Exploring the Seminole Wars Through Maps

Seminole Origins and Migration Into Florida

: Explain how the Seminoles formed and the purpose for their migration.

The United States waged three wars against the Seminoles in the 19th century. The largest of these conflicts, the Second Seminole War, was the longest and most costly American Indian war in U.S. history.

This episode describes the origins of the Seminoles and the reasons for their migration into Florida in the 1700s.

Episode One: Seminole Origins and Migration Into Florida


Romans’ General Map of the Southern British Colonies (ca. 1776)
Romans’ General Map of the Southern British Colonies (ca. 1776)

(Slide One)

Episode One describes the origins of the Seminoles and the reasons for their migration into Florida.

(Slide Two)

The resource for this episode is a British map from the 1770s created by the English surveyor Bernard Romans.

The map shows the location of English colonies on the Atlantic Coast (Slide Three) as well as great detail on the Creek and Cherokee nations (Slide Four).

Beginning in the early 1500s, Europeans and Africans reached the land that is now known as the southeast United States. They brought with them disease, plants and, animals that changed the lives of Native Americans forever.

By the early 1600s, the impacts of disease, warfare and enslavement changed the organization of Native American communities. Tribes had to move to new locations and join together in order to survive.

(Slide Five)

One of the new groups that formed as a result of these changes was known as the Creeks. English colonists first used the term Creeks to describe a group of Native Americans who lived on the Oconee River in eastern Georgia.

The English later used the term to refer to most of the Native Americans who lived in Alabama and Georgia.

(Slide Six)

The Creeks spoke the Muscogee language, which contained many regional dialects. Their territory extended from the Coosa/Tallapoosa Rivers in Alabama (Slide Seven), to the Flint/Chattahoochee Rivers in Georgia (Slide Eight), and about as far south as the modern Florida-Georgia border.

(Slide Nine)

By the mid-1700s, some Creeks living along the Flint/Chattahoochee Rivers, also known as Lower Creeks, began migrating into Florida. They settled in the former homelands of the Apalachee in the Florida Panhandle, and the Timucua in northern Central Florida (Slide Ten).

The blue triangles represent the locations of a few of the known Seminole settlements established near modern-day Tallahassee, Lake Miccosukee in Leon County, the Suwannee River, and Gainesville.

Because these towns separated themselves from the main body of Creeks, they became known as simanolis (Slide Eleven), meaning “those who camp at a distance” in the Muscogee language. To the Spanish they were known as cimarrons, or “runaways.”

The two terms merged—Simanolis and Cimaroons—and became “Seminole” in the English language.

The Seminoles separated from the Creeks for economic and political reasons. Economically, they wanted to be closer to the resources available in Florida, including deer and plentiful land, in addition to trade with the Spanish and the British. Over time, the Seminoles also adopted political independence from the Creeks to the north.

(Slide Twelve)

Joining the Seminoles in Florida were escaped slaves from Southern plantations. Called “Black Seminoles” by historians, these people of African descent sought refuge from slavery among Native Americans in Florida and became vital members of their communities. 

The blue triangles represent a few of the known Black Seminole settlements, including Suwannee Old Town, Piliklakaha northeast of Tampa, and Angola near Sarasota.

(Slide Thirteen)

The Alachua area, near modern day Gainesville, was home to the largest Seminole town in the mid-1700s, called Cuscowilla. The Alachua Seminoles herded thousands of head of cattle on the wet prairie and grassland today called Payne’s Prairie.

In addition to herding cattle, Seminoles planted fields of corn, beans, and squash, agricultural traditions practiced for centuries.

(Slide Fourteen)

By the year 1800, Seminole and Black Seminole towns extended from the area west of present day Tallahassee in the Florida Panhandle, to near St. Augustine on the east coast, and as far south as the Caloosahatchee River near today’s Fort Myers.

The next episode discusses the origins of conflicts between the United States and the Seminoles, known as the Seminole Wars.