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Not a family Story SC, GA, FL, LA, OK, TEX, Mexico 1800s My Grandfather The Leader "Willie Warrior"

By DAVID NOLAN

Generations have been brought up on the sad story of how the Seminole leader Osceola was captured under a white flag of truce just south of St. Augustine in 1837. The heartbroken warrior was sent off to South Carolina, where he died early the next year.

Wild Cat, who succeeded him as war leader, managed a dramatic escape from the Castillo de San Marcos (Fort Marion, as it was then called) through a high window with only a 9-inch opening, climbing down the wall to his freedom, with the aid of a rope made from strips of canvas.

Accompanying Wild Cat in the escape was John Horse (or John Cavallo), whom historians see as the outstanding leader of Black Seminoles for nearly half a century after that.

John Horse was 25 years old when he shredded his skin on the rough coquina of the Castillo while squeezing out of his jail cell. His life and career are a reminder of what U.S. Army Commander Gen. Thomas Jesup said: "This, you may be assured, is a Negro and not an Indian war."

Black slaves who had once been able to flee into Spanish Florida and gain freedom found this avenue closed off to them after an agreement between the Spanish and American governments in 1790. But they were still able to make their way into the parts of Florida controlled by the Seminoles where they would gain, if not freedom, then certainly a much better status than was then available to them in the American South.

Blacks rose to positions of influence in their new home: One of them, Abraham, came to be known as the "prime minister" of the Seminoles. They also became some of the fiercest warriors.

One of the reasons for the hostilities that led to the lengthy Seminole War of 1835-1842 was the demand of slave-owners that those who had escaped from their clutches and made their way to the Seminole nation should be returned to bondage.

It was widely reported in the newspapers of the 1830s that the one reason Osceola fought so bitterly was that he had had a black wife who fell prey to the slave-catchers.

John Horse and other Black Seminoles accompanied the Indians to the west when they left Florida. He continually spoke out for better treatment -- even making a trip to Washington where he said he spoke with the president.

Controversial for his outspokenness, and the target of assassination attempts, as well as threats by slave-catchers against this family, John Horse finally took his followers and moved in 1850 to Mexico, where slavery had already been abolished.

After the Civil War ended slavery in the United States, some of the Black Seminoles returned and became army scouts. Several won the Congressional Medal of Honor. In the Capitol building at Tallahassee, one wall features a display of the state's Medal of Honor winners, and the first is a Black Seminole named Adam Payne.

John Horse survived until 1882, dying soon after a meeting with the president of Mexico. His dramatic life story has been told in the books, "The Black Seminoles" (1966) and Jeff Guinn's "Our Land Before We Die" (2002).

David Nolan is a St. Augustine author and historian. For 25 years, he has collected and written about the black history of St. Augustine, drawing from personal interviews and oral histories, microfilms and news clippings of The St. Augustine Record and The Florida Times-Union, the files of the St. Augustine Historical Society Research Library, the Martin Luther King Jr. Center, Atlanta, and other resources from around the United States.

February 17, 2004

There are still descendants living in Bracketville TX who still have parades in September to commorate their proud ansectors

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