Florida and the Civil War (December 1863)

A Stickney Situation

The war in Florida changed little in 1863. Despite a third, brief Union occupation of Jacksonville in March most military activity in the state consisted of Federal raids on the coastal salt making industry and the continuing Union blockade of Florida ports, many of which had been occupied by Federal troops since 1862.

Illustration of Federal troops marching down Second Street, Fernandina, 1862

Illustration of Federal troops marching down Second Street, Fernandina, 1862

By December 1863, while the military situation remained calm, politics in Union occupied areas of Florida were anything but peaceful. As 1864 approached, so too did the Union presidential election. Although Florida was far from being a Union military priority, for the first couple months of 1864 it would briefly be the focus of high power politics.

President Abraham Lincoln and his most prominent potential presidential rival within the Republican Party, Salmon P. Chase, considered the possibility of bringing a portion of the state back into the Union in time for its Republican delegates to support their respective candidacies. During this political drama, the most important player on the ground in Florida was Lyman D. Stickney, a Florida Unionist whose politics began and ended with self-interest.

Stickney’s prospects in Florida began in 1860, when he arrived in the state promoting a colonization scheme to bring agricultural development to largely untamed south Florida. After Florida’s secession and the failure of his colonial venture, Stickney, a Vermont native, made his way to the Federal enclave of Key West, where he quickly proclaimed his loyalty to the Union. Leaving Key West with “an unpaid hotel bill of $144.00” in June 1861, Stickney moved to Washington, D.C., and insinuated himself into government circles as an “expert” on all things Florida.

A talented lobbyist, whose cause was his own fortune, Stickney acquired a potentially powerful and lucrative position in July 1862, when President Lincoln, on the recommendation of Secretary of the Treasury Salon P. Chase, appointed him one of three direct tax commissioners for Florida.

The federal Direct Tax Law was a weapon of economic warfare. Passed in June 1862, the law called for the confiscation of any real property in Rebel held territory whose owners failed to pay the tax. The Direct Tax Law created three tax commissioners for each Rebel state where Union forces occupied a portion of the state. The commissioners would access the value of the real property within Federal control and impose a tax. Given that pro-Confederate citizens within these areas had usually fled or were unwilling to pay the tax, the tax commissioners ended up seizing their property and either selling or leasing it to Unionist Floridians or recently arrived Northern immigrants.

After his appointment, Commissioner Stickney wrote a number of letters to President Lincoln supporting the appointment of various men to federal positions in Union held areas of Florida and proclaiming his loyalty and “deep interest in the future destiny of Florida, of which I am a citizen…” Stickney was an enthusiastic supporter of the Union expedition to Jacksonville in March 1863 (see “Detour to Liberty: Black Troops in Florida during the Civil War” and “Florida and the Civil War: March 1863”).

Shipping rosin, cotton, and turpentine from Fernandina to New York, 1862

Shipping rosin, cotton, and turpentine from Fernandina to New York, 1862

By the time the expedition set sail, he had established himself as a silent partner in a general store in Fernandina and shipped goods to the store at government expense under the cover of the Direct Tax Commission. He hoped the expedition would lead to the permanent Union occupation of Jacksonville and northeast Florida. In such an eventuality, he saw endless opportunities for profit, including trade in cotton and turpentine. Even though the expedition proved short-lived, Stickney did not relent.

On December 2, 1863, as he was about to board a ship for another trip to Fernandina, Stickney urged Lincoln “to authorize the loyal people of Florida to organize a state government in conformity with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” He guaranteed that “the work of restoration will be speedy and permanent” if the president would allow “every person of lawful age, and not disqualified by crime, whose fidelity to your administration and your proclamation of freedom is unquestioned be a voter…”

If feasible, the early restoration of Florida to the Union, even if it was only a small portion of the state, could serve the Union cause as a magnet for discontented and Unionist Southerners living in Florida and Georgia as well as for escaped slaves, many of whom were now filling the ranks of the Union’s increasingly numerous black regiments.

