The Black Seminoles were a group of people that history, for the most part, forgot about. Their alliance with the native Seminole tribes resulted in a unique relationship that had never been seen before, and that changed the course of history for both the Seminoles and the State of Florida as a whole.
The Black Seminoles, sometimes called Maroons, were a group of freed men and runaway slaves living in Florida during the mid-16th century. They settled the first free black town in American history, attained their freedom by joining the Spanish and converting to Catholicism, and formed a tight cultural bond with the Seminole tribes.
The participation of the Seminole tribes turned out to be the key to the largest slave rebellion in the United States, although their efforts - and those of the runaway slaves who fought beside them - were largely swept under the rug.
The Black Seminoles were a fierce, proud, and extremely unique group, and still exist today scattered throughout the Southern US, the Caribbean, and Mexico. Read on to see how they formed their alliance with the Seminoles and fought hard for their freedom.
Spanish settlers in Florida were in the middle of a huge conflict with their British neighbors in the late 1600s, namely the residents of Carolina (which consisted of modern-day Georgia and North/South Carolina). As a result, they needed a fort that could act as a buffer to protect them; so in 1681, Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, or "Fort Mose," was founded just north of St. Augustine.
With so many escaped slaves seeking freedom in Spanish Florida, the settlers decided that the fort should be run by freed black men. In total, 38 men ran the fort and established the very first all-black town in North America.
When Florida was later ceded to Britain in the Paris Treaty of 1763, the freed men were no longer welcome and many were forced to flee to the Seminole Nation, thus beginning The Seminole Nation's alliance with the Black Seminoles.
The relationship between the Black Seminoles and the Native Seminoles was complex - they were partners of fate who joined together as a team when it was to their benefit and parted ways when it wasn't. The two groups shared much of their cultures with one another and further unified themselves by practicing intermarriage over the generations.
They were one of the first communities to navigate the murky waters of joining two different ethnic groups, and though they weren't recognized for it back then, today's scholars are finally beginning to acknowledge the great strides that they made as true American pioneers.
The home of the Seminole Nation has changed many times and spans across several states and countries. After the War of 1812, both the Native and Black Seminoles moved from northern Florida into the southern and central areas of the state, away from the encroaching white settlers. In the early 1820s, a large group also escaped to the Bahamas.
After the Second Seminole War, many Seminoles and escaped slaves were removed to yet another new territory in Oklahoma, but others chose a different path and ended up in Texas and Northern Mexico.
Around 1816, General Andrew Jackson was tasked with the forced removal of any runaway slaves who were being sheltered by the bands of Black Seminoles. The burning and raiding of villages quickly became the catalyst for the first major conflict between whites and the Seminole Nation.
Although the Black Seminoles fought back, Jackson was able to capture the Spanish-held cities of Pensacola and St. Marks. The Spanish ended up ceding Florida in 1819, giving up their claims for sovereign Spanish rule in Texas.