The Negro Abraham
Kenneth Wiggins Porter
Abraham, a Black Seminole Leader in the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
The Indians called him "Souanaffe Tustenukke," a title indicating membership
in the highest of the three ranks of war leaders.
He is wearing typical Seminole dress and holding a rifle.
One of the most remarkable personalities produced by the African race in this country before general emancipation was an illiterate runaway
Abraham, or Abram, was of middle age when, in the early years
of the Seminole War, he first became a figure of national importance, having
been born, probably, between 1787 and 1791. Our knowledge of his ancestry, entirely, and of his early life, almost as much so, is derived from inference.
He was a full-blooded Negro,2 who in his youth, had been a slave in Pensacola to Dr. Sierra, but who, despite his residence on Spanish soil and his
Since he was a city Negro, the presumption is that he was a
domestic servant of some sort, and this probability is strengthened by the
universally ascribed to him not merely of intelligence, but also of fluency, courtesy, and even courtliness. "He always smiles, and his words
flow like oil. His conversation is soft and low, but very distinct, with a most genteel emphasis,” commented a careful observer,
Perhaps these varying descriptions may be reconciled to
describe Abraham as a full-blooded Negro, of somewhat more than average height,
but strongly built, with an intelligent face, a distorted right eye, and conspicuously polished manners. How did it happen that one who, as “a lad,”
meaning, no doubt, a young man, had been a slave, probably a domestic servant, in the city of Pensacola, should, when we next encounter trustworthy
notice of him, several years later, be a confidential “slave” of Mikonopi, head-chief of the Seminoles, far to the south and east, near the headwaters of
the Withlacoochee? What circumstances caused him to flee civilization and seek refuge among a comparatively barbarous people? We cannot
answer positively ; we can only draw inferences from the known events of the time and place.
In 1812 war had broken out between the United States and Great
Britain, and in 1814 the conflict approached the shores of supposedly neutral
Spanish Florida. Late in July, seeking bases and support for an attack on New Orleans, a British force of something over a hundred men under Maj.
Edward Nicholls, with two sloops of war, occupied Pensacola, hoisted the British flag beside the Spanish, issued a threatening and consoling
proclamation to the people of Louisiana and Kentucky, and began to recruit and arm both the Red Stick Creekrefugees from Gen. Jackson,
and the runaway slaves from the United States, many of whom were in the vicinity. He also swelled his scanty force by enlistingand drilling a number of
slaves belonging to residents of Pensacola, to whom he offered freedom and free lands in the British West Indies. Among these recruits, very probably,
was young Abraham, and when Gen. Jackson stormed Pensacola on November 7, and the British, who had withdrawn to Ft. Barrancas with their Indian
and Negro allies, blew up and evacuated the fortifications on the following day and sailed for the Apalachicola, he was probably one of the “about
one hundred negro slaves’’ who were landed on the eastern bank of that river, about fifteen miles from the mouth, at a place called Prospect Bluff,
and employed in building a fort which was called British Post and used by Nicholls as a headquarters for his negotiations with Seminole and Red Stick
Indians and with the runaway Negroes from the United States in whom the region already abounded. Nicholls remained at the fort even after the
Treaty of Ghent, negotiating with the Seminole chief Bowlegs and frequently writing letters on his behalf to the United States Indian agent, but early
in the summer of 1815 finally set sail for London, taking with him his troops and a few Red Stick chiefs, but leaving behind him most of the Red
Sticks, all the Negroes, and great quantities of arms and ammunition, including ten pieces of artillery.
The Red Sticks soon moved off to the eastward, but 300
Negroes, including women and children, established themselves in the fort under
the strict discipline
of a Negro chief named Garcon or Garcia, and were joined by about twenty renegade Choctaw and a few Seminoles from Bowlegs’ town on the Suwanee.
They summoned the thousand or more runaway Negroes then estimated to be in Florida to settle under the protection offered by the guns o fthe fort,
and soon their settlements were extending fifty miles up and down the river, causing such alarm to Georgia planters that Gen. Jackson ordered that the fort
be destroyed, regardless of its location on Spanish territory, and the Negroes “restored to their rightful owners.” By July, 1816, the Negro Fort was invested from
the river by a little fleet of two gunboats and two transports and on land by United States troops assisted by slavehunting Creeks. On the 17th a boat’s crew from
one of the gun-boats was nearly annihilated by ambushed Negroes, but on the 27th, after a brisk exchange of artillery fire, one of the gun-boats succeeded
in planting a red-hot shot in the fort’s magazine, which was blown into the air, killing 270 of the garrison and mortally injuring nearly all the others. The Negro
chief Garcon and the Choctaw chief, who were among the few survivors, were turned over to the Creeks, who shot Garcon, scalped the Choctaw chief alive,
and subsequently stabbed him to death. The Negro prisoners were returned to slavery.
