Black History Month 2013

BLACK AMERICA: Looking back; Forging ahead

Situated off the coast of southeast Florida, between Elliot Key and Old Rhodes Key, is Caesar’s Rock, a tiny island named after Florida’s first and most notorious pirate, Black Caesar.

Black Caesar was a very tall and large man from the west coast of Africa.

He is said to have been a tribal chief. But like all too many of Africa’s people of that day he was kidnapped and held against his will to be sold into slavery.

The story of Black Caesar compels a look at the choices presented to Africans at that time in history: Surrender to living a life of servitude, oppression and fear, or chose to live in freedom through theft and murder.

Black Caesar came to the Florida Keys in the early 1700s. He and other men from his tribe were captured and taken captive by the captain of a ship known for transporting slaves. Black Caesar became his prisoner and was kept under lock and key.

He befriended a crew member while being held on the ship as a slave. This friend would often sneak below to bring him food and water. But when a storm caused the ship to begin to sink, Black Caesar’s friend unlocked his makeshift prison and freed him.

Together, the two snuck onto a dingy and were the lone survivors of the shipwreck.
With the taste of freedom on his lips Black Caesar and his first mate made it ashore, it is said that they landed on what is now called Caesar’s Rock.

It is during this time that Black Caesar made a name for himself and assured that his life’s tale would become legend.

Together, Black Caesar and his counterpart would lure passing ships into the keys by appearing to be in distress. When the unsuspecting ships would try to assist, Black Caesar and his mate would rob the ship and everyone on board of all their possessions.

They took everything, including the women. Due in part to his temper, he and his longtime friend got into an argument about a woman they seized from a ship and Caesar killed him. As the story goes Black Caesar had a harem of more than 100 women.

Black Caesar continued his life of piracy between Elliot and Old Rhodes Key for almost a decade until finally joining forces with the well known pirate Blackbeard.

Seeing how great a pirate Caesar was, Blackbeard did not kill him or keep him as a slave but made him a part of his gang.

In 1718 Blackbeard and his crew were surrounded by U.S. Army Lt. Robert Maynard.

All of the crew including Blackbeard were killed except Caesar, who made a final attempt to blow up the ship but was captured beforehand.

He was hung in Virginia in 1718.

While many look at Black Caesar as a thief and heartless individual who would kill anyone in a heartbeat. His options during those days included living as a free man while lying, stealing and killing to survive, or living an oppressed life as a poor slave with no identity and no choice.

Black Caesar and countless others had the drive and determination to survive and overcome obstacles by any means necessary.