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The early Spanish writers describe Florida as an earthly paradise, blessed with a delightful climate, and abounding in the richest fruits and flowers of the tropics. According to their ac counts, the population must have been very numerous; but, un fortunately, there is little trace to be found of the many tribes named by them; and the probability is, that no dependence can be placed upon any information derived from that source. The celebrated expedition of De Soto is now believed to be fabulous.
The Palanches, Eamuses, and Kaloosas, the ancient possessors of Florida if such nations ever existed are all extinct. The present race of Indians inhabiting Florida, settled there about a century ago, and are called Seminoles, or Runaways, being fugitives from various tribes residing in the region bordering on the Mississippi, but chiefly from the lower Creek nation. They were the restless, dissolute, and abandoned individuals who fled from punishment, or who were unwilling to submit even to the loose restraints of the savage community. So long as Florida belonged to a foreign power, the fugitives from the Indian tribes residing within the American Colonies, or States, found the boundary line a convenient protection, and thither fled .the lawless and the disaffected. They found here some small remnants of the Yemasses, once a powerful and warlike people, whose name occurs frequently in the early history of South Carolina and Georgia. Exhausted by fierce and long-continued wars with the Creek Indians, as well as the English colonists, they sought refuge in the hammocks of Florida, where the Seminoles assailed, and nearly exterminated them about the year 1721. The small number who survived, became slaves to the conquerors, and were finally incorporated with them. The Yemasses were of a darker complexion than any other Indians, and the Ochlewahaw tribe of the Seminoles, who are descended from them, betray their origin by the dark color of their skins. The American traveler, Bartram, relates a tradition of the Creeks, that a beautiful race of Indians, whose women they called Daughters of the Sun, resided among the lakes and swamps of the great Oahefanoke wilderness, where they lived in uninterrupted felicity, upon islands of eternal verdure, inaccessible to the approach of human footsteps. He supposes, with much plausibility, that some little colony of the fugitive Yemasses, having taken shelter at that retired spot, were seen by, a party of Creek hunters, and that the fable grew out of this circumstance.
The wilds of Florida have, for a long series of years, afforded a harbor to the runaway slaves from the Southern States, who were eagerly received by the Seminoles, as well on account of the dislike they bore to the people of the United States, as from the value they placed on the services of the Negroes, who performed their agricultural labors, and, in consequence of their knowledge of the arts, were useful in various ways. They were kindly treated, and not severely worked; were soon admitted to a footing of equality, and .finally amalgamated with the Indians.
Such were the Seminoles, who, so long as Florida was a colony of Spain, found protection there, while they carried on a constant and lawless predatory war upon the frontier settlements of the United States, not only by the commission of murders, but more frequently by enticing away the slaves and stealing the cattle of the inhabitants.
The hostile feelings engendered by this conduct, were greatly aggravated by the course pursued by the British authorities during the war which commenced in 1812. In August, 1814, a British fleet anchored in Pensacola bay, and a body of troops, under the command of Colonel Nichols, took possession of the Spanish forts Barancas and St. Michael, and hoisted the British flag. On the 31st of the same month, he published the infamous proclamation which rendered his name notorious in our history, in which he called upon the people of Louisiana and Kentucky to throw off the slavish yoke of the United States, and join his standard, encouraged the Indians to butcher the unarmed inhabitants of the frontier, and the slaves to rise upon their masters. Arms and ammunition were furnished abundantly to the Indians, and a reward of ten dollars each was offered for the scalps of the Americans, without distinction of age or sex. A person called Woodbine, who was announced as a colonel in the British service, was also engaged in the same nefarious warfare; and two spies, named Ambrister and Arbuthnot, who were taken in company with the Indians, were executed by order of General Jackson.
‘When Florida was afterwards ceded to the United States, and the American people began to settle within its limits, it will readily be conceived that no very friendly dispositions existed between them and the Seminoles. Nor were our settlers free from blame in regard to the hostilities which ensued. A frontier is always infested by lawless men, and, however respectable the majority may be, a few such individuals may embroil the whole community, by acts which may be condemned, but which cannot be prevented. The rights of the Florida Indians were, in many instances, violently outraged by unprincipled speculators and loose marauders, who perpetrated the most scandalous frauds and cruelties upon that unhappy people.
In all such cases, there is one inevitable result whoever may be in fault, or whatever may be the character of the quarrel, the whites and the Indians respectively espouse opposite sides, and prepare for the last resort. The leaders on both sides may be disposed to conciliate, but there are always individuals in either party, who, at such a juncture, seize the occasion to plunder, and to shed blood, and thus bring on a war. There is, then, but one alternative, on the part of our government, which is to separate the belligerents by the removal of one party, and the Indians, being the weakest, must emigrate.
