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Florida’s Forgotten Rebels: rediscovering the most successful slave revolt in American history

Source: Amy Sturgis, Reason Online

John Horse’s story feels like an answer to every Hollywood studio’s wish list: a mix of Spartacus, Braveheart, Amistad, and Glory, with just a pinch of Dances With Wolves. A sweeping tale of a decades-long struggle against oppression, the movie would show how Horse and the Black Seminoles created the largest haven for runaway slaves in the American South, led the biggest slave revolt in U.S. history, won the only emancipation of rebellious North American slaves before the Civil War, and formed the largest mass exodus of slaves in U.S. history. In the 1830s Horse’s people journeyed from the Florida Everglades to what is now Oklahoma and then across the border to Mexico, where they ultimately secured title to their own land.

What is perhaps most amazing about this story is how it has been overlooked so consistently, not just by filmmakers and popular audiences but by almost every historian of slavery. Now a nonprofessional historian–J.B. Bird, an administrator at the University of Texas–has written and produced an engrossing multimedia Web documentary, Rebellion: John Horse and the Black Seminoles, the First Black Rebels to Beat American Slavery. In the process, Bird has illustrated not just an important part of the American past but also one of the ways cyberspace is changing how history is studied and taught.

Bird’s narrative begins in Spanish Florida in the early 18th century, when two groups fled from the colonial South: Seminoles migrating from Alabama and Georgia to escape white encroachment and blacks fleeing the bonds of slavery. Both were welcome in Florida. The escaped slaves, in fact, were offered their freedom if they would defend the Spanish crown. Both the Catholic Church and Spanish law treated slavery as an unnatural condition, and both recognized blacks and American Indians as human beings (if not equals). More practically, offering sanctuary to English slaves created a human buffer zone and a free fighting force against the British colonists…….Read the rest of this article by Amy Sturgis here.

Amy H. Sturgis (amyhsturgis.com) teaches Native American studies at Belmont University and is a member of the Scholarly Board of the Tennessee Center for Policy Research. Her newest book is The Trail of Tears and Indian Removal (Greenwood Press).

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This entry was posted on June 5, 2008 by in USA News and tagged , , .