Seminole: The Unconquered People
The Seminole people are the descendants of many Southeastern tribes who joined together in Florida. The formation of this North American tribe occurred over many decades. There were several significant waves of immigrations, especially after the Creek War, and runaway African slaves also became part of the tribe. By the 1800s, their population was estimated at around 5,000 people.
The First Seminole War
The Seminoles faced the same problems most tribes faced: American and Spanish settlers wanted their lands. Southern plantation owners also wanted the slaves who had taken refuge with the tribe.
A series of small violent encounters led to the First Seminole War, which started somewhere between 1814 and 1818 and ended in 1818. Many of the battles were with American forces led by General Andrew Jackson. The army bested the Seminoles in most of the battles, and the fighting eventually led Spain to sell Florida to the United States.
In 1823, the United States signed a treaty with the Seminole at Moultrie Creek that established a Seminole reservation in central Florida. It took several years, and much prodding by the army, before most of the Seminoles had moved to the reservation in 1827.
In the 1830s, the Indian Relocation Act called for all Southeastern tribes to move to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). Some of the Seminole signed the Treaty of Payne’s Landing in 1834, which gave them three years to move. The conflict with the Seminoles who did not sign the treaty led to the Second Seminole War.
The Second Seminole War
In 1835, the fighting began in earnest. By 1837, several of the remaining Seminole leaders had signed a treaty, but Seminole chiefs Osceola and Sam Jones refused to surrender. They led a mission to Fort Brooks to release over 700 Seminoles awaiting removal to Indian Territory. When Osceola and other leaders later met with the army at a peace conference under a white flag, they were seized and imprisoned. The war continued.
According to the Seminole Nation’s Web site, “by May 10, 1842, when a frustrated President John Tyler ordered the end of military actions against the Seminoles, over $20 million had been spent, 1,500 American soldiers had died, and still no formal peace treaty had been signed.” Some surviving Seminoles were given a reservation in southwestern Florida; the rest were sent to Indian Territory.
The Third Seminole War
In 1849, continuing efforts to get the Seminoles to go to Indian Territory resulted in more skirmishes in Florida. A few of them left; others stayed on their reservation. This led to the Third Seminole War in 1855. By May 1858, most of the remaining Seminoles had surrendered. Most were shipped west. Chief Sam Jones and a few others remained in south-central Florida.
In all three wars, there was never a formal peace treaty. Often, the Seminoles were just left alone because it was too hard to find them in their inland Florida holdings. This is why the Seminoles are often called the “Unconquered.”
According to the 2000 census, the Seminole now number around 13,000 people in Florida and Oklahoma.