martin-luther-king-3-web.jpgJUPITER – Two critical battles which took place in Palm Beach County during the Second Seminole War and ultimately shaped the history of Florida and the rest of the nation will once again be commemorated.

The 19th annual Seminole Maroon Commemoration of the Loxahatchee Battlefield will take place Sunday, coinciding with the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday weekend.

It will be held from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the site of the battle, located in Loxahatchee Battlefield Park, 9060 W. Indiantown Road, Jupiter.

The remembrance ceremony will include traditional Native American and African spiritual rituals, lectures, battlefield tours, cultural displays and historical presentations honoring the sacrifices and heroism of all who fought at the site.

The remembrance commemorates the 176th anniversary of Powell’s Battle of Jan. 15 and Jesup’s Battle on Jan. 24, both in 1838, which were fought between U.S. forces, aided by Tennessee volunteers, and Native and African American Seminole survivors of the earlier Christmas Day, 1837, Battle of Lake Okeechobee who had regrouped at this location farther south in defense of their settlements and hard-won freedom.                                                                             

In the first battle, named for U.S. Navy Lt. Levin Powell, the Seminoles defeated the U. S., leading to the second battle in which Maj. Gen. Thomas Jesup took 137 Seminoles captive while they were under a white flag of truce. 

The fact that the vast majority of the captives were African American confirms Jesup’s description of the conflict as “a Negro war, not an Indian war.” 

Indeed, many historians regard the Seminole Wars as “the largest slave rebellion in the nation’s history,” as the Florida peninsula, long under Spanish rule, had by then become well established for more than a century and a half as “Freedom Land.”   

The captured Seminoles were eventually deported on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma Territory, where descendants of the survivors still live, or turned over to “slave catchers” from other Southern states.

 The pine-covered Florida landscape had not only attracted Native peoples escaping European settler encroachment on their traditional lands but also Africans fleeing slavery, who, both before and following the King’s Edict of 1693 freeing enslaved Africans on Florida soil, began to establish and defend thriving Maroon communities which, in turn, attracted more self-liberators to join them.

Much of this complex, multi-layered human drama remained virtually unknown, even in Palm Beach County, where these decisive battles were fought, until the discovery of the battlefield site, long thought to be farther north, by archaeologists and discoveries by local historians and activists, all working to bring the full story to light.

The event will also include a special remembrance of the victims of the Jan. 12, 2010, earthquake in Haiti which killed several hundred thousand people and left millions homeless, many of them badly injured.

 The commemoration is being presented by the Florida Black Historical Research Project Inc., in cooperation with the Loxahatchee Battlefield Preservationists, Palm Beach County Parks and the Sons of Union Veterans and is partnered with the annual Fall Muster event at the Battlefield every November.