Osceola, the great Seminole warrior, did indeed lose his head to a surgeon’s knife. The bizarre part of the story is that his head was cut off in Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, in 1838. It was then transferred back to St. Augustine and years later lost in a fire in New York City in 1865.
Although Osceola was held captive in the fort, he did not die there. He was moved to Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, in a weakened condition resulting from malaria. His doctor, Frederick Weedon, accompanied him. It is known that Weedon was with him at the time of death. It is also known that Osceola’s head was severed from his body after he died.
Apparently, Weedon returned to St. Augustine with the cranium. Stories are told that the doctor hung the head on his children’s bedposts to punish them when they misbehaved.
There is a house on the corner of Bridge and Weedon streets where Dr. Frederick Weedon is said to have lived with his family. In the 1990s, a little boy was visiting his grandfather in that house. The youngster was awakened in the bedroom, startled by the figure of a tall Indian peering over his bed. Although surprised, he was not frightened and reported the vision to his grandfather in the morning. The grandfather was unwilling to admit that he knew the legend of Osceola’s head and that Dr. Weedon would discipline his children by placing the disembodied head in the room at night. Perhaps, he feared the grandson would not return for a visit.
The only problem with that story is that the house was not built until 1925 and Weedon died in 1857. Perhaps, though he did live on the street named for him and spirits exist.
It is known that Weedon kept the embalmed head in his office or in a drug store.
Facts continuing to authenticate the story include Weedon’s presentation of the skull to his daughter and son-in-law as a wedding gift. Although seemingly preposterous, the fact is, the skull was a precious item historically and scientifically. Weedon’s son-in-law, Daniel Whitehurst, had studied medicine under Dr. Valentine Mott, a well-regarded surgeon in the country. Documentation shows that Whitehurst eventually presented the remains of the intriguing Indian to Mott who died in April 1865. Shortly after his death, a fire consumed part of the Mott Museum and no written account provides evidence of the location of the famous cranium.
Regardless of the outcome, stories linger on in St. Augustine. Have you seen Osceola’s head? Do you know any similar legends? I also am curious if any members of the Seminole culture find this offensive. I’d like to know. No doubt we can say the stories perpetuate the memory of the 19th-century warrior.
Ghosts and ghost stories abound in St. Augustine. Author Karen Harvey is investigating the cultural history of those tales. If you have additional information about this story or a ghost story of your own to share, email Karen Harvey at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contributed to the St. Augustine Record, October 8, 2017