Donate to Brooks Historical

Monday, November 30, 2009

African Influence on the Seminole Indians of Florida

The following is a recipe found on - the picture to the left is from that same site. Remember this picture...


Note: Conventional west African fufu is made by boiling such starchy foods as cassava, yam, plantain or rice, then
pounding them into a glutinous mass, usually in a giant, wooden mortar and pestle. This adaptation for North Americans may trouble you if you try to stick to minimally processed foods. But it's worth trying at least once with west African groundnut stews.

2 1/2 cups Bisquick 2 1/2 cups instant potato flakes

Bring 6 cups of water to a rapid boil in a large, heavy pot. combine the two ingredients and add to the water.

Stir constantly for 10-15 minutes -- a process that needs two people for best results: one to hold the pot while the other stirs vigorously with a strong implement (such as a thick wooden spoon). The mixture will become very thick and difficult to stir, but unless you are both vigilant and energetic, you'll get a lumpy mess.

When the fufu is ready (or you've stirred to the limits of your endurance!), dump about a cup of the mixture into a wet bowl and shake until it forms itself into a smooth ball. Serve on a large platter alongside a soup or stew.

Note the phrase in bold print. A mortar and pestle technique shows up again in historical references in South Carolina and in the Seminole Tribe of Florida. Weird, huh? Not when you consider that Spanish authorities offered safe haven to runaway slaves from the fledgling colony of Carolina and transported ex-slaves from South Carolina to Florida as early as October 1687. These Africans (ex-slaves from rice-producing Carolina) lived in Florida under the Spanish who called them "Maroons," from the word "Cimaroon," meaning runaway or "one who lives apart."

Another term came from the Spanish use of "Cimaroon." "Seminole" is a perversion of the very same word... meaning "runaway," as well. Now, look at this:

These are Seminole women using almost exactly the same technique to ground corn. The pestles even look the same, having the thinned down shaft for easy handling.

And the next photo of Gambian Artwork shows two African women operating an extraordinarily similar device!

"In Africa the standard device for preparing all cereals is the mortar, formed from a hollowed-out tree trunk. Grain is placed into the cavity of the mortar, where the hulls are removed by striking them with a wooden pestle. … a skilled operation like all other facets of food preparation, was already women's work in the initial period of the Atlantic slave trade." p. 27, Judith Carney, Black Rice.

"I am sure there is no woman can be under more servitude, with such great staves wee call Coole-Staves [pestles], beate and cleanse both the Rice, all manner of other graine they eate, which is onely womens worke..." Richard Jobson (c1620), The Golden Trade, p. 68.

H-Net Africa Discussion
Date: 8 Nov 1998
From: Judith Bettelheim

The mortar is very important in Yoruba culture, especially in Shango iconography. But I will leave that to the Yoruba scholars.

In Cuba and its diaspora, the mortar or "pilon" is also very important, often used in relation to Chango, or more generally in Santeria rituals. See David Brown's "Thrones of the Orisha" African Arts, Oct. 1993. One cabildo in Santiago de Cuba has a pilon that they say was brought to Santiago by slaves, and it is kept by a priestess of the cabildo to this day

From: Laurel Birch de Aguilar, St. Andrews University

Date: Sun, 8 Nov 1998

From my research among the Chewa in Malawi, the mortar and pestle is presented in two interesting ways, with the same kinds of significances as already cited by others. One is the appearance of imprints of the mortar and pestle in rock after the first rains fall from the sky, creating all life in thec Chewa myth of Kaphirintiwa.

The second is the action of a particular masked dancer, a male dancer and a male mask, who takes over pounding the grain for women with a mortar and pestle as part of a performance, a significant act, related to funerals and remembrances of ancestors. Both accounts are in my book: _Inscribing the Mask_, Fribourg University Press, Switzerland, 1996.

Further, the mortar in particular is an important ritual object among the Ndembu in Zambia, as cited by Victor Turner, and its significance is part of an analysis in my book.

"Black Seminoles" is a name commonly used to refer to African members of the tribe. I suppose that they would be more accurately referred to as "African-Indians" than "African Americans" for they certainly claimed nothing to do with Americans.

Judith Carney in her book, "Black Rice" refers repeatedly to the mortar and pestle technique as African technology. She also states that it was considered "Women's Wuck (work)" both in Africa as well as in South Carolina. Note all the pictures are mostly women doing the heavy pounding with the mortar and pestle.