This destruction, however, extended only to the garrison, who
seem to have been almost entirely Spanish-speaking Negroes from Pensacola.
refugees from Georgia plantations, who were settled along the river, escaped into the forest at the approach of the blockading force, and were able to reach King Bowlegs’
villages on the Suwanee, already a resort for fugitive Negroes. If we are right in our assumption that Abraham was among the Negroes who left Pensacola with the
British and settled on Prospect Bluff, we can account for his escape from the general destruction which befell the garrison by imagining that he hadearlier left the fort
and settled among the possibly more congenial English-speaking runaways.
Abraham, whenever and however he reached Bowlegs’ town on the Suwanee, became, on his arrival, the “slave” either of Bowlegs himself or ofthe heir-apparent,
. . . An Indian would almost as soon sell his child as his
slave." The Negroes were thus in the position of dependents, or
proteges, of the Indians, rather than
that of slaves, the understanding being that in re-turn for a tribute of corn and other agricultural products from the Negro, the Indian master would protect him
against being claimed as a slave by any white man. The Negroes not merely lived apart from their masters, in their own villages-an evidence of independence which
they greatly prized-frequently possessed large herds, and were under no supervision by their masters or patrons, but also dipped their spoons into the sofky pot with
their lord and his family whenever they happened to be at his home, habitually carried arms, went into battle along with the Seminole warriors, under their
own captains, and, save for the slight annual tribute, were under no greater subjection to the chiefs than were the Seminole tribesmen themselves.
The relationship might be described as one of primitive democratic feudalism, involving no essential personal inequality. General Gaines spoke with approximate
accuracy, when, avoiding the more common term of “slaves,” he referred to “the Seminole Indians with their black vassals and allies."
The Indians found the Negroes useful not merely as tributary
agriculturists and auxiliaries in battle, but also as interpreters and
counsellors. Their knowledge of
European languages, their better acquaintance with the mysterious ways of the white men, gave them an advantage over the less sophisticated Indians, who came to
depend on them for advice to such an extent that white observers began to say that the Indians were ruled by the Negroes and that the Seminole government was
actually a doulocracy, a government by slaves. It was in this situation that Abraham became an element, and to its development an important contributor.His early
life among the Indians is obscure. If our assumption that he was one of the Pensacola Negroes who left that city with the British, and subsequently fled to the Suwanee
from the destruction of the Negro Fort, is correct, he must have been at Bowlegs’ Town at the time of the Battle of the Suwanee, in April, 1818, when the Negroes,
after most of the Indians had fled, though hopelessly outnumbered put up to the inexorable advance of Andrew Jackson’s army a brief but desperate resistance which
won them the admiration of some of their enemies. Perhaps it was on this occasion that he won the war-title of “Souanaffe Tustenukke” which he was using twenty years
later, and which, although interpreted as “Shawnee Warrior,” might perhaps signify “Suwanee Warrior." Perhaps he was the “Indian Negro, named Abraham,” whom
Harmon H. Holliman “employed. . . to go into the nation for the purpose of bringing in . . . a Negro woman and her child,” who had been plundered by the Seminoles
from Georgia. On his return to “Hope Hill on the St. John's river, about three miles south of Volutia,” in March, 1822, he announced his arrival by a “loud whoop."
He was probably by this time living at the Negro town of Pilaklikaha, occupied chiefly by “runaway slaves from Georgia who have put themselves under the
protection of Micanopy, or some other chiefs,” and who possessed fine fields and good houses. An officer who visited it in September, 1826, remarked that the
“three principal men . . . bear the distinguished names of July, August, and Abraham. . . shrewd, intelligent fellows, and to the highest degree obsequious."
The first unmistakable episode of importance in his career was his accompanying as interpreter to Washington in 1825-1826 a delegation of Seminoles headed by
his master Mikonopi, who had been principal chief at least since 1823 and probably for two or three years earlier. On his return he was liberated “in consequence
of his many and faithful services and great merits,”
He had already been rewarded by being given for a wife “the widow of the former chief of the nation,”25 presumably a woman of Negro, or part- Negro blood, and a slave,
The United States government had determined to make room for
white settlers and prevent Indian wars by removing the tribes east of the
Mississippi to the Indian
Territory, a region including much of the area now occupied by the states of Oklahoma and Kansas. The Seminole, alone of the Five Civilized Tribes of the south,
put up a violent and protracted resistance to removal. It was natural that they should object to leaving the forests and swamps of their fatherland for the unfamiliar
prairies and more severe climate of the Indian Territory-a land, too, which bordered on the territory of wild and potentially hostile Indians. The reluctance of the
Negroes to depart was intensified by the fact that as the agriculturists of the nation they had a special attachment for the fields they had cleared and tilled.
