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[M271, roll 4, frames 505-519, 1823]

Observations on the Seminole Indians, 1823
by Horatio S. Dexter

The Seminole Indians are emigrants from the Muscolge or Creek Nation, & have settled in Florida more than 100 years, having conquered the Yamasees, a powerful tribe who were in in possession of that country. According to the usual custom of the natives they destroyed the males & amalgamated themselves with the conquered tribe by intermarrying with their females. They are by some represented as outlaws or runaways from the Creek Nation but they appear to have been rather a colony tempted to emigrate by the superior advantages for hunting & pasturage afforded by the fertile & beautiful savannas of the western part of the Peninsula. They have been recognised as a distinct nation by the British Government very soon after the Cession of the Floridas in 1763; in a treaty of limits, which the Indians assert was made at the Cawford; with Governor Tonyn, the boundaries they agreed to seem never to have been overstepped by the Spaniards & the Seminoles have been always treated by them as a distinct nation. The limits as stated by the Seminoles are a line S from Okefenoka Swamp to the Ocklawaha River - from thence following the river St. Johns to Beresford & from that E to the sea. They consider all S & W as their land to 15 miles beyond the Suwanee. Their north line the boundary of Georgia.

Their population has decreased considerably of late & may as nearly as can be collected be about 1200. Besides there are about 350 Indians of other tribes amongst them & 350 slaves. There are also about 80 refugee Negroes belonging to Indians & citizens of this territory who are established on the sea coast near Tampa where they are employed by the Havanna fishery smacks & pass to Cuba frequently, the crews of these smacks bring goods to trade with the Indians. Since the Cession many of the Creek Indians have gone back & the Micosukys with their chief, the son of the late Kenhijah & his Negroes have returned to near their old town.

The following table is a nearly correct as can be obtained, the migratory habits of the Indians makes it difficult to be exact.

Names of TownsChiefsNo. of
Indians
No. of
Negroes
Remarks
Ap-lishopeki or Big SwampMcKenzie6040 
ApilchopcoikePulpuka4070 
 Tom456 
Watamky or McKenzies old fieldSuwiky12  
OkahumkeMiconope, chief of the nation48  
Palakli kaha  160Miconope's slaves
Chuca chati or Red HouseSinaha653 
TohopkilikaBradley, a half breed1208 
  390287 
Con hat ke or White SandPhilip303 
Ahopopko or Potato TownAhomicoche50  
HichepuksasaTom a hitch ke257 
Ock la wahaSinufky 140  
Asslily lolofa  100  
near Cape Florida 203part of the chief Paynes family refered from Alachua on the destruction of their property in 1812
 Imotley or Cap. Cavallo7010A village about 25 m. NE from Tampa
On the Suwanee 100 estimated at
Folok chopkoOpaney6540formerly chief of Ockmulgee
EtonyTus tonike chate or Red Warrior70 Creeks
Spring Garden Billy35 Uchees
scattered Indians estimated at 300  
Refugee Negroes  80 
  1395430 

The Seminole language is a mixture of the Creek with the Yamasee & is soft & pleasing to the ear & sufficiently expressive. They however generally understand & ocassionally are pure Creek. The Uchees settled among them speak their own tongue, but also use the Seminole.

The Seminoles are distinguished by the same contour of Countenance as the rest of the North American Indians, have a remarkably pleasing expression and are perfectly well made, easy and graceful in their motions, & except when under the influence of strong liquors mild & agreeable to their manners. They generally are mistrustful of the Whites, but when a confidence is once established by experience of just and upright conduct, it is shaken with great difficulty. Their attachment to the English was founded a good deal on the punctuality and good faith of their Merchants, & the Indians were so well satisfied with the conduct of the house of Panton, Leslie, & Co. as to require from the Spanish Government that, that house should continue exclusively to trade with them. Since that extensive and respectable establishment has been discontinued, they have not had much reason to think favorably of the Spanish traders among them. The Americans until lately they have only known by being in a constant of hostility with their borders, but the kind treatment they have received from the U.S. govt.? & military officers, and the Citizens in general gives them the highest confidence in the just & friendly disposition of the Govt & people toward them.

Their laws are few and simple but executed with certainty in criminal matters. The 'Lex talionis' is in force, not only against the culprit but also his kindred. A murder tho accidental, is punished by putting to death the perpetrators, and if he escape one of his kin. Stolen property can be recovered from the family of the thief & if an equivalent cannot be obtained he will be beaten severely. The punishment of Adultory is for the first offence, the ears of the woman and her paramour are cut off, and if the husband please the paramour must take her off his hands; for the second offence the nose and lips are cut. Their ideas of conduct properly are such as have been entertained by all nations in the early stages of society. The land is presumed to belong to the Nation in general but the use of any particular part of it (if not preoccupied) can be assumed by any individual. Personal property is clearly and distinctly understood amongst them it descends to the sisters children in preference to those of the possessor as being more certainly his heirs.