Onnie Lee Logan spoke to Katherine Clark in Motherwit: An Alabama Midwife's story (New York: Dutton, 1989), p.9 (excerpted from Black Rice by Judith Carney, p. 124-5):

"We had this great big thing that Daddy would gallons of 'em [rice] at a time in that thing and beat it. A rice beater [mortar] we always called it. He cut an oak tree down and got a big stump off of it and sit that stump up. Tryin' to make a hole in the middle of that stump. After he couldn't chisel as much as he could to make it even then he set a fire in it there and burned it as far as he wanted to. He chiseled out almost as deep as he wanted and then he burned it. After burnin' he sand it out and make it smooth, good and smooth. Then he made what we call a maul [pestle]. It was a round piece of wood with a stick on it. He would take that around put the rice in there in the stump... and then we would take that maul and beat it up and down on the top of the rice..."

George S. Nelson painted this image trying to capture the image of a mortar and pestle being used by the Caddo 900 years ago. "This scene is based on archeological details from the George C. Davis site in east Texas and on early historic accounts," according to the Texas History Online site. George C. Davis site work states nothing at all about a wooden mortar and pestle, although it does list a stone version in its collection. So, the artist probably assumed that the wooden tools were in use that long ago when they actually might not have been.

Did the African Mortar & Pestle spread through the Southeast with Slaves and Ex-slaves who were either owned or lived with Native Americans and who adapted it for corn?

"Perhaps one of the most widespread indigenous devices of Southeastern Indians surviving into the twentieth century was the large wooden mortar and pestle, found over a wide spectrum of Indian groups in the Southeast until about mid-century."


"The Black Seminole culture that took shape after 1800 was a dynamic mixture of African, Native American, Spanish, and slave traditions. In the tradition of the Native Americans, maroons wore Seminole clothing; strained koonti, a native root; and made sofkee, a paste created by mashing corn with a mortar and pestle."

"Black Seminoles"
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia,

Africa to South Carolina to Florida & elsewhere?
"... until the advent of water-driven mechanical devices during the second half of the eighteenth century, rice milling was performed in the African manner with an upright wooden mortar and pestle, the standard method women have used to process all food throughout the continent." p. 112, Judith Carney, Black Rice.

add to this...

"The English colonization of the Carolinas and Georgia threatened Spanish Florida. English raiders enslaved and killed thousands of Native Americans [as well as Africans], so Spain fought back by offering sanctuary to English slaves. The first eleven fugitive slaves from Charleston, South Carolina arrived by boat in October 1687; they were granted refuge by Governor Cendoya. On November 7, 1693, Spanish King Charles II issued a cedula (proclamation) promising that any English slave (maroon) who came to Spanish territory would be free. He said he was 'giving liberty to all…the men as well as the women…so that by their example and by my liberality others will do the same.' Several hundred English slaves fled by foot, horse, and boat to the sanctuary of Spanish Florida." --- Slavery in America, Jean M. West,


"Milling, until the mid-eighteenth century, employed primitive techniques, based upon the mortar and pestle, a shaped wooden plunger. Homesteads continued to use this system into the late nineteenth century in the Carolinas and Louisiana. Considerable quantities of rice were shipped unmilled or "rough" to English mills, but by the late 1700s South Carolina had developed a sophisticated milling industry equal, if not superior, to that in other places."

Henry C. Dethloff, “Colonial Rice Trade,” Agricultural History, Vol. 56, No. 1, Symposium on the History of Agricultural Trade and Marketing (Jan., 1982), 239.

Seminole women using a similar technique...

"Only the African mortar-and-pestle method reduces grain breakage in processing glaberrima; this remains a problem in commercializing African rice to this day." (NRC, Lost Crops, 29). "The mortar and pestle remained in use to mill small quantities of rice by slaves and their descendants well into the twentieth century."

Judith Carney, 'Rice milling, gender and slave labour in colonial South Carolina', Past and Present 153 (1996), 108-34.

"Rice (Oryza glaberrima). Discussed in detail in the text, rice was cultivated over a broad area from South Carolina through the Caribbean and into Brazil. Bahian planter Gabriel Soares de Sousa noted in 1587 the cultivation of both rain-fed and swamp rice, the use of the mortar and pestle for milling, and the triumph of African dietary preferences among the slave population."

