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A Social History of the American Negro Being a History of the Negro Problem in the United States. Including A History and Study of the Republic of Liberia online

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our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty-four, and of the
independence of the United States of America, the fifty-eighth.

(Signed) ANDREW JACKSON. By the President,
LOUIS MCLANE, Secretary of State.

It will be seen that by the terms of this document seven chiefs were to
go and examine the country assigned to the Creeks, and that they were to
be accompanied by Major John Phagan, the successor of Humphreys, and the
Negro interpreter Abraham. The character of Phagan may be seen from the
facts that he was soon in debt to different ones of the Indians and to
Abraham, and that he was found to be short in his accounts. While the
Indian chiefs were in the West, three United States commissioners
conferred with them as to the suitability of the country for a future
home, and at Fort Gibson, Arkansas, March 28, 1833, they were beguiled
into signing an additional treaty in which occurred the following
sentence: "And the undersigned Seminole chiefs, delegated as aforesaid,
on behalf of their nation, hereby declare themselves well satisfied with
the location provided for them by the commissioners, and agree that
their nation shall commence the removal to their new home as soon as the
government will make arrangements for their emigration, satisfactory to
the Seminole nation." They of course had no authority to act on their
own initiative, and when all returned in April, 1833, and Phagan
explained what had happened, the Seminoles expressed themselves in no
uncertain terms. The chiefs who had gone West denied strenuously that
they had signed away any rights to land, but they were nevertheless
upbraided as the agents of deception. Some of the old chiefs, of whom
Micanopy was the highest authority, resolved to resist the efforts to
dispossess them; and John Hicks, who seems to have been substituted for
Sam Jones on the commission, was killed because he argued too strongly
for migration. Meanwhile the treaty of Payne's Landing was ratified by
the Senate of the United States and proclaimed as in force by President
Jackson April 12, 1834, and in connection with it the supplementary
treaty of Fort Gibson was also ratified. The Seminoles, however, were
not showing any haste about removing, and ninety of the white citizens
of Alachua County sent a protest to the President alleging that the
Indians were not returning their fugitive slaves. Jackson was made
angry, and without even waiting for the formal ratification of the
treaties, he sent the document to the Secretary of War, with an
endorsement on the back directing him "to inquire into the alleged
facts, and if found to be true, to direct the Seminoles to prepare to
remove West and join the Creeks." General Wiley Thompson was appointed
to succeed Phagan as agent, and General Duncan L. Clinch was placed in
command of the troops whose services it was thought might be needed. It
was at this juncture that Osceola stepped forward as the leading spirit
of his people.

4. _Osceola and the Second Seminole War_

Osceola (Asseola, or As-se-he-ho-lar, sometimes called Powell because
after his father's death his mother married a white man of that name[1])
was not more than thirty years of age. He was slender, of only
average height, and slightly round-shouldered; but he was also well
proportioned, muscular, and capable of enduring great fatigue. He had
light, deep, restless eyes, and a shrill voice, and he was a great
admirer of order and technique. He excelled in athletic contests and in
his earlier years had taken delight in engaging in military practice
with the white men. As he was neither by descent nor formal election a
chief, he was not expected to have a voice in important deliberations;
but he was a natural leader and he did more than any other man to
organize the Seminoles to resistance. It is hardly too much to say
that to his single influence was due a contest that ultimately cost
$10,000,000 and the loss of thousands of lives. Never did a patriot
fight more valiantly for his own, and it stands to the eternal disgrace
of the American arms that he was captured under a flag of truce.

[Footnote 1: Hodge's _Handbook of American Indians_, II, 159.]

