Black history can be pretty depressing. Loss, after loss, after loss. Colonialism, slavery, lynching, bombing, and victim-hood seems to be the narrative of our people, even for those well versed in the subject. This is just bad for morale. It seems we are a people helpless to effectively defend ourselves against violent oppression.
What if I told you nothing could be further from the truth? What if I told you the Black man and woman are the most feared fighting machines on this Earth? That our capacity for warfare is so bottomless, so devastating, that the stability of the Western world hinges on forgetting how formidable we are in armed combat. They’ve known this since Nubian queen Amanishaketo sent Emperor Augustus packing licking his wounds after her archers shot his army dead. They’ve known since African fighters dominated the Roman gladiator arena.
Consider this: Due to the transatlantic slave trade, a great number of healthy, strong people were taken from the terrain, and yet the Black race holds the vast majority of the African continent, a very large and valuable piece of real estate. What’s the reason?
Sure, some environment factors thwarted European expansion, but other tropical places with similar environments were still conquered. Despite what ‘history’ says many armed conflicts against the Europeans fell decidedly in favor of the Africans on both sides of the Atlantic. This resilient spirit deflected Europe’s attempt to decimate the population in numbers enough to repopulate the land with themselves. This is no small feat considering what was done to the Native American, the Australian Aborigines, the Polynesians, the Tanzanians, and virtually every other Brown race that crossed path with the war machine of European Imperialism. Let’s examine some of these victories that shaped the face of the modern world, even though they were obscured from most White historical texts.
Let’s start with Queen Nzingha of Angola, 1583 to 1663, who soundly defeated the Portuguese, stopping their expansion of the slave trade into southern-central Africa. After her brother proved to be a weak leader in the face of the slave traders, she reportedly poisoned him and ascended the throne. She fought them for the remainder of her life, buying guns from multiple European interests and successfully arming the Africans. The effect of her thwarting the Portuguese may never be fully calculable. We do not know what havoc they would have wreaked, or how far they would have expanded slavery into central and southern Africa. She stopped them, not with singing or clapping or praying, but with sound military strategy, diplomacy, and determination.
Then, there is the case of Palmares, a city of runaway slaves formed in the mountains of Brazil from roughly 1605-1695. Aided by Native Brazilians, runaway Africans built and effectively defended a colony where ex-enslaved Africans could live free for almost a century. Only when the Portuguese joined forces with the Dutch and surrounded the city of Palmares, and after suffering heavy losses, did they finally destroy the city; but not the culture. To this day, the descendants of the African and Native Brazilians live on the land they fought for, and the Palmares culture is alive and well.
Now, to the Caribbean. Queen Nanny of the Ashanti tribe was captured with her four brothers and enslaved in St. Thomas Perish, Jamaica in the early 1700’s. She and her brothers escaped into the Blue Mountains, and killed British slave catchers that perused her. She started leading slave revolts, recruiting Africans, and established several maroon colonies in the Blue Mountains. The legend of Queen Nanny of the Maroons struck fear in the heart of the British with her tales of witchcraft and shape shifting into birds. The likely explanation of her powers is a thorough knowledge of herbs retained from her Ashanti background, and astral projection, the supposed ability to project consciousness outside of the body, even to spy on the enemy. The Maroons brokered the first slave peace treaty with the British in 1738, forcing the empire to grant them their freedom. The Maroon colonies of Jamaica exist as self-governing communities to this day.
Honorable mention in African military history includes the nation of Ethiopia, never to be conquered by Italy, or any European power. Hannibal of Carthage, who crushed the Roman army on elephant back, is also bright spot. Of course, Haiti’s Toussaint Louverture, the Zulu of South Africa, and queen Yaa Asantewaa of the Ashanti were all famously formidable against the war machines of the West.
But, perhaps the greatest secret in Black history is the war that truly ended American slavery, and it wasn’t the Civil War. That conflict was the most public of the wars over slavery. The Gullah Wars or “Seminole Wars” were hidden from history, or reported as “Indian Wars.” In fact, General Thomas Jessup reported, “Throughout my operations, I found the Negroes the most active and determined warriors, and during the conferences with the Indian chief, I ascertained that they exercised an almost controlling influence over them. This, you may be assured is a Negro and not an Indian war.”
These ‘wars’ were actually slave revolts so massive, so comprehensive in scale, that it forced Whites into military conflict over the dangerous institution of slavery. In fact, had the rebellion of Denmark Vesey not been foiled by cowardly Negroes, the entire southern region of the country might be in the hands of a free Black nation. The Gullah wars were fought from the Sea Islands of South Carolina down into the Florida territory which was owned by Spain. At the Florida border, the Spanish trained and armed them to defend the border against America. The Creek Indians and the Blacks combined and became the “Seminole,” a Creek word that means “Runaway.” They established, “Negro Fort.” From there, they staged raids, sacking and burning plantations. Blacks started fleeing, not north, but south the Florida border. Africans were leaving in such droves it was weakening the economic infrastructure of the South.
General Andrew Jackson was sent in to solve the ‘problem.’ Negro Fort was destroyed in 1816, but the conflict was just beginning. Spain sold the Florida territory, and the United States wanted the Seminoles gone. When then Chief Osceola refused to leave, the war was inevitable. Chief Osceola joined forces with the greatest Black hero this country has never known: a man intentionally erased from the history books for fear his example may inspire a spirit of rebellion. His name was John Horse. John Horse was a large Black man of African and Spanish heritage. An unstoppable warrior and expert negotiator, he spoke English, Creek, and Spanish. Together, he and Chief Osceola mounted the Second Seminole War.
The Second Seminole War raged from December of 1835 to August 1842. So taxing was this war, that it is estimated that it took two thirds of available military resources to put down the rebellion, employing the army, navy, and marines. It cost more than $30 Million, which was more than the U.S. GDP at that time, and killed over 1,500 American Soldiers. At the end, Chief Osceola was captured and executed, but John Horse escaped. He negotiated the first emancipation for rebellious American slaves, and they settled in the Oklahoma territory in 1838. Then in 1848, America went back on its agreement, and John Horse and his band of over 100 Black Seminoles escaped to the Mexican border. He became a general in the Mexican army, and was known as “Juan Caballo.” They got their own land in Mexico on July 12, 1850. He was never captured, never executed. The Seminole still have six territories in Florida, and the Gullah Sea Islands are still in the hands of free African people.
These are the stories we need to be telling our children. Liberation is more than singing, praying, and clapping hands. Our people have never been docile; that’s a myth. A trail of bodies lay in the wake of Black fighters who would not put up with oppression.
Uniquely, women play a major role in the entire history of African liberation and empire. It’s up to us to keep their names and legacies alive, their legends made into books and movies. May their sacrifice, cunning, and courage inspire our actions today.