African Rice in the Columbian Exchange
Author(s): Judith A. Carney
Source: The Journal of African History, Vol. 42, No. 3 (2001), pp. 377-396
Published by: Cambridge University Press
Stable URL:

This is a family in Senegal using the mortar and pestle...

"During the colonial period Carolina planters relied upon slaves hand-pounding rice in a mortar and pestle, the method used in Africa."

"In Africa the mortar and pestle is the principal mechanism by which all cereals and root-crops are processed. When rice is harvested, women alone are involved in preparing the crop for consumption. This involves cooking as well as milling."

Rice Milling, Gender and Slave Labour in Colonial South Carolina
Author(s): Judith Carney
Source: Past & Present, No. 153 (Nov., 1996), pp. 108-134
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The Past and Present Society
Stable URL:

Creek Woman/Black Child/Mortar & Pestle

Evidence for the use of a mortar and pestle made of wood, from a tree stump, with a pair of wooden plungers, and usually operated by women has been found with the Seneca, Iroquois, Caddo, Creek, Cherokee and Seminole Indians so far... undoubtedly, there are more. Jamaican references were found... One East Bolivian or Amazonian reference even describes a 10-foot pole! All verifiable references to the "Mound Builders," or Mississippean cultures refer to "metates," or stone mortars. Some references were made by scholars to a wooden version, however, it is only a supposition based on the fact that Indians had the wooden mortar later.

Note the style of the mortar and pestle in these pictures of the American Indians... it is remarkably similar in appearance to those of the Africans. Still, the "wooden mortar" is different from the idea of a mortar and pestle being made from stone, sometimes a depression in a large rock utilized for this purpose with a stone or bone pestle. I have found many instances of this type of mortar and pestle. However, this refers to the (what I believe) original "stone-age" technology found by Europeans with most Native American tribes. This is not to say that they didn't use a wooden one (traces would have disintegrated long ago). This stone method arguably worked for them and they had no reason to change it. But, when Europeans brought African slaves to America, beginning roughly after the beginning of the Jamestown venture in 1607 (Africans came within a few decades after), the idea of the wooden mortar and pestle (used by Africans for centuries) made its way into the American countryside (as much as throughout the Caribbean and in Brazil). I have found many records to indicate that a wooden version was available to all of these locales... but, also a stone version found in archaeological digs. That indicates really only one thing to me... that there was a change in the available technology. Still, wooden mortars don't survive the archaeological record (they disintegrate rapidly) and we really cannot say that Indians did not have this technology before the European invasion. So, proving that the African use of the wooden mortar became widespread in America would hinge on the various traveler's accounts of the Indians they encountered. While the technology of a wooden mortar might have easily crossed native borders, these European explorers had more difficulty. Still, Spanish and French explorers penetrated deep into the American South and Southwest. It could be possible to find records of those explorers. Henri Joutel accompanied the La Salle colonizing expedition in 1684 and kept a detailed journal which contains a reference to the "wooden mortar":

"They have large mortars that they [Cenis, or Caddo Indians] make from the trunk of a tree hollowed by fire to a certain depth after which they scrape and clean it. There are up to four women pounding the corn: each one takes a thick pestle about five feet in length and they keep time, as blacksmiths do when they strike their anvils." [The La Salle Expedition to Texas: The Journal of Henri Joutel 1684-1687 (Foster, 1998), p. 221]

By 1684, the wooden mortar, if it arrived with the African had already made its way to Caddo territory. This could have been through the South Carolina slaves since 1670, or by way of slaves who accompanied Spanish or French expeditions earlier than La Salle (Joutel's visit was not the first French visit to the area, certainly not the first European visit). So, basically this proves little.

What basically needs to be explored is... did these observations occur AFTER original contact of Africans in South Carolina (perhaps elsewhere on the east coast) with indigenous tribes in America. Native Americans are very innovative peoples and were always willing to try new ideas. Africans could very well have given them one.

Interestingly, this stone mortar and pestle was captioned as a Cherokee "stone-age mortar and pestle." It should be noted that the Native American was living in the stone age when the European arrived with enslaved Africans who already had the wooden variety in their bag of tricks. The use of the term "stone age" was probably an arbitrary choice. However, the unconscious intent of distinguishing between the "ancient" Indians and the Indians known to the European is rather instructive. The stone mortar allowed stone grit or sand in the corn meal (rough on teeth). The wooden version would have been seen as an improvement. Algonquins on the North Carolina coast were known also to use a stone mortar and pestle to grind their corn.

