Configurations and Narratives
Edited By Gabriele Pisarz-Ramirez and Hannes Warnecke-Berger
Where do the Americas begin, and where do they end? What is the relationship between the spatial constructions of «area» and «continent»? How were the Americas imagined by different actors in different historical periods, and how were these imaginations – as continent, nation, region – guided by changing agendas and priorities? This interdisciplinary volume addresses competing and conflicting configurations and narratives of spatialization in the context of globalization processes from the 19th century to the present.
Florida as a Hemispheric Region
Abstract: The chapter investigates Florida as a “hemispheric region,” exploring how its peripheral position at the southeastern tip of the United States, its closeness to the Caribbean, and its tropicality framed it as a space essentially different from the rest of the United States. Florida in the early 19th century was considered an unstable land: regarded as largely uncultivable, on watery ground, and home to unruly populations, its perceived “disorder” and transitional character made it a space of projection for speculations about the nation’s expansionist ventures. I focus on two particularities of Florida’s topography that highlight its instability and tropicality, the reef and the swamp, and explore their representation in texts by three US American authors: James F. Cooper (Jack Tier), John James Audubon (Ornithological Biographies), and Joshua Giddings (The Exiles of Florida). I argue that all three authors depict Florida as a hemispheric region, and that reefs and swamps become significant symbols in the texts to negotiate issues of nationhood, expansionism, and slavery. The construction of Florida in these texts, however, was guided by the authors’ different agendas and the role they attributed to the peninsula in the expanding nation.
Talking about the southernmost parts of the United States, literary critic Vera Kutzinski has pointed out that they “in cultural terms […] are really rimlands of the Caribbean, and have ever been so since slaves were traded between the two areas, well before the Louisiana Purchase in 1803” (61). Discussing William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, she observes that in this novel the Caribbean and Latin America “are no longer just a potential political possession, a territory, parts of which have been invaded or annexed by the United States;” rather, the “ ‘South’ is part of the Caribbean, not vice-versa” (81). This perspective has been reiterated in Immanuel Wallerstein’s term “extended Caribbean” (157; 166–67) and, more recently, by David Geggus and David Gaspar who talk about “the greater Caribbean.” Both refer to the plantation zone extending between northern Brazil, the Antilles, Florida, and Louisiana—a zone whose production of staple crops was based on slave labor. With respect to the topographical and climatic conditions of this zone, geographer D. W. Meinig has pointed out that the European explorers, on reaching the new continent, had already experienced the southern regions as fundamentally different from northern America: what Meinig calls “tropical America” was perceived by them as “a ←149 | 150→deceptive paradisiacal America of green-mantled islands and perpetual warmth, but fragile in substance and lurking with the dangers of disease and storm” (Meinig 55).
Since the founding of the US Republic, the South in the national imaginary came to function as an internal other and as “a remarkably fertile spatial nexus of the domestic and the foreign” (Greeson 3). In Jennifer Greeson’s words, the US South, rather than being a fixed or real place, became a “term of the imagination, a site of national fantasy” (1). As such, it also symbolized the fear that the porous southern periphery of the nation was vulnerable to the intrusion of undesired tropical “contamination.” Such contamination could be contagious diseases such as yellow fever that entered the United States not only from the Caribbean, but also undesired people such as “impure” Creoles1 from areas where racial purity was not enforced as strictly as in the United States, as well as the “disease” of slave rebellion.2 Focusing on the anxieties about the southern border of the nation as well as the connection of the United States with its neighbors, in particular Cuba, Mexico, and Haiti, Gretchen Woertendyke, in a study on the negotiation of these links in popular romances, has suggested to approach the southern peripheries of the United States in terms of what she calls a “hemispheric regionalism”—a perspective that marks the relations between geographies and histories of the United States and the surrounding spaces and that reads the region as “a series of connections between loosely configured areas and spaces adjacent to the southern frontier” (3). Hemispheric regionalism emphasizes the instability and relationality of concepts such as nation or region, framing the southern rimlands as “a shared yet shifting geography” (9).
I aim to show in this chapter how Florida, the peninsula at the southeastern tip of the United States, served as a symbolic space for the negotiation of issues ←150 | 151→of nation and empire in the writings of three antebellum US American authors. I am interested in the ways the geographical imagination about Florida translates in these texts, and what these spatializations tell us about the authors’ agendas. My exploration is guided by a hemispheric approach as outlined above, and I particularly focus on the representation, in these texts, of two geographical markers—reefs and swamps that reflect Florida’s tropicality, its difference from other parts of the nation, and its perceived transitional and unstable character. The texts I refer to are several episodes from John James Audubon’s Ornithological Biography (published in four volumes between 1831 and 1839), sections from James Fenimore Cooper’s novel Jack Tier or The Florida Reef (1847), and Joshua Giddings’ The Exiles of Florida (1858).3 Only one of these authors, Audubon, based his representation of Florida on personal experience as he had traveled there in the early 1830s; the other two drew on existing information about the peninsula. Although the region’s tropicality and its contested place within the nation become evident in all texts, I argue that the divergent representations of Florida’s landscape, of reefs and swamps in these texts, hinged on their authors’ perspective on two crucial issues that impacted US national politics of Florida: expansionism and slavery.
In the perception of many Americans in the antebellum period, Florida was not really part of the United States but part of the tropics. Its location at the southernmost border of the nation, its particular geography and climate, as well as its racially diverse population that included maroons, pirates, Indians, and “wreckers”—people considered marginal to and different from the national demographic—epitomized this tropicality in particular ways. Under the Spanish rule, Florida was considered “a backcountry out of control” (Meinig 30): in the words of John Quincy Adams during the negotiations with Spain, the whole province was “a derelict, open to the occupancy of every enemy, civilized or savage, of the United States, and serving no other earthly purpose than as a post of annoyance to them” (qtd. in Meinig 29). The geographical imagination about Florida as “liquid land”4 contradicted the vision of an ever-expanding agrarian pastoral that guided many discourses of expansionism. Amos Doolittle’s map of the United States (1784), which was one of the first national maps published and distributed after the American Revolution, and which reached thousands ←151 | 152→of students (Brückner 116n24), showed a Florida—the southern part of which is not well defined; rather, it is fragmented into islands. As Michele Currie has pointed out, this is the way Americans came to imagine Florida in the late 18th century and throughout the early part of the 19th century (Currie 59). Large parts of the peninsula were considered too wet to farm due to its many wetlands and swamps.
