Six free black towns in Florida
Wherever slavery has existed, the enslaved have endeavored to escape to freedom. Under Spanish rule, Florida was a destination for freedom seekers escaping plantations in Georgia, the Carolinas and Alabama to establish communities of their own prior to the Civil War. Though long overlooked and underrepresented, these communities shaped the Florida we know today as much as anything else in the state's history. Here are the stories of six of these forgotten communities.
Meaning “many ponds” in the Mikasuki language, the town of Pilaklikaha was established by Black Seminoles in 1813. Many were descendants of enslaved Africans who escaped to Spanish Florida from American plantations. With a population of one hundred, it was the largest and most prosperous Black Seminole community in Florida at the time. Pilaklikaha was characterized by timber, thatch-and-daub residences, corn cribs, and fences. Residents cultivated rice, beans, melons, pumpkins, and peanuts, and also herded cattle and horses.
Pilaklikaha was also known as Abraham’s Old Town. Abraham was a well respected and skilled Seminole interpreter who fled to the area after escaping slavery in Pensacola around 1826. A counselor for Chief Micanopy, he accompanied several important Seminole chiefs to meet with the President in Washington, D.C. Several of Micanopy’s wives also lived in Pilaklikaha. Centrally located at the crossroads of several Native American trails, Pilaklikaha was a short distance from where the Dade Massacre took place in 1835. Weeks after its residents fled, the town of Pilaklikaha was destroyed by the United States Army on March 30, 1836. Many of its residents, including Abraham, were forced to relocate to Indian Territory as a part of the Trail of Tears.
Boggy (Kettle) Island
Boggy Island was a Black Seminole village settled around 1814 by Central African slaves from Kongo who had escaped from coastal plantations in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Florida. Associated with Sitarkey, escaped slaves sought out this remote island in the middle of the Withlacoochee River as a haven for freedom. Residents of the isolated but fertile Boggy Island cultivated corn, rice, beans, squash, and sugar cane, and raised horses, cattle, hogs, and other livestock. In addition, knowing English as well as the Creek and Mikasuki languages of the Seminole, the freedom seekers of Boggy Island established a niche as interpreters between the two adversaries. During the Second Seminole War, the inhabitants deserted Boggy Island ahead of a U.S. Army incursion on the morning of June 11, 1840, never to return. Now known as Kettle Island, the location of this former 19th century village is part of the Jumper Creek Wildlife Management Area.
Buckra Woman’s Town
The Buckra Woman was said to be one of the wealthiest women in Florida during the mid-19th century. She owned extensive cattle operations using Black Seminole cowboys (right). Her son was Chief Billy Bowlegs (left). (Wikipedia)
“Buckra” is a Gullah word meaning a white person, master, or boss, sometimes used in an uncomplimentary manner. In this case, it referred to a powerful Alachua Seminole woman and the Black Seminole town that paid tribute to her. Buckra Woman either owned or served as guardian over freedom seekers who had escaped from plantations along coastal Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, and the St. Johns River. Said to be the niece of leading Seminole chief Ahaya, also known as Cowkeeper, and the sister of King Payne and Bowlegs (Bolek), she owned an extensive cattle operation using black and Seminole cowhunters near present day Fort Meade in Polk County.
While she called the town Tobasa or Wahoo, its black inhabitants would have likely had their own name for their settlement. Buckra Woman’s Town was established in 1823 after moving south and inland to escape Andrew Jackson, and it lasted until the Second Seminole War (1835 – 1842). By the time the South Carolina cavalry reached the settlement, it had been abandoned as residents disappeared further into South Florida’s wilderness. Buckra Woman’s son Holata Mikko, or Billy Bowlegs, was a veteran of the Second Seminole War and a leading chief during the Third Seminole War (1855 – 1858), which eventually became known as the Billy Bowlegs War.
Article by Ennis Davis, AICP. Contact Ennis at email@example.com.