The unwillingness of the Seminole Indians to be domiciled, as was the plan, with and under the control of their kinsmen the Creeks, from whom they had seceded
nearly a century before, was an important consideration. But the decisive factor was the presence and peculiar position of the Negroes. Some of the Seminole
Negroes, such as Abraham himself, were comparatively recent runaways from servitude among the whites, and when Indians and Negroes should be assembled at a
central point, under military supervision, for transportation to the west, white slaveowners would not lose this opportunity to reclaim their human property.
Even legally-purchased Seminole slaves were not immune from this danger, for it was an old trick for white men to lay claim to Seminole Negroes-sometimes after
having themselves just sold them!-and their demands were usually accepted by white authorities. Negroes among the Seminoles, furthermore, were frequentlythe wives,
husbands, children, of Indians.
The Seminole Indians, strongly influenced by the Negroes,
among whom Abraham was the leading figure, determined to place every obstacle
possible in the way of
their removal. On May 9, 1832, however, their principal men were induced to sign the treaty of Payne’s Landing, which provided that a delegation of Seminoles should
visit the Indian Territory and report on its suitability as a new home. This treaty further provided that “their faithful interpreters Abraham and Cudjo” in case of removal
“shall receive two hundred dollars each, . . . in full remuneration for the improvements to be abandoned on the lands now cultivated by them.”
“Abraham, Interpreter, his X mark” appears as a witness.Maj. Ethan Allen Hitchcock, in a letter of Oct. 22, 1840, asserts that Abraham was bribed,by the insertion
“Micanopy owned many negroes,” begins one of the most careful analyses of the situation, “who partook of the feeling exhibited around them. Hisprincipal slave Abraham,
was the most noted, and for a time an influential man in the nation. He dictated to those of his own color, who to a great degree controlled their masters. They were a most
cruel and malignant enemy. For them to surrender would be servitude to the whites; but to retain an open warfare secured to them plunder, liberty, and importance.
Publicly, Abraham, during the two or three years of controversy which elapsed between the signing of the Treaty of Ft. Gibson and the outbreak of open hostilities, confined
Near the end of 1835, when it had been announced that the Seminoles must assemble for emigration by the first of the next year or be deported forcibly, Abraham was
preparing to throw off his mask. Some chiefs, reluctantly convinced that resistance was hopeless, prepared to yield, and began to sell off their livestock preparatory
to departure. The principal man in the emigration party was Charley, or Chalo, Emathla (Trout Leader), an able and public-spirited chief whose example was likely to
be influential. Some of the leaders of the faction militantly opposed to emigration, Osceola, a young Red Stick Creek who, though not a chief, exerted great influence
particularly upon the young warriors, Holata Micco (Billy Bowlegs), a nephew of Mikonopi, and Abraham, determined that he must be made an example, and on
Nov. 26, 1835, “a party of about four hundred warriors . . . proceeded to the residence” of the doomed man. Abraham, at the last moment, perhaps not having previously
realized that more than a warning was intended at this time, endeavored to induce Osceola to spare his life, and succeeded in getting the leaders to delay and hold a council,
but his intervention was ultimately futile and Osceola and others proceeded to waylay and shoot down the chief as he was returning from selling his cattle.
Abraham, who was also sometimes known as The Prophet, and seems to have been imbued with the religious enthusiasm of the time, stirred up excitement among
the Indians and Negroes, particularly the latter, by assuring them that “God was in their favor.” He prophesied concerning General Wiley Thompson, the Seminole agent,
that “he would be killed by Indians while walking about his place.” The general was actually put to death at the beginning of the war by Osceola and some of his followers
while enjoying a stroll and a cigar after dinner.
When the war finally began with the ambushing and annihilation of Major Dade’s command of more than a hundred men, Dec. 28, 1835, Abraham was for over a
year one of the leading war-spirits. He was said to be in personal command of eighty warriors,
Abraham, as regards to emigration, belonged before the war to the left-wing militant element of the Seminole tribe; afterwards, however, when the emigration
party had seceded and taken refuge with the whites, his position among the hostiles became somewhat to the right of center so far as intransigency was concerned.