Reefs and swamps are landscapes that in contemporary discourse were often described as treacherous and confusing for those not familiar with them, difficult to read and dangerous, while at the same time easily navigable by those acquainted with the area. The Florida Reef was infamous for having caused many shipwrecks, the Florida Straits being a major trading route, and it was considered the realm of smugglers, pirates, and wreckers, while the Florida swamps were seen as an impenetrable labyrinth of morasses. At a time when the United States defined itself as an agrarian republic, swampland was read as “an outward sign of social decay”5 (Howarth). As William Howarth has stressed, over thousands of years, the human attitude toward wetland, “in its manifold guises of bog, fen, marsh, or swamp […] was consistently negative: they were read as dangerous, useless, fearful, filthy, diseased, noxious” (513). The repeated calls to control the reef areas and drain the swamps can be read as a metaphor for establishing order in Florida. Thus Florida’s reefs and swamps as unstable spaces in the liquid land epitomized the peninsula’s precarious position in the shifting geography of the region.
If American governments early on were eager to take possession of the Floridian peninsula from Spain—their European rival in the New World—it was mainly for two reasons. The first one was the hope to establish full control of the Gulf Coast. The Florida coast was considered an important gateway for the gulf trade: once access to the Gulf had been secured through the Louisiana Purchase, “a whole circuit of coasts—Florida, Cuba, Yucatán, Mexico, Texas—suddenly took on new meaning for Americans, and before long such places were being declared to be of compelling national interest” (Meinig 23). Kirsten Silva Gruesz has pointed out that James Monroe, who claimed that he considered “Cape Florida, & Cuba, as forming the mouth of the Mississippi,” revealed a “modern vision of space” that saw the ports as extensions of the interior of the continent ←152 | 153→(472). The second reason to acquire Florida was to stop the exodus of slaves who fled from the plantations in the Carolinas and Georgia to the peninsula.
The texts by Audubon, Cooper, and Giddings negotiate these public perceptions as well as the national interest in territorial expansion that dominated US politics in the first half of the 19th century. They developed their own spatial constructions of Floridian space—constructions that were guided by their different agendas and the role they attributed to the peninsula in the expanding nation.
2John James Audubon: Claiming Florida as the Tropical Garden of the United States
John James Audubon was a French Creole born as Jean-Jacques Rabin on St. Domingue. He was the illegitimate son of a married French captain, Jean Audubon, who traded in rum, sugar, and slaves, with a Creole chambermaid, Jeanne Rabin. After the Haitian Revolution, Jean Audubon fled to France and to his wife, taking his son and another child he had fathered on the island. The young Rabin was brought up in Nantes and renamed Jean-Jacques Fougère-Audubon. He later migrated to America to avoid Napoleon’s recruiters, settled in Pennsylvania, and became the most famous ornithologist of his time. His four-volume book, The Birds of America, that contained 435 hand-colored prints depicted the variety of birds in the United States; the accompanying five-volume Ornithological Biography, described these birds in detail and featured a number of “episodes”—short texts in which Audubon described his travel experiences. Audubon traveled to Florida to paint and collect birds in 1831 and 1832, at a time when the peninsula had been in US possession for a mere decade. At that time, colonization was mainly restricted to the coastal areas and to river routes. Sixteen larger plantations in the area between Saint Augustine and New Smyrna were linked to one major thoroughfare, King’s Road, by elevated log roads leading through hammocks and swamps (Proby 21). Audubon visited several plantations in the vicinity of Saint Augustine and went on extended excursions into unexplored territory along the Halifax river and Saint Johns river before traveling to the Florida Keys on a US Revenue Cutter. The texts discussed here are “episodes” dealing with his Florida trip and published in part II and III of Audubon’s Ornithological Biography. They are interspersed in between the description and images of the birds, and they detail his impressions during his voyage.
Margaret Curzon Welch has observed that the episodes were “Audubon’s most obvious concession to popular taste” in a publication that reconciled the ←153 | 154→demands of entertainment and science (54). Audubon depended on subscribers to finance his books and his trips, and he cultivated his public image as an “American woodsman” and interpreter of nature to Americans. Performing during his public appearances in “frontier garb, cradling in his arms a rifle” (Nobles, John James Audubon 97) as shown in an 1826 portrait painting by John Syme, he was a sort of superstar of his time (Gruse). He thus represented a distinctly American—and masculine—approach to natural history, stylizing himself as a “pioneer naturalist” (Nobles, “John James Audubon”). One motivation for patrons to subscribe to Audubon’s works was, apart from a general interest in natural history, “the desire to promote worthy causes” (Welch 54). This connection between “patrons and patriotism”6 may account for the divergent depiction of the landscape in some of the “episodes” and in letters that Audubon wrote to his friends and his wife. In general, in the episodes, we find a far more enthusiastic description that tends to leave out much of the drabness of the area and the difficulties in traversing it.7
From the episodes emerges the image of a Florida that is tropical, featuring all the risks of tropical landscapes (e.g. alligators, storms, reefs, and swamps), and decidedly different from other American regions, but that is, after all, part of the United States and as such knowable and controllable. Against the view that Florida’s swamps and reefs were part of a chaotic and impenetrable wilderness, Audubon strove to make swamp and reef areas comprehensible to Americans, emphasizing their beauty and usefulness in his writings. Natural history appears as a part of manifest destiny (a term not yet in use at the time when he traveled but a guiding idea): to study the landscape and the fauna of the different parts of the nation was a way of appropriating them for Americans.
