The Second Seminole War, also known as the Florida War, was fought from December 1835 until August 1842. It would be the longest and most costly of the 'Indian Wars' ever fought by the United States. With a subject so vast, this Entry is only an overview of the causes of the war and a brief look at some of the significant events.
On 2 April, 1513, Juan Ponce de León sighted what he believed to be a large island lying to the west of the Bahamas. Because it was the Easter season, Pascua Florida in Spain, he named the new land La Florida. The fact that this land had been settled by Native Americans over 10,000 years earlier was of little interest to the Europeans. Ponce de León was mortally wounded by the native Floridians on his later attempt to build a settlement on the peninsula. The following expeditions into the territory became obsessed with the quest for gold and travelled far to the north and west in their vain quest. It was not until 8 September, 1565 that Pedro Menéndez established the colony of St Augustine at a protected harbour on the east coast, after removing a French settlement to the north.
The French and Indian War1 was fought from 1754 to 1763. It started as a dispute between Britain and France over possession of the Ohio Valley. European political disagreements led to a global conflict, the Seven Years War, in 1756, and the war in the Americas became only a minor theatre in a much larger conflict. Spain joined on the side of France against Britain and as the war neared its conclusion the British captured the most important port in the Spanish West Indies - Havana, Cuba. At the Treaty of Paris, Spain traded Florida to Britain in exchange for the return of Havana.
As the British entered Florida, the Spanish abandoned the territory, and most of the few original Native Americans who had not died of brutality and the many European diseases left with them. Cuba was the most popular destination. The Spanish Settlements had clustered around St Augustine north to the St John's River, with another cluster near Pensacola. A string of Missions extended from the St John's to the small outpost at St Mark's. The vast interior was unpopulated. The British divided the colony into East and West Florida to create manageable territories. East Florida with its capital at St Augustine contained the entire peninsula, while West Florida included the 'panhandle' to the border of French Louisiana.
As European settlement expanded to the north, a new population of Native Americans emigrated south to Florida: the Seminoles. It is believed the name is a corruption of the Spanish word Cimarron, meaning 'Wild Ones' or 'Runaways'. Most of these came from the Creek Confederacy, though others came from the southeastern tribes; Yamasee, Chickasaw, and Cherokee also contributed to the population. They were also joined by escaping slaves from the Southern United States. These 'Black Seminoles' formed their own settlements beside the Seminole villages, exchanging labour for protection.
While the British Parliament sought to impose taxes on the other colonies to defray the cost of the late war, land grants were offered to populate the new colony. In 1776, the British colonies from Georgia to New Hampshire declared their independence. The attention of the British government was distracted from Florida. By 1783, with the loss of the rebellious colonies, Britain felt its hold on Florida was tenuous at best, and traded it back to Spain in exchange for the Bahama Islands, which Spain had occupied in 1782.
While Spain tried to resume her old control over Florida, her new neighbour to the north faced struggles that would change the destinies of both. By the summer of 1812, the United States would again declare war against Britain. Although Florida was officially a Spanish possession, the British still had a presence in there, and encouraged the Seminoles to raid the American settlements in Georgia and Alabama.
The Creek War
The famous Shawnee Chief Tecumseh met with the Creek elders to encourage them to rebel against the United States. A small faction, known as the Red Sticks, did rebel and attacked the militia and a group of civilians who had sought protection at Fort Mims on 30 August, 1813. The surprise attack, while the occupants were sitting down to lunch, was entirely successful, and most of the occupants of the fort were slain, men, women and children, both white and those with native heritage. Over 250 people died, and the black slaves were carried off as prizes of war.
The United States' reply was to send the Tennessee and Georgia Militia, joined with the 39th Regular Infantry, to bring the Red Sticks under control. After several skirmishes, the troops, under the command of General Andrew Jackson of Tennessee, including a large contingent of loyal Creeks, met the Red Sticks at a fortification they had built at Horseshoe Bend, a U-shaped peninsula on the Tallapoosa River, on 27 March, 1814. Against all military discretion, Jackson attacked the stockade wall and succeeded in overrunning and destroying the majority of the Red Stick Warriors.
