The slavery war before the civil war

I have for years felt misled by my junior high school and high school history teachers in Florida. The focus of our state history lessons was typically the five flags that flew over Florida: Spain, France, Great Britain, the United States, and the Confederacy. We heard about early explorers and about the early struggles between the Spanish and the French for control of the territory. But we weren’t told the whole story.

Two old books, The Exiles of  Florida written in 1858 by Joshua R. Giddings and The Origin, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War written by John T. Sprague in 1848 (both of which are available in reprint form on Amazon) tell the rest of the story through the viewpoints of authors who were there. These books were either unknown to our junior high and high school history teachers or the subject matter wasn’t allowed in the course curricula.

Giddings, a lawyer who served in Congress during the three Seminole wars saw much of the documentation first hand and quotes liberally from it in his book. Sprague served in the army in Florida at the time of the Indian removals and offers a his first-hand accounts, many of which were mentioned by Giddings.

In school in Florida, we were taught, of course, that General Jackson–who would later become the architect of the Trail of Tears–brought troops into Spanish Florida to take care of “the Indian problem.” We were never told the real reason behind Jackson’s war against Creeks, Seminoles, and other tribes. It was slavery.

Soon after the revolutionary war, slave-holding colonies petitioned the Federal government for indemnification for slaves that were lost either by escape into Florida or capture by the British. This carried forward into complaints that slaves were continuing to escape into Florida after the revolution where they were sheltered by the Seminoles and assisted (and sometimes enslaved) by the Creeks. Later they would ask to be reimbursed for the slaves who would have been sired by owners and other slaves on the plantations had they not fled to Florida.

The three wars (1816-19, 1835-42, 1855-58) were carried out for the express purpose of re-capturing Negroes who had fled into Florida for sanctuary under Spanish laws. Immigrant Negroes from the Caribbean were also captured. The federal government’s solution was primarily to capture and return the slaves (or Negroes who were claimed often without proof to have been slaves) to their owners and to remove the Indians to Oklahoma. The public, for the most part, was unaware of slavery part of the campaign. In the process, the government hid the truth from the voters and lied to the Seminoles, the Creeks, and the Exiles (or Maroons, as they were often called). Many of those Negroes had never been enslaved and others had intermarried with the Seminole tribe, but the law of the land pre-supposed that every Negro was owned by somebody.

Spain could not defend its colony from repeated incursions by U.S. federal troops, militias from adjoining states, or ad hock bands of slave trackers, so it ceded Florida by treaty in 1819 in exchange for the United States paying some $5 million worth of Spanish debt. At this time, most of the panhandle was already controlled by U.S. forces.

The Federal government fought the Seminole wars on behalf of the slave holders in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, and the Carolinas while keeping very quiet about the war as much as possible, and about the controversial practice of paying for slave reimbursements from the treasury of a country composed of norther residents who would not approve. The loss of life, the expense, and the tearing a part of slave and slave/Indian families was based goals that a large number of the U.S. residents didn’t subscribe to. It was a slavery war before the Civil War.

–Malcolm

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Florida: it’s like living in an asylum and loving it

“The deal with Florida is the charlatans and lunatics and Snapchat-famous plastic surgeons. It is the Ponzi schemes, the byzantine corruption, the evangelical fervor and the consenting-adult depravity. It is the seasonless climate. The lack of historical consciousness. The way in which this nation’s unctuous elements tend to trickle down as if Florida were the grease trap under America’s George Foreman grill.” – Kent Russell in a tongue-in-cheek review of the book “What Makes Florida So Weird”

Shug, I’m not a Florida native. That means I’m not allowed to psychoanalyze the state, as Kent Russell says natives are inclined to do. I will say that time has ground away some of the state’s weirdness, the alligator wrestling and jungle petting zoos that once lined major tourist arteries from the Georgia border to Key West like dead skunk roadkill.

gatorgirlSad to say, most of the real jungles and pristine beaches have been paved over by the grease trap of a million condos and bikini-clad bodies per square foot enjoying nature in a former natural setting. I know this will offend some people, but when I saw what was happening to the sunshine in the sunshine state as a kid, I frankly hoped a badass hurricane would clear away all the crap in the peninsula part of the state like a giant flush in a huge toilet so that “we” could start over.

God knows, Mother Nature has tried, but there’s more work to be done before the seas rise and the state slides down into the Bermuda Triangle with the missing ships, squadrons of military aircraft, and maybe Atlantis. Word is, Atlantis sank because its movers and shakers abused their power. By the time I graduated from college and left home, I thought Florida would go that route, compliments of rogue developers more prevalent than palmetto bugs and equally able to slither away out of the light.

