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Following the actions of the CNO disenrolling its black Freedmen citizens black folks have seen all nations smeared by the history of racism in that tribe. The role of Native peoples in the upper south was very different as this insightful article documents. I hope that seeing Africans and Native people as allies rather than slaves and masters will improve understanding between both groups...
DELMARVA NATIVE AMERICANS & THE EARLIEST UNDERGROUND RAILROAD
Contributed by Bill Gould
From a National Park Service publication
26 Oct 2007
As a societal dynamic, African slavery impacted every aspect of the American social fabric. Native Americans, too, were not exempt from experiencing the flaws of that fabric. Slaves and slave-masters and Indians also played a significant role in the earliest Underground Railroad. Indians, especially those living near swamps, often to their detriment, harbored runaway black slaves. One such tribe, Delmarva's Nanticokes, originally living along the Nanticoke River in Dorchester Co. Maryland, provided refuge to runaways.
The principal hiding place for runaways was the swamp. Certain locales became renowned for what was known as maroon communities. Dense vegetation and marshy terrain made the swamps a difficult place for masters and bounty hunters to search for the runaways. David Hunter Strother, an artist for Harper's Magazine, in 1856, captured the fear and determination of the runaway Osman in the Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and Virginia. Also in 1856, Harriet Beecher Stowe, famous for her Uncle Tom's Cabin, wrote in Dred; Tale of the Great Dismal Swamp:
Away to the Dismal Swamp he speeds,
His path was rugged and sore,
Through tangled juniper, beds of reeds,
Through many a fen, where the serpent feeds,
And man never trod before.
Encountering a fugitive in the swamp, Dred, modeled after Nat Turner of the 1831 Southampton, Virginia Slave Rebellion, harbors him. The Virginia Slave Code of the 1700's attests to the frequency of such escapes: "Whereas, many times slaves run away and lie out, hid and lurking in swamps, woods, and other obscure places, killing cattle and hogs, and committing other injuries to the inhabitants of this state;" Anyone who harbored a fugitive took a great risk. At the very least, the law provided that anyone who did so would pay the owner of the slave ten shillings for each 24 hours. In 1795, runaway slaves who hid in swamps, plundered plantations outside Wilmington, North Carolina.
George Alfred Townsend's Entailed Hat described similar circumstances of "Virgie's Flight" in Delaware's great Cypress Swamp, "counterpart of the Dismal Swamp in Virginia." "The cedar swamps of Delaware were noted refugesfor runaways." Eighteenth Century Pennsylvania newspapers were filled with advertisements specifically mentioning the cedar swamps of Delaware as a runaway destination. It's in these areas that current mixed race communities now exist." (See Ned Heite's scholarship on "tri-racial isolates").
Runaways found support and refuge in Native American communities, such as the Nanticokes. The "Tidewater People" lived in small villages along the streams and rivers, including the Pocomoke River, that flowed into the Chesapeake Bay. The region's swamp lands became significant sites on the Underground Railroad for escaping slaves. By the early 18th Century, mixed-blooded communities had formed in Kent and Sussex Counties, near Cheswold and Indian River respectively. Members of the Indian-descended Puckham, Norwood, Ridgeway and Cambridge families from Eastern Shore Maryland and Sussex intermarried with the Kent County community in the early 19th Century. The census term "mulatto" became a catch-all for any non-white person.
According to Scharf's History (1888), surrounding communities recognized the Moors, "a tri-racial isolate," as a distinct ethnic group. In 1895, Judge George Purnell Fisher wrote an article for the Smyrna Times titled "The So-Called Moors of Delaware." Forty years before, Fisher had prosecuted Levin Sockum and his son-in-law Harmon in a famous Delaware case concerning the question of racial identity. Based upon Nanticoke Lydia Clark's testimony, the defendants were found to be of a tri-racial origin and thus guilty of selling gunpowder to a Negro or mulatto. Both Harmon and Sockum denied any Negro ancestry.
C. A. Weslager's Delaware's Forgotten Folk, The Story of the Moors & Nanticokes presents a different perspective on the issue of racial identity. Writing in 1943, Weslager stated: "The cabins occupied by the remaining Indians [Nanticokes], concealed in he woods some distance from towns, were excellent hideouts for runaway slaves. In the Maryland records of 1722, there is a reference to 'several of our own Negroes and slaves having already run away to the said Indians and living now among them'. This was not only true of Negro slaves. Mulattoes and indentured white servants, upon breaking their shackles, took to the woods and found foodand shelter in the scattered native huts. Hospitality was and is rated high among the Eastern Indians…."(pp. 66-67)
On the question of mulattoes, Weslager concluded The Delaware Gazette advertisements gave insight into their existence. For instance, in the April 22, 1796 issue, p.3, an advertisement tellingly spoke of Eastern Shore runaways. James Lynch's advertisement read: [Reward for Runaways]--"a Negro Woman with a child, she is a low thick woman, very black, her child is a bright mulatto…."
