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Indian Voices • May 2011


The Bahamian- Seminole Connection A Brief History


While fleeing from the U.S. military in the swamps of Florida, groups of Black Seminoles embarked upon what can only be described as a heroic migra- tion to the Bahamas, which began as early as 1819, with the majority of immigrants arriving between 1821 and 1837.


New exciting evidence is emerging as archaeologists are searching for the remains of a “maroon” (Black


Seminole) com- munity of for- mer enslaved Africans and Seminole


Indians along the Manatee River on the west coast of


Florida (“Looking for Angola” http://www.lookingforangola.com/). They fought two wars against the United States in the early 1800s before their set- tlement was destroyed. A Lower Creek Indian war party, possibly at the behest of General Andrew Jackson, looted and burned their homes, scattering the sur- vivors across the Florida peninsula. This exodus from Angola on Florida’s Gulf Coast was in the same year that Black Seminoles arrived at Red Bays on Andros Island in the Bahamas, where their


descendants still live today and their legacy lives on in local history. Initially classified in official British documents as “slaves” and detained in Nassau for one year, the Black Seminoles were eventually allowed to return to their landing place at Red Bays, Andros Island, to live as free people. The late Elsie Clews Parsons reports in a folklore publication that “from about 1830 to 1836, from the Florida everglades region, Negroes with Indian blood migrated to Andros ... The Indian descendants are located for the most part, however, at Nicolls Town, and my stay there was brief.’’ Miss Parsons lists, among her folktale informants at the lat- ter place, two schoolboys, Samuel L. and W. S. Bowlegs, and remarks that “Billy Bowlegs was once the vernacular on Andros for the Seminole Indian immi- grant.” She also mentions customs among the Andros islanders which have also been reported among the Seminole Negroes.


Shelley Draper of the internet publi- cation, sunherald.com, reports in her article “Sarasota County’s underground railroad” of 02/22/06 ( http://www.sun- herald.com): “ Today, residents of Red Bays in the Bahamas, still tell tales of their ancestors coming to the island in canoes.”


Documents show that the Seminoles


in Andros were an indus- trious people with a strong Christian faith. It was reported by the col- lector of Customs, Mr. Winer Bethel, in 1828, to the customs office in London, that the group living at Red Bays, Andros, ate “fish, conch, and crab.” They also culti- vated “Indian corn, plan- tains, yams, potatoes and peas…” as well as


engaged in basket weaving and spong- ing. (National Archives, Nassau, Bahamas)


By 1831, the Seminole settlers had expanded their economic activities and were depicted as living comfortably hav- ing “made considerable money by felling timber, cutting dye woods, gathering sponge and picking up wrecked proper- ty, and several of them through their industry and good management pur- chased themselves small vessels…” One of the leaders of this group was a man known by the name of “White Feather.” In order to adapt to the Bahamian way of life, he took on the name of Peter Bethel after Mr. Winer Bethel. This was my Great-great-grandfather. Throughout the generations of my ancestors, Seminole traditions and way of life was passed on. This is also reflect- ed in the food preparation. Now, to


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honor White Feather and all those who fought hard and traveled far for free- dom, we are bringing the best of the best in Bahamian-Seminole cuisine to you with our White Feather Bahamian- Seminole Soul Food. The Bahamian descendants of those brave Seminoles who settled in Andros almost 200 years ago need to know and reclaim their his- tory. Bahamian Seminoles and the Seminole Nation of Florida and Oklahoma are brothers and sisters and need to celebrate this kinship and work together for even higher heights and deeper depths in God’s love and grace. Black Seminole History has been sup- pressed over many years. However, that which is done or kept in the dark must be brought to a marvelous light. Black Seminole heroism and contribution to the evolution of a better society must be acknowledged. To God be the Glory, for He has done great things and continues to do so.


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