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Caesar, John(c. 1750–1837) - Military leader, interpreter, The African and Seminole Cultural Relationship, Chronology, Seminole Wars

seminoles slaves plantations native

John Caesar’s military service documents the importance of freedom over oppression and how the merging of two peoples (African American and Native American) into political allies led to victories over mutual enemies. In this case, Caesar, an African Seminole, was able to lead a joint force of Native Seminoles, escaped slaves, and African Seminoles on successful raids of Florida plantations that freed slaves and gave their warriors necessary supplies in the Second Seminole War.

Written documentation about the early life of John Caesar is meager and scattered. What is known is that he was born in the mid-eighteenth century, and he became allied with the Seminole nation in Florida. In Florida during the Seminole Wars, he became known for his military leadership.

This black Seminole was probably a descendant of free African Americans or fugitive slaves. Caesar was a member of the Seminole nation. He served as an interpreter between Native Seminoles and the U.S. military; this fact indicates that during his early years he must have had some association with English-speaking people.

The African and Seminole Cultural Relationship

The African Seminoles’ relationship with the Native Seminoles was unique culturally, socially and politically. During this period in U.S. history, the Spanish colonists were in competition with the English colonists over the Florida territory, so Spaniards encouraged slaves to escape from the English colony’s plantations.

Slavery existed among the Native Seminoles, but much freedom was granted to the escaped slaves and free African Americans who joined the Seminoles. In some cases, the African American Seminoles were adopted into Seminole clans, enslaved for a period of time, made to adapt culturally to a new lifestyle, and then made a part of the clan. Still other African Seminoles lived in independent communities, elected their own black leaders, and could amass moderate wealth in cattle and crops. They were also permitted to bear arms to defend themselves. Intermarriage was widespread. Children born from these marriages were free citizens of the nation. Cultural exchange of the natives, slaves, and free African Americans occurred regularly.

Caesar and most of the African Seminoles adopted the language and many of the cultural traditions of their Native Seminole counterparts, and African Seminoles brought their own African cultural traditions as well, which had a significant influence on the development of Seminole culture. Because African Seminoles were faced with the threat of enslavement on southern plantations, many served on the side of the Seminole against the United States in order to prevent defeat of the Seminole nation. Many Native Seminoles were connected to African Seminoles through intermarriage and were unwilling to abandon their African Seminole families and friends to slave traders and plantation owners.

Chronology

Mid-1700s Born (actual date unknown)

1817 Leads raids during First Seminole War

1835 Leads raids during Second Seminole War

1836 Organizes runaway slaves and Native Seminoles into raiding parties that attack plantations outside St. Augustine

1837 Killed in his attempt to raid the Hanson plantation on January 17

Caesar served as the head adviser and interpreter to a Seminole chief, King Philip, father of Wild Cat and leader of the St. John’s River Seminoles. Caesar worked with other African Seminoles, such as John Horse and Abraham. Abraham served as the chief associate adviser and interpreter to Seminole chief Micanopy. Caesar and Abraham worked to increase discontent among plantation slaves in Florida and to develop relationships with free blacks and slaves who would assist in the war effort. Caesar was successful in convincing numerous African slaves to join the Seminoles in their struggle for freedom.

Seminole Wars

During the First Seminole War between the colonizers and the Seminoles that began in 1817, Caesar led raids on plantations and convinced runaway slaves and free African Americans to join the fight. Known as an outstanding military strategist, he realized that establishing relationships was the key to winning military battles. He connected with key military leaders such as the Seminole leader King Philip (Emathia), and they were able together to engage in conflict with the soldiers of the U.S. government during both the First and Second Seminole War. By the second war he was a brilliant war veteran.

Sometime in December 1835, at the beginning of the Second Seminole War, Caesar and King Philip led attacks that destroyed sugar plantations east of the St. John’s River outside St. Augustine. Within two days five plantations were destroyed, and many field slaves joined in the rebellion. The targeted plantations included Rosetta, Mount Oswald, and Dunlawton. The Seminole allies wrecked mills, burned homes, confiscated livestock and corn, and at each attack, more slaves were recruited. By January, almost three hundred slaves from the St. John’s region were supporting the rebellion. Months of planning by Caesar was paying off, and a mass rebellion was in the making. This alliance of African Seminoles, Native Seminoles, and escaped slaves cost the U.S. military dearly.

By late 1836, the war took on a new and disturbing dimension, under the leadership of U.S. General Clinch. Caesar continued to organize and inspire runaway slaves, effectively attacking plantations just outside St. Augustine. On January 17, 1837, Caesar and his men were attempting to steal horses from the Hanson plantation and were discovered and attacked by Hanson’s men, who killed three warriors, including Caesar.

Caesar’s leadership in recruiting slaves from the plantations forced the U.S. military to negotiate over the issue of African Seminoles, and this action resulted in the removal of African Seminoles along with Native Seminoles, rather than their immediate re-enslavement on southeastern plantations.

Caffarelli (real name, Gaetano Majorano) [next] [back] Caceres, Ernie (actually, Ernesto)

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