In the treaty that concluded the war, Jackson demanded that the majority of the Creek lands be ceded to the United States, depriving not only the hostile Red Sticks, but also the Loyal Creeks who fought for him, of their land and homes. Many of the Creek nation of both factions fled to Florida to join the Seminoles, who welcomed them into their tribes.
The First Seminole War
In retaliation for the raids during the war with Britain, and to hunt for escaped slaves, several raids were made into Florida beginning in 1817. By 1818, the United States sent General Andrew Jackson with his troops across the border. After attacking and burning several Seminole villages, he attacked and captured the Spanish forts at St Marks and Pensacola. During this campaign he found two British agents, Arbuthnot and Ambrister, whom he tried and hanged tor inciting the Seminoles. While creating a flurry of diplomatic dispatches, it only confirmed that Spain no longer had the ability to defend her colony of Florida. In 1819, Spain signed the Adams Onis Treaty transferring Florida to the United States in return for a forgiveness of some 5 million dollars in claimed debt and the United States agreeing to recognize Spain's established borders in the southwest. Florida officially became a Territory of the United States on 30 March, 1822.
The United States desired to open as much good farmland to settlement as possible, creating revenue to offset the debt they had assumed from Spain.
Treaty of Moultree Creek
Many of the leaders of the Seminole groups were gathered at a place called Moultree Creek in September 1823 for a 'Talk', the Seminole term for negotiations with the White Men. In the treaty that was signed on 18 September, the Seminoles were to move to a large tract of land south of the present day city of Gainesville and remain at least 15 miles inland from the coast. In return the Seminoles were to be paid a sum of 6,000 dollars, with an additional annual payment of 5,000 dollars in goods and livestock for the next 20 years, distributed by an agent appointed by the government. Six of the Seminole chiefs requested to keep their own farms near Alachua, just northwest of Gainesville, and a small tract was carved out for each, with the provision that only their own people would be allowed to live there. An Indian Agency was established at Fort King, a military post near Silver Springs just north of present day Ocala. For several years the plan seemed to work with only minor transgressions by both sides.
Indian Removal Act of 1830
Andrew Jackson, who had briefly served as the first Territorial Governor of Florida, was elected President of the United States in November 1828. In 1830, he signed the Indian Removal Act into law. This stated that all Native Americans living east of the Mississippi River had to move to reservations west of that river, being moved by force if necessary. To the tribes living in Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama, this time is referred to as the Trail of Tears due to the thousands who died of exposure or starvation along the journey.
Treaty of Payne's Landing
In Florida, this decree was complicated by the existing treaty that was to run for another 13 years. The simple answer for the Agent was a new treaty, under which the Seminoles would agree to move. Another 'Talk' was called at Payne's Landing on the Ocklawaha River. The treaty, signed on 9 May, 1832, agreed to send seven chiefs with their agent and their interpreter Abraham to the lands planned for them, next to the lands already occupied by the displaced Creeks in the Arkansas Territory2.
Treaty at Fort Gibson
The delegation travelled by ship to New Orleans and by river steamer to the land set aside for them. After inspecting the land as promised, they were taken as a group to Fort Gibson, a military outpost. Here they were presented with another document that had been prepared for them to sign, accepting the new land and forever giving up their claims in Florida.
The chiefs protested that this exceeded their authority. They were to report back to the Seminole Nation with their observations, and the Nation as whole would debate and vote to accept or reject the offer. Far from home and alone they were at the mercy of the white men, and they eventually signed on 28 March, 1833. The agent considered his job complete and was sure the removal would proceed with a minimum of trouble from a few possible renegades.
Conclave at Fort King
The Treaty of Fort Gibson was ratified by Congress in April 1834 and plans were made for the removal of the Seminoles. General Wiley Thompson was appointed Indian agent for the Removal. In October 1834, the chiefs were again gathered at the Agency at Fort King for the final arrangements to be agreed upon.
The council first convened at 11.00am on 23 October, 1834. The agent started by reviewing the terms of the Payne's Landing Treaty. He then began asking a series of questions:
- Did they wish to join the Creeks, who had said they would welcome them as brothers, or settle as a separate group?
- Would those who had livestock prefer to receive new livestock or a cash payment when they arrive at their new home?
