The Seminole Wars, also known as the Florida Wars, were three conflicts in Florida between the Seminole tribe and the United States Army. These wars consisted of three different wars including the First Seminole War from 1816 to 1819, the Second Seminole War from 1835 to 1842, and the Third Seminole War from 1855 to 1858). Together, the Seminole Wars were the longest and most expensive, both in human and monetary terms, of all the Indian Wars in United States history.
After the American Revolution Spain regained control of Florida from Britain as part of the Treaty of Paris. When the British evacuated Florida, Spanish colonists and American settlers came into the state in great numbers. Many of these new residents were lured by Spanish land grants. Even the Seminole Indians were encouraged to set up farms because they provided a buffer between Spanish Florida and the United States.
First Seminole War (1816-1819) – This conflict began with the massacre of about 50 Americans near an army post in Georgia and climaxed to a series of raids against American settlements by the Seminole based in Spanish Florida. Brigadier General Edmund P. Gaines, the Indian commissioner of the area, attempted countermeasures but soon found himself and his force of 600 Regulars confined to Fort Scott, Alabama by the Seminole. War Department instructions to Gaines had permitted the pursuit of Indians into Florida but, had forbidden interference if the Indians took refuge in Spanish posts.
Major General Andrew Jackson, who was ordered to take over the operation, chose to interpret Gaines’ instructions as sanctioning a full-scale invasion of the Spanish colony. He organized a force of about 7,500 volunteers, militia, subsidized Creek Indians, and Regulars, and invaded Florida with part of this force in the spring of 1818.
Jackson destroyed Seminole camps, captured Pensacola, the capital of Spanish Florida, as well as other Spanish strongholds. He also executed two British subjects, Alexander Arbuthnot and Robert Ambrister, who were accused of inciting and arming the Indians. The governments of Great Britain and Spain both expressed outrage over the “invasion”. However, Spain was unable to defend or control the territory, as several local uprisings and rebellions made clear. It also jeopardized negotiations with Spain pertinent to the session of Florida to the United States in the Adams-Onis Treaty of 1819. Eventually the British were mollified and a compromise agreement was reached with the Spanish under which American forces were withdrawn from Florida without repudiating the politically popular Jackson. The transfer of Florida to the United States took place in 1821.
The Treaty of Moultrie Creek of 1823 required the Seminole to leave northern Florida and they were confined to a large reservation in the center of the Florida peninsula. The U.S. government enforced the treaty by building a series of forts and trading posts in the territory, mainly along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. However, as for the “Seminole problem”, it was temporarily allayed but by no means solved.
Second Seminole War (1835–1842) – More treaties were made with the Seminole when the United States government wanted the tribe to leave Florida altogether and move to Indian Territory (Oklahoma) per the Indian Removal Act of 1830. In the Treaties of Payne’s Landing in 1832 and Fort Gibson in 1833, the Seminole had agreed to give up their lands, but they refused to move out. As the government attempted to force the Seminoles to leave, fighting began with the Dade Massacre in December 1835, and raids, skirmishes, and a handful of larger battles were fought throughout the Florida peninsula over the next few years.
Following the arrest and release of Seminole Chief Osceola, in 1835 Seminole depredations rapidly increased. These culminated on December 28th in the massacre of Captain Francis L. Dade’s detachment of 330 Regulars en route from Fort Brooke in Tampa to Fort King in Ocala – a disastrous loss for the small, regular force of 600 men in Florida. Brigadier General Duncan L. Clinch, commanding Fort King, took the offensive immediately with 200 men and on December 31, 1835, defeated the Indians on the Withlacoochee River.
The War Department, meanwhile, had ordered Brigadier General Winfield Scott, commander of the Eastern Department, to Florida to direct operations against the Seminole. Most of the hostilities had occurred in General Gaines’ Western Department, but the War Department expected impending troubles in Texas to keep Gaines occupied. Nevertheless, Gaines had quickly raised about 1,000 men in New Orleans, Louisiana and, acting on his own authority, embarked for Florida in February 1836. Even after learning of Scott’s appointment, Gaines seized supplies collected by Scott at Fort Drane and pressed forward until heavily attacked by Seminole. He succeeded in extricating his force only with help from Scott’s troops. Shortly thereafter Gaines returned to New Orleans.
Completion of preparations for Scott’s proposed three-pronged offensive converging on the Withlacoochee River was delayed by Gaines’ use of Scott’s supplies, expiration of volunteer enlistments, and temporary diversion of troops to deal with the Creeks who were then on the warpath in Georgia and Alabama. Before the campaign could get underway, Scott was recalled to Washington to face charges of dilatoriness and of casting slurs on the fighting qualities of volunteers. Beginning in December 1836, Major General Thomas S. Jesup carried out a series of increasingly desperate measures to win the war.