This was partly, on doubt, because of his association with Mikonopi. His position in the tribe depended largely on his influence over the head-chief, and even Abraham
was able to move the sluggish Mikonopi only so far. It was primarily, however, in all probability, a matter of temperament and information. Abraham had been
to Washington and knew the white man’s power. He was consequently aware that the Seminole could not hope actually to defeat the United States government.
He did hope, however, that they could put up such a fight that the government would permit the Indians and Negroes to remain in Florida, even on a more
restricted reservation, particularly since there was actually as yet no pressure of settlers on the land occupied by the Seminole. Abraham had also been to the
Indian Territory and knew that, with all its disadvantages, it was not a bad country; he was consequently also prepared, as an alternative, to accept emigration,
provided that satisfactory assurances were given that transportation to the West would not be employed as a device to enslave the Seminole Negroes. He was
therefore always willing to negotiate with the whites, in the hope that one or the other of the above arrangements could be attained without further fighting,
but to that end his plan was to resist so fiercely in the meantime that the whites would be discouraged into granting satisfactory terms.
Abraham, accordingly, on March 6, 1836, during the siege of Camp Izard on the banks of the Withlacoochee, was instrumental in negotiating a truce
with General Gaines which might have resulted in a permanent arrangement had not the Seminoles been fired on, through a misunderstanding, by members
of another officer’s force which arrived during a parley. John Caesar, chief Negro of King Philip, Mikonopi’s brother-in-law, chief of the St. Johns river Seminoles,
and second in authority only to Mikonopi himself, was also concerned in the negotiations and, indeed, probably initiated them, though this may have been after
consultation with Abraham.
After nearly a year of hostilities the Seminoles were still more than holding their own. The whites had been repulsed time and time again, from the Withlacoochee
crossing, in the Big Wahoo swamp; one large detachment had been wiped out. The “celebrated negro Abraham and many others had been prophesying . . .
that God was in their favor; . . . they had lost only twenty warriors during the whole war,’’ whereas the whites had lost five times that number in the single
action which began the war.
In the sharp fight which followed, the Seminoles suffered heavily, not so much in dead and wounded as in prisoners and materiel, for the whites captured their
baggage-train with their provisions and munitions and a large number of women and children, particularly Negroes. Abraham later said that he lost most of his
property. “at the Cypress. . . . I lose most every ting-all my powder and blankets; a hundred dollars in silver; pots; kettles -every ting”-including, in addition, his
freedom papers and his little boy’s favorite pony.
General Jesup felt that the Seminoles now might be ready to treat and, having captured one of Mikonopi’s principal Negroes, named Ben, along with his wife and
all his children, sent him out to the hostiles with the offer of a liberal treaty, and on Jan. 31 “Abraham made his appearance bearing a white flag on a small stick
which he had cut in the woods, and walked up to the tent of General Jesup with perfect dignity and composure. He stuck the staff of his flag in the ground, made
a salute or bow with his hand, without bending his body, and then waited for the advance of the General with the most complete self-possession. He . . . since
stated that he expected to be hung, but concluded to die, if he must, like a man, but that he would make one more effort to save his people.” General Jesup, however,
convinced him of the government’s good faith and, with great difficulty, Abraham succeeded on February 3 and 18 in bringing in Jumper, Alligator, and other Indian
and Negro chiefs, for peace negotiations. Eventually, “largely through the negotiations of the negro, Abraham, on March 6, 1837 at Camp Dade, a treaty was concluded
between Jesup and the Seminole chiefs Jumper and Holatoochee claiming to represent Mikanopy. . . . By the terms of this treaty the Indians agreed to cease their
hostilities, come to Tampa Bay by April 10, and board the transports for the West. The chief Mikanopy was to be surrendered as a hostage for the performance of their
promises. However, to induce them to accept these terms, General Jesup was obliged to agree to the one condition that the Indians had insisted on from the beginning;
and that was that their allies, the free negroes, should also be secure in their persons and property; and ‘that their negroes, their bona fide property shall accompany them
to the West.’ "
Abraham was active for the next month as interpreter in various subsequent councils, in using his influence to get other Indians and Negroes to come in, and, always
with an eye to the main chance, in supplying the officers with such game as wild turkeys, one noted as weighing seventeen pounds, and in rounding up his cattle and
bringing them in for sale to the United States. He was also able to reclaim for his “little boy about six years of age ; and a beautiful boy he is,” who, according to the
officer commentator, “had hardly ever seen a white person before,” the pony which had been captured at the Tohopkaliga during the Battle of Hatchee Lustee or
the Big Cypress. Abraham probably suffered a loss during this period in the death of his father-in-law, whoever he was. He explained his delay in arriving at Ft.