As enlightening as the runaway advertisements are, Indian Treaties provide conclusive evidence of the complexity of African and Native American interaction. Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Indian Treaties reflect a slaveholding colonial society struggling with the institution of slavery. Treaty clauses for Delmarva addressed the fugitive slave problem. Between 1663 and 1666, Maryland commissioners negotiated with the Indians of "Piscattaway, Anascostanck, Maltawomans, Chingwanateick, Maugemaick, Port Tobackes, and Pangayo." (Scharf, p. 290)
The 12th Article of the 1666 Treaty stated: "In case any servants or slaves run away from their masters and come to any of the Indian Towns aforesaid that the said Indians shall apprehend them and bring them to the next English plantation to be conveyed to their masters; and if any Indians assist or convey any such fugitive out of the Province that he shall make the respective master or masters of such servant or [slave] such satisfaction as an Englishman ought to do in the like case. (quoted in Scharf, p. 291)
In 1678, Maryland's Philip Calvert made a Treaty of "peace and amity" with Vnnacokassimon, Emperor of the Nanticokes. Article 6 essentially reiterated the earlier treaty: "In case any Servant or Slaves run away from their master…& come to any of Indian towns within the Territories of Vnnacokassimmon and his subjects they be bound to apprehend the said fugitives & bring them to the next English plantation to be conveyed to their Master…" (Proceedings of the Council of Maryland, 1676-1678, volume15, p. 174 at Maryland State Archives)
The autumn of 1722 saw major treaties. On September 11, 1722, the Governorof Virginia made certain propositions to the Five Nations of Indians. The Governor maintained: "You sent me last year a Belt of Wampum as a Testimony of your Promise, that you would seize and carry to Virginia some Runaway Negroes….Now I make a general Proposition …that if any such Negro or slave shall hereafter fall into your hands you shall straightway conduct them to George Mason's House on the Potomac River & …you shall there receive immediately upon the delivery of every such Runaway one good Gun & two Blankets…." (New York Council Minutes, XIIL in E.B. O'Callaghan, editor, Documents Relative to the Colonial History of the State of N.Y., 1855, p.674)
Brother Assarigoe's responded: "As to the Proposition you made relating to Negroes We promise that if any Runaway Negroes or slaves shall happen to fall into our hands we will carry them to George Mason 's on the Potomac River for your reward you proposed." (O'Callaghan, p. 676)
Then in October and November 1722, the Province of Maryland drafted its major treatise on the question of Indians and the runaway slave. On October 22, 1722, the treatise was read in the Upper House of Assembly. It stated: "Another proposition I have to make to you Indians with respect to Runaway Negroes and Slaves it being a Matter of Importance which must greatly Affect the properties of People in these parts. If Indians be allowed to Harbor our Slaves as the Shawnees at this time do and protect them under the pretense of their having set such Slaves free. This Gentlemen we look upon as a Matter of Great Importance to this Province several of our Own Negroes and Slaves having already run away to the Indians and living among them, which if not in time prevented, may be an encouragement to greater numbers of them to do so." (Proceedings of Acts of General Assembly, October 1720-1723, volume 34, page 431, Maryland State Archives)
On November 1st, 1722, the above message was read again on the floor of the General Assembly and was passed as proposed.
After the passage of this legislation, census takers in the late 18th Century visited Indian communities east of the Mississippi River, identifying, categorizing, and counting. When the census takers discovered Native American communities harboring runaways, the tribes were threatened with the loss of their tribal status, the nullification of treaties, landclaims, and trade agreements. Despite these sanctions, Native Americans and Africans remained allied.
In addition to Delmarva's refuge safe havens, other recognized runaway camps included the Shawnee Oldfield Village on the Potomac River; an area 20 miles north of the mouth of the Savannah River; a vicinity between New Orleans and the mouth of the Mississippi River; next to Combahee and Ashepoo Rivers in South Carolina; Tuscarora, North Carolina; and an encampment near the Pamunky River in Virginia.
Colonial laws and state statutes concerning the harboring of fugitive slaves reflect society's values and attitudes toward what it deemed to be property. The laws listed here are representative of the various jurisdictions.
1640: New Netherlands Law forbids residents from harboring or feeding runaway slaves.
1640: Punitive fugitive laws applying to both indentured servants and slaves were enacted in Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, South Carolina, and Virginia.
1751: South Carolina law stated: "The carrying of Negroes among the Indians has all along been thought detrimental, as an intimacy ought to be avoided."
1848: Georgia Slave Code makes it a punishable offence for free Negro, mulatto, and mustizoe to harbor slaves. Constables were authorized to search suspected premises for runaway slaves.
1856: Mississippi law mandated that any Indian, free black, or mulatto found guilty of harboring a runaway was to be fined $50.00 for each black so harbored and imprisoned in the penitentiary for up to one year. The 1856 law had amended a 1839 law, stipulating an Indian found guilty of harboring any enslaved black would pay the owner $50.00 and all court costs and be imprisoned between three and six months.
1642: A Virginia law penalized persons sheltering runaways 20 pounds worth of tobacco for each night of refuge granted. Slaves were branded with an"R" on the face after a second escape. (Act XXI, Hening's Statutes, I:253-254) "Be it further also enacted that if any servant running away as aforesaid shall carry either piece, powder and shot, And leave either all or any of them with the Indians, And being thereof lawfully convicted shall suffer death as in case of felony." (Act XXII, Hening's Statutes, I:254-255)
One of the most compelling arguments that Indians harbored fugitive slaves is the existence of multi-racial peoples. Africans and Native Americans intertwined along complex paths, influencing the emergence of a blended culture. Miscegenation was a powerful social behavior, imbued with inherent racism. In April, 1691, the Virginia House of Burgess passed its first anti-miscegenation law, "An Act for Suppressing Outlying Slaves."
Upon arriving in Kansas in 1850, Quaker missionary Wilson Hobbs, noticed the number of mixed-bloods in the Shawnee tribe. A century earlier, M. Viner, a Jesuit missionary to the Louisiana Territory, noted: "We have here Whites, Negroes, and Indians, to say nothing of the cross-breeds…." (Carter Woodson, A Century of Negro Migration, 1918, p.8)
A concrete example demonstrating the existence of multi-racial peoples involves Sally Johnson's (a Cherokee woman residing in Alabama) application to sell a reservation of land in 1831. The reservation of land (640 acres) was made to her husband Peter Johnson . Peter was adjudged to be a runaway slave. The wife's petition was presented to U.S. House's committee on Public Lands. She asked Congress to confirm the reservation to her and her children, and that she "be permitted to sell the fee simple estate." (American State Papers, House of Representatives, 21st Congress, 2nd Session. Public Lands: Volume 6, Page 266, No. 892)
Another specific example of racial mixing can be seen in a 1778 New Jersey advertisement for a runaway. The advertisement read: "Was stolen from her mother, a negro girl, about 9 or 10 years of age, named Dianah, her mother's name is Cash, was married to an Indian named Lewis Wollis…Any person who takes up the said negroes and Indian…shall have the above reward."
"Tri-racial isolates" describe communities resulting from the mixing of white, black and red peoples. Some of the first black, white, Indian and mixed families intermarried or interbred in the 1600's in Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and the Carolinas. The offspring became known as"Melungeons." At first, inter-racial marriage was legal in Virginia. North American Indian ancestors of Melungeons came from the Powhatan, Mattaponi, Rappahanock, Pamunkey, Chickahominie, Catawba, Cherokee, and Choctow communities.
