For centuries, native people known as the Muscogee lived in what would become the southeastern United States. They were incorrectly referred to as “Creeks” by English speakers. After the Creek War in 1813-14, which forced them to give up millions of acres of their land, the most determined Creeks fled to Spanish Florida. There, they joined with the descendants of Indians who had lived throughout Florida’s forests for centuries. These native people referred to themselves as yat’siminoli, which means “free people.” Eventually, the Indians in Florida came to be known as “Seminoles.”
Spain was no longer the powerful nation it once was. It had very little control over events in Florida. After numerous attacks on white settlers by Seminoles following the Creek War, the United States government sent troops to Florida. The troops were commanded by Andrew Jackson, a tough general from Tennessee.
Many Americans at the time hated Native Americans because they fought with the British in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812. Americans saw Indians as a threat to their security. The Seminoles in Florida also took in runaway slaves. This angered many Southern slave-owners.
Jackson was ordered to follow the Seminoles into Spanish territory, but he was not allowed to attack Spanish posts. Instead, Jackson was determined to settle the “Indian problem.” He attacked a Spanish fort at St. Marks and destroyed Seminole villages. Between 1814 and 1818, US troops attacked the Seminoles and their African American allies in what became known as the First Seminole War.
In 1819, the United States gained Florida from Spain. This brought even more settlers into Seminole territory, especially their settlement at Tallahassee. Because of continued attacks, the governor of Florida forced the Seminoles to sign the Treaty of Moultrie Creek. This treaty forced them to give up their land and move south to a reservation in central Florida. They were also required to stop hiding runaway slaves.
The Second Seminole War erupted when the Seminoles rejected the treaty. It lasted from 1835 to 1842 and was the bloodiest war against an American Indian tribe in history. The Seminoles were led by a skilled warrior named Osceola, but he was no match for US troops. The Seminoles were pushed further and further into the wilderness. Osceola was eventually captured and died in prison. Many Seminoles were sent to reservations in the west, and Florida was admitted as a state in 1845.
The Seminoles were never completely defeated, however. Some continued to fight periodically in the 1850s. A small number of Seminoles withdrew into the Everglades rather than surrender. Some of their ancestors still live there!
Some Facts About the Seminoles:
• Florida State University, which is located in Tallahassee, has a Seminole Indian as their mascot.
• Osceola had an African American wife, and hated the practice of slavery.
• Before every Florida State University football game, a student dressed as Osceola rides a horse onto the football field and plants a flaming spear in the middle of the football field!