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Introduction William S. Belko As Americans proudly celebrated their nation’s 65th birthday—on July 4, 1841—how many of them at that moment could have anticipated that within the decade of the 1840s they would add to their Union a vast expanse of land, reaching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean? Some, infected with that incubating germ of Manifest Destiny, could indeed envision an extensive territorial empire connecting the Atlantic to the Pacific, and a commercial one extending well beyond. On such a celebrated day, were they also aware of another story occurring off the Gulf Coast of Florida, several miles out from the Bay of Tampa—a powerful story directly connected to their passion for territorial acquisition, a tragedy unfolding in the name of their expanding Empire of Liberty? There, shackled on the quarterdeck of a U.S. transport vessel, stood the impressive Seminole leader Coacoochee—Wildcat, to those speaking only American—and a number of his warriors, captured months prior in the midst of the brutal and bloody Second Seminole War still raging throughout Florida. The irons around their feet enabled them to step a mere four inches at a time. Hanging their heads in silence, arrayed in order of their rank, they sat. Their manacled hands rested on their knees. The commanding officer of U.S. forces in the Florida war addressed them boldly. It was due time, declared Colonel William Jenkins Worth, that the Indian “felt the power and strength of the white man,” and he followed with an ultimatum. Unless Coacoochee used his influence to convince the rest of his small band to surrender and accept emigration to lands west of the Mississippi, then “yourself, and these warriors now seated before us, shall be hung to the yards of this vessel, when the sun sets on the day appointed, with the irons upon your hands and feet.” Such a deed, Worth concluded, “is for the benefit of the white and red man.”1 Coacoochee rose to respond, as some of his warriors raised their hands to wipe away tears, their irons jingling in the action. “I was once a boy,” he recalled, “then I saw the white man afar off.” Yet, like the bear and the wolf, the white man came upon him, “horses, cattle, and fields, he took from me.” 2 / William S. Belko Despite assurances of friendship, the white man still came, and “too strong for us.” He asked only for a small piece of land to cultivate and to live on, “a spot where I could place the ashes of my kindred, a spot only sufficient upon which I could lay my wife and child.” But such the expanding Americans would never allow, at least not in Florida. “I feel the irons in my heart.”2 Worth simply repeated his warning. “I say to you again, and for the last time, that unless the band acquiesce promptly with your wishes, to your last wish, the sun, as it goes down on the last day appointed for their appearance, will shine upon the bodies of each of you hanging in the wind.” On the nation’s birthday, as Americans cheered their independence, as they venerated their liberties, privileges, and immunities, the fate of other Americans proved considerably less sanguine. An American officer summed up the scene best: “Here was a chief, a man whose only offence was defending his home, his fireside, the graves of kindred, stipulating, on the Fourth of July, for his freedom and his life.” Soon, a U.S. schooner moored nearby opened its batteries in a customary salute to the import of the day. Coacoochee heard the discharge, recognizing correctly that it was a “jubilee of freedom” emanating from his captors’ vessels . “That flag,” sardonically concluded the American officer recording the events before him, “waving from the mast-head of Coacoochee’s prison-ship, symbolical of freedom, was saluted by the roar of artillery, announcing to the world the liberty of twenty millions of people, free, independent, intelligent , and happy.” Not all in Florida, however, could hear the triumphant guns trumpeting the advance of American liberty. Most only heard the trampling of American soldiers, militiamen, and settlers, acquiring their lands.3 True to his word, Coacoochee secured the surrender of his band, and he did so within the requisite forty days. He chose five warriors to go deep into the wilds of Florida and convince those of his band to fight no longer and to...

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