The African ancestors of the Melungeons came from northeast Angola and southern Congo. The original ancestors of the Melungeons were free-African-Americans who married whites in Virginia and other colonies.The Moors of Delaware can be traced to this lineage through the linking of identical surnames.
Documented accounts are extremely rare due to the secret nature of "Underground Railroad" activities and unwritten language. Those few extant records are as valuable as they are poignant. Juniper's owner noted in 1814 his slave ran from Kentucky into Tennessee. The master concluded: "It is supposed he has lived with Creek Indians and will endeavor to get to the nation again." (John Hope Franklin & Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves, 1999, p.113) An invaluable source chronicling personal histories of Indians, especially those removed to Oklahoma, is Black Indian Slave Narratives, edited by Patrick Minges (2004). Interviewed by the WPA in 1937, John Harrison recalled: "Mother has told me that before the War [Civil War], the people as a whole were living very comfortably and satisfied. The Indians, Creeks, had intermarried with the white and colored, and [they] became citizens of the tribe, and that they, too, were satisfied with the full-blood in this new land of theirs." (Minges, p.86)
Nellie Johnson was less positive in her recollection of racial mixtures. Nellie stated, "Some of the Negro girls that I knowed of mixed up with the poor Creeks and Seminoles, and some got married to them after the War, but none of my family ever did mix up with them, that I knows of." (Minges,p.133)
Chaney Mack of Mississippi related, "Yes, my father was a full-blooded African" from near Liberia. Mack's story told how his father was put on the block and sold in Dalton, Georgia. One fond memory involved Mack's father making a fiddle out of pine bark and playing for the family to dance. (Minges, p. 152) Of his mother, Mack stated, "My mother was a pure-blood Indian. [Choctaw]. She was born near Lookout Mountain, up in Tennessee, on a river, in a log hut." Of his parents' marriage, Mack described both the African custom of "jumpin' over de broom" and the Indian tradition. The chief would stand before the hand-holding couple and repeat: "He is black; she is yaller; Made out of beeswax, and no taller, Salute your bride, you ugly feller! (or devil)" (Minges, p.156)
Ned Thompson, interviewed by the WPA in Oklahoma in 1937, gives a detailed accountof his family history. His grandfather was an Alabama slave known as "Cow Tom" whose family was removed to the western Indian Territory in 1832. An interpreter, Cow Tom"fought in the Florida War." In 1868, Cow Tom went to Washington, D.C. to plead the case of Creek's entitlements to land and money.
Geraldine Elliott Robinson, great-great granddaughter of Cow Tom, documented the Cow Tomaccount in her genealogical research posted on the web. Robinson chronicled her family living among the Seminoles and resisting the federal plan of Indian removal. A relative, Ben Bruno, a maroon in Florida, served as Billy Bowleg's interpreter.
After bad treaties and camp burnings, members of her family gathered at Juniper, Florida before heading to Tampa Bay. The next stop was New Orleans, but before arriving there, men swarmed the slave ships saying, "These are our runaway slaves harbored by the Seminoles. We want them and their descendants. These are our legitimate slaves. Here are our papers. "Family members were taken to Fort Pike and held for 13 months. Eventually released, they journeyed to Fort Gibson Indian Territory, arriving May, 1838.
The history of Native Americans harboring fugitive slaves has been an elusive study. Scholars have been challenged by "irretrievable accounts"and sparse documentation. Yet, the story of the Seminoles of Florida does provide insight into the activities of the Nanticokes of Delmarva. While many Indian tribes imitated the white man in owning chattel slaves, the Seminoles never did.
From the beginning of slavery, slaves attempted to escape. In the 17th Century, many Africans from the Carolinas, Alabama, and Georgia escaped to Florida and built settlements near the Seminoles. The two peoples bondedand formed a close union based on their mutual hatred of slavery. Despite the U.S. government's attempts to break up their union, the two peoples, through intermarriages and friendships, remained allied. The Africans became known as Black Seminoles.
The term Seminole is Spanish for "cimarron," meaning runaway. These Indians of the Creek tribe had escaped from slavery and land encroachment in the British colonies. The first Seminoles found refuge in Florida, along theSuwannee and Apalachicola Rivers, because the territory was governed by Spain. Under Spanish policy, slaves in Florida were never chattel. For the slaveholding states in the deep South, Indian-protected fugitive slaves posed vast troubles. South Carolina assigned slave patrols to watch roads and countryside. In 1728, South Carolina acting governor Arthur Middleton wrote: "The Spanish are receiving and harboring all our runaway negroes, they found out a new way of sending our slaves against us, to rob and plunder us--they are continually fitting out parties of Indians from St. Augustine to murder our white people, to rob our plantations and carry off our slaves…." Middleton, a rice planter who held 107 slaves at the time of his death in 1737, had been personally affected by the Spanish policy of encouraging runaways. For the Spanish, their encouragement was just one more ploy to be used against their British enemies.
In 1773, Indian agent David Taitt threatened to cut off Creek trade unless the Indians returned the fugitives (Wm. S. Willis, Divide and Rule: Red,White, and Black in the Southeast,in Roger L. Nichols & George R. Adams, The American Indian: Past and Present, 1971, p.78). South Carolina authorities also required all traders to report and apprehend any Negroes found among the Indians.
In 1823, Florida's Legislative Council warned Territorial Governor William P. Duval of the "existing evils." The 14 page memorial spoke to those evils: "great numbers of negroes belonging to the planters, availing themselves of existing disorders" and running away only to take "refuge among the Indians." (John Hope Franklin & Loren Schweninger, Runaway Slaves, 1999, p.82).
