A Letter to the
by Michael Gannon, Ph.D.
the Christian mission Indians began to disappear from Florida,
thanks to British and British-sponsored raids into Florida,
Creek Indians along the Georgia-Alabama line looked cravingly at
the vacated farmlands and deep rivers of the upper peninsula.
Beginning in the early 1700s, some Creeks left their ancestral
villages and occupied the former mission villages. They became
known as “run-aways,” or Seminoles.
Their problem, once here, was that the United States Government
coveted the same space, and fought three “Seminole Wars” to take
it away, brazenly violating treaties it had signed with the
Seminole people. The Second Seminole War (1835-42) was the
longest Indian war ever fought in this country. At the
conclusion of the third war in 1858, there were barely 200
Seminole left in Florida, and they fled for refuge into the tree
islands of the Everglades at the southernmost reaches of the
In that same year, Florida’s Catholic population, numbering
about 3,000 souls, received their first-ever resident bishop,
French-born Augustin Verot, from Maryland. Bishop Verot must
have learned early on about the Franciscan friars and their
mission Indian converts during the 17th century because, in his
first apostolic message written three months after his arrival,
he wrote about Florida “which two hundred years ago…abounded
with devoted and self-denying missionaries who had set at naught
everything that the world holds dear for the sake of diffusing
the light of heaven among those who were sitting in the shadow
Fourteen years later, Bishop Verot learned that Indians were
living in the Everglades. Mistakenly believing that these were
remnants of the mission Indians - they were in fact Seminoles,
who had never been evangelized - he decided to send them an
emissary who would invite them “back” to the practice of the
The man he chose was 54 year-old Father Peter Dufau, like Bishop
Verot a native of France. A man of distinguished dress and
bearing, he was of average height and slender build with
shoulders somewhat stooped, over which draped long locks of hair
turned prematurely white. His facial features were ascetic, his
nose aquiline, his eyes bright and piercing, and his forehead
broad. Everything about him bespoke intelligence and refinement.
At the time he served as vicar-general of the Diocese of Saint
To Father Dufau Bishop Verot gave a letter that he was to
present to the Great Chief in the Everglades. It began:
“Beloved Children: You may, perhaps, remember that in former
times your ancestors lived in settlements and villages in
various parts of the country, and specially around St.
Augustine, on friendly terms with those who then governed the
country, and were Spaniards, and professed the religion which
the Black Gowns had preached to you.”
of course, being Seminole, the Everglades Indians would have had
no collective memory of that. So what happened? We’ll just have
to wait until our next issue, when we will follow southward the
good Father Dufau.
Michael Gannon, Ph.D.