After years of disturbance, and the commission of numberless acts of violence by individuals on both sides, it became necessary that some measure should be adopted to prevent a general war; and, on the 9th of May, 1832, Colonel Gadsden, a commissioner on the part of the United States, met the Seminoles in council at a place called Payne’s Landing, and effected a treaty, by which the Seminoles ceded all their country to the United States, in exchange for lands to be assigned them west of the Mississippi; provided, that on examination by a committee of their chiefs, they should approve the lands offered them. The examination was made, and the chiefs, being satisfied with the country, made a treaty at Fort Gibson, on the 28th of March, 1833, ratifying the former cession of their lands; and on the 23d of April, 1835, six teen of their chiefs and sub-chiefs entered into a new agreement, ratifying the former treaties. When, however, the government, after years of negotiation, at length determined to enforce the removal of the Florida Indians, the larger portion refused to go, disavowed the cession made by their chiefs, and the late disastrous war was the consequence.
Micanopy is, by inheritance, the principal chief or head man of all the bands of Seminoles, and is, by some writers, styled king, and by others governor of the Seminoles. We prefer the title of chief, as we do not find in the office of head man, any difference between this and any other Indian nation, nor do we discover in any of them the slightest resemblance to the state or authority of a king. Those governments, so far as they can be termed such, are military and republican, and the leader mingles with his people on terms of the most perfect equality, except when acting officially.
King Payne, the grandfather of Micanopy, is said to have established and united the Seminoles as a people. He married a Yemassee woman, his slave, who was the mother of the late chief, Payne, whose origin from the Yemassee stock was distinctly marked in the darkness of his complexion. Micanopy also is very black. The elder King Payne lived to the age of nearly one hundred years. The word “Micco,” which we find compounded into many of the Creek and Seminole names, means chief, and Micc-onopy is head chief. He is also called “the Governor,” and the “Pond Governor.”
Micanopy was among those who, from the beginning, opposed the views of our government in relation to the removal of his people. He does not appear to have been a man of much activity or enterprise, but, in regard to this matter, he remained firm, in consequence, perhaps, of the influence of Assiola and others, who constantly urged him to adhere to his purpose.
At a council with the Seminole chiefs, held by General Wiley Thompson on the 22d of April, 1835, Micanopy boldly opposed the agreements of the agent, and objected to the removal of his people. The next day, when the council reassembled, he was absent, and General Thompson was informed that the chief was sick; but this was considered as a subterfuge, and as an indication that he was not disposed to listen to any further discussion of a question which he had settled in his own mind. A veteran chief, Foke Luste Hajo, who had always advocated the removal, and remained firm in his attachment to the United States, denounced all who opposed the execution of the treaty. During this speech, he was frequently interrupted by those who held different views a circumstance which shows that great excitement must have existed among them for the Indians are remarkable for their decorum in council, and for the patience with which they listen to the speakers, to interrupt whom is considered a flagrant breach of good manners. The writer of ” The War in Florida, by a late Staff Officer,” from whose pages we compile these facts, adds:
“In consequence of the bold and manly declaration of the chief Foke Luste Hajo, eight of the principal chiefs of the nation, and eight sub-chiefs, advanced and signed the article, (affirming the treaty of Payne’s Landing.) Five of the principal chiefs remained opposed, viz: Micanopy, Jumper, Holato Mico, Coa Hajo, and Arpiucki. The former chief, as before mentioned, was absent, and. as the agent knew that Micanopy controlled the movements of many of them, he demanded of Jumper, “whether Micanopy intended to abide by the treaty or not?” And when Jumper finally confessed that he was authorized to say that Micanopy did not, the agent promptly declared, that he no longer considered Micanopy as chief; that his name should be struck from the council of the nation; that he should treat all who acted like him in the like manner; and that he would neither acknowledge nor do business with him, nor with any other as a chief, who did not honestly comply with the terms of his engagements; that the door was, however, still open to them, if they wished to act honestly. In consequence of this, the names of the above five opposing chiefs were struck from the council of the nation.”
We are happy to be able to record the fact, that this high-handed and unjustifiable measure of the agent was promptly rebuked by the President, General Jackson, in a letter written by Governor Cass, Secretary of War, who treats it as follows :
“It is not necessary for me to enter much into detail on the subject presented by you. I understand, from Mr. Harris, that he communicated to you the President’s views on the subject of the chiefs whom you declined to recognize in all questions connected with the removal of the Seminoles. I understand that the President deemed this course an incorrect one; and it seems to me obviously liable to strong objections. We do not assume the right to determining who shall be the chiefs in the various Indian tribes; this is a matter of internal policy which must necessarily be left to themselves. And if, when we have a grave matter for adjustment with one of the tribes, we undertake to say it shall be determined by a particular class of individuals, we certainly should render ourselves obnoxious to censure. It appears to me the proper course, upon important questions, to treat directly with the tribe itself; and if they depute their chiefs, or any other individual, to act for them, we must either recognize such authority, or abandon the object in view.”