Spain also had no interest in returning African and Native American refuges to the British. In fact, the Spanish policy was designed to pit the fugitives and natives against the British. During the early 1700's other tribes, including the Yuchis, Yamasees, and Choctaws joined the Seminoles in their journey from Georgia to northern Florida. White man called them, along with the Chickasaws and Cherokees, the "Five Civilized Tribes." However, the freedom these tribes so desperately sought escaped them. Parties of slave catchers crossed the borders from Georgia and Alabama to rove Spanish North Florida. And always their tribal hunting grounds and settlements were being snatched up from under them by the land hungry Europeans. Conflict ensued and the Spanish government was unable to maintain social order. The explosive situation escalated after 1814 when"The Red Stick" losers of the Creek Civil War emigrated to Florida and joined the runaway blacks and Seminoles. Several hundred runaway slaves had established Angola, a settlement stretching from Tampa to Sarasota County. At the close of the War of 1812, a British Major Edward Nicholls led an expedition, recruiting Seminoles and black runaway slaves to fight the Americans. On Prospect Bluff on the Apalachicola River, the British and herallies constructed a fort. When the British withdrew from the area, her allies moved into the fort, now known as "Negro Fort." This bastion served as a rallying point for the runaways.
The First Seminole War (1817-1818) officially broke out over U.S. attempts to recapture runaway black slaves living among the Seminoles. Floridian historian Canter Brown, Jr. estimated that more than 1,000 runaways and free-born blacks lived among the Seminoles at the turn of the 19th Century (Race Relations in Territorial Florida, 1821-1845," Florida Historical Quarterly, v 73, #3, 287-305)
In 1816, the American army under General Andrew Jackson ordered the construction of Fort Scott on the Flint River to protect the Florida border and to destroy "Negro Fort," a perceived threat to Georgia's Slavocracy. That summer, Jackson ordered "Negro Fort's" destruction and the return of the 31 surviving blacks to their white owners. During the next two years, Jackson and his men burned Seminole villages and captured Spanish towns at St. Marks and Pensacola. The Americans drove the Seminoles into the Okefenkee swamplands. Under the terms of the Transcontinental Treaty, Spain ceded the Florida Territory to the United States in 1819. Though Andrew Jackson's brutal tactics spawned a congressional investigation, the 15th Congress was sympathetic to "national expansionism", later dubbed "Manifest Destiny." Moreover, many of the representatives and senators were slaveholders.
While the First Seminole War granted Florida to the new nation, it did not stop runaway slaves from fleeing to Florida. The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) resulted from the policy to remove the Seminoles from Florida. The runaway slaves, fearful of being turned over to white masters, helped to persuade their allies, the Seminoles, to resist removal. As settlers increased, the Seminoles grew increasingly frustrated with their dwindling lands.
Under the Treaty of Moultrie Creek of 1823, the Seminoles had agreed to exchange their existent land claims for that of a 4 million- acre reservation south of Ocala. However, the reservation proved agriculturally unsatisfactory. And the whites continued to seethe, believing the Seminoles were harboring runaway slaves. The October 16, 1824 edition of the St. Augustine East Florida Herald indicted: "Negroes are harbored among the Indians with impunity." During the 1820's, the Florida Legislative Council imposed strong sanctions against assisting runaways, including outlawing miscegenation.
The tinder box exploded; in 1835, federal troops arrived in Florida to control the Indian threat and force the tribes to relocate to reservations west of the Mississippi River. The Seminole leader was Osceola. The U.S. Government launched a third Seminole War (1855-1858) to force the Seminoles to relocate. Before acquiescing to the federal plan, tribal leader Billy Bowlegs fought both the U.S. army and Native American tribes attempting to capture the Black Seminoles and sell them into slavery.
The Seminole Wars were costly for the American government in terms of money and lost of lives. The armed conflict also postponed Florida's admission to the Union until 1845. General Thomas Sidney Jesup called the hostilities "a Negro war…not an Indian war."
Nowhere is the explosive and complex nature of the early Underground Railroad as intense as in the halls of the U.S. Congress. On February 18,1846, Mr. Joshua R. Giddings, Representative from Ohio, addressed the issues of Indian treaties, fugitive slaves, the evils of slavery, and the power of the slavocracy. The treaty in question was the 1845 Creek agreement intended as compensation for slaves.
Giddings argued "that this treaty [arranged in secret] was negotiated for the sole purpose of arranging difficulties, and satisfying claims arising from the capture of fugitive slaves and for the purpose of paying for such slaves." (Congressional Globe, 29th Congress, lst session, p. 431)
Giddings discussed the history of the arrangements. In 1790, the U.S. had entered into a treaty with the Creek Indians who "agreed to deliver up …such negroes as resided among them." However, the Creeks failed to deliver up the negroes. Consequently, "Georgia planters became clamorous for their slaves," and in 1821, the "Indian Spring" Treaty was negotiated. By terms of this treaty, the Indians agreed to pay for the slaves. As a result of such payment, they believed the slaves to be their property. "But the Seminoles, being connected to them in all relations of domestic life, refused to deliver them up as slaves."
Within this context, the federal government was removing southeastern tribes to the Indian Territory, west of the Mississippi River. However, the Seminoles refused to go into the Creek Territory because of their difference concerning fugitive slaves. The Seminoles did not consider escaped slaves to be property.
One of the problems for Representative Giddings was the annuities being allocated for the Indians. He felt the funds were inflated by "a slave-dealing President" and Senate to make compensation for the slaves that morally should not be returned.
On Delmarva and other locales in the Eastern United States, certain Native American tribes provided the earliest safe havens of a "Underground Railroad." They often paid a price for their bravery and humanity.
Morris Sheppard - Cherokee Freedman
Morris Sheppard was interviewed in the Fall of 1937. At that time he resided with his daughter, in Ft. Gibson, Oklahoma. His wife and children were enrolled on the Cherokee Freedman card No. 186.
Old Master tell me I was borned in November 1852, at de old home place about five miles east of Webbers Falls, mebbe kind of northeast, not far from de east bank of de Illinois River.
Master's name was Joe Sheppard, and he was a Cherokee Indian. Tall and slim and hansome. He had black eyes and mustache but his hair was iron gray, and everybody like him because he was so good natured and kind.
I don't remember old Mistress name. My mammy was a Crossland Negro before she come to belong to Master Joe and marry my pappy, and I think she come wid old Mistress and belong to her. Old mistress was small and mighty pretty too, and she was only half Cherokee. She inherit about half a dozen slaves, and say dey was her own and old master can't sell one unless she give him leave to do it. Dey only had two families of slaves wid about twenty in all, and dey only worked about fifty acres, so we sure did work every foot of it good. We git three or four crops of different things out of dat farm every ear, and something growing on dat place winter and summer.