Neck Decoration With the Seminole and Africans:

Another unusual characteristic of the Seminole was the use of glass-beaded necklaces that covered the whole neck area. This must have been somewhat uncomfortable and heavy. Still, it became fashionable among Seminole women. It may also have been a cultural introduction of African society...

Black Seminole women displaying the heavy beadwork resembling African neck art...

and a painting called "Ndebele" ... a Seminole Woman...

Ndebele woman ............... Seminole children

Ndebele Art ... Seminole Clothing patterns


"Quest for Blackbeard" has finally been approved for Global Distribution which means that it will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Alibris, and other online booksellers.

It is already previewable on Google Books.

Lulu site at:

Seminole Invictus: Unconquered Runaways

Here is yet another history paper that I wrote for my Native American History class. Luckily, I picked the tribe I knew best from the hat... what luck is that, huh? Anyway, it's a nice departure from the Imperialism for a change. Please enjoy. I always do. And my 26 years in Florida allowed me to learn a lot about the Seminole... even some language! "Mutdoh!"

Yeah... I'm 75 pounds heavier in this photo... this was before the shedding of my skin... lol.

“The Seminole was to learn their potency and strength

from the effort to break them…”[1]

The author known only as “Logan,” writing for The Floridian newspaper in 1836, felt great pity for the Seminole Indians in the United States’ territory of Florida. Logan may have identified with the Native American’s unique view of land ownership or his natural belief systems. Then again, perhaps he grew weary of a war that did not seem necessary. Whatever attracted Logan’s sympathies does not well reveal its source in the articles. Still, most Americans outside of Florida did not share his vision or compassion. Very likely however, Logan did not have the cultural “tools” that he needed to understand the differences that separated the Indian from the White man. Unique and disparate rituals and cultural beliefs caused the initial cultural clash, differences nurtured through the millennia of separation by a great sea. By the nineteenth century, the Indian and the European had known each other for a severely short time by comparison, a small fraction of their time apart. Moreover, the Seminole diverged from English Americans for nearly a century further, living under the auspices of Spanish rule. In many ways, the Seminole’s story began relatively late as a reaction to the European presence in America, a desire to be free of the Englishman. Ironically, it was the Spaniard of the eighteenth century that treated him with more respect, if one can attribute any European having a respectful air toward the Indian. For most native tribes, the United States became the real threat, the indomitable enemy.

For the brief time under Spanish rule, the Seminole developed a culture, both unique among the Indian as it was unique among the European. They were termed “runaways” by many European accounts, reflecting this trait. An almost scientific curiosity settled upon those Seminole remaining in Florida after Indian removal to Oklahoma perhaps because they hid in a forsaken wilderness full of mosquitoes, alligators, panthers, and bears rather than face removal. Perhaps it struck the American heart more to the core than most cases. Perhaps the swamp land in question did not seem worth the effort. The distinctive culture of the Seminole remains perhaps the reason that they were regarded with such curiosity by ethnographers of the twentieth century. A rather stark disparity between the Seminole and their closely related and recently separated brethren, the Creek of Georgia and Alabama may have been an aversion to the European practice of slavery. Black “runaway” slaves from the South in Florida probably found kinship among these unique Florida Indians, regarded as “runaways” themselves. Moreover, Africans left by the Spanish in Florida retained many of their original customs and rituals while freely joining with the Native Americans. The harshness of the Englishman in America catalyzed the cultural development of the Seminole. Desiring to be left alone, uncertainties surround their culture and development. Still, curious Americans endeavored early to “discover” the Seminole and their unique culture in the early 20th century.

The Seminole Tribe earned “official” American respect as one of the “Five Civilized Tribes” of the American Southeast. The Seminoles’ mother tribe, the Creek of Alabama and Georgia, had a written language and an art unparalleled in the region.[2] Their clothing patterned after English styles, with paisley and floral patterns and later, bright colors seen in the reds, yellows, greens, and blues of their cotton dresses and glass beads, worn profusely around the neck. As civilized as they seemed, it did not prevent the invasion of outsiders coming with the sale of Florida to the United States in 1819 and the tremendous wave of land-hungry American settlers. Three wars erupted. Seminoles, like other native tribes, faced the long, arduous trek to Oklahoma, save for a smattering of Seminole hiding in the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp of south Florida, a wilderness much too fearsome for the American of the mid-nineteenth century. Floridians, like “Logan,” in 1836, felt shock and outrage at the apparent mistreatment of their fellow Floridians. Others, arguably, land-hungry settlers that desired their swamps, continued to see them as “savages.” Seminoles understandably fought back and lost. Yet, they still survive in Florida today and have increased their number and earned the status of a federally recognized tribe, along with their immediate family, the “Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma.”