Front page of The Peninsula, March 3, 1864, list indicates property sold for failing to pay the Federal direct tax

Front page of The Peninsula, March 3, 1864, list indicates property sold for failing to pay the Federal direct tax

At the same time, a restored Florida could make a difference in the 1864 presidential election by throwing its Republican Party delegates to either Lincoln or Stickney’s benefactor, Secretary of the Treasury Chase, whose presidential ambition was one of the worst kept secrets in Washington. Finally, and most importantly for Stickney, a Florida returned to the Union held endless possibilities for his own advancement, either financially or politically, as he would doubtless be one of the key leaders in a new, loyal Florida.

The pursuit of a reconstructed Florida was one of the motivating factors in the Union decision to mount yet another expedition to Jacksonville in February 1864. This expedition resulted in the Federal defeat at Olustee on February 20th. The Battle of Olustee, or Ocean Pond as it was known in the North, ended Stickney’s dream of a Florida restored to the Union. Florida would not play a role in the presidential election of 1864, which saw Lincoln’s easy capture of the Republican nomination over Chase.

Stickney’s summer of 1864 was considerably less fortunate than Lincoln’s. In July, a treasury department report criticized Stickney for being almost constantly absent from his duties in Florida and implicated him in financial and political corruption schemes. Indicted in 1865, Stickney, slippery as ever, managed to escape punishment and restart his professional life in the postwar economy.

The quote about Stickney’s Key West hotel bill comes from David J. Coles, “Far from Fields of Glory: Military Operations in Florida, 1864-1865,” (Ph.D. dissertation, Florida State University, 1996). The Stickney quotes are found in two of his letters to Lincoln dated October 27, 1863 and December 2, 1863; the original letters are located in the Robert Todd Lincoln Collection, Library of Congress.

For Sitckney’s role during Union military operations in Florida see Stephen V. Ash, Firebrand of Liberty: the Story of Two Black Regiments that Changed the Course of the Civil War (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2008). A copy of the Florida Direct Tax Commission records are located in Record Group 101, Series 161, United States Direct Tax Refund Records, 1891-1901, State Archives of Florida.

New Accession Spotlight: 1926 Miami Hurricane Letter

Collections Management staff at the State Archives of Florida spends much of their time bringing new collections into the Archives and readying them for public access. Though the majority of our holdings document the activities and functions of Florida’s territorial and state government, the Archives also preserves and makes available papers, journals, photographs, sound recordings, and other materials created by private individuals and organizations.

Despite the fact that our most recent manuscript donation consists of only one item, its provides a strong first person account of significant events in Florida history. This prompted staff to quickly digitize and transcribe the item for inclusion on the Florida Memory website.

Excerpt from a letter describing the 1926 Miami Hurricane

The donation consists of a single hand-written letter describing hurricanes that hit southern Florida on September 18 and October 21, 1926. Written by “Kaye” from the Floridian Hotel, Miami Beach, to Louise Webber (d. 1993) of Bangor, Maine, the twelve page account details Kaye’s activities both during and in the aftermath of the storms.

Excerpt from page 3: "There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall in the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside."

Excerpt from page 3: “There was a barge smashing against the viaduct and a beautiful yacht right under our window being dashed to pieces on the sea wall. In the lull we could hear the men aboard shouting, finally the lights went out and we could hear no more. I suppose they abandoned her when the water got inside.”

Kaye began with a brief account of the October 21st storm before plunging into the events of September 18th and the days that followed. While it is known from the letter that Kaye was a resident and employee of The Floridian Hotel, her exploits detail conditions beyond the Floridian, especially during her walk across the causeway and to Hollywood in search of “her folks.”

Do you have original materials related to significant people, places, or events in Florida history? Learn more about donating them to the State Archives of Florida.

The Everglades Traveler

Renowned botanist and author John K. Small (1869-1938) conducted seasonal fieldwork in the Florida Everglades for more than 30 years. Along the way he captured scenes of Seminole life in South Florida during the early 20th century – a period of great transition for modern Florida Indians.