Pappy's name was Caesar Sheppard and Mammy's name was Easter. Dey was both raised round Webber's Falls somewhere. I had two brothers, Silas and Goerge, dat belong to Mr. George Holt in Webber's falls town. I got a pass and went to see dem sometimes, and dey was both treated might fine.
The big Hosue was a double log wid a big hall and a stone chimney but no porches, wid two rooms at each end, one top side of de other. I thought it was mighty big and fine.
Us slaves lived in log cabins dat only had one room and no windows so we kept de doors open most of de time. We had home-made wooden beds wid rope springs, and de little ones slept on trundle beds dat was home made too.
At night dem trundles was jest all over the floor, and in de morning we shoved em back under de big beds to git dem outn' de way. No nails in none of dem nor in de chairs and tables. Nails cost big money and Old Master's blacksmith wouldn't make none 'ceptin a few for old Master now an den so we used wooden dowels to put things together.
They was so many of us for dat little field we never did have to work hard. Up at five o'clock and back in sometimes about de middle of de evening long before sundown, unless they was a crop to git in before it rain or something like dat.
When crop was laid by de slaves jest work round at dis and dat and keep tol'able busy. I never did have much of a job, jest tending de calves mostly. We had aobut twenty calves and I would take dem out and graze-em while some grown-up negro was grazing de cows so as to keep de cows milk. I had me a good blaze-faced horse for dat.
One time old Master and another man come and took some calves off and Pappy say old Master taking dem off to sell I didn't know what sell meant and I ast Pappy is he going to bring em back when he git through selling them. In ever did see no money neither, until time of de War or a little before.
Master Joe was sure a good provider, and we always had plenty of corn pone, sow belly and greens, sweet potatoes, cowpeas and cane molasses. We even had brown suger and cane molasses most of de time before de War, sometimes coffee, too.
De clothes wasn't no worry neither. Everything we had was made by my folks. My aunt done de carding and spinning and my mammy done de weaving and cutting and sewing , and my pappy could make cowhide shoes wid wooden pegs. Dey was for bad winter only.
Old Master bought de cotton in Ft. Smith, because he didn't raise no cotton, but he had a few sheep and we had wool mix for winter.
Everything was stripedy cause Mammy like to make it fancy. She dye with copperas and walnut and wild indigo and things like dat and made pretty cloth. I wore a stripedy shirt till I was about 11 years old and den one day while we was down in the Choctaw Country old Mistress see me and nearly fall off her horse. She holler, "Easter, you go right now and make dat big buck of a boy some britches!"
We never put on de shoes until about late November when de front begin to hit regular and split our feet up, and den when it git good and cold and de crop all gathered in anyways, they is nothing to do 'cepting hog killing and alot of wood chopping and you don't get cold doing dem two things.
De hog killing mean we gots lots of spare-ribs and chitlings and somebody always git sick eating to much of dat fresh pork. I always pick a whole passel of muskatines for old Master and he make up sour wine, and dat helps out when we git the bowel complaint from eating dat fresh pork.
If somebody bad sick he git de doctor right quick, and he don't let no negroes mess around wid no poultices and teas and sech things, like cupping-horns neither!
Us Cherokee slaves seen lots of green corn shootings and de like of dat but we never had no games of our own. We was too tired when we come in to play any games. We had to have a pass to go any place to have signing or praying,and den they was always a bunch of patrollers around to watch everything we done. Dey would come up in a bunch of about nine men on horses and look at all our passes, and if a negro didn't have no pass dey wore him out good and made him go home. Dey didn't let us have much enjoyment.
Right after the War, de Cherokees that had been wid the South kind of pestered the freedmen some, but I was so amall dey never bothered me; jest de grown ones. Old Master and Mistress kepton asking me did de night riders persecute meany but dey never did.
Dey tole me some of dem was bad on negroes but I never did see none of dem night riding like some say dey did.
Old Master had some kind of business in Fort Smith, I think cause he used to ride into dat town about everyday on his horse. He would start at de crack of daylight and not git home till way after dark. When he get home he call my uncle and ask about what we done all day and tell him what we better do de next day. My unclde Joe was de slave boss and he tell us what de Master say do.
When dat Civil War come along I was a pretty big boy and I remember it good as anybody. Uncle Joe tell us all to lay low and work hard and nobdy bother us and he would look after us. He sure stood good with de Cherokee neighbors we had, and dey all liked him. There was Mr. Jim Collins, and Mr. Bell, and Mr. Dave Franklin, and Mr. Jim Sutton and Mr. Blackburn that lived around close to us and dey hall had slaves. Dey was all wid the south, bet day wa a lot of dem Pin Indians all up on de Illinois River and dey was wid de North and day taken it out on de slave owners alot before de War and during it too.
Dey would come in de night and hamstring de horses and maybe set fire to de barn, and two of em named Joab Scarrel, and Tom Starr killed my pappy one night just before the War broke out.
I don't know what dey done it for, only to be mean, and I guess they was drunk.
Them Pins was after Master all de time for a while at de first of de War, and he was afraid to ride into Ft. Smith much. Dey come to de house one time when he was gone to Fort Smith and us children told dem he was at Honey Springs, but they knowed better and when he got home he said somebody shot at him and bushwhacked him all the way from Wilson's Rock to dem Wildhorse Mountains, but he run his hourse like de devil was sitting on his tail and dey never did hit him. He never seen them netiher. We told him bout de Pins coming for him and he just laughed.
When de War come old Master seen he was going into trouble and he sold off most of de slaves. In de second year of de War he sold my mammy and my aunt dat was Uncle Joe's wife and my two brothers and my little sister. Mammy went to a mean old man named Pepper Goodman and he took her off down de river, and pretty soon Mistress tell me she died cause she can't stand de rough treatment.
When Mammy went old Mistress took me to de Big House to help aher and she was kind to me like I was part of her own family. I never foget when they sold off some more negroes at de same time, too and put dem all in a pen for de trader to come and look at.