In both parts of the trip, Audubon is staying at the home of plantation owners who offered him room and board as well as local guides for his excursions. One of the first episodes deals with Audubon’s visit to the plantation of Colonel Rees at the end of a lengthy trip from his base at Bulow plantation. This trip included passages through swampy and sandy, barren areas as well as several encounters with large alligators. On approaching the Rees plantation, Audubon compares his party with a colonial expedition into the interior of Africa:←154 | 155→
But at length we perceived the tracks of living beings, and soon after saw the huts of Colonel Rees’ negroes. Scarcely could ever an African traveler have approached the city of Timbuctoo with more excited curiosity than we felt in approaching this plantation. (Audubon, “Spring Garden” 265)
Comparing Florida to an as-yet-little-explored territory in Africa, and the plantation to Timbuctoo—an oasis at the edge of the Sahara desert—Audubon fashions himself as an expeditioner on a colonial mission, suggesting that he is traveling in an area that, in its remoteness from the ordinary surroundings of most Americans, resembles distant tropical Africa. Significantly, the presence of slaves and slave huts figures to Audubon as a sign of entering a well-ordered space with known hierarchies, while the area surrounding it consists of unpredictable, unknown territory full of “muddy pools” (“Spring Garden” 263), “thicket[s] of scrubby oak,” “desolate country,” and “pine barrens” that “seemed to us as if we were approaching the end of the world” (263). Reassuringly, on the plantation, “refreshments were immediately placed before” the travelers (263) by the slaves, allowing Audubon to spend “the evening in agreeable conversation” (263). The plantation presented a familiar order—the Audubons, who had lived in Kentucky (1810 to 1819), a slaveholding state, like many others, kept a number of slaves, whom Audubon calls servants in his writings (Rhodes 268). Of the swamp surrounding the plantation, he remarks that the soil is “of good quality […] rich and very productive” (265), clearly with an eye for the possibilities of cultivation. And even if he experiences the scenery of swamps and ranks grass surrounding the plantation as “dismal,” he praises its potential recreational value to his readers. His host invites him on a tour to a “celebrated spring,” that he describes in detail, proclaiming that it “afforded me pleasure sufficient to counter-balance the tediousness of my journey” (265). A day later, his host takes him to
a small island covered with wild orange trees, the luxuriance and freshness of which were not less pleasing to the sight, than the perfume of their flowers was to the smell. The group seemed to me like a rich bouquet formed by nature to afford consolation to the weary traveler. (“Spring Garden” 267)
The swamp here appears not only as the realm of wild beasts, treacherous “mud holes,” and tropical plants, but also as a potential tourist site for the American citizen.
As Katherine Proby (25) has shown, in his letter to G.W. Featherstonhaugh, a publisher and geologist, the description of the island sounds markedly different: here, it is dominated by his uneasiness:
The general wildness of the eternal labyrinths of waters and marshes, interlocked, and apparently never ending; the whole surrounded by interminable swamps –all these things had a tendency to depress my spirits, notwithstanding some beautiful flowers, rich looking fruits, a pure sky, and ample sheets of water at my feet. (qtd. in Proby 25)←155 | 156→
Contrary to his “public” representation of Florida as a pastoral space, in more private correspondence, he points to the discrepancy between his expectations and his experience. In the same letter to Featherstonhaugh, he remarks:
Here I am in the Floridas, thought I, a country that received its name from the odours wafted from the orange groves, to the boats of the first discoverers, and which from my childhood I have consecrated in my imagination as the garden of the United States. A garden where all that is not mud, mud, mud, is sand, sand, sand; where the fruit is so sour that it is not eatable […] Mr. Bartram was the first one to call this a garden, but he is to be forgiven; he was an enthusiastic botanist… (qtd. in Proby 26)
None of these doubts can be found in the episodes, where the Floridian space is shown as one in the process of becoming well ordered and controlled. In this order, everything and everybody has its place: on encountering a Seminole Indian on the Saint Johns river, who is approaching them in his canoe offering fish, Audubon comments:
The poor, dejected son of the woods, endowed with talents of the highest order, although rarely acknowledged by the proud usurpers of his native soil, has spent the night in fishing, and the morning in procuring the superb-feathered game of the swampy thickets; and with both he comes to offer them for our acceptance. (“St. John’s River” 293)
Thus, both the black slaves on the Rees plantation and the Seminole in the swamps in Audubon’s text figure as reassuring signs of a recognizable racial and social order. This perspective appears guided by wishful thinking in view of the outbreak of the Second Seminole War just a few years later—a war that was one of the most lengthy and costly military conflicts of the US government with a native tribe—that prevented Audubon from returning to Florida and continuing his exploration of birds and that led to the destruction, by Seminoles and maroons, of some of the plantations where he stayed in 1831. The image of the submissive “vanishing Native” was quite popular in the writing of this period, but at least for the Florida swamps, it was a precipitate notion, as my discussion of Giddings’ text shows.
A number of episodes are dedicated to Audubon’s trip to the Florida Keys—an area infamous for its dangerous reef that became the wrecking ground for many ships passing through the Florida Straits. In “The Wreckers of Florida,” Audubon recalls the stories he had heard about the wreckers, men who earned their living by saving the cargo of vessels that had been shipwrecked:
Often had I been informed of the cruel and cowardly methods which it was alleged they employ to allure vessels of all nations to the dreaded reefs, that they might plunder their cargoes, and rob their crews and passengers of their effects. I therefore could have little desire to meet with such men under any circumstances… with the name of wreckers, ←156 | 157→there were in my mind associated ideas of piratical depredation, barbarous usage, and even murder. (“Wreckers” 158)
Significantly, Audubon on the Florida Keys was a guest of Jacob Housman, a wrecker king, a fact that remains undisclosed in the episodes (Proby 39). Audubon sailed to the Keys on a Revenue Cutter—a government ship dispatched to enforce customs and to fight piracy in the Caribbean and along the Gulf coast. His description of the reef and the wreckers in “The Florida Keys” and “The Wreckers of Florida” markedly contradicts conventional renderings, as neither reef nor wreckers in his description have anything threatening. On arriving at Indian Key, he observes that the ship had to pass over the reef, a fact barely mentioned in a half sentence, before Audubon begins to praise the landscape:
Our vessel once over the coral reef that everywhere stretches along the shore like a great wall reared by an army of giants, we found ourselves in safe anchoring grounds, within a few furlongs of the land. The next moment saw the oars of a boat propelling us towards the shore, and in brief time we stood on the desired beach. (“Keys” 312)
The “dreaded reef” in this scene does not present any dangers, the landscape is pleasant, and with clockwork punctuality, the visitors are collected by a boat to be able to enjoy the beauty of the island. The rest of the passage reads like a promotional brochure advertising tropical birds and plants and healthy air almost as if to invite visitors:
With what delightful feelings did we gaze on the objects around us! — the gorgeous flowers, the singular and beautiful plants, the luxuriant trees. The balmy air which we breathed filled us with animation, so pure and salubrious did it seem to be. The birds which we saw were almost all new to us; their lovely forms appeared to be arrayed in more brilliant apparel than I had ever seen before… (“Keys” 312)
This Edenic landscape that suggests the earthly realization of a prelapsarian state of grace reminds of the texts by early explorers and colonizers about the New World—texts that described the Americas, especially the West Indies, as a space free of the economic hardships and the political corruption of Europe (Cocks 20). Like the explorers, Audubon narrates the tropics as a desirable and inviting space, just as he does in his earlier episode about the swamps. Once again, on the next day, Audubon praises a glorious morning where the reef is just a pleasant part of the landscape. While enjoying the scenery and the sunrise, the party sailing on the government ship seems to be in full dominion of the territory. As Audubon meditates on the landscape, he feels urged to recall the powers of the creator:
The next morning was delightful. The gentle sea-breeze glided over the flowery isle, the horizon was clear, and all was silent, save the long breakers that rushed over the distant reefs. As we were proceeding towards some Keys seldom visited by men, the sun rose from ←157 | 158→the bosom of the waters with a burst of glory that flashed on my soul the idea of that power which called into existence so magnificent an object. (“Keys” 316)
The idea of manifest destiny becomes evident in this representation of the government ship traveling between the Keys now in US possession as Audubon presents a vision of the Keys to his readers that contradicts accounts by other authors of the reef area as treacherous, disturbing, and risky. Spatializing the reef area as a tourist paradise, he rewrites its islands into a tropical garden for Americans to dwell in and to enjoy its birds and plants.