Armstrong, where he was expected by the morning of April 1, by stating : “I waited for Wann and Wann’s father; and my father-in-law was sick; and had to be carried,
two miles, on the black people’s shoulders. I 'fraid he won’t live to get to Tampa.” No aged Negro who can be identified as Abraham’s father-in-law appears on any of
the lists, so probably his fears were justified. It is possible that “Wann’s father” and “my father-in-law” refer to the same person. “Wann” or “Juan”, whose name on the
printed lists appears incorrectly as “Inos,” was one of Mikonopi’s principal Negroes and commanded the Negro forces on the Withlacoochee earlier in the war, possibly
being field-commander under Abraham.
Unfortunately, however, General Jesup, influenced by the success of the negotiations and under severe pressure from slave-holders, entered into clandestine arrangements
with Coi Hajo, second chief of the St. Johns river Seminoles, for the return to their owners of Negroes who had joined the Seminoles during the war, and the appearance of
slave-owners, seeking to reclaim their human property, in the emigration-camp at Tampa bay, caused, first, the gradual disappearance into the swamps of many of the
Indians and Negroes who had assembled there and, eventually, late in May or early in June, resulted in a mass-stampede of most of the remainder, accompanied by the
kidnapping by the militant young chiefs Osceola and Coacoochee (Wild Cat) and the Negro-Indian subchief John Cavallo, of the hostages who had been yielded by the
Seminoles for the carrying out of the Camp Dade treaty. Abraham, however, and other principal Negro chiefs, remained in the hands of the troops and General Jesup,
angered by the renewal of a war which he had thought safely ended, announced: “The Seminole negro prisoners are now the property of the public. I have promised
Abraham the freedom of his family if he be faithful to us, and I shall certainly hang him if he will not be faithful. . .” The Seminoles gave no evidence at this time of
intending to renew hostilities, and the sickly summer season was on, which prevented the troops from then taking overt action.
Abraham could hardly have remained uninfluenced by General Jesup’s promise of freedom to himself and family, particularly when coupled with a threat of hanging,
but he had already committed himself, and won over most of the principal chiefs, particularly head-chief Mikonopi and his brotherin- law and counsellor Jumper,
to a policy of emigration under the terms of the Ft. Dade treaty. He may have regretted its later modification in a sense hostile to the runaway plantation-slaves, but the
in-terests of the Seminole Negroes of long standing were, of course, pre-eminent in his mind. His influence with Mikonopi remained strong, even when they had been
compulsorily separated through the kidnapping of the head-chief, and Mikonopi occasionally succeeded, though a semi-prisoner of the hostiles, in communicating to the
whites his strong desire for a consultation with Abraham.
When the season was again propitious, the forces of the United States launched a joint campaign of military operations and peace-propaganda, in which latter Abraham
was conspicuous. On September 11, 1837, he wrote “Cae Hajo,” second chief of the St. Johns river Seminoles, urging him to surrender, and signing with his war-name,
“Abraham,” it was announced Nov. 6, 1837, “has volunteered to act as guide to our troops, and his services will be accepted. He says he knows the spot where his master,
Micanopy, is concealed, and that the Indians are nearly out of ammunition.” It was probably in large part through the urgings of Abraham, conveyed to Mikonopi, that the
head-chief and most of his followers were induced to surrender again the following month.
Abraham wrote to General Jesup, April 25, 1838, in part as follows : “We wish to get in writing from the General the agreement made with us. We will go with the Indians
to our new home, and wish to know how we are to be protected, and who is to have the care of us on the road. We do not live for our selves only, but for our wives & children
who are as dear to us as those of any other men. When we reach our home we hope we shall be permitted to remain while the woods remain green, and the water runs.
I have charge of all the red people coming on to Pease’s Creek, and all are satisfied to go to Arkansas. . . . Whoever is to be chief Interpreter we would wish to know. I cannot
do any more than I have. I have done all I can, my heart has been true since I came in at Tohopo Kilika. . . . All the black people are contented I hope." Abraham had finally,
he believed, accomplished his objective of bringing about the end of the war through the surrender of nearly all the Seminoles acknowledging allegiance to head-chief
Mikonopi, on terms which guaranteed to the Indians their property and to the Negroes their exemption from seizure by whites. He had not, however, fulfilled all the duties
demanded of him by General Jesup, and on May 14 it was ordered that he, together with Cudjo and August, the former a partisan of the whites from the beginning, should be
retained as interpreters at $2.50 per diem-other interpreters, however, receiving only one dollar.
