The Gullah Wars

The Gullah Wars – [forumbiodiversity.com] – Some Gullah slaves managed to escape from coastal South Carolina and Georgia south into the Florida peninsula. In the 18th century Florida was a vast tropical wilderness, covered with jungles and malaria-ridden swamps. The Spanish claimed Florida, but they used it only as a buffer between the British Colonies and their own settled territories farther south. They wanted to keep Florida as a dangerous wilderness frontier, so they offered a refuge to escaped slaves and renegade Indians from neighboring South Carolina and Georgia. The Gullahs were establishing their own free settlements in the Florida wilderness by at least the late 1700s. They built separate villages of thatched-roof houses surrounded by fields of corn and swamp rice, and they maintained friendly relations with the mixed population of refugee Indians. In time, the two groups came to view themselves as parts of the same loosely organized tribe, in which blacks held important positions of leadership. The Gullahs adopted Indian clothing, while the Indians acquired a taste for rice and appreciation for Gullah music and folklore. But the Gullahs were physically more suited to the tropical climate and possessed an indispensable knowledge of tropical agriculture; and, without their assistance, the Indians would not have been able to cope effectively with the Florida environment. The two groups led an independent life in the wilderness of northern Florida, rearing several generations of children in freedom—and they recognized the American settlers and slave owners as their common enemy. The Americans called the Florida Indians “Seminoles,” from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning “wild” or “untamed”; and they called the runaway Gullahs “Seminole Negroes” or “Indian Negroes.” Modern historians have called these free Gullah frontiersmen the “Black Seminoles.”

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