Micanopy does not seem to have distinguished himself as a warrior in the late contest. He is said to be an unwieldy man in his person, and inactive in his habits. He commanded, however, in the disastrous defeat and massacre of the gallant party under the command of Major Dade
After a series of outrages on the part of the Seminoles, and various attempts at conciliation by our government and the friendly chiefs, an open and general war broke out in November, 1835.
On the 24th of December, 1835, Major Dade’s command marched from Fort Brooke for Fort King. It consisted of Captain Gardiner’s company C. 2d Artillery, and Captain Frazer’s company B. 3d Infantry, of fifty men each, with eight officers, having with them ten days’ provisions, and a light six-pounder. A noble display of disinterested gallantry attended the setting out of this party. Major Dade was not originally detailed for duty with this detachment, to make up which, his own company had been transferred to those of Gardiner and Frazer. The service was considered dangerous in the highest degree, as it was probable the Indians would attempt to cut off the detachment. The wife of Captain Gardiner was exceedingly ill at Fort Brooke, and it was feared that if he then left her, she would die; but he could not be prevailed upon to relinquish the command, and, after making every preparation, mounted his horse, and placed himself at the head of the party. At this moment, Major Bade voluntarily proposed to take the place of his friend Captain Gardiner, and Major Belton, the commanding officer, accepted the offer. Dade mounted his horse and took the command, Gardiner retired to the sick chamber of his wife, and the gallant little party moved off. Before they had proceeded far, Captain Gardiner ascertained that a transport schooner was on the eve of departure for Key West, where Mrs. Gardiner’s father and children then were, and she consented to go there and leave him at liberty to join his company. She was accordingly placed on board the transport, and he resumed his post in the ill-fated expedition, while Dade, unwilling now to give up the command, remained with it.
A series of untoward circumstances attended the march. The oxen that drew the field-piece broke down early in the first day, and the command was obliged to halt until horses could be procured from Fort Brooke. The next day, on reaching the Hills-borough river, they found the bridge destroyed, and were obliged to halt until the ensuing morning, when they crossed, but with such difficulty and delay that they made but six miles that day. On the 27th, they crossed the Big and Little Ouithlacoochee Rivers, and encamped three miles north of the latter. Aware that the enemy were watching his movements, Major Dade had, during all this time, adopted every precaution that military skill suggested, carefully avoiding surprise while marching, and throwing up a small breastwork every night. On the 28th, they marched early, and had proceeded only about four miles, when the advanced guard passed through a plat of high grass, and had reached a thick cluster of palmettos, where a heavy and destructive fire was opened upon them, by an enemy concealed at a distance of fifty or sixty yards. The column was thrown into confusion by this sudden attack, but they were quickly rallied, and, as the enemy were observed to rise in front, a charge was made, by which the Indians were dislodged, but not until knives, bayonets, and clubbed muskets were used. Major Dade fell dead on the first fire, and Captain Gardiner, having driven back the Indians, but finding they were gathering for another onset, attempted to throw up a breast work of logs. This was not effected before the attack was renewed. The Indians, being reinforced, and having stationed about a hundred mounted warriors on the opposite side, to cut off retreat, advanced to the second attack, yelling in so terrific a manner as to drown the reports of the fire-arms. The field-piece was now used with effect for a short time, but the enemy, surrounding the little breastwork, shot down every man who attempted to work the gun, and soon rendered it useless. Gallantly did these heroic men defend themselves and maintain the honor of their flag; but, over powered by numbers, and fighting under every disadvantage, they fell, one by one, without the prospect of any change of fortune. At length the ammunition gave out, the Indians broke into the enclosure, and every man was either killed or so badly wounded as to be incapable of resistance. The work of havoc done, the dead were plundered, and the Indians retreated; then came a party of Negroes, who dispatched and mutilated all who showed signs of life. Three persons only escaped to tell the story of this dreadful massacre.
Mr. Cohen, in his “Notices of Florida,” gives the following description of Micanopy. “The Governor is of low, stout, and gross stature, and what is called loggy in his movements his face is bloated and carbuncled, eyes heavy and dull, and with a mind like his person. Colonel Gadsden told me, at Payne’s Landing, after having double rations, he complained of starving. He reminds me of the heroes of the Trojan war, who could eat up a whole lamb, or half a calf. He owns a hundred Negroes, and a large stock of cattle and horses. The ‘top Governor’ has two wives, one a very pretty squaw, and the other a half breed Negress. She is the ugliest of all ugly women, and recalls the image of Bombie, of the Frisled Head, in Paulding’s Koningsmarke.”