Black Miami Stories

Black Miami in the Twentieth Century

Black Cesar

Spain’s weakness in controlling the kingdom’s vast empire in the New World allowed pirates to operate freely off the coasts of Florida. Piracy lured many blacks to sea under the skull and crossbones. During the golden age of piracy nearly one quarter of the crew members on pirate ships were black. The loot taken by pirates was divided without regard to race; thus, piracy was probably the first equal employment opportunity available to blacks in the New World. For some blacks, piracy was considered better than enslavement. Pirates often used the channels that separate the Florida Keys as hideouts. They used Biscayne Bay and the surrounding area for re-supplying fresh water and meat, and for hiding from intended prey or hostile warships. 

As ships rode the Gulf Stream on their return trips to Europe, some weighed down by treasures looted from New World Indians, the pirates often attacked with unimaginable violence. One of the most successful and ruthless pirates in the late 1600s was an African called Black Caesar. He preyed on ships sailing off the Great Florida Reef near present-day Miami. 

There are several conflicting accounts of Black Caesar and his henchmen, leading to the conclusion that there were two Black Caesars with more than a century separating their exploits. The stories that remain may be more myth than truth. According to one version of the origin of Black Caesar, a slave ship, carrying hundreds of slaves below decks, was caught in a hurricane and was wrecked against the Great Florida Reef in the late 1600s.

A huge slave managed to reach land alive and alone. “The surviving slave found a tiny open boat that had washed ashore and sent himself adrift in the gulf stream [sic]. A sloop spotted the small craft and pulled alongside to help the exhausted seaman. Once aboard the giant Black attacked the captain and disposed of those in the crew members who refused to join him. In the next few years, he brazenly parlayed this sloop into larger craft, and became known as Black Caesar. His lair was Elliot Key, the first large island south of Key Biscayne, and a channel there still bears the name ‘Caesar’s Creek.’”

His timing as a pirate could not have been better. The British had not yet established a colony at Nassau. In fact, the very reason the British established the colony in 1717 was to eliminate piracy in this part of the New World. But in the mid-1600s there was no sufficient opposition to piracy and Black Caesar and his kind had control of the area between the Bahamas and Florida. “The area around Cape Florida was ideal for Black Caesar. The Florida Straits provided an unending parade of prizes, and when needed, the bay granted a magnificent avenue of escape. Biscayne Bay’s tricky mud flats and shoals were deadly to the uninitiated, and beyond the Bay were mangroves and blind-mouthed channels known only to Caesar. 

On rare occasions, when pursuits came close, Caesar headed for the mainland’s maze of mangrove channels.  He would quickly disappear in the swamp, dismast his vessel, and sink it in shallow water. With his ship underwater and his men hidden, Caesar could vanish from the most determined enemy. The cunning pirate had many tactics. One was a large metal ring imbedded deeply in a rock on a particular small island. With a sturdy line through the ring, Caesar could heel his ship and hide its mast from passing vessels. When a prize came close, a lookout signaled, the ship was righted and underway immediately.” 

Black Caesar was not a gentleman. He was described as cruel with a passion for the finer things in life including jewels and luxuries. He supposedly had a harem of 100 white women, some of them with children. The camp was said to have been located near Elliot Key. According to this account, Caesar incarcerated his prisoners in stone huts and left them to starve when he later abandoned the camp. Reportedly, a few of the children escaped the camp and survived on their own wandering about the key living on berries and shellfish, and in time, developing a primitive language of their own. This may account for the Seminole legend that the island was haunted.  

“In the early 1700s Caesar left Biscayne Bay to join Capt. Edward Teach alias ‘Blackbeard’, and the wild tales of about the Biscayne buccaneer continued.  Caesar became Teach’s trusted lieutenant and together in the 40-gun Queen Anne’s Revenge, they plagued the American coast. Fortunately, their partnership ended abruptly when the British Navy killed Teach off North Carolina in 1718.  Caesar was captured, taken to Virginia for trial, and hanged the same year in Williamsburg.”  A second Black Caesar became known over a century later. He operated in the same areas as did the first Black Caesar and was eventually captured by American naval forces. He was probably executed.


This official account of the attack on the Cape Florida Lighthouse is an example of the white washing of history. The lighthouse “assistant’ was in fact, a slave. His body was buried near the lighthouse although the exact location is unknown. Black Seminoles were probably involved in the attack.

July 23, 1836: Cape Florida Lighthouse

on Key Biscayne attacked by Seminoles

Photo: State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

The Cape Florida Lighthouse was built in 1825 on Key Biscayne to protect ships traveling near the treacherous Florida reef, where shipwrecks were so common that settlers and Seminole Indians routinely collected spilled goods in an industry they called “wrecking.”

After the Second Seminole War broke out in December 1835, Seminoles opened rifle fire on the isolated lighthouse, trapping its new keeper, John Thompson, and his assistant.

Thompson fired back as he tried to ward off the attack but by nightfall, the Seminoles reached the base of the lighthouse and set fire to the entrance, doors and windows. The fire ignited cans of oil stored at the base, and soon the entire floor was aflame. 

As the fire grew up the stairs, the iron floor grew burning hot. Trapped, the keeper and his assistant ran toward the top, and the keeper threw down gunpowder, thinking it would cause a huge explosion and mercifully end their lives. 

The Indians thought the explosion killed them, burned down the keeper’s home and took off in his boat. But the explosion actually put out the fire.

While the assistant died, the keeper was still alive but in a terrible state in the watchtower, with no way to climb down. He spent the next 12 hours with his foot nearly shot off, suffering burns, roasting in the hot sun, with nothing to drink and his dead assistant’s body next to him.

He was finally rescued by a passing ship that had heard the explosion from 12 miles away. 