He never come until the next day, so dey had to sleep in dat pen in a pile like hogs.
It wasn't my Master done dat. He done already sold'em to a man and it was dat man was waiting for de trader. It made my Master mad, but dey didn't belong to him no more and he couldn't say nothing.
The man put dem on a block and sold em to a man dat had come in on a steamboat, and he took dem off on it when de freshet come down and de boat could go back to Fort Smith. It was tied up at de dock at Webbers Falls about a week and we went down and tlaked to my aunt an brothers and sister. De brothers was Sam and Eli. Old Mistress cried jest like any of de rest of us when de boat pull out with dem on it.
Pretty soon all de young Cherokee menfolks all gone off to de War, and de Pins was riding round all de time, and it ain't safe to be in dat part around Webber's Falls so old Master tak us all to Fort Smith where they was a lot of Confederate soldiers.
We camp at dat place a while and old Mistress stay in de town wid some kinfolks. Den old MaSter get three wagons and ox teams and take us all way down on Red River in de Choctaw Nation.
We went by Webber's Falls and filled de wagons. We left de furniture and only took grub and tools and bedding and clothes, cause they wasn't very big wagons and was only single-yoke.
We went on a place in de Red River Bottoms close to Shawneetown and not far from de place where all de wagons crossed over to go into Texas. We was at dat place two years and made two little crops.
One night a runaway negro come scross form Texasa nad he had de blood hounds after him. His britches was all muddy and tore where de hounds had cut him up in de legs when he clumb a tree in de bottoms. He come to our house and Mistress said for us Negroes to ggive him something to eat and we did.
Then up come de man from Texas with de hounds and wid him was young Mr. Joe Vann and my uncle that belong to young Joe. Dey called young Mr. Joe "Little Joe Vann" even after he was grown on account of when he was a little boy before his pappy was killed. His pappy was old Captain "Rich Joe" Vann, and he had been dead ever since long before de War. My uncle belong to old Captain Joe nearly all his life.
Mistress ty to get de man to tell her who de negro belong to so she can buy him, but de man say he can't sell him and he take him on back to Texas wid a chain around his two ankles. Dat was one poor negro dat never go away to de North and I was sorry for him cause I know he must have had a mean master, but none of us Sheppard negroes, I mean the grown ones, tried to get away.
After de War was over, Old Master tell me I am free but he will look out after me cause I am just a little negro and I ain't got no sense. I know he is right, too.
Well, I go ahead, and make me a crop of corn all by myself and then I don't know what to do wid it. I was afraid I would get cheated out of it cause I can't figure and read, so I tell old Master about it and he bought it off'n me.
We never had no school in slavery and it was agin' the law for anybody to even show a negro de letters and girues, so no Cherokee slave could read.
We all come back to de old place and find de negro cabins and barns burned down and de fences all gone and de field in crab grass and cockleburs. But de Big House ain't hurt cepting it need a new roof. De furnitrue is all gone, and some said de soldiers burned it up for firewood. Some officers stayed in de house for a while and tore everything up or took it off.
Master give me over to de National Freedmen's bureau and I was bound out to a Cherokee woman name Lizzie McGee. Then one day one of my uncles name Wash Sheppard come and tried to git me to go live wid him. He say he wanted to git de family all together agin.
He had run off after he was sold and joined de North army and discharged at Fort Scoot in Kansas, and he said lots of freedmen was living close to each other up by Coffeyville in the Coo-ee-scoo-wee District.
I wouldn't go, so he sent Isaac and Joe Vann dat had been two of Old Captain Joe's negroes to talk to me. Isaac had been Young Joe's driver and he told me all about how rich Master Joe was and how he would look after us negroes. Dey kept after me about a year, but I didn't go anyways.
But later on I got a freedman's allotment up in dat part close to Coffeyville, and I lived in Coffeyville a while but I didn't like it in Kansas.
I lost my land trying to live honest and pay my debts. I raised eleven chldren just on de sweat of my hands and none of dem ever tasted anything dat was stole.
Wehn I left Mrs. McGee's I worked about three years for Mr. Sterling Scott and Mr. Roddy Reese. Mr. Reese had a big flock of peafowls dat had belonged to Mr. Scott and I had to take care of dem.
Whitefolks, I would have to go tromp seven miles to Mr. Scott's house two or three times a week to bring back some old peafowl dat had go tout and gone back to de old place!
Poor old master and mistress only lived a few years after de War. Master went plumb blind after he move back to Webber's Falls and so he move up on de Illinois River, about three miles from de Arkasnas, and there old Mistress take de white swelling and die and den he die pretty soon. I went to see dem lots of times and they was always glad to see me.
I would stay around about a week and help em and dey would try to git me to take something but I never would. Dey didn't have much and couldn't make anymore and dem so old. Old Mistress had inherited some property from her pappy and dey had de slave money and when dey turned everything into good money after de War dat stuff only come to about six thousand dollars in good money, she told me. Dat just about lasted em through until dey died, I reckon.
By and by I married Nancy Holdebrand what lived on Greenleaf Creek, bout four miles northwest of Gore. She had belonged to Joe Hildebrand and he was kin to old Steve Hildebrand dat owned de mill on Flint Creek up in de Going Snake District. She was raised up at dat mill, but she was borned in Tennessee before dey come out to de nation. Her master was white, but he had married into de Nation and so she got a freedmen's allotment too. She had some land close to Catoosa and some down on Greenleaf Creek.
We was married at my home in Coffeyville, and she bore me eleven children right. We never had no church in slavery, and no schooling, and you had better not be caught wid a book in your hand even, so I never did go to church hardly any.
Wife belong to de church and all de children too, and I think all should look after saving their souls so as to drive de nail in, and den go about de earth spreading kindness and hoeing de row clean so as to clinch dat nail and make dem safe for Glory
Of course I hear about Abraham Lincoln and he was a great man, but I was told mostly by my children when dey come home from school about him. I always think of my old Master as de one dat freed me, and anyways Abraham Lincoln and none of his North people didn't look fate rme and buy my crop right after I was free like old Master did. Dat was de time dat was the hardest and everything was dark and confusion.
