Florida’s Seminoles: Telling the Whole Story
A museum’s festival brings an often overlooked part of Florida history to life.
When we think of the history of the Seminole tribe in Florida, we tend to think of one group of people. However, in reality, the Seminoles are a diverse group of men and women from different tribes and backgrounds. Their story is emblematic of the state they took shelter in. People from all walks of life trying to survive in the swampland.
It’s that inclusiveness that Andy Warrener felt was missing at the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City and what led him to apply for a Florida Humanities Community Project Grant to help fund a festival dedicated to telling the whole story of the Second Seminole War.
For much of its 60-year existence, the museum has focused on exhibitions and events centered around Florida history from the prehistoric era to World War II. But, there was always one bit of history that Warrener felt never got the attention it deserved.
“The Seminole Wars, particularly. the Second Seminole War,” Warrener said. “The Second Seminole War is the longest, costliest Indian conflict in American history.” The magnitude of the war was only matched by its proximity to the Pioneer Florida Museum.
Many of the battles occurred not too far from where the museum was located in Dade City. In fact, the city itself was named after Major Francis Dade who was killed in an ambush just up the road from the museum early into the war.
Using connections he made participating in reenactments across the state, Warrener was able to bring historians to the festival who provided educational presentations on what life was like during the war. Each speaker offered a different side to the story.
And, thanks in part to the funding Florida Humanities provided, Warrener said he was able to invite members of the Seminole tribe to speak at the festival as well — including Daniel Tommie, a Seminole dugout canoe builder who would discuss his craft while showing how it’s done. A relationship was also made with the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki museum in Clewiston, which provided Pioneer Florida advice on how to make sure its portrayal of the Seminoles was accurate.
“With these events, we tell the civilian element, we tell the soldier element and we tell the Seminole element,” Warrener said. “But, I prefer the Seminole element to be told by the Seminoles themselves.”
That infectious energy to have everyone be a part of the larger story is what drew Matthew Griffin to be a part of the festival. Griffin, a historian and fellow reenactor, is a Black Seminole descendant. According to him, his great-grandparents were escaped slaves from Alabama. They would settle in what would become modern day Brooksville not too far from a neighboring Seminole village. Eventually, one of his relatives would marry into the Seminole tribe.
“There’s not a lot of people in the state telling the stories of the Blacks in relation to the Seminoles,” Griffin said. “There’s not a lot of young Black men that are dressing out in full regalia telling the story.”
The reception Griffin said he received at the event was a rewarding feeling. Not many people had heard of the Black Seminoles and were excited to learn more. He remembered explaining that overlooked part of history to a young Black child.
“To watch Matt Griffin tell a young Black kid that he or she has a stake in Florida history as much as anybody — that is such an inspiring thing,” Warrener said.
“It makes me want to keep doing this. Keep pushing the envelope.”
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