The Florida Black Maroons, also known as Black Seminoles, Seminole Maroons, and Seminole Freedmen, were a community formed by runaway slaves who assimilated into American Indian culture. They were mostly Gullah fugitives who had escaped from rice plantations in South Carolina and Georgia and joined the newly formed Seminole groups that had split off from the Muskogee or Creek people. Both groups sought refuge in the Florida forests after European-brought violence and disease decimated their cultures and people.
They first settled in north-central Florida, but eventually expanded south into the Everglades. Despite the fact that Spain claimed the entire state of Florida, the Seminoles and their black maroon allies survived in the vast tropical wilderness of jungles and malaria-infested swamps. They defended themselves and kept their freedom from Spanish and later American military control.
The Seminoles and black maroons shared many cultural similarities, including cuisine, tribal dancing, and dwelling construction. Religious practices and languages differed; the Seminoles spoke Creek, while the maroons spoke Afro-Seminole Creole. However, these differences did not prevent intercultural marriages or military alliances. Native American communities in Florida protected Black Seminoles from re-enslavement. They provided manpower in military conflicts with the Spanish or Americans in exchange. Overall, the Florida Maroons operated independently of the Indians.
The first free maroon settlements in Florida appeared in the early 1700s, with Fort Mose near St. Augustine opening in 1738. By that time, more than 100 freedom fighters had established Gracia Real de Santa Teresa de Mose, a fortified town. Fort Mose became the site of what is now the United States’ first free black community. Recognizing the need for allies against both the British and, later, the Americans after 1790, Spain issued a series of royal decrees promising freedom to all enslaved people who arrived in Florida if they converted to Catholicism. The Spanish noted that slavery had been abolished in Florida in 1693.
Blacks and Indians fought side by side against American incursions into the region during the first of two so-called Seminole Wars. Although Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1819, General Andrew Jackson sent US forces down the Apalachicola River in 1818 to defeat and destroy Maroon, Seminole, and Creek communities. They destroyed the villages of the Maroons and Indians. The Seminoles and Black Maroons retaliated by moving further south into the more remote forests of central and southern Florida. Many Black Seminoles fled Florida for the Bahamas’ Andros Island.
During the Second Seminole War in 1835, the Maroons and Seminoles maintained their resistance, waging a full-scale guerrilla war that lasted until 1841. This war claimed the lives of over 1,500 white American soldiers. Nonetheless, the Seminoles and their surviving black allies were defeated and relocated from Florida to Indian Territory beginning in 1842. (what is now Oklahoma).
Today, the majority of “Black Maroons” live on Andros Island, where their forefathers fled from Florida following the First Seminole War. Others wound up in Mexico.