The departure of Florida’s native population, the Timucua, Potano, Ais, Calusa, and others left a void that begged to be filled. The Creek, or Muskogee, Miccosuki, and as many as seven different tribes answered that call.[3] La Florida, a possession of Spain until 1819, began to turn more toward Christianization of the natives than enslavement by the nineteenth century. Native peoples lived comfortably within and outside the mission districts of Spanish La Florida. By 1750, the Spanish began to refer to natives living in the outlying regions as “Cimarrones.”[4] These “Seminoles” or “seceeders” tried to avoid contact with the English, while other Florida Creeks allied with them against the Spanish. The Creek, perhaps in reference to Seminoles having left their homeland in Alabama and Georgia, simply called them “runaways” and claimed that “Seminole” is a Creek word having that meaning.[5] Florida scholars, however, ascribe to the Spanish origin. J. W. Powell’s introduction to MacCauley’s “The Seminole Indians of Florida,” refers possibly to the Creek immigrants to Florida following the Creek Wars of 1813-14 as “turbulent and criminal Indians.”[6] The term “Simánole,” meaning separatist or renegade, refers to these Indians, he asserts, perhaps by the main body of Creeks still in their original Georgia and Alabama abodes. He notes also that the Seminoles of Florida thrust this appellation back upon the larger group who left Florida for the western territories (Oklahoma), “impugning their courage and steadfastness.”[7] In short, many legends surround the real origins of the name.

Seminoles began to attract many “runaways” to their Florida home, incorporating many nations, including vague remnants of native Floridian tribes and even runaway slaves from the nearby United States. Seminole Nation diversity reflects itself in the many languages spoken by their people: Muscogee, Hitchiti, Koasati, Alabama, Natchez, Yuchi and Shawnee. The Apalachi, a Hitchiti speaking people, may have been related to the Creek Tamathli, or Apalachicola. Representing a native remnant of an original Florida tribe, the Apalachicola existed there, on the Apalachicola River, at the time of Spanish contact. The first Creek-speaking people, relative late-comers to Florida, arrived about 1760 and settled in Chocuchattee (Red House) near present day Brooksville, Florida.[8] The fact that the early Florida Creeks, or Seminole owned cattle and became great herdsmen contributed to the American desire for their possessions. Florida remains today a large cattle state with large, flat expanses of pasture land.

Seminoles remained a small tribe, compared with their more numerous Creek brethren. Before the War of 1812, Seminoles numbered about 1,200 people to the Georgia and Alabama Creeks’ 25,000.[9] The matriclan, or matrilineal organizational unit of the Seminole, like the Creek, was composed of the individual clan and various moieties of that clan, all classified on the red-white color opposition that was basic to Creek society. War leaders usually were chosen by red clans, perhaps based on the idea of red representing war. Conversely, positive attributes like organization and leadership represented the white-clan responsibility. In general, there are eight Seminole clans - Panther, Bear, Deer, Wind, Bigtown, Bird, Snake, and Otter. When the last female in a clan passes on, the clan is considered extinct; for instance, the Alligator clan is now extinct. The Panther clan is the largest clan in today's Seminole Tribe of Florida.[10]

Seminoles were accomplished cattlemen, developing profitable herds in the region of north Florida centered upon modern Alachua. Consequently, the Jackson era of the 1820s became a time of great change in Florida’s native society. The United States, coveting the cattle and land in Florida, came to take it from both the Spanish and the Indian in 1821. Patterns of American migration paralleled the usurpation of Indian lands throughout the new country, especially after the invention of the cotton gin in 1790. Many conflicts, given various “official” names and causes by the Americans, were essentially wars against the Indians to gain their land. For the Seminole, the cause may not have been the swamps so much as the cattle.

