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Seminole Wars

Seminole Wars (1818; 1835–42; 1855–58).The southeastern border of the United States was continuously turbulent during the early nineteenth century. Runaway slaves escaped into Spanish Florida, while Indian bands and white bands marauded unrestrained. Open war finally broke out on 27 November 1817, when Maj. Gen. Edmund P. Gaines sent a detachment to Fowltown, a Seminole village, to arrest its chief, Neamathla, for defying the authority of the United States.

Maj. Gen. Andrew Jackson took over command on 26 December 1817. With an army of about 4,000 men, half of them Creek Indians, he invaded Spanish Florida and destroyed Seminole power west of the Suwannee River. He went on to take St. Marks and Pensacola, offending Spain; then offended Great Britain by executing two British citizens for aiding the Seminoles. The war seemed over to him, and on 30 May 1818, he left Florida. The next year, because of Jackson's conquests, the Spanish government transferred Florida to the United States by the Adams‐Onís Treaty.

For the Seminoles, American acquisition ended an era of prosperity and began one of deprivation. The first U.S. policy, initiated in 1823, confined them to a reservation of 4 million acres of poor land. There were numerous violent confrontations, many of them disputes over the ownership of blacks. U.S. slaveholders, Creek Indians, Seminoles, and the blacks themselves harried each other over slave property.

As Americans shoved into Florida in the years after the war, the Seminoles, a loose association of diverse bands, prepared to fight once more. In 1834, however, their leadership came not from hereditary chiefs but from Osceola, a part‐white warrior without ancestral or tribal standing, whose courage and determination inspired the bands to act together. Miccosukees ravaged the plantations east of the St. Johns River, while Alachuas and others killed the Indian agent, Wiley Thompson, and annihilated Maj. Francis L. Dade's detachment of 108 men on 28 December 1835. Dade's defeat began the undeclared Second Seminole War, 1835–42.

By September 1836, the Seminoles controlled all of North Florida east of the Suwannee River except Newnansville, Micanopy, and Garey's Ferry. But when Osceola sickened in the late summer, cooperation among the bands slackened. Leadership passed from Osceola to Wildcat ( Coacoochee), Alligator ( Halpatter Tustenuggee), Jumper ( Ote Emathla), Halleck Tustenuggee, Billy Bowlegs ( Holata Mico), and Sam Jones ( Arpeika). These men led not a nation but disparate bands that sometimes cooperated.

For the United States, Brig. Gen. Duncan L. Clinch commanded first, followed by Maj. Gen. Winfield Scott. After Scott, the civilian governor of Florida, Richard K. Call, took charge for six months. Then the sequence of ranking general officers recommenced: Maj. Gen. Thomas S. Jesup, Brig. Gen. Zachary Taylor, Brig. Gen. Walker K. Armistead, and Brig. Gen. William J. Worth.

Scott's Napoleon‐like strategy failed. Jesup, frustrated, began to seize key leaders when they came in to negotiate; his most notorious capture was of Osceola on 27 October 1837. Zachary Taylor directed the notable battle near Lake Okeechobee on Christmas Day, 1837. He threw his 800 men head‐on against a position meticulously prepared by the three bands of Seminoles waiting there. He finally dislodged them but sustained 138 casualties.

About 400 blacks, effective fighters, stood with the Seminoles until the spring of 1838. In March of that year, General Jesup reversed previous policies and promulgated his order that all blacks who joined the U.S. force would become free. Thereafter, the blacks shifted allegiance, ceasing to serve alongside the warriors.

The last two U.S. commanders relied on small detachments led by junior officers. Blacks or captured Indians guided them to the ultimate hideaways of the Indians, where they destroyed the remaining Seminole means of subsistence. Ragged, hungry, and short of ammunition, hostile bands began to surrender; in August 1842, General Worth was able to declare the Second Seminole War ended. About 350 Indians remained south of Lake Okeechobee and Pease Creek.

For a few years, Billy Bowlegs and Sam Jones strove to keep the peace; but the United States, pressed by settlers, began to build roads and survey within the Indian preserve. Escalating white encroachments brought an attack on an army camp on 20 December 1855. It was the catalyst for the Third Seminole War. U.S. volunteers rather than regulars provided the main military force this time. The last fight took place on 5 March 1857. Billy Bowlegs, convinced that the cause was lost, accepted several thousand dollars to emigrate, taking with him 165 followers. About 120 Seminoles remained behind. One of them was Sam Jones, who never left, but died in Florida in 1867, one hundred eleven years old. The United States declared the Third Seminole War officially ended on 8 May 1858.
[See also Native American Wars.]


