Seminole Tribe: History, Facts & Culture

Instructor: James Moeller
This lesson covers a concise history of the Seminole Tribe. In addition, we'll discuss the tribe's legacy of conflict with the United States government as well as the status of the tribe in the present.

History of the Seminole Tribe

When people hear the word Seminole today, they don't consider the tribe as much as they do Florida State University (located in Tallahassee), whose athletic teams are referred to as the FSU Seminoles. Aside from this modern use of a tribal name for a mascot, who are the Seminoles? This lesson will detail a concise history of the Seminole Tribe, following their early origins up to the present.

Flag of the Seminole Tribe of Florida

Origins & Early History

The Seminoles are an offshoot of the Creek tribe whose ancestral lands include the border area between Alabama and Georgia. Their name translated from the Spanish means runaway, a reference to their Florida migration. The Creek, also called the Muskogee, share a cultural designation with the Seminoles known as 'The Five Civilized Tribes'. In addition to the Choctaw, Chickasaw, & Cherokee, these five tribes had assimilated many European ways, including both religion and government.

The earliest known emergence in 1704 of what would become the Seminole Tribe occurred in the Lower Creek towns on the middle Chattahoochee River, near the border of Georgia & Alabama. These former Creeks were fleeing an English Army deployed from South Carolina in that same year. The English force subsequently destroyed many Spanish missions in addition to a number of Indian villages. These Lower Creeks (Southern), as well as smaller tribes, became refugees and fled to Northern Florida, forming what would become the Seminole tribe.

Map: Early Migration of the Seminole Tribe

Eventually, by the start of the 19th Century, pressure from American settlers caused many of the Upper Creeks (Northern) to move from northern Alabama and join the Seminoles in their new home in a 2nd migration. Once there, the tribe was actively engaged in farming. To supplement their diet, they also hunted deer and smaller game, fished in nearby rivers and lakes, and gathered wild plants. A brisk trade with Europeans for cloth, cookware, tools, and other goods also began. Some of the cloth was used to fashion clothing, distinctive among Indians of North America for their vivid colors.

Seminole family from the Cypress Tiger Reservation

Tolerant of those who were escaping oppression (something they knew firsthand), the Seminoles would harbor escaped slaves from the Southern states. These escapees would live among the Seminoles in their towns under the protection of the chiefs. Many Seminole men took African-American wives (Chief Osceola among them). There is a band of the Seminole tribe that is primarily Black.

Political Involvement with the United States

When the U.S. acquired Florida from the Spanish in 1821, the United States government sought to remove the Seminoles to make room for White settlers. They resisted, and the results were two separate wars, known historically as the, Seminole Wars.

The First Seminole War was begun by future U.S. President General Andrew Jackson who attacked them in 1818 for raids against U.S. settlements. The First Seminole War ended in 1819, and in 1821, Spain ceded Florida to the United States. In 1823, the Seminole tribe signed the Treaty of Moultrie Creek in which they agreed to live on a reservation in central Florida.

However the situation changed drastically after now President Andrew Jackson, helped to pass the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Under the terms of the Treaty of Ft. Payne, the Seminoles would now be forced to relocate to Indian Territory (modern-day Oklahoma). The Second Seminole War was the result, which began in 1833 and would not end until 1842.

This war still holds the record as the costliest and longest Indian War in U.S. History. 1,500 U.S. soldiers died, costing the U.S. government $30 mil. The Seminoles refused to relocate to Indian Territory, and to this day, pride themselves in the fact they have never signed a peace treaty with the U.S. government.

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