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Seminole Wars

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The Seminole Wars, also known as the Florida Wars, were a series of conflicts in Florida between Indians from various tribes that collectively became known as the Seminoles and the United States. The First Seminole War was from 1817 to 1818; the Second Seminole War from 1835 to 1842; and the Third Seminole War from 1855 to 1858. Conflict between Indians living in Florida and the English colonies of South Carolina (and somewhat later, Georgia) started around 1715, and continued intermittently with them and later with the United States up to start of the First Seminole War.


The original peoples of Florida had declined in numbers after the arrival of Europeans in the region. The Indians had little resistance to diseases introduced from Europe. Spanish suppression of native revolts further reduced the the population in northern Florida. A series of raids extending the full length of the Florida peninsula by soldiers from the Province of Carolina and their Indian allies had killed or carried off almost all the remaining native inhabitants by early in the 18th century. When Spain surrendered Florida to Britain in 1763, the Spanish took the few surviving Florida Indians to Cuba.[1]

Bands from various tribes in the southeastern United States began moving into the unoccupied lands in Florida. In 1715 Yamassees moved into Florida as allies of the Spanish after conflicts with the English colonies. Creek people, at first primarily Lower Creeks but later including Upper Creeks, also started moving into Florida. One group of Hitchiti-speakers, the Mikasuki, settled around what is now Lake Miccosukee near Tallahassee. This group has maintained its separate identity as today's Miccosukee. Another group of Hitchiti-speakers led by "Cowkeeper" settled in what is now Alachua County, an area where the Spanish had maintained cattle ranches in the 17th century. One of the best known ranches had been called La Chua, and the area had become known as the "Alachua Prairie". The Spanish in St. Augustine began calling the Alachua Creeks Cimarrones, which roughly meant "wild ones" or "runaways", and which is the probable origin of "Seminole". This name was eventually also applied to the other groups in Florida, although the Indians themselves still regarded themselves as members of different tribes.[2]

Also moving into Florida in the 18th century were escaped slaves. Slaves who could reach Spanish Florida were essentially free. The Spanish authorities soon welcomed the escaped slaves, allowing them to settle in their own town, called Fort Mose, in close proximity to St. Augustine, and using them in a militia to help defend the city. Other escaped slaves joined various 'Seminole' bands, sometimes as slaves, and sometimes as free members of the tribe. In any case, the burden of slavery under the Florida Indians was considerably lighter than in the English colonies. Joshua Reed Giddings wrote in 1858 on the subject, "They held their slaves in a state between that of servitude and freedom; the slave usually living with his own family and occupying his time as he pleased, paying his master annually a small stipend in corn and other vegetables. This class of slaves regarded servitude among the whites with the greatest degree of horror." While most of the former slaves at Fort Mose went to Cuba when the Spanish left Florida in 1763, others were still with various bands of Indians, and slaves continued to escape from the Carolinas and Georgia and make their way to Florida. The blacks that stayed with or later joined the Seminoles became integrated into the tribes, learning the languages, adopting the dress, and inter-marrying. Some of these Black Seminoles became important tribal leaders.[3]

Early conflict

During the American Revolution the British, who controlled Florida, recruited Seminoles to raid frontier settlements in Georgia. The confusion of war also increased the number of slaves running away to Florida. These events made the Seminoles enemies of the new United States. In 1783, as part of the treaty ending the Revolutionary War, Florida was returned to Spain. Spain's grip on Florida was not very tight, with only small garrisons at St. Augustine, St. Marks and Pensacola. The border between Florida and the United States was not controlled, either. Mikasukis and other Seminole groups still occupied towns on the United States side of the border, while American squatters moved into Spanish Florida.[4]

Florida had been divided into East Florida and West Florida by the British in 1763, and the Spanish retained the division when they regained Florida in 1783. West Florida extended from the Apalachicola River to the Mississippi River. Together with their possession of Louisiana, this gave the Spanish control of the lower reaches of all of the rivers draining the United States west of the Appalachian Mountains. In addition to the imperative to expand that became known as Manifest Destiny, the United States wanted to acquire Florida both to provide free commerce on western rivers, and to prevent Florida from being used a base for an invasion of the U.S. by a European country.[5]

The Louisiana Purchase in 1803 put the mouth of the Mississippi River in American hands, but much of Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi and Tennessee were drained by rivers that passed through East or West Florida to reach the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. claimed that the Louisiana Purchase had included West Florida west of the Perdido River, while Spain claimed that West Florida extended to the Mississippi River. In 1810 residents of Baton Rouge formed a new government, seized the local Spanish fort, and requested protection by the United States. President James Madison annexed the area to the Louisiana Territory by proclamation. Madison then sent George Mathews to deal with Florida. When an offer to turn the remainder of West Florida over to the U.S. was rescinded by the governor of West Florida, Mathews traveled to East Florida in an attempt to incite a rebelllion similar to what had occurred in Baton Rouge. The residents of East Florida were happy with the status quo, so a force of volunteers (who were promised free land) was raised in Georgia. In March 1812 this force of 'Patriots', with the aid of some United States Navy gunboats, seized Fernandina. The 'Patriots' were unable to take the Castillo de San Marcos in St. Augustine, however, and the approach of war with Britain led to an end of the American incursion into East Florida.[6] In 1813 an American force did succeed in seizing Mobile from the Spanish.[7]