This impression of a domesticated reef area becomes even stronger in the second episode, “The Wreckers of Florida,” which describes an encounter with the infamous wreckers of the Keys. Upon seeing a wrecking ship, Audubon recounts his distrust of the wreckers, drawing on reports about their reputation as dishonorable. Surprisingly though, on first sight of the wrecking ship, he points out the perfect state of the ship and the orderliness of its crew; he exclaims: “What a beautiful vessel! we all thought; how trim, how clean rigged, and how well manned!” (“Wreckers” 158). Upon entering the ship onto which he has been invited by the wreckers, he observes that “Silence and order prevailed on her decks” (159) and then goes on to describe the wreckers as “stout, active men, cleanly and smart in their attire” (159). He gets invited to dinner on the ship and socializes with the wreckers, buys shells from them, and remarks that the captains of wreckers’ ships are “jovial, good-natured sons of Neptune who manifested a disposition to be polite and hospitable, and to afford every facility to persons passing up and down the Reef” (“Wreckers” 159).
Several times in the episode, he points out that the wreckers identify as men from “down east” suggesting that they originated from the New England coast, as if trying to remove any possible link to Caribbean piracy. Thus, it is not only the wrecking ships that are beyond reproach but also the wreckers who have a clearly definable origin as white East Coast Americans, contrary to their reputation as dangerous aliens of unclear racial and ethnic descent. This “whitening” of the wreckers is significant in view of the fact that Audubon himself throughout his life in the United States tried to obscure his own Caribbean descent: the man who was born as Jean-Jacques Rabin on St. Domingue renamed himself “John James Audubon” and claimed to have been born on a Louisiana plantation.8 Gregory Nobles (John James Audubon 201–02) has highlighted several passages ←158 | 159→in Audubon’s writings in which he stresses his white origin and the inferiority of nonwhites.
Audubon in this episode takes a lot of effort to appropriate not only the landscape but also the wreckers of Florida as part of the nation—presenting the Keys as nonthreatening, making them American for Americans, to “tame the tropics” so to say. The disorder associated with Florida, Audubon seems to suggest, is only a rumor. As he concludes: “How different, thought I, is often the knowledge of things acquired by personal observation from that obtained by report!” (160). Roughly, ten years after the acquisition of Florida by the United States, Audubon’s agenda was cultural annexation of the Floridian wilderness. Rather than exploiting the region’s unstable and relational position in the hemisphere to point out its difference, he aims at embracing Florida’s geography, fauna, and even its wreckers, locating them firmly within the United States. Safely established in the discursive contexts of expansionism, white superiority, and a belief in progress, Audubon sought to dismiss all doubts about tropical Florida’s as well as about his own affiliation to the nation. Florida (as well as himself) may have connections to the Caribbean tropics, but in his writings, the author and the landscape he described were certainly identified as American. While the unpredictability and violence conventionally associated with the reef area and its wreckers are submerged, Audubon enacts the violence of the frontier as “American Woodsman,” killing thousands of birds to be able to make drawings of them, categorize, and describe them for his Ornithological Biography. Dramatizing his hunting activities in the episodes and boasting about the number of birds he has killed,9 he performs his American identity as a frontiersman, enacting what Richard Slotkin, in Regeneration through Violence, has described as “the myth of the hunter”—a myth “of self-renewal or self-creation through acts of violence” (556), that displays the hunter’s mastery over nature. As the birds of Florida are appropriated for American audiences, the expansionist acquisition of the peninsula comes full circle.←159 | 160→
3James Fenimore Cooper: The Florida Reef as a Site of Treason
Published 16 years after Audubon’s Ornithological Biography, in 1848, James Fenimore Cooper’s novel Jack Tier: The Florida Reef makes the reef the site of a conflict between smugglers and authorities in the period of the US-Mexican War. The novel was first published serially in Graham’s Magazine under the title Rose Budd before appearing in book form. The Mexican American War that started in 1846 and ended with the annexation of large parts of Mexico’s north in 1848 has been described as “America’s forgotten war” (Johannsen 96)—but at the time when it broke out it was discussed most controversially by the American public. As the first war wholly fought on foreign soil, it was seen by many as an imperial venture that contradicted republican ideals. It also deepened the sectional conflict over slavery, as the newly gained territory raised anxieties about the balance of slave states and free states. Northern abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison and Charles Sumner opposed the war, as did many writers, such as John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
From a hemispheric perspective, as Kirsten Silva Gruesz points out, the war was just the continuation of the expansionist move into formerly Spanish territories that had begun with the purchase of West Florida. Gruesz bemoans the repression, “in most discussions, of the relationship between Caribbean-Atlantic expansion on the one hand and westward-Pacific on the other – and the way the relationship is mediated, both materially and imaginatively, by the Gulf of Mexico” (475). President Monroe’s vision of Florida and Cuba as “forming the mouth of the Mississippi” (qtd. in Gruesz 472) was part of a vision that saw the expansionism of US territory into the Caribbean, but also later into Texas and Mexico, related to the expansion of the United States’ slave empire into these areas.
Cooper’s novel brings both directions of expansionism together in having its main conflict unfold in the Gulf waters surrounding the Florida Reef. The novel’s plot focuses on an American captain (Captain Stephen Spike) who sails from New York City to Key West on his ship Molly Swash, allegedly to transport flour but who is actually planning to smuggle gunpowder to the Mexican government. Spike embodies the ruthless wealth-searcher who has abandoned all ideals of patriotism or republicanism, signaling the emergence of the market economy in the United States. He aims to sell the powder and his ship to Don Juan Montefalderon, a Mexican patriot whom he has arranged to meet at the Dry Tortugas—a remote part of the Florida Keys approximately 70 miles west of Key West. To prevent his discovery, Spike has hidden the kegs of gunpowder ←160 | 161→in large flour barrels—a strategy that proves successful when his ship has to undergo inspection on leaving the New York City port. To avoid contact with the American sloop-of-war Poughkeepsee that is patrolling the reef area, he sails around the island of Cuba and repeatedly hides in the mazes of the reef’s shoals, islands, and lagoons that are difficult to access for the large government ship.
