The purpose of this lesson is to introduce students to the causes and effects of the Seminole Wars.
The Americans fought a series of wars against the Seminoles in the first half of the 19th century over three issues: trade, land, and slavery.
By the early 1800s, American settlement encroached on Creek and Seminole communities along the southern frontier. The Creeks and Seminoles desired trade with the French to the west, the Spanish in Florida, the British in the Caribbean, and the Americans to the north and east. The United States wanted Native Americans in the South to trade only with them. The U.S. was afraid that the Creeks and Seminoles would become potential military allies for the European nations.
The Americans wanted land for cotton agriculture grown using slave labor. Many slaves that fled plantations in the South sought refuge among the Seminoles in Florida. The Americans considered this a major problem and a threat to the institution of slavery. The Americans pressured the Seminoles to return the escaped slaves living among them.
Escaped slaves, or “Black Seminoles,” enjoyed greater freedom among the Seminoles than African-American slaves laboring on southern plantations. Black Seminoles lived primarily in their own, independent towns, but in many cases maintained close ties to the Seminoles and later served as military allies in wars against the United States.
Conflict increased near the Georgia-Florida border in 1816 and 1817. Secretary of War John C. Calhoun ordered General Andrew Jackson to invade Spanish Florida and pursue the Seminoles. This became known as the First Seminole War.
With Jackson's invasion, Spain recognized that they were losing control of Florida. In 1819, Spain agreed to sell the territory to the United States. The transfer became official in 1821.
The U.S. government felt they needed to separate American and Seminole towns in Florida. In 1823, Seminole and American leaders met at Camp Moultrie. Some Seminoles agreed to move to land in central Florida. Many opposed the terms of the treaty.
In 1830, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. It required Native Americans to leave the southeast and migrate west of the Mississippi River. Each tribe negotiated a separate treaty. Most Seminoles strongly opposed removal.
The treaty for Seminole removal was known as the Treaty of Payne’s Landing. The Seminoles did not intend to abide by the agreement forced upon them.
On December 28, 1835, Major Francis Dade led troops north from Fort Brooke along the Fort King road. Suddenly, Seminole warriors ambushed Dade and his men. Within a few hours, all but three of the 110 American troops lay dead. This event was known as the Dade Massacre, or Dade’s Battle. It ignited the Second Seminole War—the longest and costliest Indian war in United States history.
The Seminoles staged a series of raids on plantations in East Florida. Warriors burned plantations and liberated enslaved Africans. This created panic along the Florida frontier. Many settlers fled to nearby forts for protection.
The Second Seminole War lasted seven years and cost the United States an estimated $40 million. In response to the initial success of Seminole war tactics, the U.S. Army changed strategy. They searched out Seminole towns. They burned villages, destroyed crops, and stole livestock. Men, women and children were captured and imprisoned at Fort Brooke. Later they were deported to Indian Territory. The United States Army dubiously captured several Seminole leaders under flags of truce. These leaders included Osceola, Micanopy, and Coacoochee.
The Army declared an end to the war in 1842. Only 500-600 Seminoles remained in Florida. Before the war, the Seminole population was about 5,000.
Tensions persisted and nearly resulted in another war in the late 1840s. The Third Seminole War broke out in 1855. After the third war, an additional 160 Seminoles left Florida for the Indian Territory. At the end of the Seminole Wars in 1858, only about 200 Seminoles remained in Florida. The Seminoles rebuilt their communities. They became part of the economic and cultural development of the Florida frontier.