The tower was rebuilt in 1846 but put out of commission again by a Confederate raiding party in 1861. The light was extinguished in 1878 when it was replaced by the more powerful Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. 

It was relit in 1978 and is the centerpiece of the 406-acre Bill Baggs Cape Florida Recreation Area. The lighthouse is the oldest standing structure in South Florida.


In 1790, less than a decade after the American Revolution, a Spaniard named Pedro Fornills applied for a tract containing 175 acres on uninhabited Key Biscayne. In 1804, Fornills left St. Augustine in a newly purchased schooner to settle the island. He was accompanied by his family, two Spanish companions, and several slaves. With his slaves, Fornills brought his tract of land under cultivation, but his involvement in the venture was short-lived. Being far from the protection of Spanish guns at St. Augustine, he faced raids by marauding English and French ships. In 1805, Fornills returned to St. Augustine where he died shortly thereafter, but some of his slaves who had escaped into the nearby Everglades were left behind.

One of Fornills’ companions, a white man known only as Vincent, stayed on the island with some of the slaves and successfully grew crops of guinea corn and coffee. They lived for several seasons on the island, but their ultimate fate is a mystery. The slaves left by the Fornills experiment may well have been the first blacks to settle permanently in what is now Miami-Dade County. There were no white settlers for several years. In the twenty years between the departure of Fornills and the building of the Cape Florida Lighthouse in 1825, Key Biscayne was frequented by gulls, sea turtles, Indians, and escaped slaves from Georgia and other southern states.

Cape Florida, at the tip of Key Biscayne, was the departure point for runaway slaves on their way to the Bahamas and freedom. It was a well-chosen point. Key Biscayne stands nearer than any other piece of land to the world’s mightiest current, the Gulf Stream. Andros Island in particular, was ultimately settled by slaves who had escaped enslavement. Some of them were slaves from Florida who launched themselves to freedom from Key Biscayne. According to one expert, in 1821, the year the United States took control of Florida from Spain, more than a hundred slaves and Indians were living on Key Biscayne. “These hunted ‘Black Indians’ could feel the slave catchers’ footsteps nearby as they waited for boats to take them across the straits to the Bahamas. Today the descendants of these Key Biscayne emigres live on Andros Island.”

Bahamian Migration

Black Seminoles

Black Seminoles

The Alliance of Blacks and Seminoles by Dr. Marvin Dunn

As early as the 1700s, members of several Native American tribes in the southeastern United States began migrating into Spanish Florida. Most of these people had separated themselves from the main body of the Lower Creek Indians who occupied parts of eastern Alabama and southern Georgia. Together with migrating members of various tribes from the Southeast, they were referred to as Seminoles, meaning seceders. Their leader, Cowkeeper, was allied with the Spanish in keeping English settlers out of Florida which had been a haven for escaped slaves since the time of the conquistadors. Thus, as the newly arrived Seminoles settled themselves on the peninsula, they found former slaves and maroons already living free in Florida.

Although maroon communities existed all over the New World, Florida maroons were primarily escaped slaves who had been living along the Florida coast since the time of the conquistadors. As was the case with maroons all over the New World, Florida maroons preferred to live in their own communities, separate from whites, slaves and Indians. Maroons in Florida and along the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina maintained African-oriented societies which they established in considerable numbers. Maroons and newly arriving Seminoles sometimes joined forces, at least temporarily, to attack white settlers who were, as they saw it, invading the peninsula.

As the Seminoles made contact with blacks, both maroons and escaped slaves, each culture learned from the other. With no resistance from the Spanish government, escaped slaves and Seminoles lived side-by-side, forming their own mutually supporting communities. They also joined together to resist American troops sent to round up the Indians to remove them to reservations in the West particularly in the Oklahoma Territory, and to return escape slaves to their chains in Georgia and elsewhere.

Some blacks that were actually owned by the Indians came into Spanish Florida with their Indian masters. Some of these slaves had been given to the Indians as gifts from the British for cooperating with them, and others had been acquired in various ways. These blacks and their descendants are referred to here as Black Seminoles (as a separate group from escaped slaves and maroons). Even though they were considered slaves, the Black Seminoles were not treated the same as slaves who were owned by whites. In fact, the Black Seminoles lived their lives in a manner similar to that of their Indian masters, being allowed the many freedoms the Indians had. During conflicts with the Americans, Indians and black men armed themselves and assembled under their respective captains. Another role of the blacks in the evolving alliance between escaped slaves and Seminoles was that of interpreter, especially for the Indians in their dealings with the American military.

The system of enslavement used by the Indians was very benign as compared to that used by the English, and later by the Americans. In fact, the Seminoles seemed somewhat perplexed about how to use their slaves. They apparently had no intention of devoting their lives to managing slaves. The Indians solved their dilemma by supplying their slaves with tools to cut down trees, build houses for themselves, and raise corn. When the crop was harvested, their “masters” received a reasonable proportion of it as a kind of tribute, usually about a third of the crop. One observer reported that no more than ten bushels of corn were ever demanded. When some blacks acquired livestock, their Seminole patrons did not meddle in their activities, and at slaughtering time they were supplied with a fat hog or a side of beef.

As the Seminoles arrived in Florida they established their town, Cuscowilla, on the Alachua Savannah west of St. Augustine. Their first leader, known as Cowkeeper, allied himself with the Spanish in keeping English settlers out of Florida. Approximately 5,000 Indians from many tribes migrated into Spanish Florida during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Both Indians and escaped black slaves were welcomed by the Spanish who hoped that the presence of armed and hostile Indians and blacks would discourage white American expansion into Florida. It did not.

