One may be perplexed by a decision that, if not within the guidelines of fiduciary ethics, will corrupt future decisions. The step-back look is always, whatever we do, we should be honest and forthright beyond our own personal gain – sometimes even to the point of sacrifice. The accepted basis of decisions made long ago is not impervious to today’s public ethics. Ethics are timeless. Our community has a ethical thorn, and it can be quite prickly.
That old fort on Sullivan’s Island named for Revolutionary War Hero General William Moultrie has an incredible history. Among its roll call of celebrities who inhabited that bastion guard of our harbor were Francis Marion, Edgar AllenPoe,WilliamTecumseh Sherman, Abner Doubleday and even George C. Marshall. It’s that other celebrity that is the thorn to the state’s ethical core.
Billy Powell was born in the year 1804 at Talisi, Alabama of Scots-Irish ancestry with a little English mix for good measure. He was also part Creek Indian. His mother, Polly Coppinger, was not unlike others of the area – hardened frontier people building a future from the land. His father, William Powell, was an English trader who had associations with the Creek Indians. When Billy Powell was only 10, the Creeks were defeated in a battle against none other than Old Hickory himself, General Andrew Jackson. Powell’s mother took him with the fleeing Creeks to Florida. The Powells adopted the Creek culture. In time, the young man was given a Creek name that signified a ‘shout from a black drink.’ He was named ‘Osceola.’
In time, Osceola rose to become a brave figure of leadership among the Seminole tribe of Florida. His refusal to be removed from Florida to a reservation west of the Mississippi identified his resolve. His subsequent aggression against the forces that would physically remove him brought him the reputation, among the Seminole, as a most valiant warrior. He became Chief. The deceit of a truce and promised new treaty brought Osceola to his captor, General Thomas S. Jesup. This dishonorable capture ended the Second Seminole War. Osceola was first taken to St. Augustine, and then to Ft. Moultrie. In less than three months of incarceration on Sullivan’s Island, the great chief died of malaria. He was buried just outside of the front entrance on January 30, 1838. To recap, Osceola was a mostly white citizen born in Alabama who emigrated to Florida and was captured and brought to South Carolina where he lived less than 90 days. We’ve had him here for 173 years.
The Seminoles want him back where he belongs. Florida wants him back, too. But somewhere along the way, somebody thought that he might bring a tourist or two our way. Some verbal wars with other factions ensued. There was even a hoax of a theft of Osceola’s bones in 1966. It did not occur. In a similar verbal claim case, the CSS Hunley artifact – a submarine – belongs here where it made world history and then sank. Alabama’s claim of manufacture fell understandably short of the South Carolina argument. But the case of Osceola is overwhelmingly different. He was never a free man here, but rather an inmate whisked away from his adopted people. He created no other history here than dying a broken man. He fought no battles here. He had no family here. Everything important that was ever the persona of Osceola was edified and dignified in Florida. He belongs with the Seminole tribe, among those prodigious and proud peoples whose ancestors that he once led, from his rightful home…in Florida. It’s the ethical choice.
Let’s pull this unethical thorn out of our community. Let’s send Osceola back to the lands he once defended. Both Florida and South Carolina will be better for it.
Thomas (Tommy) McQueeney is a born and bred Charlestonian who graduated from The Citadel with a BA in English, and is a 30 year agent with State Farm Insurance in Mt. Pleasant.