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THE BLACK SEMINOLES – A PLAY
Announcer: Our play tonight is about a remarkable people, the Seminole Indians of Florida. Before I set the stage for you let me introduce our main characters.
CAST OF CHARACTERS:
Micanopy - Principal Chief of the Seminoles, a Seminole Indian
Abraham - Chief Micanopy' s Interpreter, also Principal Chief of the Black Seminoles
John Caesar - Black Seminole leader of a remnant band of North Florida Seminoles
Osceola - A young Seminole Indian tribal chief
John Horse - A young Black Seminole tribal chief
King Philip – A Seminole Indian chief
Wild Cat - Son of King Philip
Oconchattemicco – An elderly Seminole chief
General Winfield Scott - Commander of all U.S troops in Florida
Major Jesup – A US Army Officer
United States Congressman Joshua Giddings
Announcer: Let me set the stage for tonight's story. The Seminoles have lived in Florida for generations. In the 1800's American troops invaded North Florida and drove the Seminoles out. When our story begins the Seminole people are living in the swamplands of South Florida. There are some new members of the Seminole nation, fugitive slaves from South Carolina and Georgia. These Black Seminoles have been welcomed into the Seminole Nation and given their own villages. They elect their own chiefs who are part of the Seminole's governing council. As men and women grew up together love sometimes bloomed between Black and Indian Seminoles, and there were frequent marriages between the two groups. Now the Seminoles are faced with the worst crisis of their lives. Let Abraham begin the story.
SEMINOLE COUNCIL MEETING
Chief Abraham _____ (He is standing in front of the Seminole Council.} We are faced with a terrible dilemma. You know that a few months ago, Chief Micanopy sent me on a mission to Washington D.C. and I have to report some terrible news. The United States government is forcing the Seminole nation to leave our ancestral lands and settle in a new territory called Oklahoma. (In those days it was simply called the Indian territories.) What is even worse, we your brothers, the Black Seminoles, will not be going with you. My people are going to be sold as slaves.
The Tribal Council all talk at once _____ there is a hubbub of voices.
Principal Chief Micanopy _____ Quiet down everyone. This is terrible news. We don’t have much time to make a decision so let us begin talking.
Osceola speaks angrily _____ There is only one choice- fight! We can never allow our brothers to be sent into slavery. Florida is our homeland. We cannot let the Americans drive us from our land.
Chief Oconchattemicco answers him sadly _____ Osceola you are young and you were not there when the Americans invaded north Florida. You did not face that never ending flood of troops with their guns and cannons. Even though our warriors fought fiercely, there was no way to defeat such an overwhelming force. And don't forget, before we were forced to flee to South Florida, they had attacked our women and children. We cannot let that happen to our people again. We must move west.
King Philip_____ How can we make such a terrible decision? In order to save our Indian families we must abandon our Black Seminole brothers.
The entire Council_____ voices raised in loud argument.
Abraham _____ Brothers! Listen to me. I think I have a plan that just might work. I know that we can never defeat the Americans if we fight them on a regular battlefield, but we have one advantage in South Florida that we did not have in North Florida, our swamps. We can launch surprise attacks on their troops then disappear into the swamps where they cannot follow us. If we make this war costly enough for the Americans they might grant us some important concessions. I think that I will be able to delay the timing of the American ultimatum so that the council can mull over my plan.
Micanopy_____ I like Abraham's suggestion. We need to consult with all of the tribal leaders before we make a final decision. At the same time Abraham, if we chose to fight, you must begin immediately to recruit our young warriors into fighting bands. I suggest that the council meets again in three months time, when we will make our final decision.
SEMINOLE COUNCIL MEETING 3 MONTHS LATER
Chief Micanopy _____ It is time for our council to make its decision. What will it be?
King Phillip _____ Most of our chiefs are ready to fight, but there are still some holdouts.
