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Detail from the Death of Waxehadjo, from The Exiles of Florida
Detail from the Death of Waxehadjo, engraving on the frontispiece of The Exiles of Florida, by Joshua Reed Giddings. Author's collection.
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Atlantic Monthly review of Exiles, September 1858

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Below is the complete text of the four-page review of The Exiles of Florida that ran in the September 1858 issue of The Atlantic Monthly. The author is anonymous.

The Exiles of Florida: or the Crimes committed by our Government against the Maroons, who fled from South Carolina and other Slave States, seeking Protection under Spanish Laws. By JOSHUA H. GIDDINGS.

Columbus, Ohio: Follett, Foster, & Co. 1858.

A CRUEL story this, Mr. Giddings tells us. Too cruel, hut too true. It is full of pathetic and tragic interest, and melts and stirs the heart at once with pity for the sufferers, and with anger, that sins not, at their mean and ruthless oppressors. Every American citizen should read it; for it is an indictment which recites crimes which have been committed in his name, perpetrated by troops and officials in his service, and all done at his expense. The whole nation is responsible at the bar of the world and before the tribunal of posterity for these atrocities, devised by members of its Cabinet and its Congress, directed by its Presidents, and executed by its armies and its courts. The cruelties of Alva in the Netherlands, which make the pen of Motley glow as with fire as he tells them, the dragonnades which scorched over the fairest regions of France after the Hevocation of the Edict of Nantes, have a certain excuse, as being instigated by a sincere, though misguided religious zeal. For Philip II. and Louis XIV. had, at least, a fanatical belief that they were doing God service by those holocausts of his children; while no motive inspired these massacres, tortures, and banishments, but the most sordid rapacity and avarice, the lowest and basest passions of the human breast.

And so carefully has the truth of this story been covered up with lies, that, probably, very few indeed of the people of the Free States have any just idea of the origin, character, and purposes of the Seminole Wars, or of the character of the race against which they were waged. And yet there is no episode in American history more full of romantic interest, of heroic truggles, and of moving griefs. We have been taught to believe that these wars were provoked by incursions of the savages of Florida on the frontier, and, if the truth could not be concealed, that an incidental motive of our war of extermination against them was to be found in the sanctuary which the fugitive slaves of the neighboring States found in their fastnesses. The general impression has been, that these were mainly runaways of recent date, who had made their escape from contemporary masters. Row many of our readers know that for more than three quarters of a century before the purchase of Florida there had been a nation of negroes established there, enjoying the wild freedom they loved, mingling and gradually becoming dentified with the Indians, who had made it their city of refuge from slavery also For the slaveholders of Carolina had no scruples against enslaving Indians any more than Africans, until it was discovered that the untamable nature of the red man made him an unprofitable and a dangerous servant. These Indian slaves fled into the wilderness, which is now the State of Georgia, pushing their way even to the peninsula of Florida, and were followed, in their flight and to their asylum, by many of their black companions in bondage. For near seventy-five years this little nation lived happy and contented, till the State of Georgia commenced the series of piratical incursions into their country, then a Spanish dependency, from which they were never afterwards free; the nation at last taking up the slaveholders’ quarrel and prosecuting it to the bitter and bloody end.

This whole story is told, and well told, by Mr. Giddings. And a most touching picture it is. First, the original evasion of the slaves into that peninsular wilderness, which they reclaimed as far as the supply of their simple wants demanded. They planted, they hunted, they multiplied their cattle, they intermarried with their Indian friends and allies, their children and their children’s children grew up around them, knowing of slavery only by traditionary legend. The original founders of the tribe passed away, and their sons and grandsons possessed their cornfields and their hunting-grounds in peace. For many years no fears disturbed their security. Under the Spanish rule they were safe and happy. Then comes the gradual gathering of the cloud on the edges of their wilderness, its first fitful and irregular flashes, till it closes over their heads and bursts upon them in universal ruin and devastation. Their heroic resistance to the invasion of the United States troops follows, sublime from its very desperation. A more unequal contest was never fought. On one side one of the mightiest powers on earth, with endless stores of men and money at its beck,—and on the other a handful of outcasts fighting for their homes, and the liberties, in no metaphorical sense, of themselves, their wives, and their children, and protracting the fight for as many years as the American Revolution lasted.

Then succeeded the victory of Slavery, and the reduction to hopeless bondage of multitudes who had been for generations free, on claim of pretended descendants of imaginary owners, by the decision of petty government-officials, without trial or real examination. More than five hundred persons, some of them recent fugitives, but mostly men born free, were thus reduced to slavery at a cost to us all of forty millions of dollars, or eighty thousand dollars for each recovered slave! Then comes their removal to the Cherokee lands, west of Arkansas, under the pledge of the faith of the nation, plighted by General Jessup, its authorized agent, that they should be sent to the West, and settled in a village separate from the Seminole Indians, and that, in the mean time, they should be protected, should not be separated, “nor any of them be sold to white man or others.” This, however, was not a legitimate issue of a war waged solely for the reduction of these exiles to slavery; and so the doubts of President Polk as to the construction of this treaty were solved by Mr. John Y. Mason, of Virginia, who was sandwiched in between two Free-State Attorney-Generals for this single piece of dirty work, (of which transaction see a most curious account, pp. 328—9 of this book,) and who enlightened the Presidential mind by the information, that, though the exiles were entitled to their freedom, under the treaty, and had a right to remain in the towns assigned to them, “the Executive could not in any manner interfere to protect them!”

