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Rebellion 1839 - 1858     
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Detail from The Nation Robbing an Indian Chief of his Wife
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Detail from "The Nation Robbing an Indian Chief of his Wife," engraving from The Anti-Slavery Almanac of 1839.
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Sidetrack:
A factual look at the abolitionists' legend

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In his 1858 political history of the Black Seminoles, Exiles of Florida, Joshua Reed Giddings, an antislavery Congressman from Ohio, offered a lengthy account of the alleged abduction of Osceola's black wife. The account shows two characteristics of Giddings' writing: a flair for melodrama and an occasional disregard for carefully examining facts. The passage is riddled with errors that Giddings could have scrutinized more carefully, even in 1858. But the crusader was less interested in historical accuracy than in advancing his antislavery view of American history; in many ways this makes his document all the more interesting today.

Below is Giddings' account, with factual comments added in green brackets.

"A young and gallant warrior, named Osceola, was the principal actor in one of these scenes. He was the son of an Indian trader, a white man named Powell. His mother was the daughter of a Seminole chief. [His mother was an Upper Creek from Alabama, which Giddings could have known from multiple sources.]

"He had recently married a woman said to have been beautiful [naturally]. She was the daughter of a chief who had married one of the Exiles; ["Exiles" was Giddings' term for the Black Seminoles; African-Seminole intermarriage occurred, but it was not common] but as all colored people by slaveholding law are said to follow the condition of the mother, she was called an African slave. Osceola was proud of his ancestry. [This was an astute comment, given that researchers now accept that Osceola was an ethnic mix of English, Indian, and black, although whether or not he was proud of his African heritage, we have no idea.] He hated slavery, and those who practiced the holding of slaves, with a bitterness that is but little understood by those who have never witnessed its revolting crimes. [Again, the historical record is silent here, though certainly Osceola's actions support this claim, even if he acted mainly out of self-interest.]

"He visited Fort King, in company with his wife and a few friends, for the purpose of trading. [No one but Giddings ever accused Osceola of such innocence. He probably traveled to Fort King to lodge his protests against removal.] Mr. Thompson, the agent, was present, and, while engaged in business, the wife of Osceola was seized as a slave. Evidently having negro blood in her veins, the law pronounced her a slave; and, as no other person could show title to her, the pirate who had got possession of her body, was supposed of course to be her owner. [This legend is original to the abolitionist record, although it fairly describes a fate which befell other Black Seminoles.]

"Osceola became frantic with rage, but was instantly seized and placed in irons, while his wife was hurried away to slaveholding pollution. He remained six days in irons, when, General Thompson says, he became penitent, and was released. [Osceola was placed in irons. The record is unclear as to the length of his confinement, which may have been only one day.]

"From the moment this outrage was committed, the Florida War may be regarded as commenced. Osceola swore vengeance upon Thompson, and those who assisted in the perpetration of this indignity upon himself, as well as upon his wife, and upon our common humanity." [Osceola's confinement was a signal event leading up to the war, and the uncertain status of the Black Seminoles was a primary cause, if not the primary cause, of the conflict, lending validity to Giddings' overall ideas, even if he accepted some embellishments to the factual record.]

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Sources: Giddings Exiles 98-99.
Part 2, War: Outline  l  Images
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 Trail Narrative
 + Prologue
 + Background: 1693-1812
 + Early Years: 1812-1832
 - War: 1832-1838
+ Prelude to War
Jackson's Rise
Payne's Landing
Creek Country
Seminole Outrage
Osceola
Before the Storm
+ Revenge
+ Deceit
+ Liberty or Death
 + Exile: 1838-1850
 + Freedom: 1850-1882
 + Legacy & Conclusion

Sidetrack(s)

A factual look at the abolitionists' legend

Porter's assessment of the legend

More on Osceola: his name, plus one officer's perspective

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