What Role did Florida have in the Underground Railroad?

What Role did Florida have in the Underground Railroad?

The Underground Railroad was a vast network of people and places that helped fugitive slaves escape to freedom in the decades leading up to the American Civil War. One of the many myths of the Underground Railroad is that Canada was the "only" destination for fugitive slaves. This assumption is false. In fact, fugitive slaves escaped to many locations on their journey to freedom. One of those locations (especially prior to the United States acquisition of the territory) was Florida. Bob Beatty, Vice President for Programs of the American Association of State and Local History, recently spoke to the Freedom Center staff and volunteer docents about this important part of Underground Railroad history and the rich complexities between Black Seminoles and the Seminole Nation. The information you find on this page will highlight some of the information Mr. Beatty presented. We hope that it will spark your own research into the Underground Railroad.

A Discussion with Bob Beatty Regarding Florida & the Underground Railroad

Bob Beatty is Vice President for Programs for the American Association for State & Local History where he directs AASLH's professional development program including workshops, an annual meeting, AASLH's active affinity groups and other initiatives, and publications as editor of History News and a member of the AASLH Editorial Advisory Board. From 1999-2007 he directed the Education Department at the Orange County Regional History Center, in Orlando, Florida where he established multiple community outreach programs including school partnerships, youth and family activities, adult programming, and over fifty community partnerships ranging from Boys and Girls clubs to community affinity groups.





Download Bob Beatty's Reflections from Central Florida (PDF, 3MB)

Selected Bibliography: The Black Seminoles: Florida's Freedom Seekers

  • Beatty, Bob. "Tracks to Freedom: Central Florida and the Underground Railroad," Reflections From Central Florida 3 (January 2005).
  • Covington, James. The Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993.
  • Deagan, Kathleen A. and Darcie A. MacMahon. Fort Mose: Colonial America's Black Fortress of Freedom. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1995.
    Question 1

    Was the Spanish "acceptance" of escaped fugitives motivated by human compassion, politics, or racial motivation to create an expandable first line of defense between them and the British (and later the Americas)?

    Question 2

    How was enslavement under the Seminoles different from southern plantation owners?

    Question 2b

    There seems to be a greater independence granted by the Seminoles as you just spoke about so was that something that the Seminoles learned from someone else or is there evidence that shows that was the way they dealt with the other historically speaking?

    Question 3

    Is there any indication of intermingling of people either socially or relationally taking place between enslaved African American (Africans) and Seminoles?

    Question 4

    In addition to Spanish and Seminole settlements, were there any Maroon communities located in the Florida region?

    Question 5

    It seems there would have been an additional element for black Seminoles to act as interpreters during negotiations with Americans. Is there any evidence or indicators that suggest these interpreters were ever recognized and or returned to their owners? Or perhaps used as leverage by one side or the other during negotiations?

    Question 6

    Have you found any animosity today between Seminoles and Black Seminoles?

    Question 7

    Is there any way to determine even an approximate figure as to the number of enslaved fugitives who found their way to Florida?

    Question 8

    What does freedom mean to you?

  • Howard, Rosalyn. Black Seminoles in the Bahamas. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2002.
  • Jones, Maxine D. and Kevin M. McCarthy. African Americans in Florida. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1993.
  • Landers, Jane. Black Society in Spanish Florida. Champaign, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1999.
  • Laumer, Frank. Dade's Last Command. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1995.
  • _____. Massacre! fourth printing. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1991.
  • Mahon, John K. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842, revised edition. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2010.
  • Porter, Kenneth W. The Black Seminoles: History of a Freedom-Seeking People. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1996.
  • Rivers, Larry. Slavery in Florida: Territorial Days to Emancipation. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 2000.
  • Weisman, Brent. Unconquered People: Florida's Seminole and Miccosukee Indians. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1999.


What were a few Routes Along the Underground Railroad?