The alliance between the Indians and the blacks produced escalating tensions. White slave-owners wanted their escaped slaves back and pressed the federal government to do something about the uninterrupted flow of escaped slaves into Florida. The Seminoles had no intention of turning over their slaves, some of whom had married into the tribe. Further inflaming the situation, the Seminoles often gave shelter and support to escaped slaves who were fleeing their masters’ whips. When Florida became a territory of the United States in 1821, the new American government insisted that all escaped slaves be returned to their owners, and the first Florida Legislative Council closed the new Florida Territory to free blacks.

From the start, as slave-catchers and the army rounded up blacks, the first problem was distinguishing between escaped slaves who hid among the Indians and the Black Seminoles who were owned and protected by the tribe. Other than the annual tribute given by the blacks to their owners or to the chiefs, there were few apparent differences between the two groups. Sometimes escaped slaves and Black Seminoles bred or even intermarried and had children whose legal status (slave or free) became an issue. In addition, a few blacks were married to Seminole women, further complicating the conflict. There was also the problem of blacks bearing arms. Generally, Seminole slaves were not supervised by the tribe and were allowed to carry arms. This posed a big threat to newly arriving whites. Of course, during conflicts with the Americans, black men armed themselves and assembled under their own captains to fight American troops.

By the early 1800s, escaped slaves were streaming into Florida, and many of them were living in close proximity to the Indians or in separate black towns. The Seminoles and their various black allies struggled to survive in the Florida wilderness. Both the Indians and the blacks were stunned by events at Negro Fort and vowed vengeance. In 1823, the American government and the Seminoles signed the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. The government built forts all over the Florida Territory to protect white settlers from attacks by Indians and blacks. The Moultrie Creek Treaty ceded most of the coastal area of Florida to the Americans. The interior of the peninsula was to become a Seminole reservation which whites were not to enter without Indian permission.

As the Indians migrated to these less desirable lands, the Americans began to manipulate them into returning fugitive slaves in exchange for government rations. The plan apparently worked.  Early in 1826, the Indians reportedly surrendered so many fugitive blacks that only about twenty were still at large. But the Black Seminoles (slaves owned by the Seminoles) had not been turned over to the Americans and they continued their migration with the Indians to remote camps in the interior.

In May of 1830, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. This Act required that most of the members of the southern tribes living east of the Mississippi River be removed to Indian Territory in the West in areas that are now the states of Oklahoma and Arkansas. The law was designed to move the so-called Five Civilized Tribes of the slave states so that their lands could be settled by the nation’s growing white population. These tribes included the Creeks, Cherokees, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and the Seminoles as a group distinct from the Creeks. The passage of this law only cemented the alliance of blacks and Seminoles as the two groups vowed to resist removal from Florida.

The conflict between the Seminoles, their black allies, and the American government came to a critical point with the Dade Massacre in 1835. At the time of this battle, the United States government had already negotiated the Treaty of Moultrie Creek which stipulated that the Indians could have a large portion of the interior section of central Florida while whites would be allowed to live in peace on the coasts. But with the need to reinforce troops already stationed in the interior, the government sent Major Francis L. Dade from Fort Brooke (present-day Tampa) to join U.S. troops at Fort King, near Ocala. That meant that Dade and his men would have to march straight through the dangerous interior of the peninsula, which was Seminole country. Neither Major Dade nor his commanders requested permission to enter Seminole territory, thus setting the stage for the first “massacre” of American troops by Indians.

On December 28, 1835, a cold and rainy day, blacks joined the Indians at the Great Wahoo Swamp, and together they attacked Dade’s forces in central Florida near present-day Bushnell. The event made newspapers all over the country and garnered popular support for removal of the Indians from Florida. Two companies led by Major Francis L. Dade were taking a six-pound cannon to Fort King. As the major on horseback tried to cheer the men on, the troops slushed their way through the tall grass on either side of the little trail called the Fort King Road. Dozens of Indians suddenly rose from the dripping wet sawgrass and fired at point-blank range. Major Dade and half of his men, more than fifty, fell at the first volley. Satisfied with their swift victory, the Seminoles withdrew.

The battle might have ended then except for an astonishing development. Instead of dispersing in the high sawgrass, making themselves more difficult targets, Dade’s decimated forces chopped down small pine trees and hastily arranged them into a triangular fortification. The Indians, dumbfounded, watched from a distance as the soldiers boxed themselves in. It was an opportunity the chiefs could not ignore. In a final deadly assault, the Indians stormed the small fortification and overwhelmed the soldiers. They left no one standing.

An expert on the Dade Massacre, Frank Laumer, gives this account of what happened next: “In a little while the weapons had been gathered and the Indians left the silent enclosure, passing back through the woods toward the west, taking their three dead with them . . .    Nearly fifty Negroes, runaway slaves and confederates of the Seminoles, reined in and slid to the ground from saddleless horses. White eyes rolling in dark faces, they leaned on the barricade and saw for the first time, white masters at their mercy. Escaped from brutal owners and stripped of everything but hate, they heard with pleasure the sounds of dying white men. Taking up the fallen axes of the work crew and drawing the assorted knives they carried they scrambled into the pen, cutting and hacking their way from man to man. Every throat that moaned was cut, and every heart that beat was stabbed.” High above in the cold grey sky, the first vulture circled slowly.

The bodies remained unburied for weeks. On the morning of February 20, fifty-four days after the battle, an army of eleven hundred men reached the battleground. “Lieutenant James Duncan wrote: ‘Gracious God what a sight! The vultures rose in clouds as the approach of the column drove them from their prey[.] [T]he very breastwork was black with them[.]  [S]ome hovered over us as we looked upon the scene before us whilst others settled upon the adjoining trees waiting for our departure, in order again to return to their prey. The interior of the breastwork was covered with the bodies of the slain, as they had been left by their savage foe.’”

