Term Paper: Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows

Pages: 16 (4377 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Native Americans  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] This remains true in widely diverse cultures despite the fact that race is not - by the accounts of both biologists and physical anthropologists - a scientifically useful category for the simple reason that people cannot be clearly and unambiguously divided into discrete sets based on physical characteristics.

It is in fact most accurate to look at the idea of races within a (as purely as possible) biological framework. As such it is the identification within a species of subpopulations whose members share with one another a greater degree of common inheritance than they share with individuals from other such subpopulations. This is a neutral definition so far (except for the fact that it doe tend to assume that such identifications are meaningful and useful to make) (Jantz, 1995, p. 346). But bounty hunters had neither the intellectual skills nor the desire to distinguish between mixed-race maroons and mixed-race Seminole, and many who considered themselves to be Indians were turned into slaves by being re-classified as black.

Another irony of life for the Black Seminole is the fact that their communities were raided not simply by white slave hunters but also by Indian slave hunters - including some groups of Creek Indians - who often seized women and children to take back to slavery because these were the most easily seized members of the Black Seminole communities.

The Seminole Negroes were descendants of escaped slaves who settled among the Seminole Indians of Florida. In the late l830s and early l840s, the U.S. government moved the Seminoles and Seminole Negroes to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma. Slave hunters and pro-slave Creek Indians persecuted them there. One band of Seminoles and a band of Seminole Negroes consequently moved to Mexico.

Although the Seminole Indians returned to the United States in 1858, the Seminole blacks did not. They feared kidnapping and a return to slavery back in the United States. Mexico prohibited slavery. As a result, the Seminole blacks were safe as long as they lived south of the Rio Grande. They drew on survival skills learned in the Florida wilderness and adapted those skills to the harsh and barren terrain of the Mexican borderlands (http://www.nps.gov/foda/Fort_Davis_WEB_PAGE/About_the_Fort/Seminole.htm).

Spanish Once Again and the Seminole Confederation

Florida was in British control for less than a generation at the end of the 18th century before it shifted once again to Spanish control. During the last decades of the 18th century and the first decades of the 19th, the Black Seminoles created a distinct cultural group, one that joined with the Seminole Confederation in 1812 (Mulroy, 1993, pp. 17-19).

The Seminoles, who often joined with the British against the Americans in the Anglo-American skirmishes that marked the beginning of the 19th century, were courageous fighters whose skills and experience adapted them well to the rigors of fighting in the Florida swamps. U.S. forces believed that there was a continuing threat to U.S. interests by both Seminoles and Seminole maroons. Two wars were fought between U.S. forces and the Seminoles. After the Second Seminole War (1835-42), the federal government initially decided to relocate Seminole Indians and maroons to southern Florida. But white landowners did not want the fierce Seminoles close to them. The Seminoles would soon find themselves, like other native peoples, being moved from one territory to another

Racism as a Consistent Response

It is important to underscore the fact that to some extent blacks, Black Seminoles and what were then called "Red Seminoles" were bound together by some extent by the racism of those around them. This would change to some extent (as noted above) when the Seminole moved westward.

The western United States would begin to attract both Seminoles an Black Seminoles after the end of the Indian wars. It is not difficult to see why the West should have attracted them. The most obvious reason for this, at least initially, was that the Western states were not slave-holding and so offered a degree of freedom unavailable in the South for both "real" blacks and for the Seminoles who had married blacks or whom were sometimes identified as blacks so that they could be sold into slavery. And even though the Western states were regulated by federal laws that required people in free states to return slaves, effectively the force of such legislation was much less in the West than it was in other, more populated and more settled parts of the country. A slave that made it to the West was not as safe as one who made it to Canada, but nearly so, and had the advantage of not having to try to sneak across the international border.

Many of the blacks who came West (even before the Civil War) were in fact free, and the Western states therefore offered them not the promise of legal freedom but rather a social milieu in which old rules and old ideas about the proper station of blacks and to a lesser extent mixed-race peoples and American Indians, would have held less away. This is not to say that the West was an idyllic zone free of bigotry, of course not. Rather, because life in the West was harder than in the settled East, people were in all likelihood inclined more to judge people by their actions and the content of their characters than simply by their skin color.

The plight of blacks and mixed-race people like the Black Seminoles in the American West was certainly not perfect, with black Americans still facing some of the hatred and violence that they would face in other parts of the country. But the relative isolation of the West as well as the fact that white Americans in the West lived alongside Indians as well as Asians and blacks made life better for blacks and mixed-race people identified as blacks in the West than it would have been in other parts of the country as well as better than it was for the native peoples. These facts led a number of Black Seminoles in the middle decades of the 19th century - but before the Civil War - to consider migrating to the West.

Indian Territory

But many Seminoles would find themselves going west involuntarily. After a number of battles between the U.S. Army and the Seminoles, the army seized a Seminole leader named Wild Cat and threatened to kill him unless the Seminole agreed to be deported. By 1841 most Seminoles had agreed to be moved West to Indian Territory, with the exception of a few Seminoles left in the Everglades (who would fight in the Third Seminole War) (Wickman, 1991, p. 97).

The Seminole who traveled to Indian Territory (in what is now Oklahoma) did not fare as badly as some others on that Trail of Tears, but here the story of both Black and Red Seminoles merges for a time into that of many of the other Eastern tribes. Beginning in 1830, the federal government departed from its policy of respecting the legal and political rights of American Indians living in their traditional homelands.

Federal officials and U.S. soldiers began to force people from their land and settle them far away from whites, on land that was the least desirable. Andrew Jackson vigorously promoted this new federal policy of forcible displacement, which was formalized as a part of the Indian Removal Act of 1830. A number of northern tribes were peacefully resettled in western lands considered undesirable (because of their low potential for arability, due almost entirely to the lack of easy access to water) for white settlers (Jahoda, 1998, p. 32). The key political - and humanitarian - problems lay in the Southeast, where members of what were known as the Five Civilized Tribes - the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Seminole, Cherokee, and Creek. A number of each of these Indian Nations refused to trade their cultivated farms for the promise of permanent title in a land that they had never seen (Perdue, 1995, p. 61).

After their refusal to give up their lands, about 100,000 people from these tribes were forced to march westward under U.S. military guard beginning in the 1830s. Estimates are that up to one quarter of all of these people - many of whom were forced to march in manacles because they had fought in Indian Wars against U.S. soldiers - died along the way. The terrible forced march of the Cherokees (during the years 1838-39) became known as the infamous "Trail of Tears" for the loss of so many innocent lives. But this title could have been applied to any of the trips taken by the Southeastern Indians like the Seminoles across the country.

For the Seminoles, leaving their home was for many a tragedy that would never be overcome. For the Black Seminole, whose cultural and religious connections to Seminole territory in Florida were less deep, the trip was perhaps somewhat less psychologically terrible. But… [END OF PREVIEW]

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