Unidentified family in front of a chickee, January 25, 1927

Unidentified family in front of their chickee, January 25, 1927

 

Josie Billie and family near Deep Lake in the Big Cypress Swamp, April 1921

Josie Billie and family near Deep Lake in the Big Cypress Swamp, April 1921

In the early 1900s, Seminole families transitioned from a primarily trading-based economy to one that demanded greater engagement with wage labor. They also experienced firsthand the ecological changes, caused by drainage schemes, documented by pioneering naturalists such as J.K. Small.

Children of Doctor Tommy Jimmy near Kendall, November 1916

Children of Doctor Tommy Jimmy near Kendall, November 1916

 

Unidentified young women near the Tantie trading post , ca. 1913

Unidentified young women near the Tantie trading post , ca. 1913

Small’s best known work, From Eden to Sahara: Florida’s Tragedy (1929), cemented his legacy along with other prominent naturalist-authors who also drew their inspiration from the Florida landscape. J.K. Small’s contributions to the natural history of Florida stand firmly beside the likes of William Bartram, Bernard Romans, Archie Carr, and Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Pumpkins grown by Wildcat, September 1929

Pumpkins grown by Wildcat, September 1929

 

Fanny Stuart and Susie Tiger near their camp in the Indian Prairie, west of Lake Okeechobee, May 1919

Fanny Stuart and Susie Tiger near their camp in the Indian Prairie, west of Lake Okeechobee, May 1919

The John K. Small Collection (M83-2), held by the State Archives of Florida, consists of correspondence and over 3,000 photographs reflecting his career as a botanist and his frequent contact with many leading scientists, explorers, and naturalists of his time including Oakes Ames, Roland M. Harper, Liberty Hyde Bailey, Lord Nathaniel Britton, David G. Fairchild, William Chambers Coker, Harold St. John, and Thomas A. Edison.

Approximately 2,100 of Small’s photographs are available on the Florida Memory website.

Early Views of Key West

It’s that time of year again…

As cool winter breezes penetrate deeper into the Florida peninsula with each passing cold front, mainlanders begin to yearn for something a little more tropical.

For a lucky few, Key West has become part of the winter routine. Those with the wherewithal to venture down to the southernmost city during the colder months may be unaware of the island’s early history, when Key West was plagued by everything from malaria to water shortages and fire to hurricanes.

The images below are some of the earliest renderings of the island known to the Americans as Key West, long before it became a tourist mecca in the days of Flagler and Hemingway.

Sketch of Key West by William A. Whitehead, ca. 1838, reproduced in Jefferson Browne, Key West: The Old and the New (St. Augustine: The Record Company, 1912)

Sketch of Key West by William A. Whitehead, ca. 1838, reproduced in Jefferson Browne, Key West: The Old and the New (St. Augustine: The Record Company, 1912)

These two sketches (above and below), drawn by William A. Whitehead, portray Key West as it appeared from the cupola atop A. C. Tift’s warehouse in the late 1830s. William and his brother John were prominent citizens in the small island community. William served as customs collector from 1830 to 1838. He left Key West in 1838, never to return, because the town council refused to institute an occupational tax he supported.

Sketch of Key West by William A. Whitehead, ca. 1838, reproduced in Jefferson Browne, Key West: The Old and the New (St. Augustine: The Record Company, 1912)

Sketch of Key West by William A. Whitehead, ca. 1838, reproduced in Jefferson Browne, Key West: The Old and the New (St. Augustine: The Record Company, 1912)

The image below is believed to be one of the oldest landscape daguerreotypes of Florida. It dates to about 1850 and was likely taken from an observation tower in the vicinity of Front and Simonton Streets. Visible near the horizon are First Baptist (left) and St. Paul’s Episcopal (middle) churches.

The steeple of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church helps date this item to circa 1850. St. Paul’s, built in 1839, was destroyed by a hurricane in 1846. It was rebuilt in 1848, but burned along with much of the city in the fire of 1886. In 1909 and 1910, the church again suffered damage from powerful tropical weather. The present Gothic Revival-style structure, constructed of steel and concrete, held its first services in 1914. According to an early historian of Key West, First Baptist Church on Eaton Street (upper left) was built in 1848.

