By William Katz, Zinn Education Project
On Christmas day in 1837, the Africans and Native Americans who formed Florida’s Seminole Nation defeated a vastly superior U.S. invading army bent on cracking this early rainbow coalition and returning the Africans to slavery. The Seminole victory stands as a milestone in the march of American liberty. Though it reads like a Hollywood thriller, this amazing story has yet to capture public attention. It is absent from most school textbooks, social studies courses, Hollywood movies, and TV.
This daring Seminole story begins around the time of the American Revolution when 55 “Founding Fathers” broke free of British colonialism and wrote the immortal Declaration of Independence. About the same time, Seminoles—suffering ethnic persecution under Creek rule in Alabama and Georgia—fled south to seek independence. Africans who had earlier escaped bondage and became among its first explorers welcomed them to Florida.
The Africans did more than offer Seminole families a haven. They taught them methods of rice cultivation they had learned in Senegambia and Sierra Leone, Africa. Then the two peoples of color forged a prosperous multicultural nation and a military alliance ready to withstand the European invaders and slave catchers. The Seminoles were led by such skilled military figures and diplomats as Osceola, Wild Cat, and John Horse.
This alliance drove U.S. slaveholders to sputtering fury. They saw Seminole unity, prosperity, and guns as a lethal threat to their plantation system. Here was a beacon that enticed escapees and offered them a military base of operations. Further, these peaceful communities destroyed the slaveholder myth that Africans required white control.
And these armed black and Indian communities lived a stone’s throw from the southern U.S. border. The U.S. Constitution of 1789 embraced slavery and protected slaveholder interests. From George Washington to the Civil War, slave owners sat in the White House two-thirds of the time, were two-thirds of speakers of the House of Representatives, two-thirds of presidents of the U.S. Senate, and 20 of 35 U.S. Supreme Court justices. With the support of their Northern trading partners—merchants and businessmen, and the politicians who served them—slaveholders were able to direct U.S. foreign policy.