Rebellion May 30, 1844     
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The Exiles of Florida, title pages
Frontispiece and title page from The Exiles of Florida, by Joshua Reed Giddings, first edition published by Follett, Foster and Company in 1858. Author's collection.
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Renown in Exile

As a work of scholarship, Exiles suffered from factual errors and its author’s overt antislavery bias, yet its overall framing of Black Seminole history, particularly in relationship to American history, was accurate and perceptive.

For all its errors, Exiles remains a fascinating and visionary work of history. Despite his biases, or perhaps because of them, Giddings the lawyer and politician conscientiously built his case on careful citations of government documents; the effect made his indictment of “the crimes committed by our government against the maroons” compelling, factual, and credible to readers who might otherwise not have believed (then or now) that such events took place. The citations pointed the way for all future historians of the maroons. While Giddings got details wrong, he accurately identified the key turning points in the Black Seminole story through the 1850s, laying out a narrative structure that has influenced all subsequent writing on the community.

Giddings’ central weakness as a historian was that he viewed Black Seminole history almost strictly through the lens of antislavery. Ultimately, this weakness was also his strength: his constricted focus limited his understanding of the maroons, but it captured the relationship of their history to broader currents in the American story. Only one other historian since Giddings, Bruce Edward Twyman, has made a similar attempt to place Black Seminole history within the wider context of American history, particularly the political debates over slavery.* The lack of contextual history has had the unfortunate effect of relegating the maroons to the margins of national consciousness, as though their story were  obscure and irrelevant, even though it was well known to presidents and leading politicians of the early republic and the maroons themselves were the country’s most successful black freedom fighters prior to the Civil War.

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Sources: ©
*See Twyman's The Black Seminole Legacy and North American Politics, 1693-1845.
Part 4, Freedom: Outline  l Images
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 Trail Narrative
 + Prologue
 + Background: 1693-1812
 + Early Years: 1812-1832
 + War: 1832-1838
 + Exile: 1838-1850
 - Freedom: 1850-1882
+ Cost of Freedom
+ Liberty Foretold
spacer spacer Renown in Exile
The War Power
Lincoln's Choice
Black Militants
+ Liberty Found
 + Legacy & Conclusion


Giddings and the Black Abolitionists

Atlantic Monthly review of Exiles, September 1858

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More on the book’s style, bias, and vision

The Exiles of Florida, complete digital text