that tells the complete story of the first legally sanctioned black settlement in what would become the United States. From the marker, go east on King Street to Ponce de Leon Boulevard and turn left. Take North Ponce de Leon Boulevard to Saratoga Road and turn right. Keep straight to the fort.
Lincolnville is the picturesque historic black community of St. Augustine. It is worth a visit. Take King Street east to Martin Luther King Ave. Turn right and you’re there. Lincolnville remains historic, but has undergone re-gentrification. Still, the homes, churches and tree-lined streets make for quiet walks. Riding tours are also available.
Mark your calendars. We’re coming up on the fourth stop of the “Florida Black Historic Marker Tour” summertime road trip. Check out www.blackinfla.com on Thursday, July 20th to see our next black historic destination. Enjoy the ride and might learn something. — Douglas C. Lyons
“Over and over, I have echoed the words of the Apostle Paul (Romans 7:21): ‘I desire to do what is right, but wrong is all that I can manage.’ The most persistent struggles of my life have always centered on the gray areas of compromise. It may be that a man cannot live in a situation or society of which he cannot approve, or to which he cannot consent without compromise. After all, this is the issue upon which the survival of the weak turns when the fight is for survival itself.”
“Violations of Spain’s territorial sovereignty in Florida were a regular feature of U.S. foreign policy for the remainder of the decade: the Patriot War of 1812, a naval attack on the black and Indian fort and settlement at Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River in 1815, and Andrew Jackson’s devastating raids against Seminole villages along the Suwannee in 1818. The same U.S. hostility toward free blacks among the Seminole, and the Seminole refusal to return their allies and family members to slavery, contributed to the three Seminole wars from 1818 to 1858.”
“We are calling on land grant colleges to extend their borders as we have never called on them before, not only to help the immediate students that go to their schools but to reach out in the community miles around for students to come in. Give students an opportunity. Build tents for these boys to study so they can come in Whatever is done now, get these young people prepared with their hands to learn these technical things that they must have to carry on now. I would advise that you bestir yourselves and do everything you possibly can to bring that into action. The masses are depending upon the colleges and leaders.”
Source: Excerpt from an address by Mary McLeod Bethune before the NYA Regional Conference on the College Work Program for Negroes in 1940.
“Officers began combing the four blocks between NW 46th and 48th streets, from NW 12th to 14th avenues, knocking on doors. In a frenzied two hours, during which the rains began falling heavily, officers carried out a court-ordered writ of possession, legally authorizing the execution of eminent domain… By 1:p.m., officers had forcibly evicted thirty-five families from their homes, casting them and their property out into the storm. To minimize water damage to their possessions, kids, expectant mothers, unemployed men and old folk struggled to move couches, dressers and other furniture under mango and avocado trees.”