* * *
Abraham’s life in the Indian Territory, which was to extend over another generation, was considerably of an anti-climax to a man who had been a principal agent first in
bringing about a serious war and second in bringing it to a conclusion. It was not, however, devoid of usefulness. We lose sight of him for a couple of years after his arrival.
Presumably he reassumed his position as interpreter to Mikonopi, and no doubt contributed to the notably better adjustment of his band to their new life, settling down, as
they did, on Deep Fork, to raise corn, beans, pumpkins, melons, and even a little rice, whereas more recalcitrant bands, such as those of Wild Cat and Alligator, refused to
enter the Creek country and squatted on Cherokee territory, where they remained for several years in a miserable state of poverty and uncertainty.
During and after 1841 we begin again to get occasional glimpses of Abraham in his new environment. On April 17, 1841, at Ft. Gibson, Mikonopi sold to Abraham for $300
a 16-year-old Negro boy named Washington, whom, on September 14, Abraham emancipated, out of the love and affection he bore the boy, his son-the second of his children
whose emancipation is on record.
During 1843 and 1844 the reports of the Seminole sub-agent listed “Abraham (colored man), interpreter” at a stipend of “$300 per annum,” and on January 24, 1845,
at the Creek agency, “Abraham, U. S. Interpreter for Seminoles,” was a witness to a treaty intended to adjust the unhappy relations between the Creeks and the Seminoles
by giving the latter local autonomy, subject, however, to the general control of the Creek council, and providing that controversies between the two tribes over property rights,
which the Seminoles understood as referring to their Negroes, should be decided by the president of the United States.
Abraham did not subsequently appear in the
role of government interpreter at the Seminole subagency, as later in the year he was removed from his position by the sub-agent
on the charge of unfitness. “The conduct of Abraham,” he wrote, “was such that I was compelled to procure the servicesof young Mr. Brinton . . . Abraham is very much
addicted to the use of ardent spirits; so much so that he is entirely incompetent for a Government Interpreter. He was unable to render me any assistance upon the day of issue,
being upon the ground intoxicated, and engaged in broils and dissensions with the Indians themselves. Besides, Abraham has by no means the confidence of the Seminoles."
That Abraham lacked the confidence of some, at least, of the Seminoles, is, however, doubtless true. He himself complained a few days after this accusation was lodged against
him, and while it was probably still unknown to him, that “his conduct in Florida in favour of the whites has procured himmany enemies, and that he leads an uncertain and
unhappy life-knowing ‘Abram,’ ” the writer continued, “you [Gen. Jesup] will be able to judge how much of this is true."
Abraham had taken no part in the activities of the militants-even of the Negroes who, seriously concerned with the menace of kidnapping by whites and half-breeds, were
under the leadership of John Cavallo, allied with the Wild Cat-Alligator faction among the Indians. He had been, from hisfirst arrival in the Indian Territory, prepared to
accept the plans for the Seminoles drawn up by the United States government, which included residence among the Creeks as a part of the Creek tribe. Shunning anti-Creek
agitation, he had probably devoted himself to improving the material welfare of the Seminole, Indians and Negroes, directlyunder Mikonopi’s command, through encouraging
agriculture. He was too important a figure, his right to freedom too well established, to be seriously menaced by kidnapping, and it is by no means creditable to his public spirit
at this point that we do not find him associated with any of the protests against kidnapping made by John Cavallo, Tony Barnett, and other Seminole Negro leaders. When
a delegation headed by Wild Cat and Alligator, with John Cavallo as interpreter, went to Washington in April, 1844, to demand relief for the Seminole, and Mikonopi, jealous
of the challenge to his authority involved in Wild Cat’s assumption of leadership, was induced through some influence to head a list of chiefs disclaiming and protesting against
the delegation, Abraham signed the document as a witness, indicating where his associations lay. It is unfortunate that the principal and, indeed, the only authority in print on Abraham subsequent to the Seminole War, Congressman Joshua R. Giddings, treated him rather as a character in a work of fiction than historically, asserting, on the alleged
basis of hearsay evidence and unnamed newspaper accounts, that he was actually the most prominent leader in the Seminole Negro resistance to domination by the Creeks
and that, with Wild Cat, he led a migration of Seminole Indians and Negroes to Mexico in 1850. No positive evidence for this assertion is extant, and all available information
counts against it. The rather full manuscript material on the Wild Cat migration never so much as mentions Abraham, and all indications are that he was at the time living
quietly on Little river and avoiding involvement in the daring plans of the Seminole militants. The Negro leader in the migration was unquestionably the Indian Negro John
Cavallo, better known among army officers by his nickname of Gopher John.