Bill Gould is my "uncle" and that's a very good article he wrote. There are several links to Miskawokett on this site and Salem Quarter (Quaker) historians are currently researching the Nanticoke-Lenape and Underground Railroad connection in New Jersey.
The slaveholding nations i.e Cherokee, Choctaw, Chcikasaw, Creek and Seminole adopted white racists lifestyles including racism, while those folks in the upper south had a different history. It's important to understand that all Indian people should not be judged by the actions of white mixed slavehoiders who controlled the 5 "civilized nations".
As a Friend, (Calgary Monthly Meeting CYM and Germantown Monthly Meeting PYM) I am proud of the role that Indian people played in the anti slavery movement. We should all applaud the fact that Indians were part of the UGRR. For more information on the UGRR I would refer friend to Larry Gara The Undergraound Railroad. I have done a lot of research on the UGRR terminals in Canada West. In fact one of my ancestors came here in 1859 as a "passengers" on the UGRR.
My next book will be on the genealogy of the UGRR refugees in Canada West. My favourite narrative is Henry Bibb who came to Canada from his brutal Cherokee masters and became a newspaper editor. Henry Bibb and Mary Anne Shadd had competing newspapers here during the 1850's.
The other book I'm thinking about documents the Creek Freedmen who emigrated to to Amber Valley Alberta in their case 1900s to escape racism in Oklahoma.
Friends must remember that the enemy is racism and its roots in history. To be in denial as so many slaveholding white mixed tribes have to accept before the healing can begin. The fact that so many white mixed Indians are still in denial is a tragedy. What is more of a tragedy is that folks who practiced slavery and racism after slavery cannot apologize for their racism and reconcile with those they have wronged.
Frankly I believe its time to end the double standard, as a Quaker, a mixed blood and a human being. Its time!
This was part of a series I wrote for a black newspaper in Calgary back in the 90s.I 'm going to develop this article into a book. These folks were victims of racism on both sides of the border. Their story is as yet untold. Racism is racism whether it is Indian against black folks or white folks against Indians. This is a very sad chapter in my country's history, proceeeded by a very sad chapter of your country's history. hy didDenial is not going to reconcile racism on either side of the 49th. Some folks believe that you can enslave people, segregate, them exclude from citizenship in spite of their blood, and that's not racism. Why did Creek Freedmen emigrate to Alberta. Its all about denial in the 5 nations.
As a Quaker I have fought against racism in all its insidious machinations, but everyone is afraid to confront when Indian people are the racists. Why were the so called "civilized" tribes called "civilized", because they adopted white lifeways, including African slavery. These people were not on the UGRR they were escaping racism from whites and Indians in Indian Territory. They were refugess from racism, lynching and segregation who like generation before came to "nestle in the lion's mane" meaning they thought they would be welcomed as the UGRR fugitives were, only to discover that yankee racism had already polluted western Canadians.
Frankly I believe that an apology to all the descendants of Indian racism and slavery is the least that the descendants of those folks who suffered during the 300 years that people enslaved Africans. But the denial is an insult to all people who believe in truth and justice. This community deserves reparations, and the Creek nation should make agenda to this community. I support and endorse reparations for all freedmens descedants. and full treaty right or those tribes who. Those tribes who refuse should be denied any federal benifit.Sorry of some tribes wanted to be white during the 1800, now you have to pay for the privildege. I may upset some members, but you, I'm black in the states. Here I'm just Canadiian. Je' suis canadien dans ma payeee.
BTW Does anyone know Mike "Cherokee "Graham.?
Black Pioneers in Alberta
Settlement in the Amber Valley 1910-1912
The 19th century brought the first major exodus of Black American from the slave south and California. Most of these immigrants returned to the United States following the American Civil War, many volunteered to serve in the Union Army to take up arms for their own and their peoples' liberation. The Reconstruction however, had not fulfilled the promises of providing the former slaves and free Blacks with full citizenship and an end to discrimination. In fact, the end of the Reconstruction signaled the beginning of the segregation and the systematic disenfranchisement of the Black population of the former states of the Confederacy.
In 1907 the Oklahoma Territory, formerly the Indian Territory sought statehood. Oklahoma had a unique black community, many were descendants of slaves of the Creek" tribe one of the "Five Civilized Tribes". The "Five Civilized Tribes" were the native people who had previously lived in the states of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Arkansas who were deported from their land in the 1830's to open up the so-called "Black Belt" region to plantation agriculture (The Black Belt was named for the rich, well watered land, later the term was used to describe the largest concentration of Black slave in the southern states). The black slaves of the Five Civilized Tribes numbering some 4,000 to 5,000. The Creek-Blacks intermarried with Creek Indians and shared the land with their Indian masters. Following the Civil War and the Reconstruction Creek-Blacks received land and many were legally incorporated into the tribe. The integration of the former Creek slaves and their past masters would have proceeded had it not been for the introduction into Oklahoma of new social elements which subsequently disrupted the existing relationships. The movement of freedmen from the old Confederacy brought friction between the Creek-Blacks and the newly arrived freedmen. The other movement that threatened the relative security of the Creek-Blacks was the increase in the white population coming into the Territory.
The whites came into to the Territory following the land boom. They had come from the former slave states that were adjacent to Oklahoma. These newly arrived whites brought their racist views with them. Soon they gained political power in the territory, segregation and the disenfranchisement of all blacks soon followed the pattern of the post Reconstruction south. The Creek-Blacks owned and farmed some of the most valuable land in the territory and white settlers were anxious to get control of their land. Unlike blacks in most of the south at this time, the Creek-Blacks had significant wealth and most important they had put down roots in their land.
