End of an Era
As if to underscore the deterioration of African-Seminole relations, a long chapter in the alliance came to a close in January
1857 when Coacoochee died in a smallpox epidemic that swept the region.
Like his ally Osceola before him, Coacoochee had been a staunch supporter of
traditional African-Seminole relations. He inherited leadership of the alliance
in Florida and led the partnership through the dark period of the Indian
Territory and the quest for land in Mexico.
Coacoochee was a complicated figure for the Black Seminoles. He was reputed on
occasion to sell maroons into slavery—something he allegedly did for personal
gain or, on at least one occasion, as part of an elaborate con game that ended
with him stealing back the same people he had sold. As was the case with
Osceola, Coacoochee’s alliance with the maroons was clearly tied to his own
self-interests. The partnership furnished him with skilled allies and, when
necessary, a retinue of vassals for diplomatic and dramatic effect.
A successful leader of blacks and Indians in war and peace, in conflict and
alliance with the U.S. Army, Coacoochee was undoubtedly one of the most
accomplished Native Americans of the nineteenth century. His electrifying escape
from Fort Marion in 1837 reenergized the allied Seminole resistance; his
battlefield skills helped the Seminoles wage the most successful (from the
Native American point of view ) Indian war in U.S. history. His diplomacy and
guile out west kept slave raiders at bay until he and John Horse could lead one
of the largest and most successful slave escapes on American soil.
Coacoochee lived too long, and led too skillfully, to inherit the mantle of the
noble-savage-as-victim, the status that nineteenth-century historians conferred
on Osceola, Geronimo, and other warriors whom the U.S. defeated. The U.S. never
defeated Coacoochee. Perhaps above all, this fact secured his place in
Mulroy 75, Porter Black 144.