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Florida’s Black Seminoles at Riverbend Park

Amidst the quiet surrender of the old cypress and historic swamps, hear the haunting song of a story not often told. Masked in history and covered with time, the voices of the Black Seminole Indian Tribe calls out to you.

Their remarkable story in large part was hidden beneath the earth until 1989. Now, you have the opportunity to paddle the waters, walk the land and listen to the battle rage as you experience the past Seminole Wars at Riverbend Park.

The Black Seminoles came seeking freedom from slavery in the 1700s. Florida, under the control of Spain, gave the Black Seminoles refuge. By agreeing to fight with the Spanish military, they were assured citizenship. Confident and while the land was still at peace, the Black Seminoles gained valuable skills such as writing and speaking Spanish. In the days to come, their ability to communicate in English and Spanish as well as the Indian dialects of Hitchiti and Miccosukee.

Transition would be required of the Black Seminoles again in 1763. Britain gained control of Florida from Spain. The Black Seminoles were once again given an edict. They were to leave for other Spanish territories such as Cuba or relocate within the interior swamp portions of Florida.

At Riverbend Park in Palm Beach County, you can retrace the steps of Lieutenant Levin M. Powell who commanded the first battle of the Loxahatchee which took place on January 15, 1838. Largely inexperienced in combat, the expedition would fail as the unit was defeated by the Seminoles.

You can walk the path of 1500 troops led by General Thomas S. Jesup who days later on January 24th, 1938 would confront 300 Seminoles on the banks of the Loxahatchee River. After General Jesup was wounded during the initial charge, command would fall to Major William Lauderdale with troops from The Tennessee Volunteers. Extremely outnumbered, the Seminoles fled into the swamps but not before killing several US soldiers. This would come to be known as the last standing battle of the Second Seminole War.

Lasting seven-years in duration, the history of the Second Seminole War would be forever embedded in the fabric of Florida today. Major William Lauderdale would live in infamy as the City of Fort Lauderdale carries his name. Fort Mose, where the former slaves learned to speak Spanish and write is now a historic State Park. This site was the first legally sanctioned free African settlement in the United States.

Peace would not come for the Seminoles even after the sound of guns silenced. After losing an appeal by General Jesup to allow the Seminoles to remain in the Everglades at the end of the war more than 500 Black Seminoles were captured in Fort Jupiter, and with many Seminole Indians by their side, were marched thousands of miles to present-day Oklahoma. Many would die along during the march and would be come to known as the Trail of Tears.

The story of the Black Seminoles awaits you. Come hear the call by creating your own Loxahatchee River experience at Riverbend Park by renting a canoe or kayak from Canoe Outfitters of Florida today or take a hike on one of Riverbend Park’s many trails.

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