Abraham was, in 1852, called from the obscurity in which he had been plunged by his dismissal from the position of government interpreter seven years earlier, in order to
serve as interpreter to one of the delegations which were sent to Florida with the design of inducing Billy Bowlegs, Mikonopi’snephew, and chief of the largest band of Seminoles
still at large, to come in and surrender with his people for transportation to the West. The delegation landed at Tampa and proceeded to Caloosa-hatchee, “confident of being able
to induce Billy Bowlegs and Sam Jones to emigrate.” They succeeded in establishing contact with Billy Bowlegs and persuaded him to go, with certain of his chiefs, on an excursion
to some of the principal cities of the eastern seaboard, in the hope that he might be sufficiently impressed by the grandeur and power of the whites as to give up the struggle and
yield himself and his people to the emigration agents.
They left Ft. Myers, August 31, 1852, and proceeded first to Washington, where they had an interview with the president. They arrived in New York on September 11 and put
up at the American Hotel. Abraham attracted a great deal of attention from the press. He was described as ‘‘an intelligent old negro, . . . quite a venerable, dignified looking
personage, a sort of Indianized major domo, with his face set off with a wooly moustache. . . .” “Time and trial, and anxiety,” a fuller account reads, “have made a wreck of
Abraham. Yet he is straight, and active, and looks more intelligence out of his one eye than many people look out of two. He is in the full costume of the Seminoles. Turban,
a la Turk, and hunting shirt, leggins, etc. Abraham must be 70 or 80 years old.” He was actually, it is probable, in his early or middle sixties. Sometime during the delegation’s
stay in New York, they, including Abraham, became the subjects of the accompanying group-photograph.
It was reported in Jacksonville News (Oct. 2, 1852) that “King Billy and cabinet, including the old negro interpreter Abraham, are gone home to the court of the Everglades.
They passed up on . . . the Matamoros . . . Billy held his levee in the cabin of the steamboat and received his visitors with royal dignity. We learn from General Blake that
Billy has entered into a solemn agreement to emigrate next March with all the Indians he can induce to go, which he thinks will be all in the country. We feel disposed to
believe that at last we may succeed in getting rid of our unwelcome neighbors, but shall not feel certain till they are gone.” If he ever so agreed, he did not carry out his
promise, for it was not until several years later, and after a third Seminole war, that Billy was finally transported to the Indian Territory.
After this brief flare of publicity Abraham sank into an obscurity from which he did not again emerge. He returned to his home on Little river, in the region to which the
Seminoles had removed according to the provisions of the treaty of 1845, where his name is still remembered by the older generation. Ed Payne, an intelligent and prosperous
Seminole Negro of the Little River (Seminole county) settlement, has heard much of him as a resident of that vicinity. Mr. Payne knew two of his sons, including Washington,
whose freedom his father had purchased in 1841. Washington used to mention that he and his father had both been slaves, but had been freed. Washington described his father
as an able and successful cattle-raiser, and remembered that he used to come back from the sale of a herd of cattle with a sack full of gold and silver-no paper-money in those
days. He would then pry up a plank in the cabin floor and
The Civil War, which so convulsed the Indian Territory as well as the United States in general, probably did not greatly affect Abraham. He was in his seventies at its outbreak,
and all the serious fighting was to the east, in the vicinity of Ft. Gibson. He probably did not therefore flee to Kansas with the loyal Seminoles, under Halleck Tustenuggree
and the Creek chief Opothla Yahola, and as a Negro he could hardly have been a partisan of the Seminole head-chief John Jumper, who served as a colonel in the Confederate
army. Doubtless he continued to live quietly on his Little River farm while the storm of war rolled by.
He seems to have been still living late in 1870, for a newspaper item notes: “The old interpreter for General Jackson [sic], the Negro Abraham, is still alive on Little River
at the advanced age of one hundred and twenty years. A gentleman saw him the other day."
The date of Abraham’s death is unknown to me, but presumably it took place not long after 1870.
According to Mr. Payne, he is buried at Brunertown, west of the Little River settlement, near Hazel. Mr. Payne has seen a stone shaped into a marker, with his name on it,
over the grave, but cannot recall whether or not it bears a date. Some young Oklahoma historian could profitably spend a few days in the vicinity of Wewoka, Sasakwa,
Noble Town, Little River, and Brunertown, visiting the grave and searching for further traditional information on the later life of this remarkable personality.