The destruction of a British post on the Appalachicola River in 1821 was regarded as the end of the War of 1812 by some and the beginning of the First Seminole War by others. At the same time, native Floridians had begun to flourish and gained in population through the influx of the refuge Creeks after the war. Native population in 1823 had increased three or four times by immigration of the newcomers. It was this population of about five thousand collective peoples who experienced the fiercest of all wars ever waged by the U.S. Government against Indians, known as the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842. By the end of the war, only three-hundred Seminoles remained in Florida. The Third Seminole War removed another 240.[11]

By the end of the Second Seminole War in 1842, the three-hundred remaining Florida Seminole had organized themselves into bands and each band became associated with a medicine bundle.[12] Each bundle had a keeper and the ceremonial dances, with bundle and keeper became the focus of Seminole life. The hostility associated with the second war may have attributed to the centralization of the importance of medicine bundles, the opening of which by the keeper and display of the sacred objects, the “Power of War,” ensured the health of the tribe until the next Green Corn festival.[13] The war magic focused the tribe on the American threat at hand that would threaten them a third time after 1842.

The nuclear family became the fundamental unit of communal interaction in Creek society, and so it was with Seminole. Females shared responsibility in Creek communities, or Huti.[14] The term describes more than just the physical huts and their surroundings. Communal responsibility also contributed to the meaning of Huti. The matrilineal concept of Huti actually differed for men and women. For a woman, the Huti carried a more traditional meaning of “hearth and home,” whereas, for men, it implied the various homes of his mother and her clan.

Individual homes were grouped by clan into clusters within the town, which contained a town square in which the Mico, or chief and his advisors, or henihas, would conduct the business of the town. Another important member of this leadership was the tastanagi, or tustenugi, or war chief. The Mico and henihas sat facing the east and occupied the western arbor of the square, while the tustenagi and his fellow warriors sat on the south side, facing north. The remaining two sides remained for the visitors and other members of the talwa, or the town political structure, translated as “people of one fire.[15]

All community gatherings occurred around this totka, or “central fire,” a very important cultural bond, symbolizing purity and renewal. The overt ritual of cleanliness, especially of the Seminole, was a reflection of this concept of purity and many tangential rituals branched from this idea. Purity of spirit was so important to the Creek and Seminole that it sometimes involved the drinking of purgatives and scarification during the Green Corn ceremonies. Purity of body equated with the mind in the general practice of forgiving all trespasses during Green Corn. The practice of sprinkling small particles of tobacco into the totka while offering prayers to Hesekatomese, or “Grandfather,” may have lent a magical quality to these and other ceremonies by virtue of the bright red sparks they gave off. Troupes of Seminole dancers performed the "fire ant," "crow," "catfish" and other Seminole social stomp dances, as they still do today.[16]

Magic, or spiritualism meant a great deal to the Creek and early Seminole. Many believe that good luck, bad luck, success, failure, danger, safety, right decisions, wrong decisions, and other natural consequences can be influenced by the application of "medicine." These beliefs were assumed to have been simplified, or concentrated by the smaller Seminole tribe. In the late eighteenth century, the naturalist, William Bartram killed a rattlesnake that had crawled into an Indian camp, much to the alarm of its inhabitants. When the Indians tried to bleed Bartram to restore “mildness” to his nature, Bartram refused, much to the Indians’ alarm, afraid of the reptile’s spirit. A definite and precarious nature revolved around the spirit world for these people. Friends and relatives of the injured rattlesnake, as seen by the Indian, would seek vengeance for the wrong done to their brother unless appeased by the ritual. Further, a drunken rage murder in the Indian village of Alachua in 1764 may have prompted the entire village to move due to disturbed spirits of the slain man. They even refused to bury him. In contrast to Christianity, nature embodied everything, all creatures, both spiritual and real, as well as causes and their effects. Religious parallels of the Christian “God” and Hesekatomese were made obvious to the Indians only by a natural reference to God as “one who thunders.”[17]

Hesekatomese, or “Grandfather,” or “Master of Breath,” presided over a more numerous if less prominent pantheon of animals and spirits. The Green Corn Dance occurred in late June or July, a celebration of Huti renewal and the Hunting Dance occurred in the fall. These were ceremonies for the warriors and often excluded women. Green Corn has special significance in that it prepares the Huti for the next year, celebrating the ripening to milk stage of the new corn crop, ushering in a new cycle for the community. Green Corn lasted eight, sometimes four days. The cycle of four has a special significance to the Seminole. Normal dances generally occur in multiples of four as well. Properly performed dances, only in multiples of four, were essential to release the beneficent power of Grandfather upon his people. Every warrior was required to return to the village of his mother’s family to attend the Green Corn ceremony at the appointed time or risk angering the forces of nature and the censure of his fellows. The medicine bundle would be opened by the keeper and its contents prayed over. Purgative teas aided the purification of warriors who must accept the forgiveness of all debts before the renewal of the New Year. No Seminole would hold a grudge longer.[18]

Beginning in the late seventeenth century, the Spanish granted liberty to runaway slaves from the Carolinas and Georgia who crossed over the border into Florida. In return for their military support against the British, these Africans could live apart, own arms and property, travel at will, and select their own leaders.

