South to Freedom from Slavery

Songs, quilts and legends celebrate the history of the Underground Railroad to the north. Those are wonderful stories, yet most of us don’t realize heading south was another way Blacks successfully emancipated themselves. Both routes had great dangers, but for southerners, they were far closer to Mexico. As Felix Haywood, a former Black slave said, there was “…no reason to run up North. All we had to do was to walk, but walk South, and we’d be free as soon as we crossed the Rio Grande.”

According to a 1699 Spanish decree, enslaved Blacks from the thirteen colonies were free once they reached Spanish Florida. The Spanish wanted to encourage settlement by non-white immigrants who would swear allegiance to the Crown. So, slaves escaped south from the Carolinas, Georgia and Alabama in the 1700s and 1800s. Once they arrived in Florida, many were adopted by the Seminole Tribe. According to tribal custom they were the slaves of the Seminole. But it was not slavery in British terms. The Blacks worked, intermarried, and farmed with tribe members until the US took possession of the territory. That was 1821, the year Mexico gained independence from Spain. Since the Florida land was rich and fertile, the US government sent the Seminole to live on a reservation in Oklahoma with the Creek Tribe.

Black Seminole leader John Horse and Seminole Chief Wild Cat (Coacooche), worried that the Black members of their group would be sold as slaves once they were no longer protected by Spanish law. They went south through Texas in a group of 700 Seminole and some Kickapoo to found a colony in Mexico where they could continue to be free. The Mexico government granted them land to farm in the state of Coahuila northern Mexico; 70,000 acres near Río San Antonio and Río San Rodrigo. There the Black Seminoles founded the town of Nacimiento de los Negros (Birth of the Black People). They became Mexican citizens; the leaders took the names Juan Caballo and Gato del Monte, and the group name was changed to Moscogos (after the Muskogee language of the Seminole). Wild Cat/Gato del Monte and many Seminole returned to Oklahoma in 1860. The Black Seminoles remained in Mexico until after the Civil War. Today, part of their descendants still live in Nacimiento, and part in Brackettville, Texas.

Had you heard of the Black Seminoles? Did you know about the Mexican branch of the community?

Gracias for reading Fake Flamenco! ¡Olé! –Rebecca

 

John_Horse,_Black_Seminole
Drawing of John Horse, a Black Seminole leader, an engraving by N. Orr’s published in The Origin, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (1848) by John T. Sprague.
Rebecca Cuningham

28 thoughts on “South to Freedom from Slavery

      1. The Seminole are my favorite group of our indigenous people. They never signed a peace treaty with the US after the Seminole War, so technically they are still at war with the US. Guess they knew it wouldn’t be kept anyway?

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    1. The Europeans tended to look at Indian tribes and enslaved Africans through the lens of economic interest. A what-can-you-do-for-me point of view. In Mexico and the United States, there are many cases of indigenous tribe members intermarrying with Blacks and helping them find freedom. Glad you liked the article. Thanks!

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  1. Great post Rebecca! A very interesting history indeed! I had met and actually worked with a young woman who claimed to be a black Seminole. This was in Miami, Florida. However, I never knew exactly what that meant or the background. Thank you for bringing to our attention such important parts of history, that although may pertain to a small number of people, it is still something that is good to know and which helps to further understand the dynamics of the relationship between African slaves, the Indians of North America and the Europeans.
    All the best,
    Francisco

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    1. Thanks, glad you liked the post. That’s cool that you worked with a Black Seminole woman in Florida. I think that this story of cooperation between the Seminoles and Blacks survives despite the Euro-centric point of view that minimized such events in the official history. Solid data on the southward path to freedom can be difficult to find. Thanks for your insightful comments as ever. -Rebecca

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  2. The Seminoles history is amazing. 300 of them managed to elude capture by hiding in the Everglades … I’ve read that part of Quintana Roo was also resisted the Mexican government in the 1900’s.

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  3. More great history! I did not know about either group as probably 99% of our fellow Americans. Our history books blatantly ignore such events. Very interesting and warrants further study. Thanks again.

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      1. Totally agree. My search is only a few months old, but what I have found is unreal in it’s importance to history…way too important to be hidden so long. I’m enjoying my search and am zeroing in on a theme for some long term writing. My first post will be out soon to kick off the rest of the work. It will be sort of a “here’s what I intend to do” post to lay out the future format. Thanks for all of your research that got me to dig further in my own research. What got you started?

        BTW…I tried to comment on the post earlier about the Seminoles, but don’t know if it was posted. If not, I’ll repeat it here. My favorite tribe among the US indigenous people is the Seminole Nation. I like them because they never signed a peace treaty with the US after the Seminole War. So, technically we are still at war with them. I guess they already knew signing a treaty with our gov’t was a waste of time. It would be broken as fast as the ink could dry. I’ve traveled across the Everglades and came to the conclusion they are one tough people to survive there.

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      2. Hi Larry, Forgive my tardy reply! We have the rotating flu going through our household and I’ve been cooking up a lot of chicken soup. My own interest in Latin American history stems from my study abroad experience in Spain where I met two dozen students from South America, Mexico and the Caribbean. As I learned more, the US incursions in their home countries over the years was shocking to me. My current focus on Black history of Spanish Latin America is because I’ve noticed that in the US we tend to think that people south of the border are mestizo, exclusively Spanish and Indigenous people, and the ethnicities are far more varied than that. Also, the Spanish history of the United States is largely ignored, especially the story of Spanish-speaking free Black and mixed race people. The chronicle often begins when a region becomes a state, when interesting background lies hidden before that time. Thanks for your previous comment. I was in the hot seat for the flu when you wrote it, heading to comment there next. Gracias! Rebecca

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