From a force of 107 men, only three survived.  “The black survivor of what became known as the Dade Massacre was Luis Pacheco, who had acted as an interpreter with the Indians for Major Dade. Pacheco (1800-1895) had been born a slave on a plantation south of Jacksonville, but had learned to read and write from the daughter of his master . . .   Once after visiting his wife, a former slave who had purchased her freedom, he was caught in Tampa and sold to the first of several military commanders. When Major Dade headed out of Tampa to march north, Pacheco went along as an interpreter with the Seminoles, whose language he had learned as a youth.”

It has been asserted, but not established, that Pacheco disclosed the troop’s movements to the Seminoles. For a time, it was assumed that the former slave and guide was buried with the rest of Dade’s command. But in the early summer of 1837, about two years after the massacre, Pacheco returned to Fort Brooke, the embarkation point of the Dade command. When the Seminoles had attacked Dade’s soldiers that morning, Pacheco had dropped to the ground pretending to be dead. Dade’s men were cut down as the slave lay on the field. At the right moment he rose and presented himself as a slave who was forced to be on the march.

The chief who led the attack, Jumper, ordered that his life be spared. Thereafter, Pacheco was Jumper’s slave and was sent west to Oklahoma with a group of Seminoles as hostilities ended. Later, he was sold again and taken to Austin, Texas, where he lived for forty years. “Some 57 years after the Dade Massacre, Pacheco made his way to Jacksonville and located the woman who had taught him to read and write. He took her name, Fatio, and remained with her until he died in 1895.”

Following the Dade Massacre, a huge army of American soldiers was deployed to Florida. The event had made news all over America for nothing like it had ever occurred. This crushing Indian victory came several decades before the better-known massacre of General George Armstrong Custer and his troops at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876 in Montana. In the aftermath of the Dade Massacre, with the U.S. Army in relentless pursuit, the Seminoles and their black allies withdrew farther and farther south on the peninsula.

Following the national policy of Indian removal, General Edmund P. Gaines waged a campaign against the Seminoles and blacks in Florida which started the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). General Gaines and his troops forced the Indians and blacks away from the Suwannee River. Some bands fell back to the Withlacoochee River, east and south of the Suwannee. It was during this time that Osceola rose to influence as the fiercest of the Seminole warriors. He was not a chief but he became the most famous war leader produced by the Seminoles.

Throughout the conflict, as the Indians found themselves having to deal with the American government, black leaders emerged to help them. One of the first of these men was called Negro Abraham; he was born around 1770. Abraham is thought to have once been the slave of Dr. Eugenio Antonio Sierra of Pensacola. He spoke French, Spanish and English and also learned to speak the Seminole language after his arrival at Negro Fort. When the American attack on the fort took place, he was living there but he escaped unhurt. By 1826, he had become well known as a translator. Abraham came to prominence following the death of the feared black fighter called Nero who was killed during Andrew Jackson’s attacks on Indian and black settlements in the Suwannee River region. Nero had become a marked man due to suspicions (probably correct) of his leading raids against white settlements in nearby Georgia.

Abraham was described as being a religious enthusiast, having traits that won him the name “Prophet”. “Although he was occasionally accused of ambition, avarice, deceit, drunkenness, and even cowardice, no one ever doubted Abraham’s intelligence or his hold on Micanopy, the new Seminole chief who spent a great deal of time with Abraham. In fact, the American Army recognized Abraham as having more influence upon Micanopy than did any of the Seminole chiefs of the day.” Micanopy consulted Abraham before making any important decisions related to the hostilities with whites. Abraham plotted with Micanopy and his chiefs to begin an uprising against removal to Indian reservations in the West.  It was Abraham who acted as interpreter for the Indians in the so-called Treaty of Payne’s Landing in 1833.

<Insert photo: Negro Abraham>

Negro Abraham was an interpreter and ally of the Seminoles. He was extremely cross-eyed which led the Indians to believe he had divine powers. Abraham was especially close to Micanopy, the last Seminole chief.

Florida State Archives

John Horse was another prominent black who influenced the Seminoles. Born in 1812, he was the son of a young black woman and an unknown father. He had many aliases, including Gopher John and John Cavallo, the latter name taken from the man who was likely his father. When the attack on Negro Fort occurred in 1816, John was four years old and living among the Seminoles on the Alachua Savannah, west of St. Augustine. By 1826, if not earlier, he was living in a village on Thlonoto-sassa Lake, twelve miles from Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay. He became more influential among the Seminoles as he grew up. He was able to communicate with his Indian friends in their own language or dialect. More important was the fact that he could also speak English fluently which enabled him to talk to the American soldiers in the forts.

During the time of the Second Seminole War, his relationship with Indian leaders bloomed. He grew into a powerfully-built man who, it was said, was so handsome that even men remarked upon it. “From ‘a long-legged . . . . boy,’ he had grown into ‘a fine- looking fellow of six feet, as straight as an Indian, with just a smile of red blood mantling to his forehead . . . a jaunty air that would fix your attention at sight.’”  Not only was he growing into a fine and powerful man physically, but he was also developing into a man of intellect and courage. These attributes propelled John Horse to become a leader among his own people and to have great influence among the Seminoles.

By November of 1836, a new commander had been appointed to assume control of American forces in Florida. He was General Thomas Sidney Jesup, the man after whom Jesup, Georgia is named. He tried a different tactic to deal with the Seminoles. Instead of going after the warriors in the mosquito- infested swamps, he rounded up Seminole women and children figuring that sooner or later the men would come in. He was right. Most came in. With an effective and large military force now operating in Florida, many Indians were being rounded up for removal, and black leaders found it more difficult to survive in Florida.  John Caesar, the black man who had attacked plantations in the St. Johns area, was killed on January 17, 1837, one day after he reportedly attempted to steal horses from the Hanson Plantation two miles west of St. Augustine.

