by Homer Jack Moore
Protests continue against construction of a Dollar General store at Micanopy’s town limits. But why should anybody care?
Aside from the fact that the development site is at a scenic gateway into the historic town of Micanopy, abuts a Native American Heritage Preserve and burial mound, is cattycorner from the Tuscawilla Nature Preserve, and is across the street from a church, probably nobody would. Except for the fact that this land is sacred.
It serves to reflect on what “Micanopy” is all about. Micanopy was the Seminole Principle Chief in 1834 when things were getting a little hot in the Alachua area.
A U.S. policy of ethnic cleansing had been enacted, the Indian Removal Act of 1830, and President Andrew Jackson was busy prosecuting it. Jackson had already tangled with Seminoles in the First War of 1817-18, a campaign to recapture runaway slaves living with them. So area Natives were not particularly keen on President Jackson in the first place, and certainly not on being told to get out. Nobody really knows why settlers decided to change the name of their little town from Wanton to Micanopy, but mollifying the Chief to help keep the lid on would be a good guess.
But to no avail. In late 1835, full warfare broke out following a Seminole attack on a military convoy just north of Micanopy town. Thus began the Second Seminole War (there was also a Third Seminole War; tough guys, those Seminoles). Natives ravaged area plantations and homesteads, but women and children were by-and-large spared. Survivors converged on Micanopy for protection by the US forces garrisoned there within a log stockade erected around the town. This was Fort Defiance, so-called.
The war bogged down in a grueling asymmetrical conflict in which Seminoles prevailed, and a Vietnam-like gloom settled over the entire US as blood and treasure continued to be sucked into what looked like a hopeless alligator-infested malaria-ridden nightmare.
Then, on June 9, 1836, Osceola with a band of 250 Seminoles and Black Seminoles challenged Fort Defiance. The U.S. forces had been dissipated by disease; only 70 men were in any kind of fighting condition. But a running battle ensued under broiling sun along the length of what is now called Tuscawilla Road. The conflict converged on the very site where Dollar General now plans to sell beer and cigarettes.
Although outnumbered, U.S. forces for at least this once fought brilliantly and achieved tactical success. The Seminoles melted back into the hammock taking their dead and wounded with them. The great US victory at the Battle of Micanopy was widely touted in the American press as a break in the gloom, and by implication, a reassurance in the ethnic superiority of Euro-Americans, both in battle and in culture.
News spin notwithstanding, things continued to go downhill in the Alachua territory. A second battle at Micanopy took place a short time later, the Battle of Welika Pond. With malaria continuing to take a toll during the summer mosquito months, with troops exhausted by battle, and with civilian refugees consuming the limited supplies of stores and facing starvation, the order was given in August to burn Fort Defiance to the ground in order to save it — and the village of Micanopy along with it. The US forces abandoned the field.
The Second Seminole War continued for yet another six horrible years. Osceola, and subsequently Micanopy, was captured under a white flag of truce, US treacheries of unspeakable shame. Some US commanders were as sadistic as they were treacherous. In his book on the Second Seminole War, historian Chris Monaco writes about one General William S. Harney whose MO was to rape Seminole girls and then hang them in the morning. A US soldier who served in all of Seminole, Mexican, and U.S. Civil Wars remembered the Florida war as the absolute worst. Seminoles suffered withering losses and were finally pushed into the Everglades, but they never—never—surrendered to ethnic cleansing. In utter fatigue the US finally gave up all further efforts to remove them, and the Second Seminole War sputtered to a conclusion in 1842.
In a newspaper opinion piece Monaco notes, “The war deserves a primary place in our cultural heritage not only because it was the most destructive event in local and state history, but without any knowledge of it we would be living lives that have been diminished by being severed from the past.”
And indeed that would be the case, a final victory of settler-colonialism, a capstone of shame on US ethnic cleansing, to put up a convenience store as the monument to urban sprawl and blight on that very spot where Native Americans fought with great valor for their right of existence in their own country.
The land is sacred.