The bordering Creeks, who by long slave-holding had sunk to the level of the whites around them, longed to seize on these valuable neighbors, and, indeed, they claimed rights of property in them as fugitives in fact from themselves. The exiles were assured by the President that they “had the right to remain in their villages, free from all interference or interruption from the Greeks.” Trusting to the plighted word of the Head of the Nation, they built their huts and planted their ground, and began again their little industries and enjoyments.

But the sight of so many able-bodied negroes, belonging only to themselves, and setting an evil example to the slaves in the spectacle of an independent colony of blacks, was too tempting and too irritating to be resisted. A slave-dealer appeared amongst the Creeks and offered to pay one hundred dollars for every Floridian exile they would seize and deliver to him,—he taking the risk of the title. Two hundred armed Creek warriors made a foray into the colony and seized all they could secure. They were repulsed, but carried their prisoners with them and delivered them to the tempter, receiving the stipulated pieces of silver for their reward. The Seminole agent had the prisoners brought before the nearest Arkansas judge by Habeas Corpus, and the whole matter was reviewed by this infamous magistrate, who overruled the opinion of the Attorney-General as to their right to reside in their villages, overrode the decision of the President, repealed the treaty-stipulations, pronounced the title of the Creek Indians, and consequently that of their vendee, legal and perfect, and directed the kidnapped captives to be delivered up to the claimant! We regret that Mr. Giddings has omitted the name of this wretch, and we hope that in a future edition he will tell the world how to catalogue this choice specimen in its collection of judicial monsters.

Then comes the last scene of this drama of exile. Finding that there was no rest for the sole of their foot in the United States, these peeled and hunted men resolved to turn their backs upon the country that had thus cruelly entreated them, and to seek a new home within the frontiers of Mexico. The sad procession began its march westward by night, the warriors keeping themselves always in readiness for an attack. The Creeks, finding that their prey had escaped them, went in pursuit, but were bravely repulsed and fled, leaving their dead upon the fleld,—the greatest disgrace that can befall, according to the code of Indian honor. The exiles then pursued ‘their march into Mexico without further molestation. There, in a fertile and picturesque region, they have established themselves and resumed the pursuits of peaceful life. But they have not been permitted to live in peace even there. At least one marauding party, in 1853, was organized in Texas, and went in search of adventures towards the new settlement. Of the particulars of the expedition we have no account. Only, it is known that it returned without captives, and, as the Texan papers announcing the fact admitted, “with slightly diminished numbers." How long they will be permitted to dwell unmolested in their new homes no one can say. Complaints are already abroad that the escape of slaves is promoted by the existence of this colony, which receives and protects them. And when the Government shall be ordered by its Slave-holding Directory to add another portion of Mexico to the Area of Freedom, these “outrages" will be sure to be found in the catalogue of grievances to be redressed. Then they will have to dislodge again and fly yet farther from before the face of their hereditary oppressors.

Mr. Giddings has done his task admirably well. It is worthy to be the crowning work of his long life of public service. His style is of that best kind which is never remarked upon, but serves as a clear medium through which the events he portrays are seen without distortion or exaggeration. He has done his country one more service in entire consistency with those that have filled up the whole course of his honorable and beneficent life. We have said that this is fit to be the crowning work of Mr. Giddings’s life; but we trust that it is far from being the last that he will do for his country. A winter such as rounds his days is fuller of life and promise than a century of vulgar summers. He has won for himself an honorable and
enduring place in the hearts and memories of men by the fidelity to principle and the unfaltering courage of his public course. Of the ignoble hundreds who have flitted through the Capitol, since he first took his place there,

“Heads without name, no more"—his is one of the two or three that are household words on the lips of the nation. And it will so remain and be familiar in the mouths of posterity, with a fame as pure as it is noble. The ear that bath not heard him shall bless him, and the eye that hath not seen him shall give witness to him.

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Sources: The Atlantic monthly 2: 11 (September 1858), 509-12. ©
Part 4, Freedom: Outline  l Images
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 Trail Narrative
 + Prologue
 + Background: 1693-1812
 + Early Years: 1812-1832
 + War: 1832-1838
 + Exile: 1838-1850
 - Freedom: 1850-1882
+ Cost of Freedom
+ Liberty Foretold
spacer spacer Renown in Exile
The War Power
Lincoln's Choice
Black Militants
+ Liberty Found
 + Legacy & Conclusion


Giddings and the Black Abolitionists

Atlantic Monthly review of Exiles, September 1858

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More on the book’s style, bias, and vision

The Exiles of Florida, complete digital text

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