But many of the chiefs were still at large, accompanied by Indian and black warriors. They were now constantly on the move, trying to avoid the roving bands of American soldiers. General Jesup eventually made contact with the omnipresent Negro Abraham, and through him, began communicating with the Seminoles. General Jesup and Abraham met in Jesup’s camp on January 31, 1837.  Abraham had been sent to the meeting by Micanopy to speak for the Seminoles and, of course, for the blacks. After Abraham’s meeting with the general, Seminole leaders soon gathered to begin negotiations to end the war. On March 6, 1837, they arrived at Fort Dade to meet with General Jesup. It was during these discussions that John Horse, already known and respected in the Seminole and Black Seminole communities, first gained the notice of the Americans.

Negotiations between the Seminoles and the Americans were concluded by a document stating that hostilities were to cease immediately and permanently, and stipulating that the entire Seminole population would emigrate to the West. The United States would pay their relocation expenses, and the Seminoles were to receive government rations before and during removal, and for a year after. John Horse was one of the signatories of the document on behalf of Chief Alligator. Through dogged persistence, Jesup finally persuaded most of the exhausted Indians in these bands to come in. By mid-April, even Alligator and John Horse had arrived at Fort Bassinger for emigration. In June, 1838, John Horse and his family were sent to relocation camps in the West. However, there were still some isolated bands at large, and the war slogged along in Florida.

While John Horse and his family were on the way to relocation, General Zachary Taylor, now in charge of military operations in Florida, asked for some of the Seminole chiefs to be sent back to Florida to convince the remaining Seminoles to emigrate. When news of this reached John Horse, he expressed his wish to join the envoy of Seminoles. Despite General Taylor’s objection, John Horse was allowed to reach Florida where he once again became a prominent figure. He worked as a guide and interpreter and also began helping the government convince the few remaining Seminoles to emigrate. Because of the trust many Indians had in him, he succeeded with some Seminoles. The government apparently showed its appreciation; John was doing well for himself. “When John had surrendered in 1838, he was described as wearing ragged, mismatched clothes. But now the well-paid guide dressed like a Seminole dandy.”

John Horse continued his services in helping to relocate the Indians. He helped General Walker K. Armistead, who had replaced Taylor as Florida Commander, to continue Taylor’s plan to bring a few chiefs back from the West to induce the remainder of the Florida Indian population to emigrate. Hundreds of blacks were removed from Florida and taken west with the Seminoles, mostly at the end of the Second Seminole War in 1842. Some Florida blacks became famed Buffalo Soldiers, joining the American Army as scouts, hunters, and fighters in the effort to control the belligerent Indians of the Great Plains.

By 1842, John Horse’s duties were becoming fewer and fewer. He left Florida on July 14, 1842, as a free man. He and other Black Seminoles lived in Indian Territory in Oklahoma, Texas, and Mexico. He became a prime spokesman for the cause of obtaining land in the West for the Black Seminoles. On August 10, 1882, his quest finally ended. He died in a hospital in Mexico City, most likely of pneumonia. He had been visiting the President of Mexico in an attempt to convince him to allow several Black Seminoles to remain on the Mexican land they had settled. John Horse’s efforts were not fruitless. In March, 1884, the blacks and the Indians who had so earnestly sought their own land were allowed to remain in the settlement of Nacimiento in Mexico.

The Seminole wars had been costly for the new country in lives and money. On May 8, 1858, the United States declared that the Third Seminole War (1855 to 1858) had ended. About 200 Seminoles remained in Florida by that time. A few Black Seminoles also remained. Those remaining in Florida moved even farther south on the peninsula, ending up in the Everglades and Big Cypress regions. Their descendants still live there today, west of Miami where they have remained isolated for decades. In 1957, the Seminole Tribe of Florida was officially recognized by the U.S. government. Occasionally, there are Black Seminole reunions held in south Florida. Usually Black Seminole envoys from the West attend a reunion of Black Seminoles held about every two years in Palm Beach County near Jupiter.

In the end, the alliance between blacks and Seminoles resulted in a measure of intermarriage, or at least inter-breeding, and ultimately the presence of racially mixed descendants among the Seminoles today. Old ties between blacks and Seminoles is common knowledge among the Seminoles. “‘We had a lot of blacks that spoke well in the Creek language, my mother used to say’, explained Mabel Jumper in an interview in 1990. ‘The colored people spoke the Indian language and they spoke English, so they would tell the Indians what the white people were doing,’ Jumper said.  She noted that her great-great grandfather owned and kept slaves in the typical Seminole way. Intermarriage between blacks and Seminoles was not encouraged since Seminoles generally looked upon blacks as being inferior to themselves. Still, Indians interviewed for this work could describe Indian children within their various family groups today who are dark-skinned and have ‘nappy hair’ as living testimony to the Seminole-black alliance.”

Signed into law by President Andrew Jackson on May 28, 1830, this act authorized the president to grant unsettled lands west of the Mississippi River in exchange for Indian lands within existing state borders. 

Before becoming president, Jackson had been a long time proponent of Indian removal. In 1814, he commanded the U.S. military forces that defeated a faction of the Creek during the Creek War of 1813-1814. After their defeat, the Creek Nation lost 22 million acres of land in southern Georgia and central Alabama. 

The next year, in 1815, and again in 1818, Jackson marched against the Seminole Indians in Spanish held Florida, in part to punish them for their practice of harboring fugitive slaves. As a result of the attack in 1818, the Spanish government realized that it could not defend Florida against the United States. The next year, Spain sold Florida to the United States.

Henry Perrine (5 April 1797 – 7 August 1840) was a physician, horticulturist, United States Consul in Campeche, Campeche, Mexico, and an enthusiast for introducing tropical plants into cultivation in the United States.

