The Second Seminole War has the distinction of being the most expensive Indian conflict, as well as the longest, in America’s long history of Indian conflicts. In 1823, the U.S. government negotiated the Treaty of Moultrie Creek establishing a reservation in the middle part of the Florida peninsula. In addition, several chiefs were allowed to keep their villages along the Apalachicola River.
Lead Up to the War: 1827-1835
The Seminoles gave up the remainder of their lands in the panhandle and moved to the reservation. The U.S. government built Fort King near modern Ocala, FL and by 1827 the Army was reporting that the Seminoles had moved to the reservation and all was peaceful. Unfortunately for the future, the blacks who lived among the Seminoles, was an issue that the new white settlers were deeply troubled by. While these Black Seminoles lived in separate villages and maintained some cultural differences from the Seminoles, there was a long and deep connection between the two groups of people. With white settlers bringing in enslaved black persons, these black settlements tormented the white settlers and caused continuing conflict between the white settlers and the Seminoles. They were seen by the white settlers as an obvious draw to escape for the enslaved persons around the reservation.
In 1828, the federal government closed Fort King, leaving the Seminoles short of food. Hunting wasn’t sufficient within the reservation and they left the reservation looking for game. This led to increased conflicts with the surrounding white settlers. And as I mentioned in my previous post, Andrew Jackson was also elected President in 1828. His position was clear on removal and within two years Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. The foundations were in place for the second war with the Seminoles.
The 1832 Treaty of Payne’s Landing called for removal west, if the land was found suitable by members of the tribe. A few Seminoles traveled to the Indian territory and signed that the land was suitable after talking with the Creek Indians that were already there and visiting areas of the proposed new settlement. There was significant pressure from some members of the Army for these Seminoles to sign. They returned to Florida and promptly withdrew their support.
In 1834, the people in the villages along the Apalachicola River moved west. The Senate also ratified the Treaty of Payne’s Landing. Since it had been negotiated in 1832, the government considered the three years given in the treaty for the Seminoles to move had started in 1832, though they didn’t ratified it until 1834. The government re-opened Fort King and appointed a new Indian Agent to convince the Seminoles to move. The Indians were called to Fort King but they firmly told the Indian Agent they weren’t moving. Wiley Thompson, the Indian Agent, called for more troops to be sent in and in early 1835 he called the Seminoles back and read them a statement from President Jackson that said that if they didn’t move, they would be forcibly removed. After a heated exchange, the Indians asked for, and received, a delay for the move until the end of the year.
The Second Seminole War: 1835-1842
The situation continued to deteriorate as some of the Seminole leaders became more adamant that they, and their followers, would not move. In August 1835, the Army’s mail carrier was murdered delivering mail between Fort Brooke and Fort King. At this point both sides began gearing up for war. Militia units requested weaponry, settlers moved to nearby Forts, and the Seminoles began attacking more settler activity. Supply trains were attacked, plantations were attacked and burned and white settlers were killed. On 23 December, two companies of militia under Maj. Francis Dade left Fort Brooke with the Seminoles shadowing them. On the 28th, the Seminoles attacked and all but three of the 110 men in the militia were killed. This became known as the Dade Massacre and was the start of the Second Seminole War.
The Second Seminole War lasted seven years and in the end only produced a half win. The Seminoles, knowing they were outnumbered and outgunned, used guerrilla tactics against the Army. The Army didn’t begin to “succeed” until they began burning villages and food supplies. In the end, the win came because most of the Indians had been killed either in battle or by disease and starvation. Most of the remainder were rounded up and shipped to Indian Territory (Oklahoma). A few hundred Seminoles were left in south central Florida in the Everglades, primarily because the government was ready to end the war and the Army in Florida was simply unable to round up these holdouts.
The Third Seminole War: 1855-1858
An unsettled peace resulted for thirteen years. The white settlements around the Everglades continued to expand and cries to move the remaining Seminoles continued. The Third Seminole War was less a war than a series of raids and counter attacks. It was initiated by an Army surveying team burning an Indian settlement outside the Everglades and the Seminoles retaliating with a raid near present day Fort Myers. The Army had learned from the Second Seminole War and made every effort to destroy food supplies when found. After three years, weary and starving a few more Seminoles agreed to move west but a few refused and retired deep into the Everglades. Their descendants remain there today.
Finding Ancestors Who Fought in the Wars
The most likely of the three wars to produce a Florida ancestor is the Second Seminole War but the Third is also a possibility. The First Seminole War might yield an ancestor that moved to Florida after the war from Georgia or Tennessee. The government did not have a large, standing Army and depended heavily of militia units, even though they were often discounted by the regular Army as unreliable. Militia units were generally from a particular locale, often led by a civilian-soldier and composed of civilian-soldiers and the men were generally enlisted for only short periods of time. This allowed these men to fulfill their duties to the militia and maintain their farms or businesses but did prove challenging to Army continuity. And because these men were citizen-soldiers some were maybe not into battle as much as someone trained to that profession.
