Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Scotts Ferry / Dead Lakes People

In my earlier post about James Richards, I thought about including the fact that Scotts Ferry, which is only about twenty miles from the Richards blockhouse, was founded by an American Indian named Jacob Scott and for many years was largely an Indian settlement.  However, it seems that only a few families had moved to that spot by 1849, which is when James Richards died, so this provides little evidence of him peacefully coexisting with Indians after the massacres.  It might seem a little surprising to have Indians move into the area so soon after a war fought over the Removal Act, but the difference seems to be that the newcomers did not try to maintain their own laws and political independence.

Honestly, this whole dimension of the story of Scotts Ferry came as a complete surprise to me.  My parents were married in the Methodist church at Scotts Ferry, and the churchyard is full of my relatives, including my grandfather and grandmother on my mom's side, but I never heard a whisper about the town being founded by an Indian.  Nor was there anything about this in any of the Florida history classes I took as a schoolboy -- classes that, in retrospect, were remarkably lacking in the sort of local information that might have made them "come alive".

The reason appears to be that none of my elders knew that Scotts Ferry was founded by an Indian.  The Jim Crow laws had tended to isolate the different racial communities from each other, and about the time those laws disappeared, the Indians largely dispersed to other parts of the country.  There was a real risk of this chapter of history being lost.

Fortunately, Christopher Scott Sewell and Steven Pony Hill have collected a good portion of this history into The Indians of North Florida: From Carolina to Florida, the Story of the Survival of a Distinct American Indian Community.  My only complaint is that the book suffers from some of the same problems as certain of the historical books of the Bible; lists of unfamiliar and difficult-to-pronounce names can interrupt the flow and distract the reader from the main point of the story.  It is definitely important to preserve the names, but I wonder if some reorganization of the material might have kept a tighter focus that would leave readers wanting to know all the details.  Perhaps some information should have been moved to an appendix or end notes.  Fortunately, the authors have also put up a web page dealing specifically with the history of Scotts Ferry, and gives a much more succinct picture.

As is so often the case with history, it is not a pretty picture, showing the inexcusable discrimination that was entrenched in laws and attitudes and that had much more serious consequences than determining where one sat on a bus or what water fountain one used.  I've known for a long time that there never really was a golden age and that the New Jerusalem will only descend from Heaven at the end of time, but I can't help still being disappointed to discover again and again that we humans have always been a pretty sorry lot.

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