Henry Edward Perrine was born April 5, 1797 at either New Brunswick, New Jersey[1] or Cranbury, New Jersey,[2] a son of Peter and Sarah Rozengrant Perrine, and a descendant of Daniel Perrin, “The Huguenot“.[citation needed] He taught school for two years while still a youth, studied medicine, and then at age 22 moved to Ripley, Illinois where he practiced medicine for five years, while also helping with the Underground Railroad in the area.[3][verification needed] In 1821 he was accidentally poisoned with arsenic, from which he never fully recovered. He married Ann Fuller Townsend in 1822 while living in Illinois.[2][4]

Cold weather particularly bothered Perrine after his arsenic poisoning, and in 1824 he moved to Natchez, Mississippi (leaving his family in Illinois) in the hope that the climate would aid his recovery. He began studying herbs and medicinal plants while in Natchez. Malaria was common in the Natchez area, and Perrine began studying the use of quinine to treat it. He published the results of his research in the Philadelphia Journal of the Medical and Physical Sciences in 1826, and that report remained an important source on the subject for a century. In 1825 Perrine and his family moved to his wife Ann’s hometown of Sodus, New York. Believing that he needed to move to a climate even warmer than that of Natchez, Perrine had applied in 1824 for a diplomatic position in a tropical country. In 1827 he sent copies of his report on the use of quinine to Washington. Shortly thereafter he was appointed United States Consul in Campeche, Mexico, where he served for ten years.[2][5]

Soon after Perrine arrived in Campeche, the United States Treasury Department asked all U. S. Consuls to find useful plants that could be introduced to the United States. Perrine began investigating tropical crops for introduction into the United States. He sent seeds and plants to people he corresponded with in the southern United States, and to the New York Botanical Garden. Perrine was the only U.S. Consul to respond to the Treasury Department’s request, and newspapers in the United States began writing about his work. Through correspondence with Captain DeBose, the keeper at the Cape Florida Light, with Charles Howe, postmaster and inspector of customs at Indian Key and with William A. Whitehead, mayor of Key West, Florida, Perrine became convinced that the southern tip of Florida was the only place in the United States suitable for the introduction of tropical plants. While still in Campeche and on his return to the United States, he campaigned for a land grant on which he could start a plant introduction station. Upon his return to the United States, Perrine was offered a site in Louisiana for his plant introduction station, but he rejected it, believing that only southern Florida offered the necessary climate conditions. Perrine, Judge James Webb of Key West and Charles Howe of Indian Key incorporated the Tropical Plant Company, which was chartered by the territory of Florida in 1838. Also in 1838, the United States Congress granted Perrine his request for a survey township (36 sq. mi.) in southern Florida.[6]

While waiting for hostilities with the Seminoles to die down so that his land grant could be surveyed and settled, Perrine had in late 1838 taken up residence with his family on Indian Key in the Florida Keys. While resident on Indian Key Perrine started a tropical plant nursery on Lower Matecumbe Key. He also visited the settlement at Key Vaca to treat the Bahamians living there, and to try to convince them to grow some of the tropical plants he was trying to establish in Florida. In April, 1840 Perrine spent several days on and near Cape Sable planting seeds despite the presence of Seminoles in the area (his party could see the light of a campfire one night as they camped on the cape).[7]

On August 7, 1840, Indians attacked Indian Key. The Perrines were awoken by gunfire and shouts. Dr. Perrine sent his family into the space under the house and then covered the trap-door with a chest. Mrs. Perrine and the three children moved to the enclosed turtle crawl under the wharf behind the house. They were able to take a boat that had been partly loaded with plunder by the Seminoles, and head for the United States Navy base on nearby Tea Table Key. They were chased by two Seminoles in a canoe, but were rescued by sailors in a whale boat. Dr. Perrine was killed in his house, which was burned by the Seminoles. Several other people on the island were also killed. Some bones found in the burned ruins of the Perrine house were buried on Lower Matecumbe Key.[8]

Perrine had apparently selected Cape Sable as the site of his grant, but after his death his widow successfully petitioned to have the grant transferred to the shore of Biscayne Bay, and to remain with the Perrine family. Part of the Perrine Grant eventually became the community of Perrine, Florida.[9][2]

The standard author abbreviation Perrine is used to indicate this individual as the author when citing a botanical name.[10]

Slavery in Miami

Lemon City 

Coconut Grove

Coconut Grove

The Great Freeze 

Slave Narrative

Understanding Our Past by Marvin Dunn

The Florida Slave Narratives: Andrews, Samuel S.

Federal Writers’ Project 1936

“For almost 30 years Edward Waters College, an African Methodist Episcopal School, located on the north side of Kings Road in the western section of Jacksonville, has employed as watchman, Samuel Simeon Andrews (affectionately called “Parson”), a former slave of A.J. Lane of Georgia, Lewis Ripley of Beaufort, South Carolina, Ed Tillman of Dallas, Texas, and John Troy of Union Springs, Alabama.

“Parson” was born November 18, 1850 in Macon, Georgia, at a place called Tatum Square, where slaves were held, housed and sold. “Speculators” (persons who traveled from place to place with slaves for sale) had housed 84 slaves there—many of whom were pregnant women. Besides “Parson,” two other slave-children, Ed Jones who now lives in Sparta, Georgia, and George Bailey were born in Tatum Square that night. The morning after their births, a woman was sent from the nearby A.J. Lane plantation to take care of the three mothers; this nurse proved to be “Parson’s” grandmother. His mother told him afterwards that the meeting of mother and daughter was very jubilant, but silent and pathetic, because neither could with safety show her pleasure in finding the other. At the auction which was held a few days later, his mother, Rachel, and her two sons, Solomon Augustus and her infant who was later to be known as “Parson,” were purchased by A.J. Lane who had previously bought “Parson’s” father, Willis, from a man named Dolphus of Albany, Georgia; thus were husband and wife re-united. They were taken to Lane’s plantation three miles out of Sparta, Georgia, in Hancock County. Mr. Lane owned 85 slaves and was known to be very kind and considerate.

