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7 “It is a negro, not an Indian war” Southampton, St. Domingo, and the Second Seminole War Matthew Clavin In 1836, a little-known writer published a sensationalistic account of a series of dramatic events that were unfolding in the Florida territory.1 For the second time in a generation, the United States was going to war with the Seminole Indians in an effort to remove them from their land and clear the way for American expansion. In describing a series of violent clashes that sparked the conflict, Daniel F. Blanchard detailed some of the atrocities committed by Seminole warriors against white soldiers and settlers, including several massacres of defenseless white men, women, and children. The pamphlet also included an eye-catching illustration. A two-page woodcut of the carnage described in the accompanying text, it served as a pictorial summary of Seminole savagery. In spite of its graphic nature, the visual was unremarkable, something that many readers would have found cliché. Authors and editors routinely inserted similar images in Indian captivity narratives and related literary genres, which capitalized on the cruel and terrifying imagery of frontier war. There is one significant exception to the normative character of Blanchard’s image. A center panel depicts the slaying of two white civilians by armed and enraged black men, presumably slaves. It, too, was unoriginal. Blanchard copied the image from a pamphlet published four years earlier by Samuel Warner. Entitled Authentic and Impartial Narrative of the Tragical Scene Which Was Witnessed in Southampton County, Warner’s pamphlet chronicled Nat Turner ’s slave revolt in southeastern Virginia in 1831.2 In what many accept as the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history, Turner, a plantation laborer and mystic, spurred dozens of bondmen to murder nearly sixty white Virginians under the cover of darkness. In addition to describing the Southampton revolt, Warner ’s book also examined the unprecedented slave insurrection in the French colony of Saint-Domingue, or St. Domingo, which occurred at the turn of the century. The extraordinary slave revolution that resulted in the liberation of some 500,000 bondpeople and the birth of the new nation of Haiti came at a 182 / Matthew Clavin tremendous price. The “horrors of St. Domingo” resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands of settlers, soldiers, and slaves, and France lost the wealthiest colony in the Americas.3 Blanchard’s deployment of an image inseparable from the slave revolts in both Southampton and St. Domingo demonstrates how Americans drew sharp distinctions between the Seminole and the fugitive slaves, or maroons, who fought beside them. In the literature of the period, authors routinely described the threat that both Seminoles and their black allies posed to white settlement. They eagerly reported atrocities committed by both groups. Yet one detects in these works an obvious distinction. Writers often displayed both sympathy and empathy for the Seminole, whom they imagined as Noble Savages. In various published accounts they depicted the Seminole, like other native people still remaining in North America, as a noble yet disappearing race whose last days in America—as well as on earth—were numbered. The same writers who paid tribute to the vanishing Indian, however, did not wax nostalgically about the bondpeople who aided the resistance movement. While the end of Indian violence was imminent, they feared a different trajectory. For them, the course of black rebellion from St. Domingo to Southampton and ultimately the Second Seminole War was both evident and alarming. The significant role that fugitive slaves played in the Second Seminole War fueled Americans’ fear of a massive slave insurrection originating in the Florida territory. Generations of scholars have understood this role due to Kenneth Porter’s pioneering work, and today, the African American character of 7.1. Oversized engraving of atrocities committed by Native and African Americans during Second Seminole War, from Daniel F. Blanchard’s An authentic narrative of the Seminole war (1836). Courtesy of the Collections of the Library of Congress.. Southampton, St. Domingo, and the Second Seminole War / 183 the war also inflects the popular imagination due to a compelling Web site that is devoted to proving that “From 1835–1838 in Florida, the Black Seminoles, the African allies of Seminole Indians, led the largest slave rebellion in U.S. history.”4 The debate over whether the Second Seminole War is more deserving of the label Indian war or slave revolt is valuable, bringing much needed attention to the enduring military alliance among Native and African Americans...

Additional Information

ISBN
9780813045146
Related ISBN
9780813035253
MARC Record
OCLC
801840927
Pages
288
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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