- Did they prefer to travel by water or land to their new homes?
- Would they have their next annuity payment with cash or goods when it was paid at their new lands?
One by one the Seminole leaders rose to address the agent. Some said they would stand by the agreement to go, while many others stubbornly refused. The agent sent them away to talk among themselves and told them to stop this foolish refusal to move. The President, he told them, would be very angry if they refused.
Over the next several days, they alternately met with the agent and conferred among themselves.
Two village leaders named Holata Amathla and Charlie Amathla3 held out in favour of removal, while the highest Chief Micanopy, and Jumper (the Sense Keeper4) refused to leave their homes. A young Red Stick warrior called Osceola (called Powell by the white men) emerged from the Nation as a powerful proponent of resistance.
For the next year, tensions mounted and the Army under the command of General Clinch began adding troops and reinforcing their fortifications. The supplies for Fort King were transported up the Military Road from Fort Brooke on Tampa Bay. In the fall of 1835, General Clinch decided to fortify his plantation 'Lang Sine', some 20 miles North of Fort King, and designated the stockade Fort Drane. General Clinch sent word to Fort Brooke requesting additional men to properly garrison his new post. A mail carrier between the two posts was killed by the Seminoles on his route. The road was becoming unsafe. Several groups of Seminoles had already gathered across the river from Fort Brooke, awaiting the ships that were scheduled to take them to their new homes starting 1 January, 1836.
The Start of the Second Seminole War - Dade's Battle
Major Francis Dade arrived at Fort Brooke with a small detachment of his infantry from New Orleans. Major Belton, commanding Fort Brooke, decided he now had sufficient force to send a detachment to reinforce Fort King. On the morning of 23 December, 1835, two companies of artillery soldiers and a detachment of infantry prepared to march north with a cannon and supply wagon under the command of Captain Frasier. The captain's wife, who was at the post, was gravely ill and Major Dade offered to take command so Frasier could remain with his sick wife. The column moved North under Dade's command.
When they reached the crossing of the Hillsborough River on Christmas Eve, they found the bridge had been burned. Captain Frasier then joined the column, his wife having been sent to Key West to join her father. Dade remained in command as the column worked its way north through the swamps and hammocks where the Seminole were likely to lie in ambush while they crossed two other rivers5. By the morning of 28 December, they had reached high open ground where they pulled in the flanking troops to make better time on the march. The men were looking forward to the end of their march when a single shot rang out!
Major Dade slumped and fell from his saddle while two or three hundred Seminole rose up from the palmettos and opened fire on the column. It is estimated that this first attack killed or wounded at least half of the command.
The remaining soldiers who were able to load and fire their weapons soon formed up and started returning fire. Unlike the large .69 caliber muskets used by the Army, most of the Seminoles carried small caliber hunting rifles and several soldiers were able to return fire even after receiving several wounds. At last the Seminoles pulled back and the remaining officers and men assessed their situation. With so many wounded, they felt they could no longer continue their march, so they built a small triangular breastwork from logs chopped down at the site. The breastwork was only a few logs high when the Seminoles returned.
By nightfall one of the soldiers, Ransome Clark, returned to consciousness and began crawling over his dead comrades. He found only one other man with the warmth of life in his body, William DeCoursy. He shook him awake and together they began crawling along the road back to Fort Brooke. The next day a Seminole spotted them and DeCoursy was killed while Clark managed to hide beside the road. Private Clark managed to arrive at Fort Brooke by 30 December, 1835 to report the battle. A second man, Private Jewell, also survived the day by being outside the breastwork at the end and hiding in the tall grass.
On the same evening as Dade's Battle, Osceola and a dozen warriors lay in wait outside the Indian Agency at Fort King. As the Agent General Wiley Thompson and his companion Lieutenant Constantine Smith took an after-dinner stroll, Osceola himself shot the agent and thrust his hunting knife into his heart, while the other Seminoles killed Smith and the others in the Agency.