Bird's eye view of Key West, ca. 1850

Bird’s eye view of Key West, ca. 1850

The map below, created by the Monroe County Commissioners in 1874 from city property records, shows Key West as it appeared in the late 19th century. During the 1860s and 1870s, Key West hosted a large contingent of Cubans fleeing from the Ten Years War (1868-1878) in their homeland. This conflict served as a precursor to the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898), during which Key West again played a vital role for the exile community.

Cuban businessmen in exile, including Vicente Martínez Ybor, transplanted their cigar rolling operations to Key West during the Ten Years War. Ybor later moved his factories to Tampa and started the community that now bears his name.

"Map of the City of Key West, Monroe County Florida..." Compiled and Drawn by Order of the Hon. Board of County Commissioners (July 1874)

“Map of the City of Key West, Monroe County Florida…” Compiled and Drawn by Order of the Hon. Board of County Commissioners (July 1874)

Polly Parker, Survivor

Polly Parker escaped deportation during the Third Seminole War and laid the foundation for the modern Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Painting of Polly Parker by Robert Butler, Brighton Reservation, 1989

Painting of Polly Parker by Robert Butler, Brighton Reservation, 1989

Polly Parker (Emateloye) was captured by the U.S. Army during the Third Seminole War (1855-1858). She was forced aboard the steamship Grey Cloud, bound for New Orleans and thence up the Mississippi River to the Indian Territory — the watery route that served as the Seminoles’ Trail of Tears. Parker escaped when the vessel stopped at St. Marks, south of Tallahassee. She then began a 400-mile journey southward to rejoin her people near Lake Okeechobee. Parker survived the perilous trek and her family lives on today in many prominent figures in the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

On December 1, a delegation from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, including some of Parker’s descendents, embarked by boat from Egmont Key in Tampa Bay and re-created the voyage to St. Marks. Special events took place on December 2 in St. Marks and in Tallahassee on December 3 to commemorate this important history and encourage greater recognition for the remarkable Polly Parker.

Florida and the Civil War (November 1863)

Mission Impossible

The Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25, 1863, was one of the most spectacular and daunting Union victories of the Civil War.

Running north to south for approximately six miles, Missionary Ridge dominates the skyline to the east of Chattanooga, Tennessee. The ridge was the key to the defense of Chattanooga, a city that served as one of the principal railroad hubs of the war. Since September 1863, the Confederate Army of Tennessee, under the command of General Braxton Bragg, held the ridge as part of its line of operations to the south and east of Chattanooga, a line that included Lookout Mountain, the area’s most prominent point. Bragg hoped his positions would allow him to starve out the Union Army of the Cumberland, which had retreated to Chattanooga following its defeat at Chickamauga on September 20. The Union counteroffensive to relieve the siege of Chattanooga culminated in a battle for control of Missionary Ridge, a battle in which Florida regiments played an important role.

Following a reorganization of the Union command in Tennessee, General Ulysses S. Grant took over Federal operations at Chattanooga. Grant replaced the Army of the Cumberland’s Major General William S. Rosecrans, the losing commander at Chickamauga, with Major General George H. Thomas, whose determined leadership in that earlier battle earned him the nickname “The Rock of Chickamauga.” Under Grant’s command, the Union forces at Missionary Ridge consisted of Thomas’s army, two detached corps from the Army of the Potomac under Major General Joseph Hooker, and the Army of the Tennessee under Grant’s favorite general, William Tecumseh Sherman. The combined Union forces totaled more than 56,000 men.

Bragg’s Army of Tennessee totaled some 44,000 men at Missionary Ridge. Organized on the ridge from left to right, the Confederate forces consisted of two corps under the command of Major General John C. Breckenridge and Lieutenant General William G. Hardee. Each corps consisted of four divisions; however, one of Hardee’s divisions had been dispatched to Knoxville, Tennessee, and was not present on the day of the battle. Two of Breckenridge’s divisions made up the left and a portion of the center of the Confederate line on Missionary Ridge, while his two other divisions fought the battle on the extreme right of the Confederate line under Hardee’s corps. Floridian James Patton Anderson commanded one of Hardee’s divisions at the center of the ridge.

