A factual look at the abolitionists' legend
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In his 1858 political history of the Black Seminoles, Exiles of Florida,
Joshua Reed Giddings, an antislavery Congressman from Ohio, offered a lengthy
account of the alleged abduction of Osceola's black wife. The account shows two characteristics of
Giddings' writing: a flair for melodrama and an occasional disregard for carefully examining facts. The passage is riddled with errors that Giddings could have scrutinized more carefully, even in 1858. But the crusader was less interested in historical accuracy than in advancing his antislavery view of American history; in many ways this makes his document all the more interesting today.
Below is Giddings' account, with factual comments added in green brackets.
"A young and gallant warrior, named Osceola, was the principal actor in one of these scenes. He was the son of an Indian trader, a white man named Powell. His mother was the daughter of a Seminole chief.
"He had recently married a woman said to have been beautiful . She was the daughter of a chief who had married one of the Exiles; but as all colored people by slaveholding law are said to follow the condition of the mother, she was called an African slave. Osceola was proud of his ancestry.
He hated slavery, and those who practiced the holding of slaves, with a bitterness that is but little understood by those who have never witnessed its revolting crimes.
"He visited Fort King, in company with his wife and a few friends, for the purpose of trading.
Mr. Thompson, the agent, was present, and, while engaged in business, the wife of Osceola was seized as a slave. Evidently having negro blood in her veins, the law pronounced her a slave; and, as no other person could show title to her, the pirate who had got possession of her body, was supposed of course to be her owner.
"Osceola became frantic with rage, but was instantly seized and placed in irons, while his wife was hurried away to slaveholding pollution. He remained six days in irons, when, General Thompson says, he became penitent, and was released.
"From the moment this outrage was committed, the Florida War may be regarded as commenced. Osceola swore vengeance upon Thompson, and those who assisted in the perpetration of this indignity upon himself, as well as upon his wife, and upon our common humanity."
Giddings Exiles 98-99.
Part 2, War: l