Abraham’s record, considering his opportunities, stands out as extraordinary by any standard. Born in slavery among an alien race, he took refuge among another strange
but more hospitable people and raised himself by his own exertions to a position of prominence and authority. He clearly recognized the issues and reasonable objectives of the
Florida War, fought bravely and skillfully until that latter had, as it seemed, been secured, and then successfully directed his energies toward the termination of hostilities.
His activities in the Indian Territory were hardly comparable to those in Florida, but it is probable that he did much, in a conservative fashion, to benefit the Seminole Indians
and Negroes with whom he was associated by assisting them in adjustment to their new environment.
Interpreter, counsellor, war-leader, diplomat, he deserves a niche in American history.
[Negro Abraham to Gen. T. S. Jesup, commanding at Tampa Bay. *]
Fort Deynaud, Florida
I have the honour to present my best respects to you. Myself and 'Tony Barnet have done every
I have charge of all the red people coming on
to Pease's Creek, and all are satisfied to go to Arkansaw. They all
X his mark
P.S. John Cavallo is in and contented. Glad to hear of the peace.
25th April 1838
Recd. 30th Apl. '38
[Negro Abraham to Cae Hajo*]
Abram sends this talk to Cae Hajo.-,
When I heard you had gone to Fort King, I longed
to have a talk with you but we are too far apart for that and
I wish you to remember that you and I went to
Arkansas together and now recollect that one rainy evening after
Cae-Hajo you have since talked to the General as
you then talked to me. You did not know who would kill you first,
Fort Gibson July 27, 1845
The day you left, I heard that "Micanopy" and some of his principle men had arrived on the opposite bank of the river, and were much disappointed to learn that you had already gone to Fort Smith. I thought no more of it but, yesterday afternoon, I was honored with a call from Micanopy, his chiefs, attendants, interpreters, you know my partiality for Indians. After listening to talks, and congratulations in order to get rid of my red brethren. I promised to write today, and relate to you, so minutely, all they desired you to know, that it would be almost as well for them as if they had had a personal interview. Wherupon, they concluded to go into Council until this morning, and then favour me with their presence, and, at the same time, dictate and have written under their own supervision, the "talk" to be sent to you. You have the results of their meditations , together with "Wild Cat's" personal notions and recollections, herewith enclosed, "Abram" says his conduct in Florida in favour of the whites, has procured him many enemies, and that he leads an uncertain and unhappy life. Knowing "Abram", you will be able to judge how much of this is true.
I am General Maj. Genl Jesup
Your most obedient Servant
Q. Master General Chas O. Collins
Fort Gibson July 27, 1845
Miconapy ("The Governor") "WildCat," "Alligator," "Tiger," "old bear," " the broom," and "George Cloud" (nephew of old "Cloud") Chiefs and sub-chiefs of the Seminoles, send by the mouth of "Wild Cat" this "talk," to the War-Chief General Jesup
"We have scarcely come in time to see your foot-"print" The moment we heard You were here, we started to meet "You face to face. We are too late." "You were a great way from home, and were lonely. "You have gone to see your wife and little ones. It is right." "When you came again towards the setting sun, send work beforehand to our First Chief and Governor Miconopy and we will all come and shake hands with you. You are a friend. May the Great Spirit spare us to meet once more, face to face, and have a straight talk. The before-written talk was delivered by "Wild Cat" in presence of all the named Chiefs, and interpreted by "Abram" and "Cudjoe". It was written, paragraph by paragraph, as delivered when finished; was read by sentences, and interpreted to the Chiefs by the negroes, and each sentence received the full sanction of all assembled.
Wild Cat then said, in presence of all the Chiefs, I wish to send a short talk of my own. Permission was granted and Wild Cat spoke as follows, all present, Abram interpreter. Now speak to the General for Wild Cat.
"After seeing you in Washington, I started for home and arrived safely. I have not yet finished my cabin and have, therefore, much to do, and am very busy. The Seminoles were seated all about when I returned. the President promised to feed them nine months, whereas the treaty says but six months. We are very hungry, and do not expect to make much corn. I hope you seill see that the promise for nine months is not forgotten. All the promises made to us have not been fulfilled. When I see you, I shall tell you all that has happened and all that you said to me in Florida and in Washington.
I send my respects to your wife, she gave me a good dinner! I remember your children, they can sing. If the Great Spirit will allow me, I shall visit your wife and children, again, and shall sing to them."
This Coacoochee says
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