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2 King Payne and His Policies A Framework for Understanding the Diplomacy of the Seminoles of La Chua, 1784–1812 James Cusick The Seminoles of the La Chua area of north central Florida (today’s Alachua County) tend to attract only minor consideration in histories of the Creek Confederation. This is not due to historical oversight. The towns of Alachua— which consisted first of La Chua and Cuscowilla and later of Paynes Town and Bowlegs Town—can be regarded as far outliers in the nexus of Seminole settlements in Florida that were loosely affiliated with the Lower Creeks. This essay presents a preliminary study of the dynamics between the Seminoles of Alachua and their neighbors. In particular, it examines the policies of King Payne, headman of Alachua from 1784 to 1812, as he attempted to maintain a stance of neutrality with the three powers in the region: the Spaniards, the Georgians, and the Lower Creeks.1 During the second half of the eighteenth century and the opening of the nineteenth century, various bands of Hitchiti-speaking peoples moved into northern Florida and established towns, hunting grounds, grazing lands, and modest economies based in trade and subsistence agriculture. The group occupying Alachua came from the Georgia tidewater, and they are sometimes identified in documents as Oconees, although usually as Seminoles. They were a small group—estimates put their population at 450 people in the 1760s— but they found themselves strategically placed. Of all the Seminole and Creek towns in northern Florida, theirs were nearest to areas of fairly dense white settlement. They also occupied the lands between these settlements and other Seminole towns further west, such as Talahasochte on the Suwannee River and Miccosukee (by the lake of the same name). Over time the Seminoles of Alachua became major breeders of cattle and horses and participated in the deerskin trade. This gave them some economic influence with their neighbors, both as trading partners for whites and as trading middlemen to other Indian towns. 42 / James Cusick Although this group of Seminoles first moved into the Florida peninsula when it was under Spanish rule, their sympathies were with the British. Cowkeeper (or Ahaye), the principle micco over the various groups in Alachua, pledged support to the governor of Georgia, James Oglethorpe, in 1740 and aided his attacks on Spanish strongholds. Cowkeeper’s people remained hostile to the Spaniards for the next twenty years and then became firm friends with the new British regime that controlled Florida from 1763 to 1784. By the time of Cowkeeper’s death, in that same year, the Seminoles of Alachua were probably better known to the white settlers of Florida than any other Native American group in the area.2 Indeed, the naturalist William Bartram based many of his conclusions about the Seminoles in general on his observations of this group. From his visit to Alachua in 1774 and also from his visit to another band of Seminoles at Talahasochte, he later wrote: “The Siminoles [are] but a weak people, with respect to numbers, all of them I suppose would not be sufficient to people one of the towns in the Muscogulge. . . . Yet this handful of people possesses a vast territory, all East Florida and the greatest part of West Florida, which being naturally cut and divided by thousands of islets, knolls, and eminences, by the innumerable rivers, lakes, swamps, vast savannahs and ponds, form so many secure retreats and temporary dwelling places, that effectually guard them from any sudden invasions. . . . Thus they enjoy a superabundance of the necessaries and conveniences of life, with the security of person and property.”3 This “security of person and property” was Cowkeeper’s most important legacy to his successor as micco, a Seminole sometimes identified as his son, sometimes as his nephew, and usually recorded in documents as Payne or King Payne. Unlike many other Seminole or Creek headmen, Payne does not seem to have been of mixed blood. He did, over the course of his years in leadership, show definite signs of acculturation: he eventually built himself a plantation-style house in Alachua, made frequent visits to St. Augustine, and communicated in a basic, if stilted, English when required. Unlike Cowkeeper, he does not seem to have been a war leader, and he usually favored mediation with others over the warpath. His chief goal, according to one source, was to keep “a peaceful conduct with everybody and to be friendly to all comers.”4 This proved to be a...


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