Generals Clinch, Gaines and Scott
It is highly unlikely that General Clinch could have had any indication of Dade's Battle over 40 miles to the south, so it was undoubtedly to demand the surrender of those responsible for the murderer of the Indian agent and others that he took his troops to the Cove of the Withlachoochee. The Withlachoochee River flows west to the Gulf of Mexico near the northern border of the lands left to the Seminoles, and has a stretch that runs almost due north creating the cove on the southwest bank of the river. The river was very high, preventing a direct assault on the Seminole forces.
The Seminoles living in the cove included many who had fought in the battle against Dade's column, and they knew the war had begun. During the engagement with the Seminoles on 31 December, 1835, Clinch's forces suffered major losses - four men were killed and 49 men wounded. Clinch retreated back to Fort Drane, and reported that Osceola might have been wounded.
A series of attacks on outlying settlements and plantations was carried out by the Seminoles. Several attacks occurred near St Augustine, and others in southeast Florida at New River6 and just to the south of the Miami River.
Reports of Dade's defeat were quickly sent to the War Department in Washington, and to Dade's commanding general in New Orleans. General Edmund Gaines was the commander of all US Army troops in the western theater, and had the nearest force to Fort Brooke. Gaines lost no time in allocating his troops for a campaign, requesting militia troops from the nearby states and arranging ships to transport them to Fort Brooke.
When the news reached Washington, the War Department placed General Winfield Scott, the general then commanding all army troops in the east, to take command of all forces in Florida and enforce the removal of the Seminoles. Scott quickly began the tedious task of assigning troops for the campaign, arranging the vast stores necessary for their support and formally requesting militia troops from the neighbouring states.
Gaines' transport entered the port of Pensacola, Florida about 29 January, 1836, with an advance guard. He was told by the Commanding Officer that the command of all troops in Florida had been given to General Scott. The official orders from the War Department, however, were not provided to Gaines, who had been a rival of Scott for many years. The report that Gaines read was from a Colonel at the War Department7. His comment was only that Major Generals did not receive orders from Colonels. Later he would also add that he had the only army that could be assembled in Florida at the time. Also Scott could not possibly take command until he had at least arrived in the territory. Gaines proceeded to Tampa Bay.
General Gaines arrived at Tampa on 9 February, 1836 with 800 Louisiana militia and four infantry companies, comprising 200 men. He quickly drew rations for his men from the limited supply available and proceeded north to face the enemy.
After a few days march, Gaines reached Dade's battle site. The column paused long enough to bury the dead with full military honours. The enlisted men were buried in a large common grave within the breastwork they had hastily constructed. The officers were buried nearby with their grave marked by the upturned barrel of the cannon that had defended them.
Arriving at Fort King, Gaines again drew rations for his men. General Clinch was at his plantation, Fort Drane, with most of the supplies. Only enough food was available for nine days' rations, but Gaines was convinced that this would be more than sufficient to defeat the Seminoles and return to Fort King, where additional supplies were expected at any time.
Gaines arrived near the spot where Clinch had been defeated almost two months earlier on 27 February. While Gaines was trying find a place shallow enough to cross the river, the Seminoles attacked in force, cutting off their path of retreat. They built a temporary stockade that Gaines named Camp Izard after a Lieutenant of Dragoons who had been mortally wounded early in the engagement. A man was sent with a message to General Clinch requesting relief. By 5 March, the food had been exhausted and the men were reduced to killing their horses for meat. The Seminoles sent a party forward under a white flag to offer a peace settlement on the morning of 6 March. The negotiations were interrupted by the arrival of General Clinch with a relief force of five hundred men. The relieved troops travelled back to Fort King where Clinch informed Gaines that General Scott had arrived in Florida and had sent explicit orders that Gaines was not to be given any more of the Army's rations for his troops.
Gaines then turned most of his troops over to Clinch's command and his remaining troops were supplied from Clinch's personal supplies for their return to Fort Brooke and then back to New Orleans.
General Scott set up his headquarters at Picolata, Florida on the East bank of the St John's River, near St Augustine. Scott formed his own plan to defeat the Seminoles on the Withlachoochee by sending a left wing of 1,600 men under General Eustis from his headquarters via Volusia, a right wing of 2,000 men from Fort Drane under General Clinch and a centre wing from Fort Brooke of 1,000 men under Colonel Lindsay. All were to meet at the river on 25 March.