“Parson” lived on the Lane plantation until he was eight years old, when he was sold to Lewis Ripley of Beaufort, South Carolina, with whom he lived for two years; he was then sold to Ed Tillman of Dallas, Texas; he stayed on the Tillman plantation for about a year and until he was purchased by John Troy of Union Springs, Alabama—the richest slave-holder in Union Springs, Alabama; he remained with him until Emancipation. He recalls that during one of these sales about $800.00 was paid for him.

He describes A.J. Lane as being a kind slave-holder who fed his slaves well and whipped them but little. All of his other masters, he states, were nice to children, but lashed and whipped the grown-ups.

Mr. Lane’s family was comprised of his wife, Fannie (who also was very kind to the slaves) five children, Harriett Ann, Jennie, Jeff, Frankie and Mae Roxie, a brother (whose name he does not recall) who owned a few slaves but was kind to those that he did own. Although very young during slavery, “Parson” remembers many plantation activities and customs, among which are the following: That the master’s children and those of the slaves on the plantation played together; the farm crops consisted of corn, cotton, peas, wheat and oats; that the food for the slaves was cooked in pots which were hung over a fire; that the iron ovens used by the slaves had tops for baking; how during the Civil War, wheat, corn and dried potatoes were parched and used as substitutes for coffee; that his mother was given a peck of flour every two weeks; that a mixture of salt and sand was dug from the earthern floor of the smokehouse and water poured over it to get the salt drippings for seasoning; that most medicine consisted of boiled roots; when thread and cloth were dyed with the dye obtained from maple bark; when shoes were made on a wooden last and soles and uppers fastened together with maple pegs; when the white preachers preached “obey your masters”; that the first buggy that he saw was owned by his master, A.J. Lane; it had a seat at the rear with rest which was usually occupied by a man who was called the “waiter”; there was no top to the seat and the “waiter” was exposed to the weather. He recalls when wooden slats and tightened ropes were used for bed springs; also the patience of “Aunt Letha” an old woman slave who took care of the children in the neighborhood while their parents worked, and how they enjoyed watching “Uncle Umphrey” tan cow and pig hides.

“Parson” describes himself as being very frisky as a boy and states that he did but very little work and got but very few whippings. Twice he ran away to escape being whipped and hid in asparagus beds in Sparta, Georgia until nightfall; when he returned the master would not whip him because he was apprehensive that he might run away again and be stolen by poorer whites and thus cause trouble. The richer whites, he relates, were afraid of the poorer whites; if the latter were made angry they would round up the owners’ sheep and turn them loose into their cotton fields and the sheep would eat the cotton, row by row.

He compares the relationship between the rich and poor whites during slavery with that of the white and Negro people of today.

With a face full of frowns, “Parson” tells of a white man persuading his mother to let him tie her to show that he was master, promising not to whip her, and she believed him. When he had placed her in a buck (hands tied on a stick so that the stick would turn her in any direction) he whipped her until the blood ran down her back.

With changed expression he told of an incident during the Civil War: Slaves, he explained had to have passes to go from one plantation to another and if one were found without a pass the “patrollers” would pick him up, return him to his master and receive pay for their service. The “patrollers” were guards for runaway slaves. One night they came to Aunt Rhoda’s house where a crowd of slaves had gathered and were going to return them to their masters; Uncle Umphrey the tanner, quickly spaded up some hot ashes and pitched it on them; all of the slaves escaped unharmed, while all of the “patrollers” were badly injured; no one ever told on Uncle Umphrey and when Aunt Rhoda was questioned by her master she stated that she knew nothing about it but told them that the “patrollers” had brought another “nigger” with them; her master took it for granted that she spoke the truth since none of the other Negroes were hurt. He remembers seeing this but does not remember how he, as a little boy, was prevented from telling about it.

Asked about his remembrance or knowledge of the slaves’ belief in magic and spells he said: “I remember this and can just see the dogs running around now. My mother’s brother, “Uncle Dick” and “Uncle July” swore they would not work longer for masters; so they ran away and lived in the woods. In winter they would put cotton seed in the fields to rot for fertilizer and lay in it for warmth. They would kill hogs and slip the meat to some slave to cook for food. When their owners looked for them, “Bob Amos” who raised “nigger hounds” (hounds raised solely to track Negro slaves) was summoned and the dogs located them and surrounded them in their hide-out; one went one way and one the other and escaped in the swamps; they would run until they came to a fence—each kept some “graveyard dust and a few lightwood splinters” with which they smoked their feet and jumped the fence and the dogs turned back and could track no further. Thus, they stayed in the woods until freedom, when they came out and worked for pay. Now, you know “Uncle Dick” just died a few years ago in Sparta, Georgia.”

When the Civil War came he remembers hearing one night “Sherman is coming.” It was said that Wheeler’s Cavalry of the Confederates was always “running and fighting.” Lane had moved the family to Macon, Georgia, and they lived on a place called “Dunlap’s Hill.” That night four preachers were preaching “Fellow soldiers, the enemy is just here to Bolden’s Brook, sixteen miles away and you may be carried into judgment; prepare to meet your God.” While they were preaching, bombs began to fly because Wheeler’s Cavalry was only six miles away instead of 16 miles; women screamed and children ran. Wheeler kept wagons ahead of him so that when one was crippled the other would replace it. He says he imagines he hears the voice of Sherman now, saying: “Tell Wheeler to go on to South Carolina; we will mow it down with grape shot and plow it in with bombshell.”

Emancipation came and with it great rejoicing. He recalls that Republicans were called “Radicals” just after the close of the Civil War.

Mr. Lane was able to save all of his meat, silver, and other valuables during the war by having a cave dug in the hog pasture; the hogs trampled over it daily.