The Florida Reef is thus depicted as a space of crime, a site where the nation is in danger of being betrayed to an enemy nation. Other than in Audubon’s text from the 1830s where the government revenue cutter seems to be in full control of the reef area, in Jack Tier the smuggler knows to navigate the reef much better than the captain of the Poughkeepsie, managing to escape renewed inspection. Cooper’s description of the reef portrays the Key area as a precarious space that renders the nation vulnerable to dangerous forces from abroad and that serves as loophole for smugglers like Spike:
The Florida Reef, with all its dangers, windings, and rocks, was as well known to [Spike] as the entrances to the port of New York. In addition to its larger channels, of which there are three or four, through which ships of size can pass, it had many others that would admit only vessels of a lighter draught of water. The brig was not flying light, it is true, but she was merely in good ballast trim, and passages would be available to her, into which the Poughkeepsie would not dare to venture. (Cooper 303)
Captain Spike can be sure that even if the government ship would come close, “escape was easy enough to one who knew the passages of the reef and islets” (Cooper 190). In Cooper’s text, the reef is a liminal space in many ways: it is situated between land and sea; it is also located in a geographical liminal zone between the United States, Cuba, and Mexico. The conflict between Mexico and the United States is here imagined as a conflict in a space that is not Mexico but also somehow not really the United States because they do not fully dominate it.
This liminal state is highlighted by the novel’s plot that stresses the dangers of traveling through the reef area and that includes encounters with sharks, tornados, and wreckers. As the ship anchors at the Dry Tortugas and Captain Spike is in the process of transferring his barrels of gunpowder to the Mexican schooner, both ships are hit by a tropical storm “of appalling strength and frightful inconsistency” (Cooper 149) that sinks the Mexican schooner with all hands on board in a matter of minutes. Tornadoes and hurricanes that are frequent in the waters around Florida represent a tropical force that cannot be contained or predicted. Unlike in Audubon’s “domesticated” portrayal of the reef area, Cooper’s protagonists see themselves exposed to an uncontrollable sea. Sharks have a prominent place in many scenes of the novel. The passengers of the Molly Swash, after having been abandoned by Captain Spike, seek refuge on ←161 | 162→the upturned hull of Don Montefalderon’s schooner, where they are faced with the danger of being ripped apart by the animals:
“What things are those glancing about the vessel?” cried Rose, almost in the same breath; “those dark, sharp-looking sticks—see, there are five or six of them! and they move as if fastened to something under the water that pulls them about.”
“Them’s the customers I mean, Miss Rose,” answered Jack, in the same strain as that in which he had first spoken; “they’re the same thing at sea as lawyers be ashore, and seem made to live on other folks. Them’s sharks.” […] The light had, by this time, so far returned as to enable the party […] to see the fins of half a dozen sharks, which were already prowling about the wreck, the almost necessary consequence of their proximity to a reef in that latitude. (Cooper 247)
Comparing the sharks to American lawyers prying for profits, Cooper comments not only on the reef, but also on the state of American society. Just as the sharks may rip apart the American passengers on the schooner, the American nation faces the risk of being destroyed by greed and search for profit, as symbolized by lawyers. This greed is also symbolized by Captain Spike himself, who is compared in the novel to a wrecker and thus implicitly to a shark: Spike negotiates with Montefalderon to rescue the latter’s ship for half of the gold doubloons it contains, doing exactly what he has accused the wreckers of doing earlier: he talks about the “devils of wreckers [who] hang about these reefs. Let this brig only get fast on a rock, and they would turn up, like sharks, all around us, each with his maw open for salvage” (Cooper 413). Later in the story, the mate of the Molly Swash, Harry Mulford, who sets out to save some of the passengers, dives into the water to retrieve a boat, only to find the sharks about to attack him: “Every fin was gliding toward him—a dark array of swift and furious foes. Ten thousand bayonets, levelled in their line, could not have been one-half as terrible” (Cooper 284).
The sharks at the reef in a wider sense can also be read as a comment on the risks of leading an expansionist war against Mexico, a war driven by the desire to expand the production of profitable staple crops based on slave labor. Cooper’s decision to make the Florida Reef a setting to dramatize a story about the Mexican War is significant in view of his own ambivalence about the war—an ambivalence that becomes visible in the novel’s preface. Here Cooper observes:
When this book was commenced, it was generally supposed that the Mexican war would end, after a few months of hostilities. Such was never the opinion of the writer. He has ever looked forward to a protracted struggle; and, now that Congress has begun to interfere, sees as little probability of its termination, as on the day it commenced. (Cooper v)
Cooper was critical of the expansion into western (and southern) territories. In the conflict between those forces endorsing the consolidation of the nation versus ←162 | 163→those arguing for further expansion, Cooper opted for consolidation. To a friend he wrote, “[w]e have conquered already more territory than we want” (Iglesias 263).
It is quite fitting then, that in Jack Tier, the reef area becomes a site of death: it turns into a wet grave for the majority of the crew and passengers of both the American and the Mexican ship. Not only does Don Montefalderon’s schooner sink, pulling his entire crew into the depths of the ocean, but in a subsequent chapter Captain Spike, in an attempt to escape the government ship, throws his crew and passengers overboard to lighten the weight of his brig and save himself. As they die among the sharks, the captain is fatally wounded himself by shots from the government ship; his ship founders on a bank of coral and becomes the bounty of wreckers: “The wreckers went out the moment the news of the calamity of the Swash reached their ears. Some went in quest of the doubloons of the schooner, and others to pick up anything valuable that might be discovered in the neighbourhood of the stranded brig” (Cooper 496–97).
Eventually, at the novel’s end, the buried body of Captain Spike is washed away at Key West by “the hurricane of 1846, which is known to have occurred only a few months later” and his bones are left “among the wrecks and relics of the Florida Reef” (Cooper 506).
In Cooper’s novel, the reef is produced as a transnational zone different from the rest of the nation—a space that provides access to other parts of the Americas, yet in need of heightened supervision. That this space will eventually be controlled seems as certain to Cooper with the fact that the Florida Keys are of strategic importance for the nation, as Cooper has one of his protagonists observe: “It [the Dry Tortugas] may turn out to be the key to the Gulf of Mexico, one of these days, ma’am. Uncle Sam is surveying the reef, and intends to do something here, I believe. When Uncle Sam is really in earnest, he is capable of performing great things” (Cooper 220).