It is well to pause for a moment and reflect upon some of the deeper
motives that entered into the impending contest. A distinguished
congressman,[1] speaking in the House of Representatives a few years
later, touched eloquently upon some of the events of these troublous
years. Let us remember that this was the time of the formation of
anti-slavery societies, of pronounced activity on the part of the
abolitionists, and recall also that Nat Turner's insurrection was still
fresh in the public mind. Giddings stated clearly the issue as it
appeared to the people of the North when he said, "I hold that if the
slaves of Georgia or any other state leave their masters, the Federal
Government has no constitutional authority to employ our army or navy
for their recapture, or to apply the national treasure to repurchase
them." There could be no question of the fact that the war was very
largely one over fugitive slaves. Under date October 28, 1834, General
Thompson wrote to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs: "There are many
very likely Negroes in this nation [the Seminole]. Some of the whites in
the adjacent settlements manifest a restless desire to obtain them, and
I have no doubt that Indian raised Negroes are now in the possession
of the whites." In a letter dated January 20, 1834, Governor Duval had
already said to the same official: "The slaves belonging to the Indians
have a controlling influence over the minds of their masters, and are
entirely opposed to any change of residence." Six days later he wrote:
"The slaves belonging to the Indians must be made to fear for themselves
before they will cease to influence the minds of their masters.... The
first step towards the emigration of these Indians must be the breaking
up of the runaway slaves and the outlaw Indians." And the New Orleans
_Courier_ of July 27, 1839, revealed all the fears of the period when it
said, "Every day's delay in subduing the Seminoles increases the danger
of a rising among the serviles."

[Footnote 1: Joshua R. Giddings, of Ohio. His exhaustive speech on the
Florida War was made February 9, 1841.]

All the while injustice and injury to the Indians continued.
Econchattimico, well known as one of those chiefs to whom special
reservations had been given by the treaty of Fort Moultrie, was the
owner of twenty slaves valued at $15,000. Observing Negro stealers
hovering around his estate, he armed himself and his men. The kidnapers
then furthered their designs by circulating the report that the Indians
were arming themselves for union with the main body of Seminoles for the
general purpose of massacring the white people. Face to face with
this charge Econchattimico gave up his arms and threw himself on the
protection of the government; and his Negroes were at once taken and
sold into bondage.

A similar case was that of John Walker, an Appalachicola chief, who
wrote to Thompson under date July 28, 1835: "I am induced to write you
in consequence of the depredations making and attempted to be made upon
my property, by a company of Negro stealers, some of whom are from
Columbus, Ga., and have connected themselves with Brown and Douglass....
I should like your advice how I am to act. I dislike to make or to have
any difficulty with the white people. But if they trespass upon my
premises and my rights, I must defend myself the best way I can. If they
do make this attempt, and I have no doubt they will, they must bear the
consequences. _But is there no civil law to protect me_? Are the free
Negroes and the Negroes belonging to this town to be stolen away
publicly, and in the face of law and justice, carried off and sold to
fill the pockets of these worse than land pirates? Douglass and his
company hired a man who has two large trained dogs for the purpose to
come down and take Billy. He is from Mobile and follows for a livelihood
catching runaway Negroes."

Such were the motives, fears and incidents in the years immediately
after the treaty of Payne's Landing. Beginning at the close of 1834 and
continuing through April, 1835, Thompson had a series of conferences
with the Seminole chiefs. At these meetings Micanopy, influenced by
Osceola and other young Seminoles, took a more definite stand than he
might otherwise have assumed. Especially did he insist with reference
to the treaty that he understood that the chiefs who went West were to
_examine_ the country, and for his part he knew that when they returned
they would report unfavorably. Thompson then, becoming angry, delivered
an ultimatum to the effect that if the treaty was not observed the
annuity from the great father in Washington would cease. To this,
Osceola, stepping forward, replied that he and his warriors did not care
if they never received another dollar from the great father, and drawing
his knife, he plunged it in the table and said, "The only treaty I will
execute is with this." Henceforward there was deadly enmity between the
young Seminole and Thompson. More and more Osceola made his personality
felt, constantly asserting to the men of his nation that whoever
recommended emigration was an enemy of the Seminoles, and he finally
arrived at an understanding with many of them that the treaty would be
resisted with their very lives. Thompson, however, on April 23, 1835,
had a sort of secret conference with sixteen of the chiefs who seemed
favorably disposed toward migration, and he persuaded them to sign a
document "freely and fully" assenting to the treaties of Payne's Landing
and Fort Gibson. The next day there was a formal meeting at which the
agent, backed up by Clinch and his soldiers, upbraided the Indians in a
very harsh manner. His words were met by groans, angry gesticulations,
and only half-muffled imprecations. Clinch endeavored to appeal to the
Indians and to advise them that resistance was both unwise and useless.
Thompson, however, with his usual lack of tact, rushed onward in his
course, and learning that five chiefs were unalterably opposed to the
treaty, he arbitrarily struck their names off the roll of chiefs, an
action the highhandedness of which was not lost on the Seminoles.
Immediately after the conference moreover he forbade the sale of
any more arms and powder to the Indians. To the friendly chiefs the
understanding had been given that the nation might have until January
1, 1836, to make preparation for removal, by which time all were to
assemble at Fort Brooke, Tampa Bay, for emigration.