Chief Oconchattemicco _____ Until a few days ago I wanted our people to be safe so I supported emigration, but now my heart is broken. My beloved Black Seminole granddaughter has been kidnapped by slave hunters and sold to a Georgia planter. She is lost to our family forever. I now know that I was wrong. We must fight the Americans in order to save our families and our nation.
Chief Micanopy _____ Abraham do you have anything to report?
Abraham _____ Yes I have been hard at work. Our young warriors are eager to fight. Let me introduce two of my newest Battle Commanders- Wild Cat, eldest son of King Phillip and John Horse who will be leading our Black Seminole tribes into battle. I have also contacted John Caesar whose Black Seminole tribes were forced back into slavery after our defeat in 1818. Caesar as you know has been hiding out with the remnant of his tribe in the forests of North Florida. He has already contacted hundreds of slaves living on the plantations on the banks of the St. John River and in the town of St. Augustine. They are ready to fight with us. The free African Americans living in Augustine are now busy collecting weapons for our coming war. The fishermen of Havana have also given us hundreds of guns and barrels of gunpowder. Finally I have been meeting regularly with the American negotiators. I have convinced them that I need just a little more time to convince the entire Seminole nation to leave for the Indian lands.
Osceola _____ Let us all take an oath. We will fight to our last drop of blood for our people and our beloved land.
SEMINOLE COUNCIL MEETING 1835
Abraham _____ I have delayed the Americans as long as I could, but now they have ordered all Seminoles to assemble in Tampa Bay by the end of January 1836. Our attack will begin on December 28 with a surprise attack on two American battalions, while John Caesar leads a slave revolt on the St. John River plantations.
U.S. ARMY HEADQUARTERS IN FLORIDA
General Winfield Scott, Commander of U.S. troops in Florida _____ My god Jesup what has happened to you?
Major Jesup _____ The Seminoles, General Scott, they have gone to war against us. Abraham has deceived us. Our army has been forced to retreat because they received so many casualties. There is a major slave revolt in north Florida.
General Scott ____Don't worry, Jesup. This is certainly terrible news but I will immediately order more troops into Florida and we will quickly defeat these savages. When the Seminoles see how their women and children will also suffer for this act of war they will quickly surrender. This war will soon be over and the Seminoles on their way west.
THE SEMINOLE CAMP ON THE EAST BANK OF THE WITHLACOOCHEE RIVER - OCTOBER 1836
(Osceola, John Horse, and Wild Cat are conferring together.)
Osceola _____ My scouts tell me that Major Jesup is leading 4,000 troops towards our camp and that he will probably be here tomorrow. We must move all of our people out of the villages and into the safety of the swamps.
John Horse _____ We will begin immediately. Now we must plan our battle strategy. We only have six hundred warriors to defend our camp. We must use them wisely.
Wild Cat ____ It will be difficult for the Americans to cross the river because it is so swollen.
Osceola _____ I suggest that our men climb the trees and hide in the bushes so that Jesup does not know how few men we really have.
John Horse _____ We must hold our fire until the Americans try to cross the river.
Wild Cat _____ After we have attacked their front lines for fifteen or twenty minutes and created fear and confusion, then we must slip away into the swamp.
THE NEXT DAY NEAR THE SEMINOLE CAMP
Jesup _____ There it is the Seminole camp. Now all we have to do is cross the river and attack the camp before the Seminoles realize we are here.
Soldier _____ General the current in the river seems dangerously swift.
Jesup _____ Launch the boats! I promised General Scott that we would force the Seminoles into battle and defeat them before they have time to slip away into the swamp the way they have been doing since the war began.
(Soldiers begin launching the boats. Suddenly gunfire is heard. Soldiers begin to fall.)
Jesup _____ Use your weapons! Fire into the camp!
Soldiers _____ We can't see them.
Jesup _____ Keep on firing. Aim into those trees where the shots are coming from.
(Sounds of gunfire continue then suddenly there is silence.}
Jesup _____ (he is talking to himself) The Seminoles have fled again into that dreadful swamp where it is impossible to follow them. I can't even tell how many of them we have killed or wounded. We will have to return to camp. How can I report to General Scott that I have failed again? Why won't the Seminoles stand and fight like any European army would? Why are they always disappearing?