When my fiance came down to Florida to meet the family, she decided one afternoon while we were tip-toeing through the alligators at a nearby wildlife refuge that we were crazy. “What about those gators?” she asked. “No worries, Sugar, they’re in the swap and we’re here on the road through the swamp.” That made her feel about as safe as a can of tuna in a room full of cats.

But here’s the thing. When one moves into the state, one usually starts out sane. But things happen. Maybe it’s the water or too much sun or a million mosquitoes per square foot no matter how many times Mother Nature tries to blow them out to sea. Nobody knows because the people who’ve been there long enough to judge are no longer competent to judge.  With more data, people could get out before they’re involuntarily committed.

Looking back on it all–chasing stingrays, sinking speed boats, teasing copperheads, crawling into dark caves, camping in the piney woods, getting addicted to boiled peanuts, dining on bait fish–I truly think the large blue welcome signs on I-75 and I-10, need to say “No exit,” meaning once you drive into paradise almost lost,  you become lost and can’t leave. You won’t know any better.

If you figure out how to leave, you’ll miss it fierce. If you’re a writer, you write about it. If not, you’ll look at your summer vacation  slides on an old Carousel projector and tell people that in those days, you had it bad and that wasn’t good. Of course, if you’re an FSU Seminoles fan, you’ll still hate the U of F Gators while you watch every game on ESPN. You’ll watch folks boarding of their windows with plywood on the Weather Channel during hurricane season, and you’ll remember the good old days when you road out all the storms because you didn’t know any better.

(Fact of life: people buy new plywood every year when the first big storm approaches because they threw it all away last year, thinking they wouldn’t need it again. If this isn’t a clue to something or other, I don’t know what is.)

Here’s a tip. If you’re planning a Florida vacation, keep it short because if you stay there long enough to start believing the Swamp Booger is read–maybe even in your closet–then you’ve gone native, lost in the swamp, so to speak.

–Malcolm

In a continuing search for sanity, former Florida resident Malcolm R, Campbell is the author of the following stories and novels set in Florida: “Conjure Woman’s Cat,” “Eulalie and Washerwoman,” “Visiting Aunt Ruby,” “Carrying Snakes Into Eden,” “Cora’s Crossing,” “Moonlight and Ghosts,” “Snakebit,” “Dream of Crows,” “College Avenue,” “Emily’s Stories,” and “The Land Between the Rivers.” Learn more on his Amazon page.

 

 

Seminole Pumpkin Fry Bread

One of the first things I learned to cook was fry bread. Didn’t take long to get it right because it has very few ingredients and is one of those foods that (like making biscuits) is done by the feel of the dough rather than slavishly measuring ingredients into a mixing bowl.

If you work the hell out of the dough, you’ll ruin it like you can when making pasta. The dough works better if you make it one day, cover it over night with tin foil (AKA aluminum foil) in the ice box (AKA fridge), and make the bread the following day.

Seminole fry bread preparation at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival - State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory
Seminole fry bread preparation at the 1983 Florida Folk Festival – State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory

There are a lot of variations, but pumpkin tops my list, though you can experiment with butternut squash instead of pumpkin. I like it plain, but some folks add cinnamon or nutmeg or vanilla extract (food Lord!) or even dust the tops with powdered sugar like they’re making Beignets in New Orleans (what the hell?).

If you’re using self-rising flour, then flour (about 3 cups), pumpkin (let’s say 4 cups) and sugar (a cup or less) is all it takes. With all-purpose flower, you’ll need a tablespoon of baking soda as well. And some cooking oil or lard. Pumpkins harvest in the fall, so if you have fresh, chop it up and boil it. If not, canned pumpkin works fine. (If you don’t want the pumpkin in it, use water or milk when mixing the flour. If you don’t want it sweet, leave out the sugar.) You can find traditional recipe variations here.

Let it sit over night. Don’t skip this step.

The next day, roll the dough into balls and then flatten them with your fingertips so they’re thin enough to cook all the way through before they burn on the outside. Taste the dough before you do this to see if it needs more sugar or is too sticky and needs more flour. Put the little cakes in a skillet or pan of hot oil (medium high).

Turn them when the edges get brown. Medium brown is what you’re looking for and that usually happens when the cakes float. Drain on a paper towel. Great for snacks or to go with your dinner.

If you like pictures to go with your recipes, the Seminole Tribune has a series of what-it-ought-to-look-like pictures here.

I don’t normally talk about food on this blog, but I mentioned pumpkin fry bread a fair number of times in my 1950s-era folk magic novella Conjure Woman’s Cat and that was enough to get me addicted to it all over again. Seems like everyone in Florida made fry bread in the 1950s.

In many Indian nations, making and eating fry bread is sacred and deeply linked to the past.

–Malcolm

Amazon Kindle cover.

All three of Campbell’s “conjure and crime” novels have been collected into one e-book.