General Thomas Sidney Jesup commanded military operations against the Seminoles in Florida during the early stages of the conflict now known as the Second Seminole War (1835-1842). The Second Seminole War was the longest and costliest Indian War in American history. Jesup’s field diary, available on Florida Memory, contains his perspective on the war from October 1, 1836, to May 30, 1837. This series of blog posts places significant entries from the Jesup diary in the context of the Seminole Wars and the history of Anglo-American Indian-African relations in the American South. Below is the fourth post in the series.
When Thomas Sidney Jesup arrived in Florida he had already formed alliances with Creek Indians in Alabama and Georgia. These Creeks were friendly to the United States, and some had been party to treaties with the Americans. When the Second Creek War broke out, Indian leaders loyal to the United States joined American troops in punitive raids against rebel Creeks; some also served in Florida against the Seminoles.
In this entry from the diary, Jesup wrote to friendly Creek leader Echo Harjo, who was already operating in Florida against the Seminoles, to request he bring 100 warriors to Tampa Bay. At this point in the campaign, Jesup was planning an incursion into the Seminole territory. The Creeks under Echo Harjo’s command served as valuable guides and interpreters, as they spoke the same language as the Seminoles (Muscogee) and were familiar with the territory.
Fighting against Seminoles and their African allies was nothing new to Creeks friendly to the United States. During the First Seminole War (1816-1818), Creeks under the leadership of William McIntosh participated in attacks on the Negro Fort, the Suwannee Old Towns, and other villages in Florida. Nearly 800 Creeks joined American forces fighting Seminoles in Florida during the Second Seminole War (1835-1842).
The warriors under Echo Harjo’s command did not necessarily come to Florida by choice. They were told that loyal service in Florida guaranteed the welfare of their families in Alabama and Georgia. News of the troubles stemming from the Second Creek War caused great discontent among Echo Harjo’s warriors. Some defected to the Seminoles rather than continue to fight as allies with the Americans (see Jesup diary, March 11, 1837). Echo Harjo and other friendly Creek leaders reported on several occasions that they heard rumors of abuses suffered by their families. Jesup reassured them that their families would not suffer unduly from the fighting in the Creek Country.
After the conclusion of the Second Seminole War, most of the friendly Creeks returned to their homes. Despite their military service to the United States against the Seminoles, within a few years most were forced to emigrate to the Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River.