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.