THE UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Congressman Joshua Giddings _____ I want to know why we are fighting this war against the Seminoles? The war has been going on for over a year with no end in sight. The land we are fighting over is mostly swamp, completely useless for farming, yet our southern congressmen insist that South Florida is somehow vital to our nation. Why? Is it possible that the only reason that we are fighting this war is because too many of your slaves have been running away to that swamp?
AMERICAN ARMY HEADQUARTERS IN FLORIDA
General Scott _____ Jesup, Washington has ordered me to sign a truce with the Seminoles. Go find Abraham and bring him in for a meeting.
Jesup _____ General you know that Abraham will never agree to a truce that does not include the right for Black Seminoles to travel west along with the rest of the Seminoles.
Scott _____ We can promise Abraham everything. Once we have the Seminoles inside the stockade at Tampa Bay we will have them under our control and they will have no choice but to leave Florida for the Indian Lands.
Jesup _____ What about the Black Seminoles?
Scott _____ We will alert those Georgia and South Carolina planters who have been demanding that Washington find their runaway slaves, that they will be able to recapture them at Tampa Bay. We will even make any slave traders who want to make a profit happy, because they will find so many new blacks to send to the auction block.
THE SEMINOLE COUNCIL MEETING
Abraham _____ Brothers, General Scott has promised us what we fought the war about. Those Seminoles who want to move west, and that includes the Black Seminole tribes, will be carried there by ships. He also promises that the Americans will not pursue those who wish to remain in Florida. I can tell you that most Black Seminoles have voted to leave Florida because slaveholders will never agree to let us remain in Florida, no matter what is written in the truce agreement.
Oconchattemicco _____ My people also want to go west. This war has been too bloody. Too many of our families have been devastated by the death or wounding of loved ones. We need peace to heal our tribes.
King Phillip _____ Our tribe is divided. Some want to go, but others want to stay in Florida.
John Horse _____ I do not trust the Americans to keep their word to us. They have lied so often to us before.
Osceola _____ My people want to stay here in Florida.
Wild Cat _____ Since some of our tribe want to travel west but most of our younger warriors want to remain in their homeland, this is what I will do. I will lead my band to Tampa but we will wait outside the stockade to make sure the Americans keep all the promises they made to us.
Micanopy _____ My brothers, the truce agreement states that the journey west is a voluntary one. Everyone who wants to join us on the journey west must be in Tampa Bay in two weeks.
(Inside the stockade, Micanopy, King Phillip, Abraham, Oconchattemicco and others are milling around. Outside the stockade Osceola, John Horse, and Wild Cat are hiding in the bushes watching.)
John Horse suddenly shouts _____Who are those white men entering the stockade? They do not look like army men.
Wild Cat _____ No, they are southern planters and slave hunters. See how they are seizing every Black Seminole and binding them with ropes.
Osceola shouts out _____ Men attack! Tear down the stockade!
(The walls of the stockade collapse and all the Seminoles flee into the surrounding woods.)
THE NEXT DAY IN THE SEMINOLE CAMP
(John Horse and Osceola are talking together.)
Wild Cat rushes up and begins to speak _____ My father, King Phillip did not escape with the rest of our people. Major Jesup is holding him prisoner at Fort Marion. Help me to get him released.
John Horse and Osceola together reply _____ Of course we will.
OUTSIDE FORT MARION
(A delegation of Seminoles rides up to the gates of the fort. Leading the delegation is Wild Cat carrying a white flag. In his headband is a white feather. It is a sign that both parties, the Seminoles and the Americans, know as the traditional way that negotiations begin. Riding beside Wild Cat are John Horse and Osceola.)
Wild Cat _____ Major Jesup, I want to talk to you about my father.
(The gates of the fort swing open. American soldiers pour out. They seize Wild Cat, John Horse, Osceola, and the rest of the Seminole delegates. They are thrown into the same jail as King Phillip.
