The Seminole Wars

The U.S. Army fought three wars against the Seminoles in the 19th century. The First Seminole War began in 1816 with a series of disturbances between the Seminoles and U.S. troops near the Georgia-Florida border. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun sent Major General Andrew Jackson to take command of the Army’s campaign against the Seminoles, but Jackson interpreted his orders much more broadly. He drove deep into Spanish Florida, conquering not only Seminole villages but also Spanish forts along the way. Spain protested, but eventually decided in 1819 to transfer Florida to the United States.

The U.S. government signed treaties with the Seminoles to encourage them to move west to Indian Territory, but many refused to do so. Tensions boiled over following a skirmish in 1835 called the Dade Massacre, and the Second Seminole War began. The conflict, which lasted until 1842, was the longest and costliest Indian war in United States history. By the end, fewer than 400 Seminoles remained in Florida. Those who stayed were required to live within a reservation at the southern end of the peninsula, and for several years they did. A skirmish between the Seminoles and a detachment of soldiers sent to patrol the reservation touched off a third conflict in 1855. It was short-lived, and by the end fewer than 200 Seminoles remained in the state.

Portrait of Chief Osceola

Portrait of Chief Osceola

Florida Memory

State Library of Florida

Other Online Resources

Published Sources

  • American State Papers, Library of Congress
  • Carter, Clarence Edwin. The Territory of Florida. U.S. Government Printing Office, 1956. Reprint of the Territorial Papers of the United States series; volumes 22-26 cover the Florida territory.
  • Covington, James. The Seminoles of Florida. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1993.
  • Knetsch, Joe. Florida’s Seminole Wars, 1817-1858.  Mount Pleasant, SC: Arcadia Publishing Company, 2003.
  • Mahon, John. History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida, 1991.
  • Sprague, J.T. (John Titcomb). The Origin, Progress, and Conclusion of the Florida War. Gainesville, FL: University of Florida Press, 1964.