About the first of June Osceola was one day on a quiet errand of trading
at Fort King. With him was his wife, the daughter of a mulatto slave
woman who had run away years before and married an Indian chief. By
Southern law this woman followed the condition of her mother, and
when the mother's former owner appeared on the scene and claimed the
daughter, Thompson, who desired to teach Occeola a lesson, readily
agreed that she should be remanded into captivity.[1] Osceola was highly
enraged, and this time it was his turn to upbraid the agent. Thompson
now had him overpowered and put in irons, in which situation he remained
for the better part of two days. In this period of captivity his soul
plotted revenge and at length he too planned a "_ruse de guerre_."
Feigning assent to the treaty he told Thompson that if he was released
not only would he sign himself but he would also bring his people to
sign. The agent was completely deceived by Osceola's tactics. "True to
his professions," wrote Thompson on June 3, "he this day appeared with
seventy-nine of his people, men, women, and children, including some who
had joined him since his conversion, and redeemed his promise. He told
me many of his friends were out hunting, whom he could and would bring
over on their return. I have now no doubt of his sincerity, and as
little, that the greatest difficulty is surmounted."

[Footnote 1: This highly important incident, which was really the spark
that started the war, is absolutely ignored even by such well informed
writers as Drake and Sprague. Drake simply gives the impression that
the quarrel between Osceola and Thompson was over the old matter of
emigration, saying (413), "Remonstrance soon grew into altercation,
which ended in a _ruse de guerre_, by which Osceola was made prisoner by
the agent, and put in irons, in which situation he was kept one night
and part of two days." The story is told by McMaster, however. Also note
M.M. Cohen as quoted in _Quarterly Anti-Slavery Magazine_, Vol. II, p.
419 (July, 1837).]

Osceola now rapidly urged forward preparations for war, which, however,
he did not wish actually started until after the crops were gathered.
By the fall he was ready, and one day in October when he and some other
warriors met Charley Emathla, who had upon him the gold and silver that
he had received from the sale of his cattle preparatory to migration,
they killed this chief, and Osceola threw the money in every direction,
saying that no one was to touch it, as it was the price of the red man's
blood. The true drift of events became even more apparent to Thompson
and Clinch in November, when five chiefs friendly to migration with five
hundred of their people suddenly appeared at Fort Brooke to ask for
protection. When in December Thompson sent final word to the Seminoles
that they must bring in their horses and cattle, the Indians did not
come on the appointed day; on the contrary they sent their women and
children to the interior and girded themselves for battle. To Osceola
late in the month a runner brought word that some troops under the
command of Major Dade were to leave Fort Brooke on the 25th and on the
night of the 27th were to be attacked by some Seminoles in the Wahoo
Swamp. Osceola himself, with some of his men, was meanwhile lying in the
woods near Fort King, waiting for an opportunity to kill Thompson. On
the afternoon of the 28th the agent dined not far from the fort at the
home of the sutler, a man named Rogers, and after dinner he walked
with Lieutenant Smith to the crest of a neighboring hill. Here he was
surprised by the Indians, and both he and Smith fell pierced by numerous
bullets. The Indians then pressed on to the home of the sutler and
killed Rogers, his two clerks, and a little boy. On the same day the
command of Major Dade, including seven officers and one hundred and ten
men, was almost completely annihilated, only three men escaping. Dade
and his horse were killed at the first onset. These two attacks began
the actual fighting of the Second Seminole War. That the Negroes were
working shoulder to shoulder with the Indians in these encounters may
be seen from the report of Captain Belton,[1] who said, "Lieut. Keays,
third artillery, had both arms broken from the first shot; was unable
to act, and was tomahawked the latter part of the second attack, by a
Negro"; and further: "A Negro named Harry controls the Pea Band of about
a hundred warriors, forty miles southeast of us, who have done most
of the mischief, and keep this post constantly observed." Osceola now
joined forces with those Indians who had attacked Dade, and in the
early morning of the last day of the year occurred the Battle of
Ouithlecoochee, a desperate encounter in which both Osceola and Clinch
gave good accounts of themselves. Clinch had two hundred regulars and
five or six hundred volunteers. The latter fled early in the contest and
looked on from a distance; and Clinch had to work desperately to keep
from duplicating the experience of Dade. Osceola himself was conspicuous
in a red belt and three long feathers, but although twice wounded he
seemed to bear a charmed life. He posted himself behind a tree, from
which station he constantly sallied forth to kill or wound an enemy with
almost infallible aim.