(This jail is bare except for a sleeping shelf three feet above the floor. There is only one small window fifteen feet above the floor. The prisoners are supplied only with canvas bags to sleep on. Major Jesup locks the door of the prison cell.)
Jesup to soldier _____ Now that we have all the Seminole leaders in prison, the war will soon be over.
John Horse _____ we must begin planning our escape immediately.
Wild Cat _____ I have a file in my pocket. We must begin by filing the bars off of the window.
John Horse _____ Wild Cat, I will stand on the sleeping bench, then you will climb on my shoulders. Then you can use the stones of the wall as a ladder. Every man must take his turn at filing.
Osceola _____ I will help with the filing a little later. Right now I seem to be very dizzy. (He slips into a faint. Everyone gathers around him.)
Osceola _____ Let me rest. I will be better soon.
THE JAIL A FEW WEEKS LATER
(The bars on the window have been removed and the Seminole prisoners are ready to escape. All but Osceola. He lays on the floor.)
Osceola _____ You know that I cannot escape with you. I am dying. My spirit will always be beside you, my brothers.
(Wild Cat, John Horse, and the rest of the prisoners including King Phillip embrace him, then they all escape through the open window.)
SEMINOLE WAR CAMP ON THE BANKS OF LAKE OKEECHOBEE
Abraham _____ I am convinced that the only way to convince the Americans to let us go is by defeating them in battle. John Horse, explain why you have chosen this spot.
John Horse _____ The Americans have been following us for days and I have led them down a path that seems like solid land. By tomorrow that solid land will begin to turn into swamp and their army will begin to sink. As they struggle to continue marching, from the safety of our camp on this side of the lake we will start firing until they will be forced to retreat.
Abraham _____ I like this plan.
THE NEXT DAY
Major Jesup _____ Men, we are almost there. I can see the lake in the distance. Our boats can swiftly cross the lake and the Seminoles have no swamp where they can retreat into. They will finally have to stand and fight us.
(A moment later the men in the front line begin to sink up to their waists in the swampy waters. Other men begin to fall as the Seminoles begin to fire their guns. Some of the American soldiers die and many more are wounded.}
(NOTE: If you are unable to stage this battle, you can have some actors relate to the audience what is happening)
Major Jesup _____ Men, we cannot move forward in this treacherous swamp. Our troops are being massacred. I am ordering an immediate retreat.
AMERICAN ARMY HEADQUARTERS
General Scott _____ Jesup, the battle of Lake Okeechobee was the most disastrous of the entire Seminole War. Washington insists that we end the war now. Get Micanopy , Abraham and the others to meet with us to discuss terms.
Jesup _____ You know, after that last disastrous truce agreement, I don't think any of the Seminole chiefs trust us.
Scott _____ Yes I know. We certainly made a mistake trying to separate Black Seminoles from the rest of the nation. I know what we can do to reassure Abraham. We will write out a truce agreement that states that the Black Seminoles are actually the slaves of the Indian Seminoles. Planters and slave hunters will not dare to steal slaves from anyone, even Seminoles. In this truce agreement we will promise that any Seminole who agrees to travel west can take their property with them. In that way, all the Seminoles both Indian and Black “slave property” will be able to travel west in safety.
Jesup _____ And what about those Seminoles who don't want to leave Florida?
Scott _____ Let them stay. As long as they stay south in the swamplands of South Florida. That land is of no use to American planters.
THE SEMINOLES WERE THE ONLY INDIAN NATION IN AMERICA THAT WAS NEVER DEFEATED BY THE UNITED STATES.
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What They're Saying about The Underground Railroad: "Millstein's book joins Fergus Bordewich's landmark 2005 Bound for Canaan as a comprehensive history of "the war for soul of America." Quoted from July 2015 issue of Underground Railroad Free Press. See it at http://www.urrfreepress.com/index_files/July_2015.pdf For more commentary,click here.