The nature of slavery, if such a term can be applied to acts of the Seminole, has been a controversial subject. Historian Kenneth W. Porter, in Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-seeking People, sought to understand the black Seminoles and their leader, John Horse. The tumultuous year of 1812 witnessed more than the American’s renewed war with the British. A young black woman living with the Seminole just west of St. Augustine, in the native town of Alachua, gave birth to a young son that she named John. John’s father may have been the Seminole tribesman, Charles Cavello, who may have owned her.[19]

Still, did Cavello own the black mother of John Horse? Slave-holding Creeks in Georgia may have recognized the mix of black Spanish colonists and runaway slaves living amongst the Florida Indians generally as “runaways.” The assumption remained that the Seminole “owned” slaves. Indeed, the early Creek immigrants to Florida may have viewed it as ownership. British officials, following the cession of Florida in 1763 to the Empire, gave the Florida tribes “King’s gifts,” or black servants as a reward for their services. However, Seminoles, as a multi-ethnic community after the Creek Wars, may have been perplexed as to how to manage their new “property.” Not intending to manage plantations like their neighbors in South Carolina, they began giving blacks tools to cut down trees, build houses, and raise corn. The Black Seminole came into being as a member of the tribe and not as a slave, per se. They did, however, live in separate communities for the most part. Runaway slaves, from the neighboring American colonies, then as the United States, became a source of refuge. It continued through the British period, the re-acquisition of Florida by the Spanish, and the eventual American takeover in 1821.[20]

After Seminole removal to Oklahoma and the Civil War, the Seminoles remaining in Florida were hiding in the alligator and panther-inhabited swamps of the Everglades. There they remained in remote acclimated peace for more than two decades. The land “fever” in America had subsided somewhat and the resulting tide of academia influenced by the Smithsonian Institute encouraged wonder at the now mysterious Florida Seminole.

In reflection, it seems ridiculous. Seminoles were an innovative, adaptive native culture living on their own in mosquito-infested, swampy turf whose older members remembered Americans and taught their children how to use guerilla warfare to fight them. The Seminoles wars were an early Vietnam for the United States. Even further, American soldiers fought three of these wars, suffered 1500 deaths, and spent $20 million in a violent bid for swamp land in Florida.[21]

During the winter of 1880-81, the Seminole still in Florida remained elusive. Reverend Clay MacCauley had to track them into the Everglades and surrounding environs for his report to the Bureau of Ethnology at the Smithsonian Institution. He endured the hardships of nineteenth-century South Florida to “inquire into the condition and to ascertain the number of Indians commonly known as the Seminole” that remained in Florida. He found 208, of thirty-seven families, living in twenty-two camps, and gathered amongst a few settlements. Five late settlements developed in south Florida were the Big Cypress Swamp, the Miami River, Fish Eating Creek, Cow Creek, and Cat Fish Lake.[22] Since the Civil War, Seminoles lived on “the fringes of society,” often as “hunters, guides and sometimes, curiosities for the tourists.”[23]

The 1950’s were a turning point for the Florida Seminoles. In 1953, the United States Congress passed legislation to terminate federal tribal programs and the State of Florida supported termination of services to the Seminoles. However, tribal members and their supporters were able to successfully argue against termination, drafting their own constitution by 1957. Self government came in the formation of a Tribal Council. At the same time, the Seminole Tribe of Florida, Inc. was created to facilitate their businesses. These included Seminole casinos, a motocross park, Hard Rock café, and other lucrative businesses whose income supports a growing infrastructure for the Seminole community’s health and welfare, public safety, and education. Stable economics provided by gaming, as well as cattle, citrus, and other business enterprises, has made the Seminole Tribe of Florida one of the most successful native business ventures in the United States today. They employ more than 7,000 people and purchase more than $130.3 million in goods and services yearly.[24]


An Online Resource on the Historical and Present Day Creek Indians., 2001. (accessed September 5, 2009).

