The Seminole Native Americans are the indigenous people of southeastern North America. They are comprised of various tribes, instead of being a single, unique people. “As the United States is a nation made up of people from many nations, the Seminole is a tribe made up of Indians from many tribes.” (Garbarino-13). The ethnic diversity results from their interaction with other southeastern tribes such as the Calusa, Yuchi, Timucua, Cherokee, Apalachicola, Chickasaw, and Creek. It also accounts for their Muskogean language, which derives from the Hokan-Siouan.
The Seminole are most closely related to the Creek. In fact, they shared the same culture until the Seminole fled from Georgia to Northern Florida during late 18th century. Under the Creek, they felt hampered and desired freedom. Thus, they fled with hopes of independence to Florida, owned by Spain. There, they encountered the Apalachee and Timucua tribes, both of which spoke the Mikasuki Language (Seminole Indians 290). Hence, they were named the Seminole, meaning .runaway x in Creek dialect. Negro and Indian slaves joined them in their quest for freedom, as they fled during the power struggles between American colonists and Native Americans (Seminole 626). They eventually obtained complete freedom, but they still retained many customs of their original culture.
However, their atmosphere and surroundings still had a great impact on their culture and lives. Depending on the availability of resources, they adapted to suit their environment. For instance, their diet, clothing, and homes all depended on the climate, the animals present, and the availability of natural resources. Soon, these factors even began to influence culture. .The environment even influenced the language and rituals. Due to this involvement with Nature, they revered all of Nature. x (Garbarino 13)
The Florida landscape consisted of varying textures: dense forests, rocky mountains, and fertile valleys. The more powerful tribes tended to control the auspicious, profitable, fertile valleys while the weaker tribes controlled the inauspicious forests or mountains (http://www.seminoletribe.com/). The valleys great fertility is what amounted to its greatness. It allowed for the agriculture of essential vegetables including beans, maize, and squash in great quantities. Fortunately, the Seminoles were able to obtain fertile land. This, however, was not their main source of nourishment. They hunted, gathered natural fruits, and fished alongside streams. There was a great abundance of game in their territory for all their needs. (http://www.seminoletribe.com/)
Prior to their arrival in Florida, Spain had claimed the land that Juan Ponce de Leon had named Florida. The territory started from the southernmost edge of Florida, to the Chesapeake Bay, to the Mississippi River. Meanwhile, conflicts arose with the unsettled Native Americans and there were constant warfare. As a result, Juan Ponce de Leon was injured and soon died. This was a major victory for the Native Americans that helped to maintain their land. (Garbarino 33) Following his death, conflicts with the Spanish steadily decreased since there was no longer an urging quest for land.
The Native Americans exposure to foreign people had devastating consequences. As a result of their contact with the Spanish, some Indians contracted diseases like fatal pneumonia and smallpox. The highly contagious diseases spread quickly and quietly, leaving them defenseless against their silent, invisible adversary. Many tribes population dropped steadily as aliens continued to settle. (Lepthien 5-6)
There were several battles to establish control in Florida, in the territory of the Seminole, by conflicting European nations. In 1564, the French established a settlement in Florida, which was soon destroyed by Spanish forces. Such battles between the French, Spanish, and English raged on proceeding this event, each nation looking to expand their territories. In 1565, the Spanish founded a permanent European settlement in the southeast named St. Augustine. This territory also attracted the English, so Sir Francis Drake commanded an English force to attack St. Augustine in 1586. Unfortunately, he failed to penetrate the Spanish army, but the English were successful in establishing Jamestown, Virginia. (Garbarino 34) Native American alliances were scattered, for different tribes sided with different nations.
As English presence steadily grew, colonists began to settle on Indian land. Some tribes such as the Yamassee fought back, but were severely defeated. They were then forced into uninhabited land, where there was no competition (Garbarino 37). Modern-day Georgia became a hideaway for slaves and Native Americans, where both groups of people inhabited and even intermarried. This symbiotic relationship was forced to an end when The English established Georgia. They then fled to Florida, which the British took over in 1763 after they forced Spain to trade it for Cuba (Garbarino 39). The peace and prosperity would soon end for the Seminoles as land was stripped away.
American settlers began to trespass on Seminole territory as the fertile land attracted them. In retaliation, the Seminole raided American settlements and plundered valuables to protect their land. In addition, plantation owners demanded that runaway slaves who lived with the Seminole be returned. To enforce their demand, slave bounty hunters were hired and sent to the Seminole lands. These conflicting issues are what pushed the two nations towards war. (http://www.anthro.mankato.msus.edu/cultural/northamerica/seminole.html)
After the War of 1812 between the British and United States, The United States declared war on the Florida Indians as a result of the tension and bloodshed between the two nations. US Soldiers entered Spanish territory and raided Seminole territory in order to recapture slaves. However, the attack was much more than what was necessary, for villages were burnt to the ground, and their valuables plundered. This was known as the First Seminole War, from 1817 to 1818. (Seminole 626) During the war, Billy Bowlegs led the Seminole, while US Army was led by Andrew Jackson, who would soon become President for his heroic acts. Native American casualties were high and survivors retreated, while US casualties were minimal. As a result of their victory, the weak Spanish signed a treaty with the US, giving them full control the Florida. On February 22, 1821, Florida became a part of the United States of America. (Garbarino 40-41)
The US forged an agreement with the Seminole that would remove them from the Florida territory and push them southwestward to Indian reservations. The Seminole reluctantly agreed to prevent further complications. The terms of agreement were that the Seminole would give the US 30 million acres of land in exchange for 5 million acres of land further west/south. Basically, the US exchanged land unfit for cultivation for fertile and valuable land. The Seminoles faced widespread hunger and many casualties due to disease on their yearlong journey. Meanwhile, they increasingly grew discontent.
By the year 1830, when they were completely settled in their new land, the US government planned to deport the Native Americans west of the Mississippi. At this point the Seminole were very weak and stood no chance, so they agreed, except for some resistance from some leaders. Under President Jackson, the US signed the Treaty of Fort Gibson with cooperative Seminole leaders in 1832. Some leaders believed that the US had tricked them into signing the treaty and refused to leave. (Garbarino 45-46) Before their deadline to leave the territory, Seminole warriors attacked US troops to start the Second Seminole War, which lasted for 7 years (Garbarino 46). The great warrior, Osceola, led the Seminole using guerilla tactics. American casualties were extremely high as compared to Seminole losses. American settlements and plantations were raided and destroyed. Osceola was very humane in that he refused to hurt children or women, and was against raiding homes. His tactics of ambush proved extremely effective against unsuspecting US soldiers. (Garbarino 52)
General Thomas S. Jesup became the new general and took command of the 10,000 men in Florida. He ruthlessly attacked Seminole villages, captured their cattle and horses, destroyed crops, and took their women and children hostage. These courses of action lowered the Seminoles morale. Despite their attempts to call it a truce, the US army continued to attack and imprison the Seminole. Even their great leader King Pilip was captured at one point. Osceola was imprisoned and soon died, but his death only enraged the Seminole to fight further. (Garbarino 52)
As the war raged on, the Seminole became outnumbered and their morale dropped. The end to the war was gradual, for no official treaty was made. It was a silent, unanimous treaty, which both sides seemed to agree upon. Some Seminoles were pushed deep into the Everglades, while other went west past the Mississippi. There was minimal bloodshed and conflicts with the Seminole afterwards since they were now isolated and away from civilization. (Garbarino 54-55)
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