- The Many Worlds of Titus:Marronage, Freedom, and the Entangled Borders of Lowcountry Georgia and Spanish Florida
In 1797 James Seagrove, the U.S. commissioner assigned to negotiate the return of fugitive slaves from Spanish East Florida, wrote Governor Enrique White with the latest news about "the notorious fellow Titus," a runaway from the Morel plantations around Savannah. The Spanish governor was well aware of the man. At about the age of eighteen, Titus had first escaped from his owner in Savannah in a bid to blend into the biracial neighborhood of Yamacraw outside the town limits. Four years later, he fled again and, together with friends, became a maroon, or outlaw, in East Florida. Captured and returned, he escaped a third time, in 1792, to become a fugitive on the outskirts of communities around Savannah and, for three years, lived the life of a maroon, "a known villain," in the words of his aggrieved owner. In 1795 Titus led fourteen people to Florida, where he was captured by Spanish soldiers, and, after being imprisoned on a nearby plantation, he again took flight, joining a party of Seminoles passing through the area. Recaptured, Titus was held for two years in a Spanish prison. On the point of being exchanged for Florida slaves who had escaped to Georgia, he broke out of jail and made his way to the familiar turf of the Savannah River region. In the words of Seagrove, Titus "formed a party with some other outlaying negroes who became very troublesome to the people by plunder and as a receptacle for runaways." The local militia attacked the maroons, and not long afterward, the Spanish consul relayed word to St. Augustine that certain fugitives from Florida had been captured, but never mentioned Titus by name. In all he was a maroon for a little over five years, first in Florida between 1789 and 1791, then in Georgia between 1792 and 1795, and, briefly, outside Savannah in 1797. In the course of this relatively brief period, Titus had escaped multiple times, [End Page 545] set up three separate maroon communities, and crossed an international boundary on several occasions.1
Titus's remarkable career offers a valuable opportunity for understanding marronage in the Georgia Lowcountry and Spanish Florida as part of a sustained struggle for dominance in the Southeast among Native Americans, African Americans, Spanish colonists, British adventurers, and U.S. settlers.2 Many questions ensue. How many fugitives sought to cross into Spanish East Florida during the late 1780s and 1790s, and what paths did they take? What can be learned about the varieties of freedom that existed in this region of "weak … governance and fluctuating loyalties," where different models of behavior for fugitive slaves existed?3 What distinguished marronage in this region in [End Page 546] the last two decades of the eighteenth century from the same phenomenon in later periods? More problematically, how can the impact of Spanish Florida on the American South be measured through the lens of marronage? Titus's career must be placed within the complicated movement of people between two distinct territories, including enslaved people escaping from Florida into Georgia; slaves being stolen on both sides of the border; Georgia planters claiming land and moving their workforce to the northern part of East Florida; the periodic raids of Creeks down the river systems of both entities, with cattle and slaves as the objectives; and Seminoles and some Creeks offering a large measure of autonomy and acceptance to black fugitives who sought sanctuary.4
Ultimately, Titus's story must be placed within a much larger arc of history. During the period between 1776 and 1816, no fewer than four distinct movements of Africans and African Americans from Georgia to Florida took place, a phenomenon that had a profound impact on the political, cultural, and social life of the southeastern region. Those movements included the several thousand black Loyalists who fled or were carried by their masters to British East Florida during the American Revolution; the several hundred fugitives who made their way to Spanish East Florida in search of freedom between 1785 and 1797; the increasing number of...