“Parson” states that among the papers in his trunk he has a piece of money called “shin plasters” which was used during the Civil War.

The slaves were not allowed to attend schools of any kind; and school facilities immediately following Emancipation were very poor; when the first teacher, Miss Smith, a Yankee, came to Sparta, Georgia and began teaching Sunday School, all of the children were given testaments or catechisms which their parents were afraid for them to keep lest their masters whip them, but the teacher called on the parents and explained to them that they were as free as their former masters.

“Parson” states that when he was born, his master named him “Monk.” His grandfather, Willis Andrews, who was a free man of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, purchased the freedom of his wife Lizzie, but was never able to purchase their four children; his father, also named Willis, died a slave, was driven in an ox-cart to a hole that had been dug, put in it and covered up; his mother nor children could stop work to attend the funeral, but after the Emancipation, he and a brother returned, found “Uncle Bob” who helped bury him and located his grave. Soon after he had been given his freedom, “Parson” walked from Union Springs, Alabama where his last master had taken him—back to Macon, Georgia, and rejoined his mother, Rachel, his brothers, Samuel Augustus, San Francisco, Simon Peter, Lewis, Carter, Powell Wendell and sisters, Lizzie and Ann; they all dropped the name of their master, Lane, and took the name of their grandfather, Andrews.

“Parson” possesses an almost uncanny memory and attributes it to his inability to write things down and therefore being entirely dependent upon his memory. He had passed 30 years of age and had two children who could read and write before he could. His connection with Edward Waters College has given him a decided advantage for education and there are few things that he cannot discuss intelligently. He has come in contact with thousands of students and all of the ministers connected with the African Methodist Episcopal Church in the State of Florida and has attended all of the State and General Conferences of this Church for the past half century. He has lived to be 85 years of age and says he will live until he is 106. This he will do because he claims: “Your life is in your hand” and tells these narratives as proof:

“In 1886 when the present Atlantic Coast Line Railroad was called the S.F.W. and I was coming from Savannah to Florida, some tramps intent upon robbery had removed spikes from the bridge and just as the alarm was given and the train about to be thrown from the track, I raised the window and jumped to safety. I then walked back two miles to report it. More than 70 were killed who might have been saved had they jumped as I did. As a result, the S.F. and W. gave me a free pass for life with which I rode all over the United States and once into Canada.” He proudly displays this pass and states that he would like to travel over the United States again but that the school keeps him too close.

“I had been very sick but took no medicine; my wife went out to visit Sister Nancy—shortly afterwards I heard what sounded like walking, and in my imagination saw death entering, push the door open and draw back to leap on me; I jumped through the window, my shirt hung, but I pulled it out. Mr. Hodges, a Baptist preacher was hoeing in his garden next door, looked at me and laughed. A woman yelled ‘there goes Reverend Andrews, and death is on him.’ I said ‘no he isn’t on me but he’s down there.’ Pretty soon news came that Reverend Hodges had dropped dead. Death had come for someone and would not leave without them. I was weak and he tried me first. Reverend Hodges wasn’t looking, so he slipped up on him.”

“Parson” came to Umatilla, Florida, in 1882 from Georgia with a Mr. Rogers brought him and six other men, their wives and children, to work on the railroad; he was made the section “boss” which job he held until a white man threatened to “dock” him because he was wearing a stiff shirt and “setting over a white man” when he should have a shovel. This was the opinion of a man in the vicinity, but another white friend, named Javis warned him and advised him not to leave Umatilla, but persuaded him to work for him cutting cord wood; although “Parson” had never seen wood corded, he accepted the job and was soon given a pass to Macon, Georgia, to get other men; he brought 13 men back and soon became their “boss” and bought a house and decided to do a little hunting. When he left this job he did some hotel work, cooked and served as train porter. In 1892 he was ordained to preach and has preached and pastored regularly from that time up to two years ago.

He is of medium size and build and partially bald-headed; what little hair he has is very grey; he has keen eyes; his eyesight is very good; he has never had to wear glasses. He is as supple as one half his age; it is readily demonstrated as he runs, jumps and yells while attending the games of his favorite pastimes, baseball and football. Wherever the Edward Waters College football team goes, there “Parson” wants to go also. Whenever the crowd at a game hears the scream “Come on boys,” everyone knows it is “Parson” Andrews.

“Parson” has had two wives, both of whom are dead, and is the father of eight children: Willis (deceased) Johnny, Sebron Reece of Martin, Tennessee, Annie Lee, of Macon, Georgia, Hattie of Jacksonville, Ella (deceased) Mary Lou Rivers of Macon, Georgia, and Augustus somewhere-at-sea.

“Parson” does not believe in taking medicine, but makes a liniment with which he rubs himself. He attributes his long life to his sense of “having quitting sense” and not allowing death to catch him unawares. He asserts that if he reaches the bedside of a kindred in time, he will keep him from dying by telling him: “Come on now, don’t be crazy and die.”

He states that he enjoyed his slavery life and since that time life has been very sweet. He knows and remembers most of the incidents connected with members of the several Conferences of the African Methodist Episcopal Church in Florida and can tell you in what minutes you may find any of the important happenings of the past 30 or 40 years.”

More slaves stories

Florida Slave Narratives Arnold Grragston
Florida Slave Narratives Bill Austin
Florida Slave Narratives Della bess Hilyard
Florida Slave Narratives Eli Boyd
Florida Slave Narratives Florida Clayton
Florida Slave Narratives Frank Berry
Florida Slave Narratives Mary Minus Biddie
Florida Slave Narratives Rivina Boyton
Florida Slave Narratives Titus Bynes I.
Florida Slave NarrativesFather Charles Coates

Black Florida Stories

A History of Florida through Black Eyes

Willie James Howard Narrative & Howard photo

Red Bays