Graduation Year

2008

Document Type

Thesis

Degree

M.A.

Degree Granting Department

History

Major Professor

John Belohlavek, Ph.D.

Keywords

Florida, Slavery, Seminoles, Humphreys, Duval

Abstract

This project examines the intimate role slave claims played in the animosities which quickly developed from the acquisition of the Florida territory to the outbreak of the Second Seminole Indian War. By focusing on the Indian Agency and its first administrator, Gad Humphreys, this connection is made by suggesting that the territory's legislators were unwilling to allow the coexistence of Seminoles and blacks on the Florida frontier. The presence of these communities threatened developing Middle Florida plantations with significantly increased risks of both slave runaways and insurrection. In response, settlers and government officials pressed Humphreys to see not only that the Seminoles were pacified, but also that runaway slaves were apprehended and returned to their owners. The agent, however, held fundamentally different opinions on the subject of adjudicating these controversies than did the citizens under his direction, and his superiors in the War Department.

When Humphreys regularly supported Seminole claimants in the often-bitter property contests, his actions were met with the disapproval of his superiors-particularly Governor William Pope DuVal-who felt that his first duty was to ensure the development of the territory's plantations. The claims of Margaret Cook and Mary Hannay, in particular, strained these once respectful relationships to the point where DuVal sought to have Humphreys removed on various charges of misconduct relating to his direction in the controversies. An investigation was initiated into a number of allegations, yet focused on his conduct in slave controversies, and found that far from acting inappropriately, Humphreys had performed his duty with exceptional integrity. Ultimately, however, DuVal's effort was successful. Humphreys was superceded in 1830 by John Phagan-an agent much more willing to take the harsh measures necessary to have the numerous slaves claimed by the territory's citizens surrenders.

In examining the actions of Humphreys, the Indians under his charge, and the legislators he reported to, slave claim controversies of the 1822-1830 period clearly illustrate the centrality of the slavery issue on the Florida frontier, and inextricably connect slavery to the outbreak of the Second Seminole Indian War.

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