While Cooper presented the Florida Reef as the site of a story of greed, death, and betrayal, he at the same time seems to have regarded the expansion into the Gulf region as inevitable. Implicitly endorsing the vision that the United States would eventually gain control of the entire hemisphere, he has his narrator ponder future developments:
Of late years, the government of the United States has turned its attention to the capabilities of the Florida Reef, as an advanced naval station … the day is not probably very distant when fleets will lie at anchor among the islets described in our earlier chapters, or garnish the fine waters of Key West. (Cooper 481)
Nevertheless, in the same passage, the narrator makes clear that the plans for the development of Key West are rather “a promise” (481) than a reliable prospect. ←163 | 164→A few weeks after the end of the tale, he relates, Key West was hit by a hurricane and was “washed away” (510). Thus the attempt to dominate the reef area—just as expansionism beyond the nation’s borders—is shown to remain a risky enterprise.
4Joshua Giddings: Florida as a Space of Maroon Resistance
While the Florida Reef in Cooper’s text emerges as a liminal as well as perilous space, the peninsula’s swamps function as a marker of the area’s dangerous tropicality in Joshua Giddings’ history of fugitive slaves. Writer Barbara Hurd calls swamps “places of transition […] of overlap, of blurred lines, and of ambiguity” (7), pointing to the elusiveness of this landscape. Swamps in Giddings’ account become a site where the power of the slave-owner ends, inverting the hierarchies between masters and slaves. Giddings’ text gives evidence of the specific significance the swamp assumes in the geographical imagination of slave-owners and abolitionists.
Like other coastal areas in the Greater Caribbean in the 18th and 19th centuries, Florida became a major destination for runaway slaves. It shared this condition with other places in the hemisphere, such as parts of the Central American coastal lands or the interior of French Guyana and Suriname (Putnam 5). As ethnographer Richard Price has observed, “[c]ommunities formed by self-liberated slaves dotted the fringes of plantation America, from Brazil to the southeastern United States, from Peru to the American Southwest for more than four centuries” (Price 1). In colonial times, Spanish authorities granted these runaways liberty in return for their military support against British interests and allowed them to live in their own communities, own arms and property, and select their own leaders (Mulroy 3). When Florida became a US territory, slave-owners who had lost their slaves enhanced their efforts to retrieve their “property,” appealing to the US government for help. The solution to the problem of Florida that the federal government had pursued earlier and that was driven forward as soon as Andrew Jackson had moved into office was to remove the native population from Florida and to return the fugitive slaves to their owners. With the Indian Removal Act of 1830, the determination to drive the resident tribes out of the Southeast to areas west of the Mississippi river became a government policy. However, in the case of Florida, this endeavor was considerably postponed by the Seminoles’ alliance with escaped slaves or maroons (Black Seminoles). Together, Seminoles and Black Seminoles resisted the armed forces throughout multiple military conflicts which became known as the Seminole Wars. Seminoles and wreckers also often helped fugitive slaves ←164 | 165→to continue their journey to the Bahamas, where they were safe from persecution by slave-hunters.
The history of the Black Seminoles and the specific role of Florida as a tropical space of radical resistance at the periphery of the United States were brought to national attention in 1858 by Joshua Giddings’ book The Exiles of Florida: The Crimes Committed by Our Government against the Maroons Who Fled from South Carolina and Other Slave States. Joshua Reed Giddings (1795–1864) was an attorney and a US Congressman from the Western Reserve of Ohio who served in the House of Representatives for over 20 years (from 1838 to 1858). A prominent opponent of slavery throughout his entire political career, Giddings was an active supporter of the Underground Railroad, and his Ashtabula County home reportedly was a stop on the Railroad (Stewart, Joshua R. Giddings 8). As a member of Congress, Giddings could not openly call for rebellion,10 but he nevertheless emphatically defended the rights of freedom-seeking slaves to use violence in defending themselves against their oppressors (Stewart, “Joshua Giddings” 115).
Giddings’ widely read history of the Black Seminoles was a provocative text in various ways. By calling the fugitive slaves “maroons,” he called up the history of militant fugitive slave communities in the Caribbean, communities that were linked with “notions of guerrilla activity” (Diouf 4),11 implicitly contextualizing maroon resistance in a larger hemispheric tradition of radical revolt. Giddings also revealed the entanglement of slavery and national expansion, challenging the slaveholding South’s increasing control of national politics and enlightening his contemporaries about the American government’s involvement in slavery, delivering strong arguments to the abolitionist cause.12As he demonstrates, the ←165 | 166→federal government was involved in assisting the slaveholding southerners: it used tax money to refund slave-owners for the loss of their escaped slaves who had fled to Florida (64); it later financed the war against the exiles and Seminoles with tax money; it paid the Creek Indians for hunting escaped slaves and returning them to their owners (161).
In the first part of his history of the Black Seminoles, Giddings presents Florida as a haven for escaped slaves under Spanish rule, making clear that the direction of fugitive mobility did not have to be necessarily from South to North and emphasizing the hemispheric dimension of this mobility. In the geographical imagination presented by his text, Spanish Florida was a kind of Canaan for the exiles: they formed communities and cultivated the land, raised cattle and, as Giddings puts it, were over several generations, “[s]hut out from the cares and strifes of more civilized men” and “happy in their own social solitude” (34). Giddings makes a direct connection between their peacefulness and their liberty under Spanish rule, suggesting that the later violence of the Seminole Wars was a direct effect of the attempt to re-enslave them.
When Florida became American and white settlers moved into its territories, the situation for the exiles changed dramatically as they were no longer under the protection of the Spanish crown. Giddings highlights the development of the conflict that led to the First and Second Seminole Wars: as slave-owners kept capturing slaves and returning them to slavery, maroon communities were attacked by troops and the Seminole Indians were gradually displaced from their territories by white settlers in Florida; hostilities merged into armed resistance from the maroons and Seminoles who allied against their common enemy, the white forces. The beginning of the Second Seminole War in 1835 marked what some historians regard as the biggest slave revolt in the United States—a revolt that, as Giddings points out, was born from “the hatred which slavery alone can engender in the human breast” (118).13 Plantations were raided, property destroyed, and families killed.14←166 | 167→
Giddings presents Florida as a space that, due to its topographical conditions, offers the exiles many opportunities to resist their opponents and to avoid re-enslavement as the maroons—many of which had originally resided in the northern part of the peninsula—moved to the swamps and forests in Central and Southern Florida. As he observes, “the Exiles were taking up their residence farther in the interior of the territory, upon the Whitlacoochee, the St. John’s, the Big Cypress Swamp, the islands in the Great Wahoo Swamp, and places far retired from civilization” (Giddings 70). The isolated plantations were vulnerable to attacks from exiles and Seminoles; moreover, the number of Indians and exiles (Black Seminoles) increased constantly as slaves left the burnt plantations and joined the Seminole forces (Wasserman 247),15 thus prolonging the conflict between Indians and whites in Florida.