The right wing did not arrive at the rendezvous until 28 March. Moving the supply wagons through the Florida wilderness proved to be far more difficult than anticipated. The left wing had even more problems crossing the peninsula, not arriving until 1 April. The centre wing found itself engaged with the Seminoles soon after crossing the Hillsborough River and never arrived at the meeting place. All three wings finally marched to Fort Brooke for re-supply, having failed to meet in the field.
General Scott was transferred from command in Florida on 26 May, 1836, having failed to produce any result from the massive expense of the force entrusted to him and the friction caused by his lack of respect for the militia troops under his command.
Command of the forces in Florida fell to the Territorial Governor, Richard Keith Call. Nominally Brigadier General of the Florida Militia, Call did have some military experience, having served as a junior officer under President Jackson during the Creek Wars. Call lost no time in assembling his troops and sending them into the Florida frontier. Unfortunately, the summer months in Florida are also the season of fever. Yellow fever and malaria caused more casualties among the troops than the Seminoles had managed to inflict.
It was not until late September that his troops were healthy enough to manage a campaign. Once again, the goal was the Cove of the Withlachoochee.
This time, he would try a two-pronged attack, marching his forces down from Fort Drane while a second force would be landed at the mouth of the river and and would march up to meet him. A small steamer named the Lieutenant Izard was placed under the command of Raphael Semmes8. While approaching the coast, the ship struck a sand bar near the channel. The steamer then swung across the channel and as the tide fell, she broke in two.
Although the supplies were salvaged from the wreck, the delay prevented the troops from meeting. Call also returned without fighting the major battle planned, his troops starving.
The next man given command of the troops in Florida was the Quartermaster General, Thomas Sidney Jesup. Jesup's plan was to build a series of supply forts, not more than two days' march apart, and send small units into the field who could travel lightly and resupply themselves regularly from the forts and drop off any sick or wounded soldiers.
The first of these forts was built at the Hillsborough River crossing named Fort Foster. Fort Dade was next, built at the Withlachoochee crossing.
A few of the Seminoles and their black allies were captured for deportation, but more importantly many of their crops and supplies were destroyed. On 6 March, 1837, four of the Seminole leaders met with Jesup at Fort Dade and agreed to a truce. The Seminoles were to report to Fort Brooke to await transport to their new lands.
By 2 June, 1837, some 700 Seminoles had been gathered at Fort Brooke and the war appeared to be at an end. Osceola with 200 warriors entered the camp that night and by morning it was totally deserted. When later asked about this wholesale desertion, the chiefs who had been there claimed they had heard rumours that there was fever in the fort and they feared they would be infected. In any event, the war resumed. After this incident, the Army commanders began a policy of violating any truce the Seminoles offered. As part of this policy, they offered to allow the troops to turn over any of the 'Black Seminoles' to the slave catchers and accept their reward money. This created much public outcry in the north and was later rescinded, the Blacks being allowed to emigrate west with the Seminoles.
In September 1837, the Army managed to capture several of the Seminole leaders, including a chief called King Philip. King Philip's son Wildcat entered the Fort under a flag of truce to ask for his release. Jesup ordered the troops to imprison Wildcat also, ignoring the traditional rules of war. The Seminoles were outraged at this event and asked for a meeting with one of the unit commanders, General Joseph Hernandez. Jesup learned of the meeting and ordered Hernandez to detain all who came in. Thus Chief Coa Hajo, 71 warriors and Osceola himself were captured. This again caused outrage among the public at large.
Osceola was suffering from malaria when he was captured. The Army sent him to Fort Moultree, South Carolina, near Charleston, where he became something of a celebrity. It was there that his famous portrait was painted. He passed away from the effects of fever on 31 January, 1838. His grave at the fort may be visited to this day.
By the fall of 1837, the number of troops in Florida exceeded 8,000 men. Most of the Seminoles by this time had been driven into the southern part of the peninsula, though there were a few groups active near the Georgia border. Jesup moved his forces to the Kissimmee River and began building forts there.
