The Second Seminole Indian War, which lasted from 1835-1842, is the first protracted, unpopular, jungle war undertaken by the military forces of the United States. Today, the war is virtually forgotten yet many important historical actors participated in this conflict, such as Andrew Jackson, who became the 7th President of the US; Gen. Winfield Scott; Gen. Edmund Gaines; and Zachary Taylor, who became the 12th President of the US.
We are approaching the 180th anniversary of the Dade Massacre (12/28/1835) which sparked this terrible conflict. Seminole Indians ambushed US Army forces (110 officers and men) under the command of Major Francis Dade. The soldiers were marching from Ft. Brooke to the relief of Ft. King near present day Ocala, Florida. On the fifth day of the march Seminole’s ambushed Maj. Dade in a palmetto/pine scrub field near present day Dade City, FL. After the initial ambush the Seminole Indians under the command of chiefs Micanopy and Alligator withdrew leaving over half the soldiers dead the rest wounded, some severely. Subsequently, black raiders on horseback killed and stripped the remaining wounded soldiers after the fighting had stopped. Only two soldiers survived the massacre and one was later killed trying make his escape back to Ft. Brooke near present day Tampa.
The Second Seminole Indian War was unique for several reasons. First, the Seminole nation was really a conglomeration of the survivors from various branches of the Creek nation driven out of Alabama and Mississippi by Andrew Jackson. Furthermore the Seminoles in Florida were primarily ranchers and farmers…not hunter-gathers…though it would probably be fair to say their agriculture did not rival the industrial agriculture of the early 19th Century. Second, the Seminoles owned black slaves though the Seminole’s treatment of black slaves was considerably different. To be fair, Florida did contain some considerable number of runaway slaves from Southern plantations who lived either hidden in the bush with other run aways, as slaves to Seminoles or became members of the Seminole nation many times through marriage. There were also free blacks who had been born in the territory and had ancestry going back to Spanish colonial times. The Seminoles had little to no interest in helping plantation owners recover runaway slaves. The white plantation owners had no interest in parsing out which blacks were run aways, which had ties to Seminole tribes or those who were free born. The war that resulted really focused more upon the issue of slavery than any other issue…in fact some historians have asserted that it was the only war in which the United States was actively fighting to expand slavery and slave holding interests.
In the events leading up the war, Seminole’s consistently complained about 3 major things: theft of their cattle by white settlers, kidnapping of black family members and theft of their slaves by slave hunters, and land treaties that left them confined to land away from the coasts and areas where they could not support themselves agriculturally. I think you may agree that these are legitimate grievances that would spur any enlightened person to consider rebellion against the established government if left unaddressed.
In spite of Andrew Jackson’s policies and the sheer overwhelming technological and military advantages of the United States, the Seminoles were able to mount an effective resistance that was only stopped by treachery. Seminole chiefs and war leaders were lured into meetings with US commanders under flags of truce only to be arrested and imprisoned until they finally agreed to move west.
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