John K. Mahon , History of the Second Seminole War, 1835–1842, 1967.
James W. Covington , The Billy Bowlegs War, 1855–1858, 1981.
Virginia Bergman Peters , The Florida Wars, 1979.
Kenneth W. Porter , The Black Seminoles, 1996.
Frank Laumer , Dade's Last Command, 1995.
John K. Mahon , The First Seminole War, 1817–1818, Florida Historical Quarterly, Summer 1998.

John K. Mahon

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"Seminole Wars." The Oxford Companion to American Military History. . 11 Dec. 2017 <>.

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Seminole Wars


SEMINOLE WARS. In the first decades of the nineteenth century, Seminole Indians in the Spanish colony of Florida faced numerous pressures. With the Spanish and then the French expelled from Louisiana, interior southeastern Indians no longer had European allies for protection or as markets for their goods. Everywhere, Americans were turning Indian lands into farms—particularly along the fertile rivers of the South, where cotton plantations mushroomed. Many Seminole communities increasingly incorporated runaway African American slaves into their societies, in which the escapees became productive community members. Meanwhile, as southern plantation owners became more militant, raids and counterraids across the U.S.–Florida border characterized Seminole–white relations.

In 1816, detachments of the U.S. Army began pursuing runaways into Florida, and in March 1818, General Andrew Jackson assumed control of nearly three thousand men in an invasion of Seminole Florida that began the First Seminole War. Focusing on several Seminole communities in northern Florida, Jackson marched southward, burning Seminole fields, villages, and houses. As Seminoles abandoned their settled communities and retreated into the interior, Jackson turned west, capturing St. Marks in April 1818 and Pensacola the following month. In 1819, Spain relinquished control of Florida to the United States, and when Florida became a territory of the United States in 1822, thousands of settlers rushed south to claim plantation lands. Jackson became the first governor of the Florida Territory.

Throughout the 1820s and into the 1830s, Florida officials attempted to pressure Seminole groups to leave their lands and move westward. The Seminoles, however, were required to leave behind their black community members, who were to become the slaves of whites. Refusing to leave their homelands and to break up their families—many runaway slaves had intermarried with Seminoles—Seminole leaders defied all attempts to force their removal. In 1835, as U.S. officials attempted a final drive to displace the Seminoles, a young warrior, Osceola, was arrested after failing to sign a removal treaty. After his arrest, Osceola killed a proremoval leader and called on his community members to join him in driving out white officials. This began the Second Seminole War.

From 1835 to 1842, Osceola and other Seminole leaders orchestrated guerrilla campaigns against U.S. Army stations throughout north-central Florida. Often overwhelming vastly superior forces, Seminoles became renowned for their military prowess and strategy. In the last week of 1835, Osceola led his forces to three stunning victories over the Americans, culminating in his triumph at Withlacoochee on 31 December, when the Seminoles dispersed a force of about 750 whites under General Duncan Clinch. Andrew Jackson, now president of the United States, appointed nine commanders before finally capturing Osceola, who died in captivity in 1838.

The Second Seminole War continued until 1842, when the U.S. government at last accepted the futility of its campaign. Although three thousand Seminoles were removed west to Indian Territory, with about a thousand left behind, the government lost just under fifteen hundred soldiers and spent nearly $40 million, including fighting the Third Seminole War in 1855. Although enduring recurrent infringements on their lands, the remaining Seminole groups created lasting communities in the Florida Everglades.


Walton, George. Fearless and Free: The Seminole Indian War, 1835–1842. Indianapolis, Ind.: Bobbs-Merrill, 1977.

Weisman, Brent Richards. Like Beads on a String: A Cultural History of the Seminole Indians in North Peninsular Florida. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 1989.


See alsoFlorida ; Indian Policy, U.S.: 1775–1830, 1830–1900 ; Indian Removal ; Indians and Slavery ; Wars with Indian Nations: Early Nineteenth Century (1783–1840), Later Nineteenth Century (1840–1900) .

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Seminole War

Seminole War, in U.S. history, armed conflict between the U.S. government and the Seminoles. In 1832 the U.S. government signed a treaty with the Seminoles, who lived in Florida, providing for their removal to Oklahoma in 1835 in exchange for a small sum of money. However, opposition to the treaty soon appeared among the Seminoles; under the leadership of the young chief, Osceola, the Seminoles organized small raiding parties that attacked the American troops. The U.S. army was rendered helpless by the raiding tactics of the Native Americans and suffered heavy casualties. Although Osceola was captured in 1837 and died in prison a few months later, resistance continued. When Gen. William J. Worth became (1841) commander of U.S. forces, a new strategy was adopted. The Seminole's crops were systematically burned and their villages destroyed. As winter approached and starvation was imminent, the Seminoles surrendered. A peace treaty was signed in 1842 and the Native Americans were removed westward. The war resulted in 1,500 U.S. soldiers killed, and cost more than $20 million.

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