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 sixth post in the series.
Native Americans living in Florida during the Seminole Wars were not, in fact, all Seminoles. However, from the perspective of the United States government, all Florida Indians were Seminoles. It was more expedient to deal with Native peoples inhabiting a particular region as if they were a single entity, with one set of political views, rather than recognize their diversity. This practice was foundational to the Indian policy of the United States in the early 19th century; all Indians in Alabama and Georgia were Creeks, and all Indians in Florida were Seminoles.
The reality was that the Creeks and Seminoles were not one political entity unto themselves; nor did they always act independently without joint council. The conflicts between the so-called “friendly” and “rebel” Red Stick Creeks, discussed in an earlier post, were only one of several ways Creeks (and Seminoles) divided themselves. They considered themselves first as a member of a clan, second as a resident of a town, and third, part of a larger collection of towns that comprised a confederacy. Scholars disagree over which—clan, town, or nation—was most important in influencing the identity and daily life of southeastern American Indians.
When Jesup arrived in Florida he quickly learned that a great difference of opinions existed among the Seminoles on the issue of removal. Because of his experience in the Second Creek War, he was already aware that not all Creeks considered themselves part of a single political entity. In this way, military officers on the ground often differed from policy makers far removed from the theater of war; Jesup learned to respect the internal divisions in Indian society even if his superior officers remained ignorant of the same.
In this entry from his field diary, Jesup reports that Jumper, also known as Otee Emathlar, echoed the sentiments of other Seminoles that the Miccosukees (also spelled Mikasuki and several other ways) had started the war. Jesup had previously heard this statement from the black Seminole Abraham, interpreter and adviser for Micanopy (see Jesup diary, January 31, 1837).
The Miccosukees migrated to Florida in the early 18th century. They spoke a dialect of the Muscogee language known as Hitchiti, which although related to was mutually unintelligible from the main Muscogee tongue. Their early date of arrival in Florida from the north made the Miccosukees the first Native American immigrants into the territory after the destruction of the Spanish Missions in 1702-1704.
According to Seminole leaders who met with Jesup, the Miccosukees refused to negotiate and intended to remain hostile to the United States. The division between Seminoles and Miccosukees is not as clear-cut as it may seem, and these were certainly not the only factions of Florida Indians involved in the war. Jesup also became aware of Creeks, Red Sticks, Tallahassees and Uchees (also spelled Yuchi or Euchee) involved in the fighting. With the exception of the Creeks friendly to the United States, most Florida Indians resisted removal.
Another factor that complicates Jumper’s statement is his intent. Jesup believed that Seminole leaders were delaying removal by blaming the war on the Miccosukees. It would have been impossible for Jesup to tell a Miccosukee from a Seminole unless they declared themselves to him. Assigning blame to the Miccosukees for causing the war might have been a tactic designed to frustrate and stall the Americans. While the negotiations dragged on, the Seminoles continued to receive federal rations. Since most of their livestock were driven off and their fields burned by the U.S. Army, the government-supplied rations were necessary for survival.
Evidence from the period after the end of the Seminole Wars in 1858 may support Jumper’s claim about divisions between Seminoles and Miccosukees. In the 20th century, the federal government became aware that Florida Indians considered themselves to be at least two distinct groups. Seminoles lived in the Kissimmee River Valley north of Lake Okeechobee and spoke Creek (or Muscogee), Miccosukees lived in the Big Cypress Swamp and near the Miami River and spoke Hitchiti (or Mikasuki).
The movement to federal reservations, which began in the 1930s, further highlighted these differences. In the 1950s and 1960s, internal political divisions led to the creation of two federally recognized tribes in southern Florida: the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. Some Florida Indians refused to join either of these Tribes, and remain independent to the present day.