[Footnote 1: Accessible in Drake, 416-418.]

After these early encounters the fighting became more and more bitter
and the contest more prolonged. Early in the war the disbursing agent
reported that there were only three thousand Indians, including Negroes,
to be considered; but this was clearly an understatement. Within the
next year and a half the Indians were hard pressed, and before the end
of this period the notorious Thomas S. Jessup had appeared on the scene
as commanding major general. This man seems to have determined never to
use honorable means of warfare if some ignoble instrument could serve
his purpose. In a letter sent to Colonel Harvey from Tampa Bay under
date May 25, 1837, he said: "If you see Powell (Osceola), tell him I
shall send out and take all the Negroes who belong to the white people.
And he must not allow the Indian Negroes to mix with them. Tell him I
am sending to Cuba for bloodhounds to trail them; and I intend to hang
every one of them who does not come in." And it might be remarked that
for his bloodhounds Jessup spent - or said he spent - as much as $5,000, a
fact which thoroughly aroused Giddings and other persons from the North,
who by no means cared to see such an investment of public funds. By
order No. 160, dated August 3, 1837, Jessup invited his soldiers to
plunder and rapine, saying, "All Indian property captured from this date
will belong to the corps or detachment making it." From St. Augustine,
under date October 20, 1837, in a "confidential" communication he said
to one of his lieutenants: "Should Powell and his warriors come within
the fort, seize him and the whole party. It is important that he, Wild
Cat, John Cowagee, and Tustenuggee, be secured. Hold them until you have
my orders in relation to them."[1] Two days later he was able to write
to the Secretary of War that Osceola was actually taken. Said he: "That
chief came into the vicinity of Fort Peyton on the 20th, and sent a
messenger to General Hernandez, desiring to see and converse with him.
The sickly season being over, and there being no further necessity to
temporize, I sent a party of mounted men, and seized the entire body,
and now have them securely lodged in the fort." Osceola, Wild Cat,
and others thus captured were marched to St. Augustine; but Wild Cat
escaped. Osceola was ultimately taken to Fort Moultrie, in the harbor of
Charleston, where in January (1838) he died.

[Footnote 1: This correspondence, and much more bearing on the point,
may be found in House Document 327 of the Second Session of the
Twenty-fifth Congress.]

Important in this general connection was the fate of the deputation that
the influential John Ross, chief of the Cherokees, was persuaded to
send from his nation to induce the Seminoles to think more favorably of
migration. Micanopy, twelve other chieftains, and a number of warriors
accompanied the Cherokee deputation to the headquarters of the United
States Army at Fort Mellon, where they were to discuss the matter. These
warriors also Jessup seized, and Ross wrote to the Secretary of War
a dignified but bitter letter protesting against this "unprecedented
violation of that sacred rule which has ever been recognized by every
nation, civilized and uncivilized, of treating with all due respect
those who had ever presented themselves under a flag of truce before the
enemy, for the purpose of proposing the termination of warfare." He had
indeed been most basely used as the agent of deception.

