This Seminole Chief Didn’t Snitch

“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.”

Source: 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 pages 27 and 28

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Chiniquy

How a Legendary Black Seminole Got His Name

“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.

Gopher John

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. [1868] 1974. Letters from the Frontier. Gainesville: University Press of Florida. Facisimile

Seminole Negro John Horse Makes a Name for Himself

John Horse

“The next few years found the Seminole and Seminole Negro floundering, but John Horse managed to do well for himself. Somewhere he acquired a few head of cattle. With careful handling, they grew into a herd of almost ninety. He was also a crack shot.

While still in his teens, he even managed to marry into Micanopy’s family. It was rare for Seminole Negro makes to be allowed to formally wed Seminole women. Obviously, John Horse had attained a great deal of respect among the Indians. He was one of the few blacks — orIndians — to thrive. Most were still near starvation on reservation lands.”

Source: Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro  by Jeff Guin Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002 p. 55

Photo Credit: N. Orr & Richardson, S.C., N.Y.


Black Power within the Seminole Nation

“From 1812 to 1818, the blacks among the tribespeople had been recognized for their military prowess and aggressiveness. But after 1821, when they were more closely scrutinized, their intellect and the power they wielded over their Seminole ‘lords’ were now emphasized. One observer said: ‘The negroes, who dwell among these people as slaves,  are intelligent, speak the English language, … and … have great influence over … the Indians.

… They fear being again made slaves, under the American government, and will omit nothing to increase or keep alive mistrust among the Indians, whom they in fact govern. If it should be necessary to use force with them, it is to be feared the Indians would take their part. It will, however, be necessary to remove from the Floridas this group of lawless freebooters, among whom runaway negroes will always find refuge.'”

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. 27; and Morse, Jedidiah. [1812] A Report of the Secretary of War of the United States on Indian Affairs. St. Clair Shores, Mich.: Scholarly Press, 1972 pages 310-311

Seminole and Seminole Negro: Separate but Not Equal


Gopher John

“The most telling measure of the very real division between the Seminole and the Seminole Negro was the separation of their villages. There was always space — a mile, two miles — between them. Put simply, the Seminole Negro were  considered allies, but not blood kin. The Seminoles clearly felt themselves to be superior.”

Source: Our Land Before We Die: The Proud Story of the Seminole Negro  by Jeff Guin; Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2002, p. 25

Photo Credit: N. Orr & Richardson, S.C., N.Y./Wikimedia Commons

Remembering America’s First Florida Land Grab

America had plans for the Spanish territory on its southern border — La Florida. By the early 1800s, eager slaveowners in Georgia and the Carolinas long had wanted to stop runaway slaves trekking to the Spanish territory for a better life.

Others simply wanted to expand the American empire at a time when Spain lacked the resources to protect its territory because of a draining war with Napoleon Bonaparte. Sensing a chance to grab new territory, the U.S. government took it.

James Madison

On January 15, 1811, Congress secretly authorized then-President James Madison to seize all or any part of Florida if either “local authorities” agreed, or if a foreign government tried to occupy any portion of the region.

The move sparked a wave of American settlers who called themselves “The Patriots” to invade the Spanish territory, seizing Amelia Island and attacking Saint Augustine, then the capital of the East Florida province. The siege only lasted a year when the U.S. government pulled back from annexing Florida in the face of a pending war with England. The siege by the Patriots would continue until 1816, but America would ultimately get Florida in 1845 when it became a state.

Source: The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom Seeking People by Kenneth W. Porter and revised by Alcione M. Amos and Thomas P. Senter University of Florida Press, 1996 pages 3-8

Photo Credit: The White House Historical Association