"Massacre of the Whites by the Indians and Blacks in Florida." Wood engraving (1836). Courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Between 1817 and 1858, the U.S. Army fought three defined wars with the Seminole Indian tribes of Florida. The Seminoles had long been the object of Spanish, French, and British colonial designs, but as the European powers began to retreat from North America in the early nineteenth century, the United States—a burgeoning power of local origin—became their central military adversary. Unsurprisingly, the weight of the slave system made the country's ambitious expansion goals ever more problematic. Since their arrival in America, slaves had found shelter and freedom in the Indian lands of Florida. This was due in part to acceptance (many Native Americans were themselves admixtures of various tribes), but there was also common opposition to white rule, and the Seminoles were eager to utilize the ex-slaves in their battle against white incursion. Not only were escaped slaves willing to join forces with the Seminoles, but, having lived on white land, they were also an important source of intelligence. While not exactly "slave" rebellions, the various wars, similar to the revolts of Nat Turner and Charles Deslondes, pitted blacks against authorities in a desperate effort to secure their freedom. The black-Seminole relationship, burdened by the ever-present threat of U.S. Army attack, was nevertheless complicated and often fraught. At times the alliance was strong, such as when a group of blacks, with Seminole backing, seized an arsenal at Prospect Bluff abandoned by retreating British forces after the War of 1812 (finding this intolerable, Major General Andrew Jackson ordered the "Negro Fort" smashed). At other points, however, the ex-slaves and Seminoles turned on each other, defecting to U.S. guardianship after promises of emancipation or immunity.