In this military conflict, the swamp areas of Central and Southern Florida became a space that stood as a symbol for maroon radical resistance against re-enslavement. By reference to the map of Florida, Giddings remarks:
[I]t will be perceived that the great swamps, extensive everglades, hommocks, ponds and lakes, which spread over that Territory, must present great difficulties in the progress of troops embodied in military force; while a small party, following the footsteps of their leader, would pass over, around or through them with facility. The Great Okefenoka Swamp, lying on the south line of Georgia and the northern portion of Florida, afforded a retreat for small parties of Indians and Exiles, from which they sallied forth and committed depredations upon the people of southern Georgia, murdering families, burning buildings and devastating plantations. The swamps bordering on the Withlacoochee, the Great Wahoo Swamp, and other fastnesses on the western portion of the Peninsula, gave shelter to other bands, who, in like manner, wreaked their vengeance upon the inhabitants of that portion of the Territory. (282–83)
Giddings’ text suggests that the successes of the rebels can be attributed to their familiarity with and effective use of the swamp areas. From the swamps, the exiles strike back—burning plantations, killing whites, and spreading devastation. For slave-owners and troops, swamp areas turned out to be an unpredictable space in which the army was helpless against their well-organized enemies. The complexity of the territory turned out to be an advantage for the exiles while turning into a deceptive and finally deathly space for the army. Giddings describes one ←167 | 168→confrontation between the army and their Seminole and black opponents that became known as the “Dade Massacre”: the army under the command of Major Dade was “encamped in scientific order,” while their “encampment had been selected according to military science” (104). The troops were “unsuspicious of the hidden death which beset their pathway” (104), lacking imagination of what expected them in the swamps. On a morning that was “peaceful and quiet as the breath of summer” (104), they proceeded in full view of their opponents who were hidden behind trees. When they opened fire, the troops were immediately “thrown into disorder,” and finally every man was killed, while the exiles had minimal losses. In this and other passages, Giddings stresses the swamps’ dangerous tropicality as a marker of the landscape’s elusiveness and the resilience of its inhabitants. The logic of the swamp dwellers is presented as superior to the “scientific” order of the military forces, resulting in their destruction.
Although Giddings does not directly allude to the Caribbean slave revolts that had produced anxieties in plantation owners throughout the slaveholding Americas, the parallels to the successful slave rebellion in Haiti that had used similar guerilla tactics are obvious. In some cases, as Giddings explains, the Seminoles were aided by “maroons from Cuba” (275) who had fled from Spanish masters, as in one incident in South Florida that he interprets as an act of vengeance by the Seminoles and their allies which found “their brethren driven from their own possessions” (276), and finally took up arms against the United States. A group of these maroons and Indians crossed over to an island on the Florida Keys and “attacked the dwellings, burned the storehouses, and destroyed most of the property belonging to the inhabitants” (276), while some of the inhabitants were murdered. The same group also participated in the wrecking business, plundering wrecked ships, and killing their crews.
Giddings repeatedly takes pains to point out who is responsible for these outbreaks of violence, explaining the revolt as the outcome of the crimes the government has committed against Seminoles and exiled slaves in Florida:
All that the Exiles or Indians had ever asked or desired of the American government, was to leave them to themselves; to permit them to remain as they were, as they had been for many generations. The war on our part had not been commenced for the attainment of any high or noble purpose […] Our national influence and military power had been put forth to reenslave our fellow men; to transform immortal beings into chattels, and make them the property of slaveholders; to oppose the rights of human nature; and the legitimate fruits of this policy were gathered in a plentiful harvest of crime, bloodshed and individual suffering. (Giddings 119)←168 | 169→
Just as many of the more radical abolitionists in the 1850s, Giddings reveals the neat spatial separation of a slaveholding south and a north that was free of the sin of slavery to be empty rhetoric, exposing the involvement of the US government in protecting slave-owners and their property. As Giddings makes clear, the government even legally took possession of about 90 escaped slaves who were caught by army troops in Florida during the Second Seminole War (161), so that, as he points out, “the people of the nation became the actual owners of these ninety slaves, so far as the Executive could bind them to the ownership of human flesh” (Giddings 161). The idea that the north is a “pure” space not involved in the business of slavery is clearly shown to be an illusion (4, 102).
The Second Seminole War turned into a prolonged, costly, and unwinnable war. It ended by US government decision, without treaty or capitulation. While the maroons after long negotiations were allowed to leave Florida together with the Seminoles, and were promised freedom by the government, Giddings make clear that this promise was treacherous. The maroons and Seminoles did not receive any land for themselves in the “western territory” but were expected to move onto the territory of the Creek Indians, a slaveholding tribe whose members had worked as paid slave-hunters for whites. A longer passage of the narrative is dedicated to the role of John Horse, a Black Seminole leader who led more than one hundred Black Seminoles from Indian Territory across the US border to Mexico where they created a settlement in Nacimiento, Coahuila, a space where they were finally safe from slavery. Giddings stresses the fundamental difference between what expected the exiles on US territory and and beyond the nation’s borders: while they ran the risk of being re-enslaved within the United States, no matter where they settled, “Mexico was free! No slave clanked his chains under its government” (332). He thus suggests that the only safe place for slaves is a space not within the nation but outside of it.
At the end of his text Giddings links his narrative of fugitive resistance to more recent events in US expansionist history, specifically to the conflicts resulting from the addition of slave states to the US after the US-Mexican War. Drawing parallels between the fugitives who had fled from Georgia to Spanish Florida and slaves who escaped from Texas plantations to Mexico, he suggests that attempts to retrieve these slaves would result in similarly violent conflicts as had characterized the situation at the Florida frontier. His text ends with the warning that “many of the scenes [of violence] which were enacted in Florida, will most likely be again presented on our southwestern frontier […] and the same effects will be likely to follow” (338). Giddings, like Cooper, thus brings together Caribbean-Atlantic and westward-Pacific expansionism by dwelling on the violence engendered by both.←169 | 170→
Giddings’ text presents Florida as part of the Caribbean rimlands: a space that was home to “unruly” populations and that was close to the Caribbean where slave rebellions such as the Haitian Revolution had overturned white dominance. In his history, Giddings constructs Florida as an uncontainable space of radical resistance that functions as a threat to the proslavery United States. In the imagination of the US government and of slave-owners in the South, Florida remained a ‘disordered’ frontier space in need of control—a space where backward and riotous people dwelled and that needed to be cleaned up. At the time when Giddings published his denouncement of government policies concerning Florida maroons in 1858, this process of “cleaning up Florida” was almost completed, as expansionist policies had driven out the majority of native and black people from the peninsula. At the same time, the empire of slavery did not stop growing, as filibusters supported by southern slave-owners had invaded Nicaragua and threatened to install slavery there, and the US-Mexican War had added new slave states to the union.