Congressman Jesse Johnson Finley, ca. 1880

Congressman Jesse Johnson Finley, ca. 1880

On the left of Anderson, Brigadier General William P. Bate commanded one of Breckenridge’s divisions. Bate’s division included the regiments of the Florida Brigade under the command of Brigadier General Jesse Johnson Finley, former commander of the 6th Florida Infantry Regiment. Finley’s brave leadership of the 6th at Chickamauga earned him Florida Governor John Milton’s highest recommendation for command of the Florida Brigade and promotion to general: “I know of no gentleman whose patriotism, integrity, courage and intelligence, commend him more favorably to my consideration . . . .” The Florida Brigade at Missionary Ridge consisted of the 6th, 1st, 3rd, 7th, and 4th infantry regiments, as well as the 1st Florida Cavalry, Dismounted. Half of the Florida regiments formed a line of rifle pits at the bottom of the ridge, and the other half held positions at the ridge’s crest. Finley’s men just happened to be positioned at the center of the Confederate line, which bore the brunt of the Union assault.

After securing control of Lookout Mountain on November 24, Grant’s corps began their attacks on Missionary Ridge the next morning. The Union attack that broke the Confederate line was not supposed to happen. Grant ordered Hooker and Sherman to attack the southern and northern flanks of the ridge, respectively. When their attacks failed, General Thomas, whose Army of the Cumberland was only supposed to make a faint attack on the Confederate center, launched an all-out assault on his own initiative. His troops quickly overran the Confederate entrenchments at the bottom of the ridge and then charged six hundred feet to the crest to secure the center of the ridge and victory for the Union.

Thomas’s attack ripped into Finley’s Floridians. Due to the Union attacks on the flanks of the ridge, General Bragg ordered some Confederate units from the center to reinforce the flanks, forcing Finley to thin out his lines to cover more ground. As Thomas’s men advanced towards the foot of the ridge, one Florida soldier recollected, “[O]h, what a purity [sic] sight it was to see them charge in 3 solide [sic] columns across the old field as blue as indigo mud and their arms glittered like new.” The three Florida regiments dug in along the bottom of the ridge held their fire until the Federals were almost on top of them. The Floridians fired their volleys but had to retreat in the face of overwhelming numbers.

Engraved portrait of Colonel William T. Stockton, ca. 1863

Engraved portrait of Colonel William T. Stockton, ca. 1863

Some of the wounded and most exhausted men could not leave their positions and were taken prisoner, including Lieutenant Colonel William T. Stockton of the 1st Florida Cavalry, Dismounted, who while in Union captivity wrote his wife an account of the fighting and his capture: “Our three little regiments behaved well, but we were left alone- Two of my men, were killed at my side, while successively attempting to assist me.” As they withdrew up the ridge, the Floridians climbed under a rain of Federal bullets into the Confederate line on the crest.

Letter from W.T. Stockton to his wife, December 11, 1863

Letter from W.T. Stockton to his wife, December 11, 1863

Instead of positioning his men on the ridge along the “military crest,” a position just below the top of the crest, Bragg had mistakenly placed his units on the summit of the ridge, from which it was difficult to see and fire upon the enemy. When the retreating Florida regiments joined their compatriot regiments at the crest, they realized they could not provide effective fire against the oncoming Federals. The six Florida regiments did their best to defend the summit, but had to retreat down the opposite side of the ridge as the Federals overwhelmed their positions. Robert Watson, a soldier in the 7th Florida, related how the Floridians “retreated down the hill under a shower of lead leaving many a noble son of the South dead and wounded on the ground and many more shared the same fate on the retreat.”

Confederate Pension Application for Robert Watson, 1904

Confederate Pension Application for Robert Watson, 1904

At battle’s end on the evening of November 25, Bate’s division began a withdrawal from Tennessee along with the rest of Bragg’s army to Dalton, Georgia, where Bate reported the Battle of Missionary Ridge had cost his unit 857 casualties. Only 33 of the 200 Floridians who had begun the battle at the bottom of the ridge survived to fight another day. The best estimate of the Florida Brigade’s overall casualties places the unit’s losses at 471 men, over half of Bate’s division’s total casualties.