In 1907 the Oklahoma Territory sought statehood. This move meant the end of racial equality in Oklahoma. When oil was discovered the Creek-Blacks land became more valuable to white land speculators. The communities sought information on possible immigration to the
western Canadian prairies. The Canadian government was reluctant to alienate the support of the white voters in the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan by encouraging the mass immigration of Blacks from Oklahoma. Following a fact-finding mission to Oklahoma Canadian Immigration Inspector White noted " •.• it would be wise to take such action as would prevent any more (Blacks) from making homes in Canada. There is so much of the Indian blood in the coloured man of Oklahoma, carrying with it all the evil traits of a life of rapine and murder, that will not easily assimilate with agrarian life,,1
By 1910 the first Oklahoma immigrants began arriving in western Canada in spite of the clear opposition of the government of Canada. One of the primary reasons for the exodus was the introduction of the "Grandfather Clause" (a statue that stated that men could vote only if their grandfather had voted prior to the civil War). This type of law was used by Southern states to reduce or eliminate the black franchise which was guaranteed by 15th Amendment in 1875. Although the immigration of Blacks was officially discouraged by the government, blacks were encouraged to immigrate by the massive advertising efforts (directed at white farmers). The first Creek-Black immigrants came from Wellston, Oklahoma. One such family was the Murphy family. The Murphy family travelled first to Kansas City where they received authorization from the Canadian government agent, then north to the border at Emerson, Manitoba, then northwest to Edmonton by rail and finally north to Amber Valley some 200 km. north of Edmonton. Soon other Oklahoma families the Murphy family's trek from Oklahoma to their homesteads in the Amber Valley. crossing the border was not always simple as this account of one of the original Amber Valley settlers, Martha Murphy recounts It ••• when we got to the border they told me that I had to have $50.00 cash to cross. We didn't know about that when we left and I had just enough to pay my fare. Several others were in the same fix, and some had to go back "2
The Murphys, Edwards, and other families laid the foundation of what was to become a substantial community by 1910.The Amber Valley was a rugged and forbidding region for farmers. It had a very short growing season and most of the land was covered in dense bush which had to be cleared before crops could be planted. Settlers built log cabins from using the timber cut to clear the fields.
Opposition to Black immigration increased both in Calgary and Edmonton. Unfortunately most white settlers were as infected with
1Report, W.J. White to F. Oliver, September 13, 1910
2Interview with J.D Edwards,
Stewart Grow, Blacks of the Amber Valley, Canadian Ethnic Studies 1975
American racism, while not a virulent as in the South, but just as damaging to its victims. This excerpt from the Calgary, Alberta (May 5, 1911) from the Edmonton Board of Trade to then Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier.
"That this board of trade views with very serious concern the influx of Negro settlers into Central Alberta which in increasing with alarming rapidity, and if unchecked, promises in the near future to have a disastrous influence on the welfare and development of this fair province"3
A further example of white racist opposition to Black immigration also found in the Calgary Albertan April 21, 1911. Clearly the writer was influenced by the popular racist propaganda in the United States.
"Ah'll pilot 5,000 niggers into British American soil before the summah goes suh" I 5cUA. Col. Tom J. Harris, of Sapulpa Oklahoma, "M'll put a niggers and a team of horses on every quartah section of land I can get my hands on in Alberta, British Columbia and Saskatchewan. 114
Some white racists urged the governments of the province and Canada to restrict immigration and to segregate Black settlers already in the province. Most white Albertan at the time had themselves immigrated from the western states and brought their racist views with them. This intolerance continues even today here in Alberta, through the xenophobic, racist• and intolerant rhetoric of such groups as the Aryan Nation and to a lesser extent through the anti¬ immigrant/racist right wing political movements based in Western Canada today.
The black immigrants were undeterred by white opposition. Although some immigrants returned to Oklahoma most stayed in Amber Valley and started to build a community in the wilderness. Like in all frontier communities much of the energy was devoted to the basic necessities of life, building homes, farming etc. The people of Amber Valley built a school, post office and churches. By 1913 then province gave the community authorization to start a school. The residents set up a local school board, hired a teacher, Nimrod Toles, a local community leader, for the the sum of $390.00 per year and expanded the school from 8 grades to 10
and from one classroom to two. Most of the men of Amber Valley listed their occupation as farmers, however many supplemented their incomes by working in the towns and working for the Hudson Bay Company as freight haulers and teamsters.
Life was difficult at best on the frontier. J.D. Edwards describes the clearing land (the Homestead Law required that homesteaders to clear 30 acres within three years).
3Calgary Albertan May 5, 1911 4Calgary Alberta April 21, 1911
It ••• the sand flies were the worst. They would crawl in your ears and nose and around your eyes, and bite and torment you to death. Most of the time we had to wear mosquito netting reaching from our hats to our waists"S
The Amber Valley community was concern about the lack of medical care 1n the community. The influenza epidemic of 1918 was particularly serious and took a great toll. All was not bleak and grim in the community, the resident were very involved in sports. Amber Valley produced one of the best baseball teams in the province and Amber Valley young men were excellent boxers, in the 1920's several Amber Valley boxers won provincial and even national titles. The 1938 voters list included some 83 names of electors in Amber Valley and nearby Donatville. World War II affected Amber Valley as it did most of rural Alberta. The young men left the community and many did not return. The community's isolation ended with the construction of roads and highways. Amber Valley's School District was amalgamated into the larger Athabasca District.
The Creek-Blacks of Oklahoma made a significant impact on the settlement and development of Northern Alberta in spite of the resistance they faced from white Albertans. Their community grew and prospered in the wilderness. Like those Black immigrants who had settled in British Columbia, the Maritimes and Ontario they brought their institutions, the churches, schools and planted them in their adopted land.
Black Canadian history is an integral part of the history of Canada. Black immigrants from the United States, the Caribbean and Africa have made invaluable contributions to the Canadian nation building.
It is particularly important when the very essence of Canadian nationhood is being threatened. We have a rich and vibrant heritage which must be preserved for our children and shared with all Canadians to combat the forces of racism, intolerance, ignorance and bigotry that are now rearing their ugly heads as they did in 1911.
For more information on Black settlement in Western Canada consult Robin Winks, Blacks in Canada (1971) I Harold Martin Troper I ttThe Creek-Negroes of Oklahoma and Canadian Immigration" (Canadian Historical Review 1974) I Stewart Grow, The Blacks of Amber Valley" (Canadian Ethnic Studies 1972) D. Killian, Go and Do Some Great Thing (1979) and Cheryl Foggo, Pourin Down Rain (1990).
Interview J.D Edwards (Stewart Grow)