Osceola, raised in the Muscogee Creek area of Alabama, emigrated with his family to Florida after the Creek War (1813–1814). Arriving as a refugee, he became an influential leader of the Seminole resistance against the US government’s “Indian removal” policies. He served as an adviser to the Seminole Chief, Micanopy, and was a key strategist in fighting U.S. government demands to cede territory and relocate to lands west of the Mississippi River.
On October 25, 1837, while negotiating a treaty under the protection of the “white flag”, Osceola, along with eighty-one other members of the treaty party, were captured by the United States military. Despite this betrayal of the accepted rules of parley, which provoked both national and international negative reactions, he was imprisoned in the Castillo de San Marcos of St. Augustine. He was soon transferred to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, where he perished three months later.
Some in St. Augustine believe the ghost of Osceola still haunts the town, even though he died in another state. Some even claim that he was executed in or near the city, not at Fort Moultrie at all, and that his head is still “floating around” the Castillo de San Marcos. Still others place the haunting at Fort Mose, north of St. Augustine.
According to literature and folklore scholar Jason Marc Harris, ghost folklore in St. Augustine, including sightings of Osceola (or perhaps just her head), is closely tied to colonial violence and tensions. ethnic. “Unresolved guilt haunts the streets, stalks the walls of Fort Castillo de San Marcos, slams the bars of the old prison, and rustles the curtains of Flagler College,” he wrote.
“Implicit in the ghost legend of the decapitated head of Osceola is the violation of a defender of the aboriginal inhabitants of the southeastern United States,” notes Harris. While not all folk tales from the region are sympathetic to Native people, the ghostly experiences depicting Native American violence are the outliers. For example, “a woman who worked for [a] The tour would have had a ghostly experience in the Huguenot Cemetery, where French Protestant Seminole victims were buried after a stagecoach attack. But for the most part,[r]The relentless victims – not the perpetrators – of violence and betrayal primarily haunt the streets and shores.
Harris conducted interviews with a range of St. Augustine residents and tourists about local “ghost traditions”, finding that despite the presence of ghost tourism, the town’s stories were often not nurtured by tour guides , but by students at Flagler College, a local liberal arts school. Harris quizzed students there on their knowledge of local ghost legends and, unsurprisingly, as happens in many traditions of oral storytelling, he discovered several versions of the same tale – the basic theme and subject remained consistent. , but the details (such as Osceola’s site or cause of death) changed from student to student. Interestingly, while students at Flagler College offered variations on the Osceola story, official ghost tours often did not include them in their presentations.
“This discrepancy between oral histories and commercial locations suggests that despite some ghost tale intersections in St. Augustine, not all paths cross,” Harris writes.
Ghost tourism is an increasingly popular industry, but most popular stories, including one involving Flagler College’s namesake, Henry Flagler, and his wife, have not been spread through commercial means. Harris notes that most of those interested in the stories were college students, who were mostly young white women new to town. And these students learned about the city’s folklore not from tours (though a few worked for tour operators) but by word of mouth. Students “transmit folklore through folklore groups as part of their way of life, especially in dormitories.”
Although some tourists have been drawn to St. Augustine specifically through ghost tourism and, in theory, learning about the city‘s history, Harris found that students “demonstrated that they were more knowledgeable about local history than non-residents, and that 87% knew of St. Augustine’s stories.” Seventy-eight percent claimed to have received knowledge from a source other than a ghost tour – usually other students. Overall, Harris writes, they “showed nuanced responses to ghost lore, and they were clearly most influenced by the memories and legends…they heard from their peers.”
“St. Augustine’s folklore stems from a historic legacy of conflict that fuels growing tourism, but the ghost lore isn’t limited to ghost tours,” Harris concludes. “And while the authenticity and significance of the alleged supernatural experiences and tales are always subject to greater outside analysis, these St. Augustine ghost tales provide informants with a personal experience of the story that is unchecked by outside authorities.”
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