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Origins of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts

Written by Katarina "Kato" Wittich and Edited by Sarah N. Johnson

Promises, Resettlement and Retaliation


In the fall of 1838, after three years of nonstop warfare and lots of losses, General Jesup despaired of winning the war militarily. He was aware that if the Seminole Negroes were no longer fighting as allies with the Seminoles, there would be a greater chance of ending the war quickly. And while there was a great deal of political pressure to remove the Seminole Negroes from Florida because they provided a safe haven for escaped enslaved people, the Seminole themselves were not as urgent an issue, as long as they could be moved south onto lands that the white invaders did not want.  He also knew that the primary reason the Seminole Negroes continued fighting was to avoid the harsher form of enslavement practiced in the South. They believed that their families were safest in the Florida swamps, where it was difficult for enslavers to find and capture them. So Jesup devised a plan to separate the two groups.

To break their alliance,  Jesup promised all Seminole Negroes freedom from their Seminole “owners" and protection from future enslavement, if they stopped fighting and agreed to move west and trade the lands they occupied in Florida for land in Oklahoma, then called Indian Territory. He also told the Seminole Chiefs that he would propose to the government that they be allowed to remain in Florida as long as they moved south. Under these conditions, a number of the Seminole Chiefs agreed to his plan.[5]

Unfortunately, Jesup did not put this agreement in any official form that was legally binding. although it was several times approved by the War Department.[6] This lack of a written agreement would cause problems for the Seminole Negroes in Indian Territory and afterward. It also has made it possible for the Bureau of Indian Affairs to deny them appropriate reparations up until the present day. The only proof of the terms of the agreement can be found in official correspondence, such as the letter in which Jesup informed the War Department that he had assured the Seminole Negroes “ that if they  surrendered and agreed to emigrate they would be settled in separate villages… under the protection of the United States, as a part of the Seminole nation, and never to be separated or sold.”  [7]  With the promise of freedom, and military protection from enslavement, as well as land of their own in Indian Territory, most of the Seminole Negroes accepted his terms and the majority of them soon came in to the military camps and began the process of being moved to Oklahoma


However, within weeks of Jesup’s proposals, the government refused to allow the Seminoles to remain in Florida.[8] As a result, the war continued for almost four more years, largely without participation by the Seminole Negroes because by the spring of 1838 they were already on their way to Indian Territory.

As the Seminole Negroes were in transit, conflicts began to rage about their status. Creek warriors who had been recruited to fight against the Seminoles had been promised that they could take all the “plunder” that they could from the Seminoles, and that was generally agreed to mean their “slaves”.[9] White “slave traders” from the Southern states were in constant pursuit of Seminole Negroes who they claimed were the property of Southern plantation owners. And the Seminoles continued to claim that they owned most of the Seminole Negroes, while most of the Seminole Negroes now considered themselves free because of Jesup’s proclamation.

At one point, attempting to resolve the issue of whether the Creeks “owned” the Seminole Negroes they had captured, Jesup made an agreement with the Creeks to use government funds to “buy” the 90 black captives the Creeks were holding. Although the financial agreement eventually fell through, the Army had already taken the black captives and began the task of trying to determine who was Seminole Negro and supposedly belonged to a Seminole, who was considered freed by Jesup’s proclamation, and who was recently escaped from a southern plantation and claimed by a white enslaver. [10]

Until emancipation, these arguments over “ownership” of the Seminole Negroes would continue, in the courts and out of them. In Indian Territory, it rapidly became clear that the U.S.  military and the government were unable or unwilling to adequately protect the Seminole Negroes. The Creek Indians, on whose reservation the Seminoles had been placed, practiced “chattel slavery” in a manner very similar to that of whites and made frequent raids on the Seminole Negroes to capture members and sell them to southern plantation owners. Marcellus Duval, one of the Indian Agents assigned to oversee the Seminoles was a firm believer in slavery and worked tirelessly to deliver any Black he could into the hands of both Creek and white enslavers, one of whom was his brother![11]


There was no safety for the Seminole Negroes unless they abandoned their farms and camped on the Cherokee reservation where the soldiers from Fort Gibson could provide some protection. This meant they could not raise crops or provide for themselves and were dependent on military rations for survival. 


Over the next few years the Second Seminole War continued, with the Seminoles much weakened by the departure of their Seminole Negro allies.  The U.S. military repeatedly resorted to trickery and breaches of truce to capture and forcibly move the majority of the Seminoles to Indian Territory.[12] At the end of the war, most of the Seminoles who had not been captured, agreed to move to an informal reservation further south, and the war ended without much resolution.  



[5] Alcione M Amos. and  Thomas P Senter, The Black Seminoles (University Press of Florida: 2013), 95.

[6] Littlefield, Africans and Seminoles, 31.

[7] Alcione and Senter, The Black Seminoles,118.

[8] Alcione and Senter, The Black Seminoles, 96.

[9] Littlefield, Africans and Seminoles, 16.

[10] Littlefield, Africans and Seminoles, 17.

[11]Littlefield, Africans and Seminoles, 119.

[12] Alcione and Senter, The Black Seminoles, 96.

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