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Historic Voyage to Honor Seminole Tribe as Part of Viva Florida 500 Events

November 24, 2013 - 6:00pm

Members of the Seminole Tribe will honor the history of their people Dec. 1 and 2 by embarking on a journey retracing the steps of their ancestor, Polly Parker.

The Florida Department of State and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection's Florida Park Service will participate in these rescheduled Viva Florida 500 events.

They will take place in two venues across the state.

"The retraced 'Voyage of Tears' will be an emotional journey for everyone involved," said Florida Secretary of State and Chief Cultural Officer Ken Detzner. "Through Viva Florida 500 events like this, we can connect people to Florida's past and make history in the present day."

On Sunday, Dec. 1, the journey will embark from Hubbard's Marina in Madeira Beach and head to Egmont Key, where director of the Florida Park Service, Donald Forgione, and Seminole Tribe of Florida Chairman James Billie will address the press and public at 12:30 p.m.

Public ferries to Egmont Key provided by Tampa Bay Ferry will depart at 10 a.m. and 11 a.m from Bay Pier at Fort DeSoto Park. The recreated "Voyage of Tears" will depart Egmont Key at 12:15 p.m. and travel to St. Marks in North Florida.

"Each of Florida's state parks has a special history. Egmont Key and San Marcos de Apalache historic state parks are the perfect example of that," said Forgione. "Helping to tell the story of Polly Parker and the Seminoles is an honor."

The "Voyage of Tears" refers to the forced journey made by Seminole people in the 1850s during the large-scale upheaval by the United State government, relocating captured Seminole people to Indian territories in modern-day Oklahoma.

During this exodus, hundreds of people were imprisoned at Fort Dade on Egmont Key at the mouth of Tampa Bay prior to boarding a boat where deportees eventually joined the overland trail that became known as the Trail of Tears. Many of the prisoners died and few escaped. The Seminole Tribe of Florida attributes much of their success today upon one prominent freedom seeker, Polly Parker, whose historic voyage is being retraced.

In 1858, on her way to deportation to present day Oklahoma, Parker escaped from the Grey Cloud steamship when it stopped for more wood at St. Marks. She went on to elude a company of the U.S. Calvary who hunted her for weeks, as she walked and canoed more than 400 miles through flatland and swamps back to her family's camp near Lake Okeechobee.

"I wonder what kind of Seminole Tribe we would have today had Polly Parker been captured, killed or sent to Oklahoma," said the Tribe's Billie.

Billie will host Polly Parker's descendants on the trip, which he hopes will both elevate the little known event to its proper place in Florida's history and raise awareness to the plight of Egmont Key, where severe erosion threatens cultural and historical resources, including Seminole gravesites on the historic island.

For more information on the Egmont Key event, contact the event coordinator at The Seminole Tribe of Florida, Esther Gopher at 863.9092.3200 ext. 13350.

For more information on the St. Marks event contact Florida Department of State Marketing Director, Katie Kole at 850.245.6471 or katie.kole@dos.myflorida.com.

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