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Fort Brooke (Tampa Bay) in 1846

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I am reprinting this from my former web page, with a few edits.

I came across this interesting source: "Autobiography of an English Soldier in the United States Army Comprising Observations and Adventures in the States and Mexico" by George Ballentine, printed in New York by Stringer and Townsend, 1853. This autobiography is by a soldier in the War in Mexico in the 1840's. In the summer of 1846, he spent several months at Fort Brooke, Tampa Bay. His observations on the Seminoles are particularly interesting. Since most libraries probably don't have this in their collection, and I thought that you would enjoy seeing how life in the fort was when there was peace between the whites and Seminoles. The most interesting part is the friendly interaction between the Seminoles and the soldiers.

The 2nd Seminole War was over, and the Seminoles were allowed to come into Fort Brooke to trade. This led to some interested incidents!

Fort Brooke, 1838, from the Florida archives.
It looks like an officer, a militia soldier watching over three Indians, and some other people scattered about. Fort Brooke was at one time one of the largest military reservations in the United States & territories.

Finally after describing the Seminoles, the author goes on to tell about the rich country that makes up Florida and remarks, "Still, as long as the Indians remain in its borders, its resources will never have a fair chance of development, as the distant settlers can have no security for life or property while they are in the vicinity."

Without any more comment, I will let this eyewitness account speak for itself:

"On arriving at Tampa Bay we found another company of our regiment stationed there, two companies being considered requisite for the protection of the inhabitants against any sudden outbreak of the Indians. These, to the amount of several hundred warriors, beside squaws and children, still occupy a large tract of Florida called the Everglades; where they live in the same state of rude savage life to which they were accustomed ere the first of the pale faces left a footprint on their sandy shores."

"They have game in abundance, herds of deer roam through the plains and glades, and crop their luxuriant herbage; numerous flocks of wild turkeys roost in the hammocks at night, and feed in the openings and pine barrens by day; and in the creeks and bays of the sea coast, or in the large fresh water lakes of the interior, incredible quantities of delicious fish are easily caught."

"Round their villages, in the selection of a site for which they display excellent taste and judgment, they usually cultivate a small portion of the soil in raising maize, or edible roots; and the little labour which this requires is performed by the women and children. In this delicious climate, where there is perpetual verdure, and where the existence of cold or winter is scarcely known or felt, the mode of living of these savages seems not so very disagreeable, and with their ideas of comfort they must find Florida a complete Indian paradise."

"It is not much to be wondered at, therefore, to find them so reluctant to leave for a new home among the tribes of the Indian Territory. Sooner than submit to this, about fifteen years ago they waged an unequal war with the United States; which lasted several years, and cost America nearly as much, it is said, as the late war in Mexico. At the present time there are not in Florida more than a fourth, it is supposed, of the number who were there at commencement of the war; as a great many of them at various times accepted the terms offered by the government of the United States, and were transported to a tract of land called the Indian Territory, lying between Arkansas and the Rocky Mountains. Those who refused to leave, and who were finally permitted to remain in a portion of Florida defined by certain boundaries, have been variously estimated at from three to five hundred warriors. But as they have almost no intercourse with the inhabitants, white men not being suffered to approach their villages, it is very difficult to form anything like a correct estimate of their numbers. The government agent, stationed at Fort Charlotte, a small settlement near their boundary line, for the purpose of trading with them, and who has been desired by the government to endeavor without exciting their suspicions to ascertain their numbers, reckons them at five hundred, exclusive of women and children."

"Those who remain are part of the tribe or nation of Seminoles; they were as tall on an average as the men of our regiment, and though not near so athletic or muscular, generally more graceful in personal appearance. They have more yellow than copper in their complexion, and have the high prominent cheekbones, and that quick, furtive, and suspicious glance of the Indian race, which seems watching every moment to make a sudden spring in the event of any appearance of treachery. Some of their young squaws have a very pleasing expression of countenance, and I have seen one or two of these who I believe would be pronounced beautiful if compared with the prouder belles of European cities. The men, or warriors, walk with a most dignified and majestic carriage, and an air of stoic composure highly imposing."

"They wear moccasins made of deer-skin, and of their own manufacture; and go bare-legged in a short sleeved sort of tunic, confined at the waist and falling down nearly to the knees in the manner of a Highlander's kilt, to whose ancient costume that of the Florida Indians of the present day bears a considerable resemblance, especially when seen at a short distance. Some of them ornament their dress with beads and shells, which they sometimes wear in their hair also, and both men and women are fond of wearing large silver rings in their ears and through their nostrils."

[Ballentine is probably correct in his comparison to the Highlander's dress, because that is what is generally believed that the southeastern Tribes copied their clothing from, the Scottish tradesmen in the 18th century.]

"Parties of twenty or thirty of these strange-looking visitors frequently came into the village of Tampa Bay while we lay there. They were always accompanied by a sub-chief, a sort of lieutenant, who had charge of the party, and their object was to exchange deerskins for powder and other necessary articles. They frequently brought a few turkeys or a few pieces of venison, part of the game they had shot as they came along; these they sold cheap enough, a turkey fetching a quarter, and a piece of venison of fifteen or twenty pounds weight, half a dollar."

Fort Brooke in 1837, from the Florida Memory/Florida Archives.

"They always visited the barracks when they came to the village, walking through the rooms and shaking hands with the soldiers in a perfectly friendly manner. None of them, however, understood English, and we were all equally ignorant of the Seminole, so that our discourse was necessarily limited to the language of pantomime, at which they seemed a vast deal more apt than our men. They showed us marks of gunshot wounds they had received in the Florida war on various parts of their bodies, pointing to our muskets at the same time and shaking their heads; and they seemed highly delighted when one or two of our soldiers, who had been in the Florida war, showed them similar marks, making signs that they had received them from the Indians. They laughed and talked to one another with great animation and glee at this circumstance. But the great attraction for them was two six-pounder pieces, which stood in front of the quarters; they always approached these with looks of the greatest curiosity, and apparent awe, cautiously patting them as if to propitiate them. They have the most exaggerated ideas of the destructive effects of artillery, of which they stand in horrible dread; and some of our men who were in the Florida war asserted that a chief cause of so many Indians having surrendered towards the close of the war, was owing to the Americans having procured two or three light field-pieces, though, owing to the swampy nature of the country, they could not have used them. As they always behaved quietly in the garrison, they were never hindered from strolling round any part of it, strict orders being given to the soldiers not to molest them. They used no more ceremony with the officers than with the men, frequently walking up to them on the parade, or into their quarters, and offering to shake hands with them with the most perfect nonchalance."

"On paying one of these visits to the village it was customary for them to have a bout of drinking and dancing; a sort of Indian ball, which they held in a yard behind a house in the village appropriated exclusively to their use. The entertainments of the evening, on these occasions, usually consisted in smoking and drinking whiskey until pretty late, a few of them dancing at intervals in the most ungraceful and even ludicrous attitudes imaginable. They wound up the evening generally with a war dance, in which all who were not too drunk joined. This dance commences slow at first to a low monotonous chant, and increases in rapidity of time and movement until, like the witches' dance in Tam o' Shanter, "the mirth and fun grow fast and furious," and they yell and whoop like a set of demons or incarnate fiends. On these occasions, they sometimes quarreled among themselves, and ended the night with a general squabble; yet as care was always taken, on their arrival, to have their arms taken from them and locked up, until they were ready to return home, there was no danger or any serious accident occurring."
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