First, identify an ancestor who would have been an adult male during the time periods of the wars. Remember the First Seminole War had militia from Georgia and Tennessee and then regular Army and Lower Creeks made up the remainder of the force. I find that Fold3.com is the better pay-for site for an initial search but Ancestry.com also has some records. Another possibility that is free, but can take more time, is located at the University of Florida, George A Smathers Library and is online. It is a digital copy of the book, Florida Department of Military Affairs, Special Archives Publication Number 68, Vol 2. This is a muster roll of all of the militia units in the Seminole Indian Wars. The search button is near the top in the middle of the page. Read the instructions for searching or you really will be spending a lot of time looking and not finding much.
Let’s say I didn’t know whether my ancestor Richmond Barrow, from Oak Grove, Santa Rosa Co (Okaloosa today) in northwest Florida, had served in any of the Indian Wars but his age would make that a possibility. Since I know his first name often is spelled with and without the “d” at the end and sometimes as Richman, I just put in the name Barrow and hit search. I get three results. The first one isn’t applicable and the second is a man I know is Richmond’s brother Reuben N. Clicking on that one gives me a company of men from Yellow River and going to the next page shows that Richmond served as Reuben’s 2nd Sergeant. You can save to a .pdf the pages you want using the “print” button at the website or a screen capture if preferred. When I do a screen capture to save as a .jpg I use the program FastStone Capture. If saving to pdf from the print function I find it best to save an extra page at the front and back of the pages you want, just to be safe. I’ve sometimes had it cut off the first page.
Now that you have an ancestor that served (do your due diligence to make sure the man with the same name is your ancestor. The other names should be neighbors of your ancestor; another good reason to pay attention to neighbors when you look at census records). Now go to the Bureau of Land Management, General Land Office Records. Many of the men who served were given land grants for their service. Don’t make the mistake of only searching in the area where they lived. Land grants could be anywhere in the country. Under location scroll all the way to the bottom and click on “Any State” and leave “Any County” as is. Use the name as it was written on the muster roll or just search on last name but with common surnames that can be overwhelming. If nothing comes up, go to searching alternate spellings of both first and last names. Search warrantees and patentees (both checked). What you are looking for are Accession numbers beginning with “MW” which stands for military warrant.
If I do all of the above, including resorting to alternate first name spelling, I find a military warrant record for “Richmon Barrow” issued under the authority of the ScripWarrant Act of 1850. He received 159.75 acres in Escambia Co, FL. If you click on the patent image you will see that this is the right Richmon because it will list the company he served in that led to the issue of the land grant. In the case of Richmon[d] he sold the right to the grant to John M. Robertson who received the warrant.
Fold3 has a number of records available that can be searched, as does Ancestry, that can add to this initial information. Look at all records mentioning your ancestor, not just the records that pertain directly to them. These records where they were witnesses for another person can provide greater detail on the events these men experienced.
After researching Richmond and the Second Seminole War, I found that 1) he first served in the 7th Florida Militia, Long’s Co. as a private and then in his brother’s company 1st Regiment Florida Militia, Capt Barrow’s Mounted Co. as a 2nd Sergeant. 2) he received a land grant in Escambia Co, FL and sold it to John M. Robertson. 3) Reviewing the list of privates in Barrow’s Co. tells me I have a number of other ancestors to research in more detail. Being a curious family historian, I now want to know where these two companies were stationed during the war and what they might have been involved in. I have more ancestors to research and I would like to know more about John M. Robertson. Is he a stranger or somehow related to the family?
I hope this encourages you to dig into your ancestor’s lives while doing genealogy and begin to sense what they experienced. Don’t just collect names from “shaky leaves” or Ancestry Public Member Trees and assume it is correct (I don’t find a lot of it is, sourcing is seriously lacking. And those leafs don’t always connect you to the right John Smith!) or look your ancestor up in the census, record the info, and feel you are done because you can create a tree with names on it. If you are wanting to know who you are by looking at what your ancestors brought to your being, you need to do real research and put some life to their lives as seen from today.
Until next time
- Florida’s Seminole Wars: 1817-1858 by Joe Knetsch
- History of the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842 by John K. Mahon
- Reminiscences of the Second Seminole War by John Bemrose
- The War in Florida by Woodburne Potter
- Osceola and the Great Seminole War: A Struggle for Justice and Freedom by Thom Hatch