The different spatializations of Florida in Audubon’s, Cooper’s, and Giddings’ texts derive from their divergent perspectives on the nation’s future and their views on expansionist politics and slavery. Audubon’s episodes endorse an expansionist outlook, in which he fashions himself as an “American Woodsman” who helps to claim Florida and its nature as part of an American pastoral. During his trip of the yet largely unsettled tropical wilderness of swamp areas along the Halifax and Saint Johns rivers and on the Key islands, he describes plantations as well as the wreckers’ ship as well-ordered islands of a civilization that will soon dominate the entire peninsula. Reading the episodes in the context of a hemispheric regionalism and the geographical imagination of Americans concerning the position of Florida as part of the “Caribbean rimlands,” it becomes evident that Audubon in his depiction of the landscape tries to contain and domesticate the tropics, aiming at incorporating the peninsula into the nation. Quite different from this spatial imagination, Cooper’s novel frames the reef area in images of a dangerous tropicality and emphasizes the porousness of the southern periphery. The Florida Keys in his text are depicted as gateway or “key” to the Gulf of Mexico—a perspective that reflects the expansionist politics of his era. However, at the same time, they also dramatize the risks of expansionism: in Cooper’s text, the reef is the site where enemy forces can enter the nation, and where unpredictable tropical nature brings death and destruction. Giddings likewise evokes an uncontainable tropicality and spatializes Florida as the site of ←170 | 171→rebellion, evoking maroon resistance against slavery in other plantation societies in the Caribbean basin. At the same time, he—like Cooper—connects expansion into Florida and the Gulf area to the annexation of Mexican territories in the Southwest. All authors depict Florida as a “hemispheric region” that links the United States to its neighbors, yet the conclusions they draw from this are quite different.
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1The title of Ashli White’s 2003 study ‘A Flood of Impure Lava’: Saint Dominguan Refugees in the United States, 1791–1820 is based on the perception of refugees from the Haitian Revolution that entered the United States in thousands. These refugees, many of whom were of mixed racial ancestry, were considered with suspicion in the United States (White 3).
2Slave revolts and tropical diseases such as yellow fever were often compared: for example the Haitian Revolution was presented in public discourse as an epidemic that threatened to spread across the Americas (cf. Hunt 4). In view of this menacing ‘disease,’ southern states such as South Carolina took legal action to prevent colored people from the West Indies to enter the United States, banning the Caribbean slave trade for several years and enacting a large number of repressive measures against resident blacks (Zuckerman 182).
3A considerably expanded version of the last part of this chapter about Joshua Giddings is published in a separate article in Amerikastudien/American Studies.
4A term taken from Ted Levins who, referring to these topographical characteristics, describes Florida as “liquid land”—a region where the distinction between land and water collapsed (Levins).
5In Letters from an American Farmer, Hector St. John de Crèvecoeur charts the course of civil people: “To examine how the world is gradually settled, how the howling swamp is converted into a pleasing meadow, the rough ridge into a fine field; and to hear the cheerful whistling, the rural song, where there was no sound heard before, save the yell of the savage, the screech of the owl or the hissing of the snake?” (qtd. in Howarth 523).
6This is the title of a 1966 dissertation by Lillian B. Miller on Patrons and Patriotism: The Encouragement of the Fine Arts in the United States, 1790–1860.
7For a discussion of the letters and reports that Audubon wrote to friends and to his wife, see Proby; Nobles, John James Audubon.
8According to Gregory Nobles, Audubon’s racial background is uncertain: his mother Jeanne Rabin was Creole, which could mean that she was of mixed heritage. Several African American registers have claimed Audubon as a mixed-race person with some degree of African descent (Nobles John James Audubon 16–17).
9For example, in the episode “The Florida Keys” he describes hunting cormorants: “And there we were, with four hundred cormorants’ nests over our heads. The birds were sitting, and when we fired, the number that dropped as if dead was such that I thought by some unaccountable means or other we had killed the whole colony […]” (312). Later their guide instructs them: “ ‘If you wish it, you may load The Lady of the Green Mantle [their ship] with them in less than a week. Stand still, my lads; and now, gentlemen, in ten minutes you and I will bring down a score of them.’ And so we did” (“The Florida Keys” 314).
10In 1841, Giddings violated the House’s “gag rule” that limited congressional discussion of slavery with an open condemnation of the Jackson administration which he accused of financing the capture of escaped slaves in Florida with tax money: “[T]his Administration, now just out of power, has dealt in human flesh; the funds of Government, drawn from the pockets of free laborers, have been paid for the capture of fugitive slaves” in Florida (“Speech of Mr. Giddings of Ohio in the House of Representatives.” The Congressional Globe, vol. 9, Feb. 1841, p. 349.).
11As Sylvaine Diouf (3) has pointed out, southerners denied that maroons existed in Florida or elsewhere in the United States.
12As the text’s title that points to the “crimes committed by our government” shows (and as several historians have pointed out), Giddings was primarily interested in the plight of runaway slaves (and less in the situation of the Seminoles) as he considered the Second Seminole War an important issue through which abolitionists could garner support for the antislavery case (Joy 201; Kerber 279).
13The isolated position of Florida as a space that was unlike most other places in the nation may have contributed to historians’ perception of the revolt as an incident unrelated to other slave rebellions in the United States. One could argue that just like Florida was relegated to the periphery of the nation, the maroons have been relegated to the margins of national history—their successful revolt has never been properly acknowledged.
14An 1836 account of the horrors that East Florida planters experienced in the revolt reports that “a great number of the most valuable plantations have been totally destroyed, and whole families missing; and as the Indians have been frequently discovered dancing to and fro around their burning dwellings, there can be but little doubt but some of the missing were consumed in them” (qtd. in Wasserman 245).
15Barcia observes that “toward the end of the conflict, in 1838, the rebels’ ranks had grown to approximately 1,600, as more than 500 liberated slaves from the toppled sugar empire joined the cause” (10).←173 | 174→←174 | 175→