Each town has a chief who punishes crimes, but who is considered to hold his authority from the head of the Nation. In all their foreign intercourse the acts of the Mico and head chieftains are never disputed, yet he seldom transacts business without a Council of his most prudent men & so strong is the sense of right on the minds of those people that they scarcely can suppose him capable of compromising their interest. In all public matters the chief is absolute, but custom makes it almost a law that nothing affecting the general interest should be done without and the concurrence of the people, hence all are summoned to the public talks & the humblest individual has the privilege of expressing his opinion which is listened to with attention and carefully replied to by the Chiefs or his Council. However high the political power of the head chief, he is equally amiable to the laws as any other Indian and in his private capacity does not assume any superiority whatever. 

The dignity is hereditary & descends to the sisters eldest son, during a minority the chiefs assemble and appoint a Regent. On the death of Payne in 1812 who died of wound received in attempting to relieve St. Augustine, his brother Bowleg was appointed head chief until Miconope became of age. After the death of Bowleg in 1818, he was considered of sufficient age to assume the authority his uncle held in trust for him.

They live generally in Villages, where the women plant Indian corn, rice & the men leave them during the hunting season. They have had large stocks of cattle, horses, & hogs which were almost all destroyed by the incursion into the country. Some have yet a little stock remaining. The Negroes possessed by the Indians live apart from them & they give the master half what the lands produce; he provides them nothing & they are at liberty to employ themselves as they please. The Indian Negroes are a fine formed athletic race, speak English as well as Indians & feel satisfied with their situation. They have the easy unconstrained manner of the Indians but more vivacity & from their understanding both languages possess considerable influence with their master. There seems to be no ceremony of marriage among the Seminoles & polygamy is allowed to any extent.  The wife is generally demanded of the mother & if the latter consent it is sufficient. A woman living openly for any time with a man is sufficient. The woman is bound to continuing with her husband, unless he fail to return before the busk or annual green corn meeting, when she can receive another. In case of the death of a husband the wife mourns for four years with discheveled hair the only mark of mourning among them. Should she either marry or cohabit with any man during the four years, she is to suffer death by the hands of the next of kin to the deceased. Connetion before marriage is not considered. Infanticide is very common. When a woman losses her husband by death, is abandoned by him, or that he is unable to maintain children she will not hesitate to destroy them. As an instance, a woman immediately after having been delivered of a child exposed it, the husband remonstrated, she brought back the child & asked him if he could support it, he replied not, and she immediately destroyed it. Nevertheless they are Kind & indulgent to their children.

They disposed the bodies of their dead in hollow trees, or on scaffolds & use the most doteful cries when they leave them. They consider disturbing the remains a very heinous crime. They believe in the existence of a supreme being, a great spirit who rules heaven & earth, and is absolute master of our existence, but who has always ordered us to do well. They believe in an evil spirit who urges us to do wrong and from whose influence they are supposed to be protected by charms & herbs they carry about them. The also believe in a future state of rewards and punishments, that the good man will go the God, where the sun rises, & the bad to the setting sun, where he will be consumed by eternal fire. There is nothing like prayer to the Deity among them tho' they acknowledge his existence, & reverence his power.

In the attempts made to civilize the Indians I think we have rather prematurely endeavored to force upon them, our ideas of distinct landed property. The Patriarchal system with strong family attachment & a spirit of clanship is general & any plan for their improvement should as much as possible be directed to preserve the attachments which in their stage of society are the strongest motives to exertion.  They seem to have a peculiar aptitude for certain manufactures which might be introduced amongst them.  Their villages kept together & the immediate returns would procure them little conveniences & luxuries.  This would fix them to a particular place and a judicious system of education instruction prepare them for further improvement. The distinction made by superior skill or ingenuity would gradually supersede the desire to excel in hunting & war.  Agriculture & pasturage would necessarily be followed up as affording means of supplying the wants their new situation & habits would require. Just now I think the establishment of an armourers shop would be desirable. Placed conveniently to them, so that they may not be obliged to come to St. Augustine to get their guns repaired.

If I may venture to offer an opinion as to the most eligible place to concentrate the Seminoles in, I should recommend the country SE of Okehumky the present residence of Miconope. It would be most agreeable to them from comprising their hunting grounds which altho' extremely valuable to them, can never be brought into cultivation, as they are overflowed every wet season and cannot be drained. This part of the country is also preferable to a situation near the sea; where they are too much exposed to intercourse with an enemy on case of war. It is to be observed that the Seminoles are very averse to be associated with other tribes in any arrangements they may make with the U.S.  The hostilities they have been often engaged in would render their being placed together a source of great dissention.  Indeed it would form an almost insurmountable obstacle to a satisfactory treaty.

The best manner of collecting the Indians for a treaty is to communicate the desire of the Government to Miconope and arrange with him for a particular time & place. When these are fixed he will have messages sent to his people and they will assemble on the appointed day without any expense to the Government.  I should suggest as a proper place for meeting, Volusia on St. Johns River 5 miles S of Lake George. It is situated on the main crossing place about 65 miles from Okahumky & the same distance from St. Augustine. The necessary supplies could be brought by water as the river is navigable to that place for vessels drawing 8 feet.

The situations of place referred to can be ascertained by Mr. Vignoles's map which as far as my information goes is accurate.

Signed Horatio S. Dexter