Resistance to the Plantation System
By 1800, the Indians living in the American South had been resisting assaults by Europeans for three hundred years. Spain had made the deepest inroads into Indian territory. The armored cavalry commanded by de Soto had crossed the Appalachians and headed west by 1540, reconnoitering for successors who managed to situate forts in Tennessee, while the Jesuits placed missions as far north as Chesapeake Bay. But Indian resistance had beaten Spain back to a line of presidios and missions across Florida from St. Augustine to St. Mark on the Gulf Coast, where the British found them in 1702, burnt them out, and massacred their populations.
Spain retained the shell of Florida until 1763, when it went to the British, to be remanded in 1783. Meanwhile the French had withdrawn as well, abandoning the mainland of North America in 1763, to return to Louisiana for only a few months in 1803 for the astonishing transaction discussed in the final section of this book. From the Indians' point of view, the French came and went, the British came and went, the Spaniards clung to their entrepôts in Florida and along the Gulf of Mexico, and until 1790 the Americans, who succeeded in some mysterious way to the British, were still being held within a few miles of the Georgia coast.
Then things changed. The Americans seemed suddenly to be turbocharged, and so they were—by international textile colonial-imperialism. Opposing them were Indian nations weakened by disease and social dislocation only too late augmented by maroon reinforcements, and then in very small numbers. The maroons were people of African descent who had been enslaved but had managed to escape to form their own communities. (The formation of such colonies is called “maronage.” For further etymology see “Creeks, Seminoles, and Numbers” in the Appendix, p. 255.) In combination,