The Floridians had put up a brave fight, but they and the Army of Tennessee could not prevent one of the most impressive Union victories of the war. The Battle of Missionary Ridge left the Union in control of Chattanooga and made possible Sherman’s offensive into Georgia in the spring of 1864. During that campaign, the Florida Brigade of the West would continue its service as the Army of Tennessee fought the Federals all along their advance towards Atlanta.

With the exception of the Milton and Stockton quotes, all quotes come from Jonathan C. Sheppard, By the Noble Daring of Her Sons: The Florida Brigade in the Army of Tennessee (University Press of Alabama, 2012). Sheppard’s book is available at the State Library and Archives of Florida, as are the papers of Governor John Milton and William T. Stockton.

JFK Assassination (November 22, 1963)

On November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. George Smathers, United States Senator from Florida, commented on the loss of his friend and colleague during his regularly filmed remarks to the people of Florida:

Kennedy and his family spent considerable time in Florida during his presidency, including a visit just days before that fateful day in Dallas. The photographs below captured moments from JFK’s trips to the Sunshine State.

With George Smathers and LeRoy Collins, 1961

With George Smathers and LeRoy Collins, 1961

 

With British Prime Minister Harold McMillan, Key West Naval Air Station, March 26, 1961

With British Prime Minister Harold McMillan, Key West Naval Air Station, March 26, 1961

 

With Farris Bryant at the Orange Bowl, Miami, January 1, 1963

With Farris Bryant at the Orange Bowl, Miami, January 1, 1963

 

Shaking hands in Miami, November 18, 1963

Shaking hands in Miami, November 18, 1963

 

With George Smathers in Miami, November 18, 1963

With George Smathers in Miami, November 18, 1963

United States vs. Schooner Emperor (1839)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

With its long coastline, numerous bays, inlets, and treacherous reefs, Florida presented unique problems for the creation and enforcement of maritime law.

One consequence of Florida’s coastal geography and proximity to the Caribbean was that the territory served as a frequent terminus for the illicit slave trade. Although the international slave trade was formally abolished in 1808, slave catchers continued to kidnap African people and transport them across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas. Such illegal trafficking in human cargo provoked the case United States vs. Schooner Emperor.

Page from the U.S. Supreme Court case U.S. vs. Schooner Emperor (1839)

In early 1837, the schooner Emperor left Cuba for the United States. Its destination was the port of St. Joseph along Florida’s northern Gulf coast. Charles G. Cox, captain of the vessel, intended to discreetly unload his illegal cargo and reap a handsome profit. According to a Florida law passed in 1822, the fine for smuggling slaves into Florida was $300 per infraction. Men like Cox considered this sum well worth the risk.

Harbor officials apparently made no effort to thoroughly inspect the Emperor upon its arrival in St. Joseph Bay. Local citizens, however, alerted authorities when they perceived black people moving about on the ship’s deck. At some point the kidnapped Africans were brought ashore, marched overland, and then ferried across St. Andrew’s Bay (near modern-day Panama City). Their intended final destination was a life of servitude on a plantation in Washington County.

United States Marshall Samuel Duval followed the rumors and recovered the smuggled Africans. Under the law of 1822, these people should have received their freedom, but their fate is unclear from the documents remaining in the case file. Perhaps they were returned to Africa? Documents from the case suggest that the group indeed came directly from Africa, as opposed to having been kidnapped from elsewhere in the Americas.

Attention now turned to the fate of the Emperor. Upon depositing its cargo at St. Joseph Bay, the ship traveled to Pensacola, then Mobile, and planned to return to Havana. Captain Cox apparently took a detour and landed again at Pensacola instead of immediately sailing for Cuba from Mobile. Authorities seized the ship when it docked at Pensacola and took Cox into custody. He quickly posted bail and thereafter disappears from the remainder of records related to the case.

The Circuit Court of West Florida in Pensacola debated what would become of the ship. The evidence implicating the vessel in the illegal slave trade proved scant. No one came forward to testify on behalf of the territory of Florida, so the court determined to return the vessel to its owners. Apparently, too many people still benefited from the illegal slave trade. No one who originally alerted authorities to the illegal cargo came forward and no one pressured the original whistleblowers into testifying.

