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Seminole Wars

The Seminole Wars were three wars or conflicts between the Seminole Native American tribe and white American immigrants. The first was in 1817 - 1818, the second in 1835 - 1842 and the third lasted 1855 - 1858. The second clash is often referred to as the Seminole War.

Osceola, Seminole leader
Lithograph (detail) 1838

The Seminole are a Floridian Native American tribe. The tribe was founded in the early 1700s when groups of Lower Creek migrated into the area from Georgia and Alabama. The region was nominally under the control of the Spanish and they allowed the people to establish themselves to form a buffer between the Spanish and the British territories. From the 1770s the name Seminole came to be attached to the tribes, meaning "runaway."

The First Seminole War was started by the invasion of eastern Florida by U.S. army forces under the command of General Andrew Jackson. White settlers had previously attacked the Seminole and the Seminole had retaliated. The acceptance of runaway slaves by the Seminole was another sore point. The Seminole fort at Apalachicola, the so-called Negro Fort, had been razed in July, 1816 but the war is usually dated from the arrival of Jackson in December, 1817. Jackson's forces captured St Marks on April 7 and Pensacola on May 24, 1818. The campaign secured American control of east Florida. Unofficial American military expeditions continued until Spain ceded the territory.

In 1818, James Monroe's Secretary of State, John Quincy Adams defined the American position on this issue. Adams accused Spain of breaking the Pinckney treaty by failing to control the Seminoles, and refused to apologize for Jackson's actions.

The U.S. gained formal control of Florida in 1821 through the Adams-Onis Treaty, which had taken weeks for Luiz de Onis, Spain's representative in Washington, and Adams to work out. The Government immediately started efforts to displace the Seminoles, encouraging them to join other tribes in the Indian Territories (around modern Oklahoma). Following the passage of the Indian Removal Act in 1830 some of the tribes people signed the Treaty of Payne's Landing in May 1832 and began the move but others retreated into the Everglades. The treaty required all Seminole to move out of Florida by May 1835 and the U.S. Army arrived in the territory in early 1835 to enforce the treaty.

The Second Seminole War was fought by the Seminole as guerillas. There were maybe 3,000 Seminole warriors commanded by head chief Micanopy but led and inspired by Osceola. The U.S. army eventually committed 200,000 soldiers to the conflict. The U.S. government became increasingly frustrated and correspondingly treacherous -- Osceola was captured during a truce and died in prison at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina in 1838. The American forces began to successfully combat the Seminole tactics under William J. Worth from 1841. Seminole villages were destroyed and their crops burned, starving the warriors. Threatened with starvation the conflict came to an untidy end in August 1842, although no peace treaty was ever signed. Around 1,500 U.S. soldiers had been killed.

The Third Seminole War was the final clash over land between the Seminole and white settlers, the main Seminole leader was Billy Bowlegs. By the time the conflict was declared finished on May 8, 1858 there were fewer than 200 Seminole in Florida -- and when Bowlegs surrendered he had only forty warriors with him.

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