This chapter, we trust, has shown something of the real nature of the
points at issue in the Seminole Wars. In the course of these contests
the rights of Indian and Negro alike were ruthlessly disregarded. There
was redress for neither before the courts, and at the end in dealing
with them every honorable principle of men and nations was violated. It
is interesting that the three representatives of colored peoples who
in the course of the nineteenth century it was most difficult to
capture - Toussaint L'Ouverture, the Negro, Osceola, the Indian, and
Aguinaldo, the Filipino - were all taken through treachery; and on two of
the three occasions this treachery was practiced by responsible officers
of the United States Army.



1. The Ultimate Problem and the Missouri Compromise

In a previous chapter[1] we have already indicated the rise of the Negro
Problem in the last decade of the eighteenth and the first two decades
of the nineteenth century. And what was the Negro Problem? It was
certainly not merely a question of slavery; in the last analysis this
institution was hardly more than an incident. Slavery has ceased to
exist, but even to-day the Problem is with us. The question was rather
what was to be the final place in the American body politic of the
Negro population that was so rapidly increasing in the country. In the
answering of this question supreme importance attached to the Negro
himself; but the problem soon transcended the race. Ultimately it was
the destiny of the United States rather than of the Negro that was to be
considered, and all the ideals on which the country was based came to
the testing. If one studied those ideals he soon realized that they were
based on Teutonic or at least English foundations. By 1820, however, the
young American republic was already beginning to be the hope of all
of the oppressed people of Europe, and Greeks and Italians as well as
Germans and Swedes were turning their faces toward the Promised Land.
The whole background of Latin culture was different from the Teutonic,
and yet the people of Southern as well as of Northern Europe somehow
became a part of the life of the United States. In this life was it also
possible for the children of Africa to have a permanent and an honorable
place? With their special tradition and gifts, with their shortcomings,
above all with their distinctive color, could they, too, become genuine
American citizens? Some said No, but in taking this position they denied
not only the ideals on which the country was founded but also the
possibilities of human nature itself. In any case the answer to the
first question at once suggested another, What shall we do with the
Negro? About this there was very great difference of opinion, it not
always being supposed that the Negro himself had anything whatever to
say about the matter. Some said send the Negro away, get rid of him by
any means whatsoever; others said if he must stay, keep him in slavery;
still others said not to keep him permanently in slavery, but emancipate
him only gradually; and already there were beginning to be persons who
felt that the Negro should be emancipated everywhere immediately, and
that after this great event had taken place he and the nation together
should work out his salvation on the broadest possible plane.

[Footnote 1: IV, Section 3.]

Into the agitation was suddenly thrust the application of Missouri for
entrance into the Union as a slave state. The struggle that followed
for two years was primarily a political one, but in the course of the
discussion the evils of slavery were fully considered. Meanwhile, in
1819, Alabama and Maine also applied for admission. Alabama was allowed
to enter without much discussion, as she made equal the number of slave
and free states. Maine, however, brought forth more talk. The Southern
congressmen would have been perfectly willing to admit this as a free
state if Missouri had been admitted as a slave state; but the North felt
that this would have been to concede altogether too much, as Missouri
from the first gave promise of being unusually important. At length,
largely through the influence of Henry Clay, there was adopted a
compromise whose main provisions were (1) that Maine was to be admitted
as a free state; (2) that in Missouri there was to be no prohibition of
slavery; but (3) that slavery was to be prohibited in any other states
that might be formed out of the Louisiana Purchase north of the line of
36° 30'.

By this agreement the strife was allayed for some years; but it is now
evident that the Missouri Compromise was only a postponement of the
ultimate contest and that the social questions involved were hardly
touched. Certainly the significance of the first clear drawing of the
line between the sections was not lost upon thoughtful men. Jefferson
wrote from Monticello in 1820: "This momentous question, like a
fire-bell in the night, awakened and filled me with terror. I considered
it at once as the knell of the Union. It is hushed, indeed, for the
moment. But this is a reprieve only, not a final sentence.... I can
say, with conscious truth, that there is not a man on earth who would

Online LibraryBenjamin BrawleyA Social History of the American Negro Being a History of the Negro Problem in the United States. Including A History and Study of the Republic of Liberia → online text (page 11 of 38)