Lawyers challenged the decision to return the Emperor to its owners and the case went to the Territorial Court of Appeals. The high court determined to put the Emperor up for public auction, with the proceeds reverting to the territory of Florida. Marshall Duval collected the funds, but refused to deposit them into the territory’s coffers. Eventually, Duval conceded, but, because of a lack of evidence, the funds ultimately returned to the claimants of the Emperor.

This case provides an example of the illegal slave trade activity that took place in Florida’s waters before the Civil War. It also demonstrates the difficulty in bringing to justice those that continued to kidnap African people and import them illegally into the United States.

To learn more about this case, see Dorothy Dodd, “The Schooner Emperor: An Incident of the Illegal Slave Trade in Florida,” The Florida Historical Quarterly 13:3 (January 1935): 117-128.

Dade’s Battle (December 28, 1835)

The State Library and Archives of Florida provides access to a multitude of published and unpublished resources for the study of Native American history and culture. In recognition of Native American Heritage Month, this series highlights materials in the collection that speak to the past and ongoing influence of Native peoples in Florida history.

The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) is regarded by historians as the longest and costliest Indian war in United States history. The conflict began in December 1835 with an event known as Dade’s Battle, or, from the American perspective, the Dade Massacre.

Map of the Dade Battlefield, published in Myer M. Cohen, Notices of Florida and the Campaigns (Charleston: Burges & Honour, 1836)

Map of the Dade Battlefield, published in Myer M. Cohen, Notices of Florida and the Campaigns (Charleston: Burges & Honour, 1836)

The battle took place along the Fort King Road near modern-day Bushnell. Seminole and black warriors opened fire on U.S. troops under the command of Major Francis L. Dade as they passed along a section of the road bordered by saw palmetto and pine scrub. The initial volley killed half of the white soldiers and within hours all but three of Dade’s 110 men lay dead on the battlefield. Only one soldier survived long enough to recount the American defeat.

The account of the battle below was attributed to the Seminole leader Halpatter Tustenuggee (Alligator) and published in John T. Sprague, The Origins, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War (New York: D. Appleton & Company, 1848). Alligator’s account provides insight into the Seminoles’ war strategy and the tactics that yielded several victories in the early stages of the Second Seminole War. His account is significant because it represents one of the few available from the Native American perspective.

Spellings used in the original are retained, with minimal notes in brackets for clarification when necessary.

Alligator’s Account of the Dade Battle

“We had been preparing for this more than a year. Though promises had been made to assemble on the 1st of January, it was not to leave the country, but to fight for it. In council, it was determined to strike a decided blow about this time. Our agent at Fort King [General Wiley Thompson] had put irons on our men, and said we must go. Oseola [or Osceola] said he was his friend, he would see to him.

“It was determined that he [Oseola] should attack Fort King, in order to reach General Thompson, then return to the Wahoo Swamp, and participate in the assault mediated upon the soldiers coming from Fort Brooke, as the negroes there had reported that two companies were preparing to march. He was detained longer than we anticipated. The troops were three days on their march, and approaching the Swamp. Here we thought it best to assail them; and should we be defeated the Swamp would be a safe place to retreat.

“Our scouts were out from the time the soldiers left the post, and reported each night their place of encampment. It was our intention to attack them on the third night, but the absence of Oseola and Micanopy prevented it. On the arrival of the latter it was agreed not to wait for Oseola, as the favorable moment would pass.

“Micanopy was timid, and urged delay. Jumper earnestly opposed it, and reproached the old chief with indecision. He addressed the Indians, and requested those who had faint hearts to remain behind; he was going, when Micanopy said he was ready. Just as day was breaking we moved out of the swamp into the pine-barren. I counted, by direction of Jumper, one hundred eighty warriors. Upon approaching the road, each man chose his position on the west side; opposite, on the east side, there was a pond. Every warrior was protected by a tree, or secreted in the high palmettoes.

