In the 1830s Pres. Jackson was in a full-scale war with the Seminole Indians in the territory now known as Florida. Our Indian Brothers and Sisters provided a refuge for escaped Africans and Jackson intended to end that Black–Red Alliance. On Christmas of 1837 Africans and Seminoles launched the St. John Rebellion against the region’s sugar plantations. One caucasian official sounded the alarm: “If a sufficient military force…is not sent…the whole frontier may be laid waste by a combination of the Indians, Indian negroes, & the Negroes on the plantations—It is useless to mince this question.”
A Jewish soldier named Myer M. Cohen was a leader of the force sent to destroy the Seminoles and return the Africans to slavery. He reported that the freedom fighters were so rapid in their movements that within five days they had burned and destroyed several plantations, freeing 45 slaves from one; 180 from another; 80 and then 300 from the two others. The Seminole wars lasted for many years and ultimately succumbed to defeat. That mighty Black–Red alliance is one of the only authentic alliances Blacks have ever had in America, and it is one that is sealed in blood. #SeminoleUprising
From 1835-1838 in Florida, the Black Seminoles, the African allies of Seminole Indians, led the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history. The uprising peaked in 1836 when hundreds of slaves fled their plantations to join the rebel forces in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). At the heights of the revolt, at least 385 slaves fought alongside the black and Indian Seminole allies, helping them destroy more than twenty-one sugar plantations in central Florida, at the time one of the most highly developed agricultural regions in North America.
During the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), the U.S. fought rebels from three distinct communities:
Seminole Indians: The largest enemy force and the only one the South preferred to acknowledge.
Black Seminoles: Black allies with established ties to the Indians, known as maroons or Seminole Negroes.
Plantation slaves: Recent recruits who fled plantations at the outset of the war.
Amazingly, one would hardly know any of this from the country’s textbooks. For over 150 years, American scholars have failed to recognize the true size and scope of the 1835-1838 rebellion. Historians have focused on the Indian warriors of the Second Seminole War (1835-1842), with some attention to the maroon fighters (the Black Seminoles) but almost none to the plantation-slaves.
The omission fits a general pattern in American history. In a trend dating back to the country’s earliest national histories, scholars have tended to downplay all incidence of slave resistance. Contemporary scholars may believe that they have overcome this legacy, and yet their failure to identify the country’s largest slave revolt speaks to the contrary.
Why did America forget this rebellion?
The Black Seminole slave rebellion was not only the largest in U.S. history, it was also the only one that was even partially successful. During the Second Seminole War the U.S. Army could never conclusively defeat the black rebels in Florida. After three years of fighting, the army chose to grant freedom to the holdouts in exchange for surrender — the only emancipation of rebellious African Americans prior to the U.S. Civil War.
It might not matter much that the country forgot a slave rebellion, but why the largest? And why the only one that was partially successful?
Certainly in the 1800s, it was never in the political interests of the white South to admit defeat at the hands of black rebels. But how did the censorship of the nineteenth-century become the amnesia of the twentieth? It remains something of a mystery how the country’s largest slave rebellion has remained unrecognized for so many years even by the country’s leading scholars of African American studies.