AfriGeneas Western Frontier Forum
The "Pompey" Factor
From Africa To The American West - Dec.2005
It seems that irony and synchronicity are important motivators for me. My wife, who reads much more than I do, catches tidbits from the diverse literature she reads and conveys those points of interest that address Black history in the west. Such is the case as she read the book, “Daniel Boone - The Life And Legend Of An American Pioneer,” c.1992 by John Mack Faragher. Chapters five and six give what I consider a good coverage of persons of African descent and their interaction with Daniel Boone and others during that era. Chapter five points out that slaves were an important component of Boonesborough, and that it was a slave named Uncle Monk who taught Daniel Boone how to make gunpowder from sulpher, saltpeter and charcoal. Chapter six deals with a noted battle at Fort Boonesborough north of Richmond, Kentucky in 1778. This is an era perhaps better known as the early west, a west that hadn‘t crossed the Mississippi and a time when the American Revolution was still occurring. Most important for this article, it was a time before there was an American government to institute Indian removal acts and the Shawnee homelands were not in Kansas.
Author John Mack Faragher presents a Black Shawnee interpreter named Pompey and his interaction with Daniel Boone. When I heard mention of the name, my first thought was that of Pompey Factor, Seminole Negro Buffalo Soldier of the 24th Infantry , then I went through the whole Daniel Boone, David Crockett era specifics and realized Pompey Factor was way on the other side of Daniel Boone’s era of the American Revolution. Though the two timeframes are far apart, both Shawnee Pompey and Seminole Pompey’s actions in the foundations of the American west were significant enough to draw mention from their White contemporaries
I wanted to start with the name. It seems that there were several processes involved with the naming of African-Americans during the colonial period. Some names were attempts at transliterating the original African name of a slave, slaves were assigned biblical names, some were given the last name of the owner, and for the purposes of this article, in an attempt to steer away from their Anglo heritage, and to find an appropriate slavery model, Americans assigned Roman-Greco names to people of African descent. Pompey, (Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus 106-47 BC) a general and politician of ancient Rome, was the counterpoint to Julius Caeser around 70 BC. Many of the African-American slaves were named after some of the greatest figures in Roman history. I don’t know how these Pompey’s acquired their names, but I prefer the Roman option for all but one, which you will read about later
Daniel Boone meets the Black Shawnee Pompey after he is taken prisoner by the Shawnee and adopted as the son of Chief. Blackfish. Shawnee Pompey was an ex-slave from Virginia who was taken as a child from his master, now a full member of the Shawnee nation; he was used as translator between the Shawnee, the British, and the Americans. John Mack Faragher doesn’t write much about Boones interaction with Shawnee Pompey other than his occasional need as a translator while he was their prisoner, but an interesting exchange between Boone and his new adopted father, Chief Blackfish, about his demeaning workload finds Boone complaining to his adopted father that Dad doesn’t really love him because he has him doing the work of a “nigger.” Chief Blackfish apparently was convinced enough by the complaint that he removed all offensive chores from Daniel Boone’s Shawnee duties. I wonder if Pompey was the translator for that complaint.
After Boone escapes, or abandons, depending on what version of the story you prefer, the Shawnee, Chief Blackfish goes to Fort Boonesborough to recover his adopted son, Sheltowee aka Daniel Boone, the battle that ensued is apparently a pivotal event in Daniel Boone history.
Chief Blackfish had made several offers for a peaceful resolution after four hundred Shawnee warriors and Detroit militia surrounded Fort Boonesborough in September 1778. Pompey was the translator at several stages of negotiation before the actual battle except for the moment when Blackfish tearfully asked his adopted son why he left the Shawnee. Chief Blackfish demanded Boone honor an earlier agreement to surrender the fort in exchange for sparing the lives of his former allies who were turned over to the British when he was captured earlier. Others in the fort challenged this agreement as treason by Boone and all resolved to refuse surrender. Pompey became warrior as the battle began, following the courage models of his fellow Shawnee, he stood in the open, shouting insults to the hold-outs in the fort, challenging them to come out and fight rather than shoot behind walls. At one point in the battle, Pompey became too good of a target and he was killed. The Americans took a particular interest in killing Pompey and continuously asked the Shawnee where he was during the battle. The reason for their zeal in seeking Pompey’s demise might lie in a particular incident that occurred during the negotiations, the following is an excerpt from John Mack Faragher’s work:
On to the old west and a man named Pompey Factor. He is a well written about figure in Black West histories. Pompey Factor, a Seminole Negro Buffalo Soldier deserves all the recognition he attained. In keeping with my word origin aspects, the word Seminole evolved from the Spanish word “Cimarron” meaning a wild place. This word contributed to the creation of both the term Maroons and Seminoles. America’s Seminoles were breakaway Creek Indians who refused to cooperate with the terms other Indian tribes had agreed with Americans to follow in order to be labeled civilized, one of those terms was slavery.
Pompey Factor is written about so much because he was awarded the noted Medal of Honor and almost every source that writes about Negro Seminoles in Texas and Mexico writes about the battle where Pompey Factor and two other soldiers save the life of their commander. Kenneth W. Porter, one of the pioneering researchers in Black western history, interviewed a descendent of Pompey Factor so I chose his book’ The Black Seminoles to provide the following excerpt:
These two Pompey studies make an interesting compare and contrast topic. Both Daniel Boone and Lieutenant Bullis were descendents of Quakers but took different paths with regards to people of African descent. Shawnee Pompey and Seminole Pompey were both Black Indians, but their decisions to ally themselves with American interest took different paths but similar results. We know that Shawnee Pompey was killed at Boonesborough, but the U.S. Government, who claimed they had no record of Seminole Pompey Factor, eventually disavowed any knowledge of him and paid him no pension, in spite of his Medal Of Honor. Hostile White Texas outlaws forced him across the border into Mexico. I mentioned earlier of a non-Roman heritage to the name Pompey, and that has to do with the naming of Sacajawea son, fathered by Charboneau during the Lewis and Clark journey 1803-1806. According to Oregon History Online, She named her son Pompey, or Pomp, which in the language of her people meant, first born, or leader of people. An article from the Manataka American Indian Council also has an explanation for the naming of the child, the next excerpt explains:
“..It was there they engaged Toussaint Charbonneau as an interpreter and guide. Sacajawea had just given birth to her son on February 11, 1805. Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, but everybody called him "Pompey" which meant Little Chief.”
Finally, twelve years before Seminole Pompey the Buffalo soldier was born, Kenneth W. Porter writes of another Black Seminole named Pompey who on Nov.10, 1837, translated a council between the Cherokees and Seminole prisoners held at a fort in St Augustine, Florida. The Seminoles were being asked by the Cherokees to surrender their resistance and agree to relocation. This council occurred a year before the infamous Trail Of Tears relocation tragedy.
I guess there really is a lot in a name,
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