“About nine o’clock in the morning the command approached. In advance, some distance, was an officer on a horse, who, Micanopy said, was the captain; he knew him personally; had been his friend at Tampa. So soon as all the soldiers were opposite, between us and the pond, perhaps twenty yards off, Jumper gave the whoop, Micanopy fired the first rifle, the signal agreed upon, when every Indian rose and fired, which laid upon the ground, dead, more than half the white men. The cannon was discharged several times, but the men who loaded it were shot down as soon as the smoke cleared away; the balls passed far over our heads.

“The soldiers shouted and whooped, and the officers shook their swords and swore. There was a little man, a great brave, who shook his sword at the soldiers and said, ‘God-dam!’ no rifle-ball could hit him. As we were returning to the swamp, supposing all were dead, an Indian came up and said the white men were building a fort of logs. Jumper and myself, with ten warriors, returned.

“As we approached, we saw six men behind two logs placed one above another, with the cannon a short distance off. This they discharged at us several times, but we avoided it by dodging behind the trees just as they applied the fire. We soon came near, as the balls went over us. They had guns, but no powder; we looked in the boxes afterward and found they were empty. When I got inside the log-pen, there were three white men alive, whom the negroes put to death, after a conversation in English.

“There was a brave man in the pen; he would not give up; he seized an Indian, Jumper’s cousin, took away his rifle, and with one blow with it beat out his brains, then ran some distance up the road; but two Indians on horseback overtook him, who, afraid to approach, stood at a distance and shot him down. The firing had ceased, and all was quite when we returned to the swamp about noon.

“We left many negroes upon the ground looking at the dead men. Three warriors were killed and five wounded.”

State of Florida vs. Luke, a Slave (1853)

This series highlights antebellum cases from the files of the Florida Supreme Court and its predecessor, the Florida Territorial Court of Appeals.

Many antebellum cases before Florida’s Territorial Court of Appeals and Supreme Court involved individuals who left little evidence of their lives in the historical record. This is especially true for cases involving African-American slaves.

In 1853, the Florida Supreme Court considered the case of State of Florida vs. Luke, a slave. Luke stood accused of committing a crime at the behest of his master, Abraham Dupont. Following his master’s orders, Luke killed mules belonging to Joseph M. Hernandez, a planter and Florida militia commander during the Second Seminole War (1835-42). The animals, according to Dupont, had ravaged crops on his land. Adam, a slave and head driver for Hernandez, discovered the mules dead along the road that connected the two plantations with St. Augustine, and traced the source of the deed to Luke.

Page from the Florida Supreme Court case State of Florida vs. Luke, a Slave (1853)

The Circuit Court located in St. Johns County had, in 1851, found Luke guilty of “malicious destruction of property” under Florida’s penal code of 1832. Another issue of note from this case was that Dupont had allowed Luke to carry a firearm, as evidenced by his shooting of the mules. Florida law was unclear about this point. In practice, masters strictly prohibited slaves from keeping firearms, except in cases such as Luke’s where the weapon had a specific purpose.

The lawyer for the defense, McQueen McIntosh, challenged the Circuit Court decision on the grounds that slaves were not afforded protection under the penal code as revised in 1832. The 1832 law outlined separate punishments for blacks and whites who committed the same offense. The debate then turned to whether the 1832 law adequately covered the questions raised by the crimes committed by Luke, or if he should be tried under an earlier law of 1828, specifically, in accordance with the slave codes reserved for bondsmen. In essence, the case boiled down to whether or not Luke was capable of exerting free will, or if he had to kill the mules because he was ordered to do so by his master. If he had no choice in the matter, should his master instead be charged with the crime?

These questions proved too complex for the court to fully consider and the case was vacated on procedural grounds. The judge found that in order to perpetuate the institution of slavery and the superiority of whites over blacks, Luke could not be charged under the 1832 law. The case also brought forward issues involved with the interpretation of the 1828 slave codes, but the court declined to engage the myriad problems arising from the 1828 and 1832 laws as they related to slaves.

This case demonstrated the powerlessness of the enslaved in the antebellum legal system in Florida. As made clear in the case of Luke, white jurists would rather forgive his crimes than allow a slave to stand trial on equal footing with white men.