Cohen, M. M. Notices of Florida and the Campaigns. Reproduction, 1836 original. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1964.

Covington, James W. Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993.

Creek Language Archive: Resources for the Study of the Creek (Muscogee) Language. Edited by Jack B. Martin, Margaret McKane Mauldin, and Gloria McCarty. Williamsburg, VA: College of William and Mary, 2009. (accessed September 5, 2009).

Fairbanks, Charles H. Florida Seminole People. Phoenix, AZ: Indian Tribal Series, 1973.

Foster, William S. This Miserable Pride of a Soldier: The Letters and Journals of Col. William S. Foster in the Second Seminole War. Compiled and edited by John and Mary Lou Missall. Tampa, FL: University of Tampa Press, 2005.

Kersey, Harry A. Jr. Florida Seminoles and the New Deal: 1933-1942. Boca Raton, FL: Florida Atlantic University Press, 1989.

Logan. Osceola, the Indian Warrior,” The Floridian, (Tallahassee, FL) Saturday, April 09, 1836; Issue [35]; col A.

MacCauley, Clay. Seminole Indians of Florida. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000.

Milanich, Jerald T. Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1998.

Porter, Kenneth W. Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-seeking People. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1996.

Steele, Willard. “Brief Summary of Seminole History,” Seminole Tribe of Florida. Hollywood, FL: Seminole Tribe of Florida, 2008. (accessed September 5, 2009).

Weisman, Brent R. Like Beads on a String: A Culture History of the Seminole Indians in Northern Peninsular Florida. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1989.

Weisman, Brent R. Unconquered People: Florida’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indians. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999.

Wickman, Patricia R. Tree That Bends: Discourse, Power, and the Survival of the Maskókȋ People. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1999.

Wright, J. Leitch Jr. Creeks and Seminoles: The Destruction and Regeneration of the Muscogulge People. Lincoln, NB: University of Nebraska Press, 1986.

[1] Logan. Osceola, the Indian Warrior,” The Floridian, (Tallahassee, FL) Saturday, April 09, 1836; Issue [35]; col A.

[2] Creek Language Archive: Resources for the Study of the Creek (Muscogee) Language, edited by Jack B. Martin, Margaret McKane Mauldin, and Gloria McCarty (Williamsburg, VA: College of William and Mary, 2009), (accessed September 5, 2009).

[3] Willard Steele, “Brief Summary of Seminole History,” Seminole Tribe of Florida (Hollywood, FL: Seminole Tribe of Florida, 2008-2009), [] (accessed September 5, 2009).

[4] Jerald T. Milanich, Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1998), 234.

[5] An Online Resource on the Historical and Present Day Creek Indians (, 2001), (accessed September 5, 2009); Kenneth W. Porter, Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-seeking People (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1996), 5.

[6] Clay MacCauley, Seminole Indians of Florida (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000), intro.

[7] Clay MacCauley, Seminole Indians of Florida (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000), 471.

[8] Steele, “Brief Summary” (accessed September 5, 2009).

[9] Ibid.

[10] “Clans,” Seminole Tribe of Florida, (accessed November 16, 2009).

[11] Steele, “Brief Summary.”

[12] Brent R Weisman, Like Beads on a String: A Culture History of the Seminole Indians in Northern Peninsular Florida (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 152.

[13] Brent R Weisman, Like Beads on a String: A Culture History of the Seminole Indians in Northern Peninsular Florida (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 152.

[14] Brent R Weisman, Like Beads on a String: A Culture History of the Seminole Indians in Northern Peninsular Florida (Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press, 1989), 28.

[15] Ibid., 29.

[16] Ibid., 48-9.

[17] Ibid., 49; Brent R. Weisman, Unconquered People: Florida’s Seminole and Miccosukee Indians (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999), 20-21.

[18] Charles H. Fairbanks, Florida Seminole People. (Phoenix, AZ: Indian Tribal Series, 1973), 80-81.

[19] Kenneth W. Porter, Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-seeking People (Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1996), 3.

[20] Porter, Black Seminoles, 5.

[21] “Survival in the Swamp,” Seminole Tribe of Florida, (accessed November 10, 2009).

[22] MacCauley, Seminole Indians, 478.

[23] Steele, “Brief Summary.”

[24] “Seminoles Today,” Seminole Tribe of Florida, (accessed November 10, 2009).