Before the 'Patriot' army withdrew from Florida, Seminoles, as allies of the Spanish, began to attack them. These attacks reinforced the American view that the Seminoles were enemies. The presence of black Seminoles in the fighting also raised the old fear of a slave rebellion among the Georgians of the 'Patriot' army. In September, 1812 a company of Georgia volunteers attacked the Seminoles living on the Alachua prairie, but did little damage. A larger force in early 1813 drove the Seminoles from their villages on the Alachua prairie, killing or driving off thousands of head of cattle.[8]

The Creek War and the Negro Fort

The next big event to affect the 'Seminoles' of Florida was the Creek War of 1813-1814. Andrew Jackson become a national hero in 1814 after his victory over the Creek Red Sticks at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend. After his victory, Jackson forced the Treaty of Fort Jackson on the Creeks, resulting in the loss of much Creek territory in southern Georgia and central and southern Alabama. As a result, many of the Creeks left Alabama and Georgia and moved to Florida.[9]

Also in 1814, Britain, at war with the United States, landed forces in Pensacola and other places in West Florida, and began to recruit Indian allies. In May, 1814, a British force entered the mouth of the Apalachicola River, handing out arms to Seminoles, Creeks and runaway slaves. The British moved upriver and began building a fort at Prospect Bluff. After the British and their Indian allies were beaten back from an attack on Mobile, an American force led by General Jackson drove the British out of Pensacola. Work on the Prospect Bluff fort continued, however. When the war ended, the British forces left West Florida, except for Major Edward Nicholls of the Royal Marines. He directed the provisioning of the fort with cannons, muskets and ammunition, and told the Indians that the Treaty of Ghent guaranteed the return of all Indian lands lost during the war, including the Creek lands in Georgia and Alabama. The Seminoles were not interested in holding a fort, however, and returned to their villages. Before he left in the summer of 1815, Major Nicholls invited the runaway slaves in the area to take possession of the fort. Word spread about the fort, and it was soon being called the "Negro Fort" by whites in the southern United States, who saw it as a dangerous inspiration for their slaves to run away or revolt.[10]

Andrew Jackson wanted to eliminate the Negro Fort, but it was in Spanish territory. In April 1816 he informed the governor of West Florida that if the Spanish did not eliminate the fort, he would. The governor replied that he did not have the means at his disposal to take the fort. Jackson assigned Brig. Gen. Edmund Pendleton Gaines to deal with the fort. Gaines directed Col. Duncan Lamont Clinch to build Fort Scott on the Flint River just north of the Florida border. Gaines then made known his intention to supply Fort Scott from New Orleans via the Apalachicola River, which would mean passing through Spanish territory and past the Negro Fort. Gaines told Jackson that using the Apalachicola to supply Fort Scott would allow the U.S. Army to keep an eye on the Seminoles and the Negro Fort, and if the fort fired on the supply boats, it would give the Americans an excuse for destroying the fort.[11]

A supply fleet for Fort Scott reached the Apalachicola in July 1816. Clinch marched down the Apalachicola with a force of more than 100 American soldiers and about 150 friendly Creeks. The supply fleet met Clinch at the Negro Fort, and the two gunboats with the fleet took positions across the river from the fort. The blacks in the fort fired their cannon at the U.S. soldiers and their Creek allies, but had no training or experience in aiming the cannon. The Americans fired back, and the ninth shot fired by the gunboats, a "hot shot" (a cannon ball heated to a red glow), landed in the fort's powder magazine. The resulting explosion, which was heard more than 100 miles away in Pensacola, leveled the fort. Of about 320 people who had been in the fort, more than 250 died instantly, and many more died from their injuries soon after. After the destruction of the fort, the U.S. Army withdrew from Florida, but American squatters and outlaws carried out raids against the Seminoles, killing the Indians and stealing their slaves and cattle. Resentment over the killings and thefts committed by white Americans spread among the Seminoles, leading to retaliation, particularly stealing cattle back from the settlers. In February 1817, the Seminoles murdered a woman and her two small children on an isolated farm in southeastern Georgia.[12]

First Seminole War

See First Seminole War

Second Seminole War

See Second Seminole War

Third Seminole War

See Third Seminole War


  1. Milanich 1995. Pp. 213-231
  2. Missall 2004. Pp. 4-7.
  3. Missall. Pp. 10-12.
  4. Missall. Pp. 12-13, 18
  5. Missall. Pp. 13, 15-18.
  6. Missall. Pp. 16-20.
  7. Higgs
  8. Missall. Pp. 20.
  9. Missall. Pp. 21-22.
  10. Missall. Pp. 24-27.
  11. Missall. Pp. 27-28.
  12. Missall. Pp. 28-32.


See Bibliography.