The story of John Horse and the Black Seminoles of Florida has been largely untold for their accomplishments creating the largest haven in the American South for runaway slaves. In a more profound way than Nat Turner’s rebellion, Horse led the largest slave revolt in United States history. He was at the forefront to secure the only emancipation of rebellious slaves before the Civil War. He was a leader in what formed the largest mass exodus of slaves across the United States and, ultimately, to Mexico. I have to say this is surely a little known black history fact.
John Horse was a Black Seminole and a military adviser to Chief Osceola, and a leader of Black Seminole units fighting against United States troops during the Seminole Wars in Florida. Horse was born around 1812 in Florida as a Seminole slave. He assumed the surname of his owner, Charles Cavallo, who may also have been his father. “Horse” is the meaning of Cavallo. His mother may have been of mixed African-Indian parentage and was possibly owned by Charles Cavallo as well. However, not much is known about Charles Cavallo.
Horse was thought to be born the same year the War of 1812 broke out between the United States and the Great Britain. When General Andrew Jackson invaded the area, he scattered the tribal peoples and their black allies. The First Seminole War occurred during Horse’s childhood. During the Second Seminole War of 1835 to 1842, Horse served as a sub-chief of the Seminoles and negotiated with the U.S Army.
Horse was given his freedom by General Worth for his service to the U.S. in the latter days of the Second Seminole War in Florida. Horse had taken advantage of General Thomas Jesup’s promise of freedom to escaped slaves who would surrender and accept removal to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi.
Horse’s wife and children were also removed to Indian Territory but did not gain freedom by his service, so they were at risk from slave traders. With other Seminole, Horse was shipped from Tampa Bay to New Orleans and then to the Indian Territory, which is now Oklahoma. There he settled with the Seminole and Black Seminole, who had accepted removal. In the Indian Territory, Horse rose as a leader of the Black Seminole.
He accepted a job as an interpreter for the US Army. They asked him to help persuade remaining insurrectionists in Florida to surrender and relocate to Indian Territory. Horse returned to Florida in 1839 to recruit people for removal. He returned to Indian Territory in 1842 along with some 120 Seminole, who had been captured and deported.
Conflict arose as the Seminoles had been placed on the Creek people reservation from which the Seminole had earlier established their independence. Many Creek’s were slaveholders, and they raided the Black Seminole settlements to kidnap people for enslavement. In 1844, Horse traveled to Washington DC to seek a separate land grant for the Seminole. After failing to secure a treaty, Horse returned to Indian Territory. Horse traveled back to Washington to lobby General Jesup, for a separate reservation. Jesup granted the Fort Gibson area to the Seminole.
During Horse’s time in Washington, then Attorney General John Mason ruled that as most of the Black Seminole were descendants of fugitive slaves. Thus legally still considered born into slavery, he could not protect them from slave raiders. More than 280 Black Seminoles, including Horse’s family, were at risk of being captured for sale as slaves. He died en-route to Mexico City in 1882, intending to try to gain more land rights for his people in northern Mexico. Several hundred descendants of Black Seminoles, known as Mascogos, still reside in Coahuila.
The video below tells a more detailed view of the life of this “hero.” And that’s my thought provoking perspective…