1791: When America Had a Real King – William Bartram Met Him

Bartram & The Seminole King From Bartram’s Travels, published 1791 Alachua Indians

AFTER crossing over this point or branch of the marshes, we entered a noble forest, the land level, and the soil fertile, being a loose, dark brown, coarse sandy loam, on a clay or marley foundation; the forests were Orange groves, overtoped by grand Magnolias, Palms, Live Oaks . . . with various kinds of shrubs and herbacious plants . . . .

Alachua Savana — in Florida, the land of the “Siminoles” (Seminoles), sketched by Bartram

We were chearfully received in this hospitable shade, by various tribes of birds,

their sprightly songs seemed a prelude to the vicinity of human habitations. This magnificent grove was a wing of the vast forests lying upon the coast of the great and beautiful lake of Cuscowilla, at no great distance from us.

Continuing eight or nine miles through this sublime forest, we entered on an open forest of lofty Pines and Oaks, on gently swelling sand hills, and presently saw the lake, its waters sparkling through the open groves. Near the path was a large artificial mound of earth, on a most charming, high situation, supposed to be the work of the ancient Floridans or Yamasees, with other traces of an Indian town; here were three or four Indian habitations, the women and children saluted us with chearfulness and complaisance.

After riding near a mile farther we arrived at Cuscowilla, near the banks: a pretty brook of water ran through the town, and entered the lake just by.

WE were welcomed to the town, and conducted by the young men and maidens to the chief’s house, which stood on an eminence, and was distinguished from the rest by its superior magnitude, a large flag being hoisted on a high staff at one corner. We immediately alighted; the chief, who is called the Cowkeeper, attended by several ancient men, came to us, and in a very free and sociable manner, shook our hands (or rather arms) a form of salutation peculiar to the American Indians, saying at the same time, “You are come.” We followed him to an apartment prepared for the reception of their guests. Seminole-king-bartram       THE pipe being filled, it is handed around, after which a large bowl, with what they call “Thin drink,” is brought in and set down on a small low table; in this bowl is a great wooden ladle; each person takes up in it as much as he pleases, and after drinking until satisfied, returns it again into the bowl, pushing the handle towards the person in the circle, and so it goes round.

AFTER the usual compliments and enquiries relative to our adventures, &c. the chief trader informed the Cowkeeper, in the presence of his council or attendants, the purport of our business, with which he expressed his satisfaction. He was then informed what the nature of my errand was, and he received me with complaisance; giving me unlimited permission to travel over the country for the purpose of collecting flowers, medicinal plants, &c. saluting me by the name of PUC PUGGY or the Flower hunter, recommending me to the friendship and protection of his people. . . .

SOON after we had fixed on the time and manner of proceeding on the further settlement of the treaty, a considerable number of Indians assembled around their chief, when the conversation turned to common and familiar topics.

THE chief is a tall well made man, very affable and cheerful, about sixty years of age, his eyes lively and full of fire, his countenance manly and placid, yet ferocious, or what we call savage; his nose aquiline, his dress extremely simple, but his head trimmed and ornamented in the true Creek mode. He has been a great warrior, having then attending him as slaves, many Yamasee captives, taken by himself when young. They were dressed better then he, served and waited upon him with signs of the most abject fear.

The manners and customs of the Alachuas, and most of the lower Creeks or Siminoles, appear evidently tinctured with Spanish civilization. Their religious and civil usages manifest a predilection for the Spanish customs. There are several Christians among them, many of whom wear little silver crucifixes, affixed to a wampum collar round their necks, or suspended by a small chain upon their breast. These are said to be baptized, and notwithstanding most of them speak and understand Spanish, yet they have been the most bitter and formidable Indian enemies the Spaniards ever had.

The slaves, both male and female, are permitted to marry amongst them: their children are free, and considered in every respect equal to themselves, but the parents continue in a state of slavery as long as they live.

IN observing these slaves, we behold at once, in their countenance and manners, the striking contrast betwixt a state of freedom and slavery. They are the tamest, the most abject creatures that we can possibly imagine: mild, peaceable and tractable, they seem to have no will or power to act but as directed by their masters; whilst the free Indians, on the contrary, are bold, active and clamorous. They differ as widely from each other as the bull from the ox.

William Bartram (1739-1823)

THE repast is now brought in, consisting of venison, stewed with bear’s oil, fresh corn cakes, milk and homony, and our drink honey and water, very cool and agreeable. After partaking of this banquet, we took leave and departed for the great savanna. . . .





Other Bartram posts:
William Bartram: A Truly Divergent Friend

Seeing Like Bartram

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