On 24 December, 1837, Colonel Zachary Taylor9 heard a report from his scouts that a large group of Seminoles had been spotted near the mouth of Lake Okeechobee about twenty miles to the south. Seminole chiefs Alligator and Coacoochee gathered about 300 warriors and they prepared a battle field on several hammocks in the swamp. On 25 December, 183710, Taylor engaged the enemy. At last the pitched battle so long anticipated was under way.
The battle lasted several hours and left 27 men killed and 111 wounded among Taylor's troops. Ten Seminoles were found dead in the aftermath. Although the Army gained the field, it is believed the Seminoles were fighting a delaying action while their wives and children escaped into the relative safety of the Everglades.
As the fight moved into the swamps, joint Army-Navy operations became more important as they penetrated the Everglades in flat bottom boats. Jesup even resorted to purchasing blood hounds to find the Seminoles without success. By March 1838, Jesup had had his fill of Florida and requested re-assignment. He had sent almost 3,000 Seminoles to the west, but almost 1,000 remained in Florida.
Newly-promoted Brigadier General Zachary Taylor next took over all command in Florida. Taylor began by dividing the territory into military districts connected by a vast network of roads, bridges and causeways.
In March 1839, the Commanding General of the Army, Major General Alexander Macomb, himself entered Florida to try to bring the war to a peaceful end. Again a meeting was held at Fort King, with chiefs Chitto Tutenuggee and Halleck Tustenuggee. This time, the Government offered the Seminoles a reservation in Florida south of the Pease River11. Again the wide diversity of the Seminoles would undo the efforts.
The army had built a trading post near Fort Meyers, known as Dallam's Store. Protected by a detachment of 26 dragoons, the store was attacked by a band of Seminoles estimated at 160 warriors. 18 men were killed or captured and the store looted. Several new Colt rifles were taken. Other attacks continued across the northern border of the territory. By April 1840, Taylor had had enough and requested his relief.
Brevet Brigadier General Walker Keith Armistead12 was next to take command in Florida.
Armistead divided the territory into northern and southern districts using Fort King to mark the border between them. He also instructed the troops to actively destroy the Seminole crops instead of concentrating just on gathering people for removal.
In May 1841, Armistead asked to be relieved. He had sent some 450 Seminoles to the West and estimated that only 300 remained in Florida.
Colonel William Jenkins Worth was next to assume command. The fact that Florida was no longer considered worthy of a General Officer was a sign of the importance placed on Seminole removal. The Army forces in Florida had been reduced to about 4,800 regular troops and the militia had all been sent home.
One of last major attacks on a settlement took place in August 1840, when a group of Seminoles crossed Florida Bay in canoes and attacked Indian Key. A few prominent citizens were killed and the rest fled in their trading boats. When the Seminoles began methodically burning the buildings, the Naval Hospital on nearby Tea Table Key saw the flames and became aware of the attack. They manned a small boat, lashed a cannon to it and went to Indian Key. After firing only a few shots at the island, the lashings broke and the recoil sent the barrel over the side. Meanwhile, the Seminoles found the field piece that had been intended to defend the key; they managed to load and fire it at the Navy boat. This is one of the few times Native Americans are recorded as using artillery against regular forces.
Worth asked his superiors for permission to end the war in April 1842. After many more months pursuing the Seminoles without much success, permission was granted. On 14 August, 1842, the United States declared victory and left the estimated 300 Seminoles unmolested.
The State of Florida was admitted into the Union on 3 March, 1845.
The Third Seminole War (1855 - 1858)
This war was sparked when a survey crew crossed the homestead of Chief Billy Bowlegs13 and apparently chopped their way through his banana grove. He retaliated by attacking the crew with his group of about 40 warriors the next morning, killing a few men. The action was little more than sporadic raids by the Seminoles, the destruction of Seminole property and capturing women and children. At last Billy Bowlegs and his band agreed to move west.
The remaining Seminoles continued in the Everglades.
Today there are both a Seminole Tribe of Florida and a Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma.
Florida State's Football team is called the Seminoles, with the endorsement of the Seminole Tribe of Florida.
The Seminoles never signed a treaty after the war. At least not until 1957, when they were recognized as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. When they started opening bingo halls and gambling casinos in the 1960s, it was a sign of their official recognition as a Native American independent nation.