Seminole Wars: Monuments, Museums, and Commemorations (Part 2)

     Fort Christmas, located in the present-day town of Christmas, Florida, was a short-lived part of the supply chain during the Wars and today is a museum. Their section on the Seminoles includes artwork, costumes, maps, artifacts, and a video on the Seminole Wars. The fort has much information available, about the Seminoles during the Wars as well as afterwards and up to the present, which is an interesting aspect to include. The video contained lots of information and was overall rather sympathetic to the Seminole cause.

     The last set of sites I visited were around Jupiter, the town I live in during the summer. Much of the action of the Third Seminole War took place around this area. The Jupiter Lighthouse Museum contained a section on the Seminoles, much of which involved the Wars and was fairly balanced. Even though information on the Seminole Wars is sometimes difficult to come by, it has left its mark on many places in Florida.  Scores of locations have been named after Osceola, such as Osceola Point, and the only trace we could find of the site of Old Fort Jupiter (a fort established during the Wars) was a street sign for Old Ft. Jupiter Road.

 The last location was the campsite of the Tennessee Volunteers during the Second Seminole War, located near Old Fort Jupiter away from the camp of the regulars because of animosity between the two groups. I only knew about this site from the book Guns Across the Loxahatchee, in which archaeologist Richard Procyk described his mission to mark the site after struggling to locate it. The marker, accompanied by a small American flag, was located in the middle of a residential neighborhood, which had been built up around it despite archaeologists’ attempts to preserve the site as a place of historical interest (as recorded in Guns). This site remembers the day to day life of a soldier, which is an integral perspective to commemorate if trying to present an all-inclusive memory of the Wars – because it was put up by an archaeologist, historian, and author, who spent much time uncovering archaeological evidence from campsites and so had an interest in sharing with people the results of this work. Unfortunately, I’m guessing most people would not come out to the middle of a residential neighborhood to track down a stone plaque, lonely on a little grassy patch surrounded by houses. That’s the tragedy of most of these monuments and historic sites – because the Seminole Wars themselves were eclipsed by the devastating Civil War that came right on their heels, they will naturally be more overlooked when it comes to the average tourist.

      The only thing that I think was significant that was left out of many of these displays was on the topic of slavery and the Wars. In the displays, as in many other sites’ displays, the fact that the Seminoles harbored runaway slaves as talked about as a catalyst for conflict. However, the various sites did not mention the slaves that the Seminoles owned legitimately, or the free black Seminoles. For example, the video shown at Fort Christmas said that the Seminoles “still harbored runaway slaves” and “gave sanctuary to runaway slaves”, and white attempts to seize them “angered Seminoles” (although later on in the video they mentioned that slavehunters trying to seize black Seminoles often stopped peace negotiations). The section on Black Seminoles at the Jupiter Lighthouse Museum also mentioned the role of runaway slaves among the Seminoles in the conflict, but failed to mention slaves legally among them. The insistence of white slaveowners and slavehunters on trying to seize free black Seminoles or Seminole-owned slaves was a major grievance to the Seminoles according to most secondary sources I read. For example, several sources mentioned instances where the Seminoles did bring in groups of runaway slaves to the Americans, indicating that many were willing to surrender runaways. In Gen. Hernandez’s Oct. 22, 1837 report after the capture of Osceola, he says, “[the] Indians were perfectly disposed to bring in the negroes and property taken from the inhabitants during the war, but that they were by no means prepared to surrender themselves…” It was often the many instances recorded in multiple secondary sources of slavecatchers targeting non-runaways that shattered peace negotiations and sent the Seminoles back into resistance mode. Therefore, to me the issue of black Seminoles that were legally among the Seminoles is just as important as the issue of runaway slaves taking illegal refuge with them, and should be discussed at these sites.

     However, there were several instances of sympathy towards the Seminole perspective evident in many of these sites. Starting with Dade Battlefield Park – a display said that Billy Bowlegs had been “severely provoked” into attacking a US engineering crew (the conflict that started the 3rd War). The display in the Jupiter Lighthouse Museum acknowledged the tendency of the American army to ignore the basic right to protection under a white flag when describing an important incident in the War where “more than 500 Seminoles were contained there [Fort Jupiter] when the word arrived from Washington a month later to capture the Indians, violating the white flag of truce…”. In the informational video at Fort Christmas, they describe how the Seminoles were “tricked” into signing the 1832 and 1833 treaties, called the fighting “defense” on the part of the Seminoles, and described how “broken treaties” and “unkept promises” were the Seminole experience during these Wars.  I think that overall, all of the sites I saw were sympathetic to an extent towards the Seminole perspective. It is mostly the lack of thorough information and accessibility that causes many of these sites to fall short of commemorating the Seminole Wars and the people involved in them as they should be remembered.

Comments

  1. Avery,
    I read all your posts and it’s fascinating to follow your research, as I know next to nothing about the Seminole Wars. One thing that caught my attention was the archaeologist Procyk’s determination in marking the campsite location. It made me consider the ease of forgetting when and why historical sites are commemorated, and by whom. Do you have any idea who pushed to get some of the other monuments, museums, etc. erected, or expanded to include more historical information? It sounds like all these sites are pretty different in the amount of information they present and their biases, and I wonder how that might have been affected by the circumstances of their creation. Your project is so interesting; thanks for this history lesson!
    –Sara

  2. Many of the sites were sponsored by government groups actually. The National Park Service preserved and upkeeps the Castillo de San Marcos (the National Park Service was no doubt what the Castillo’s ranger was referencing when she mentioned that the organization in charge worked slowly when it came to updating the Castillo’s information, unsurprising considering that they are a national organization, and the Seminole Wars although affecting Southern states through militias joining the fighting, and Western states where the Seminoles were relocated, had more local Floridian significance as all fighting took place there). On the other hand, Florida State Parks – the Florida Division of Recreation and Parks – was responsible for Dade Battlefield, probably the site that had the most complete and accurate information, and the Fort Christmas Park, which also had a surprisingly large amount of information on the Seminoles, was managed by the Orange County Parks and Recreation Division in addition to the Fort Christmas Historical Society. So it seems that local government has been more effective in terms of Seminole Wars sites, which should be expected as the Wars were practically speaking more locally significant (although I believe that in terms of lessons learned they certainly have significance nationally today). Just as Ft. Christmas was also sponsored by the Ft. Christmas Historical Society, the Jupiter Lighthouse Museum is sponsored by the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, a local non-profit. The St. Augustine National Cemetery bucks that trend though, as the US Department of Veterans Affairs seems to be in charge of it as far as I can tell, and it has fairly thorough and accurate information on the soldiers from the Seminole Wars buried there. As for the site markers of the Osceola capture site and Ft. Peyton, I couldn’t find who was responsible for them originally, although since the recent restoration of the Ft. Peyton site was spearheaded by a local Eagle Scout, I think it’s safe to say that government is not currently concerning themselves with the upkeep of these sites. Hope that answers your question a bit!
    On a side note, exploring your question helped me immensely with wrapping up the whole project, so thank you for asking!:)