Native American conflicts in Florida between the Seminoles, Timucua, and the colonists played a very important role in Florida’s history as well as the history of the United States. Early conflicts between these parties were associated with the “Indian problem” of faceable removal and relocation. For Florida, this led up to three of the bloodiest wars the country had ever seen; the Seminole Wars. These wars have since been labeled by some historians as “America’s longest Indian conflict. They lasted from 1817 until 1858 and played a principal part in Florida’s transition from a Spanish colony to a United States territory under the governance of Andrew Jackson. Unfortunately, while white non-native Americans have well documented the events, the Seminole Indians and the Timucua, having had no written language of their own, have no record to match. This has left the views open to biases and now, as such, when looking at the Indian conflicts in Florida, we must ask the question of who is to blame; the colonists, the Native Americans, or both?
There are several sources to look at when trying to answer this question and the three that have been chosen all relate to either Native American conflicts in the United States or the conflicts pertaining to Florida itself. The Seminole Indians of Florida, written by Clay MacCauley, was a report on the Seminole Indians for the Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethnology that describes their way of life, customs, traditions, and the environment in which they lived. To be able o answer the question mentioned above, one needs to understand the ways of the natives who lived in the area and their reasons for participating in the conflicts that arose. The second piece is a book written by John and Mary Lou Missall titled, The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict. John and Mary Lou Missall make use of diaries, military reports, maps, and archival newspapers to provide a well-rounded examination the events of the Seminole Wars as well as earlier instances of confrontation and events that took places afterwards.
This book discusses each war in depth, natives coming to terms with the American colonists, disagreements and defiance, aftershock, and remnants of the wars and events that had led to war between these three parties; Seminole, Timucua, and colonist. The third piece is a historiography titled, “From Savages to Sovereigns: A General Historiography of American Indian History,” written by Jeffrey P. Shepherd, Ph. D.
It looks at the field of Native American History and how it has changed considerably since the late nineteenth century, when the professionalization of scholarly inquiry into Native pasts overlapped with military conquest of Indigenous communities. There is not much that is known about the Seminole Indians and there is even less known of the Timucua Indians. Both are native tribes of Florida, but only one is still seen to exist today. Since these tribes did not have a way of writing and documenting as the American colonists did, it is difficult to find written, primary sources in the words of a Native American of Florida.
What we do know about the Seminoles and Timucuans was recorded by white transcriptionists either from the American colonies or from Spain. In MacCauley’s report, The Seminole Indians of Florida, the reader gets a snapshot of the way of Seminole daily life. The Smithsonian Institution’s Bureau of Ethnology requested of MacCauley to “inquire into the condition and to ascertain the number of the Indians commonly known as the Seminole then in the State. ” MacCauley accepted and spent six years in south Florida between 1881 to 1887, gathering information.
With massive Indian removal, the Seminole Wars, the eminent extinction of the Timucuans, and numerous Indian conflicts around the country, MacCauley found that the Seminoles’ numbers and current disposition were indiscernible. He admits in the start of his report that his account falls short and he claims it is because causes that were far more difficult than expected; language barriers, navigating the Florida terrain and the trouble of locating the Seminoles. Despite the complications he faced, his work presents an authentic image of the Seminoles and their culture.
He observed not the Seminoles’ characteristics, manners and customs as a whole, but observed them instead as individuals and as a societal group. He gives very detailed observations on several key aspects, such as personal characteristics, childhood, agriculture, industrial arts, and the environment the natives lived in. His work provides a decent unbiased view and is useful in understanding the conflicts in Florida and the Seminole involvement in the wars. Its main objective, however, was to outline the Seminole Indians as a society and examine how they lived, what they believed, and the land that they fought so hard to keep.
The secondary source, written by John and Mary Lou Missall and titled, The Seminole Wars: America’s Longest Indian Conflict, takes a more in depth look at the Seminoles and their involvement in the wars. With the use of diaries, military reports, maps, and archival newspapers they are able to provide a well-rounded examination of, not only the Seminole wars, but the events that led up to them as well as the aftermath. They have written several books dedicated to the history of the Seminole Indians and have studied the Seminoles for years.
They mention more than the isolated attacks on individual homesteads, guerilla war tactics used by all sides, broken treaties, and the desire for land ownership that most historians focus on. They provide insight into other events happening within the young American nation, such as the strong feelings those involved had towards the Florida Wars and the generally sentiment each side held for the other. They are quick to also outline how the Seminole Indians came to Florida and focused on the division of the native tribes due to colonist encroachment.
Understanding the division that was caused by the pressures placed on natives by colonist movement and force, they feel, explains in part the anger and distrust natives across the country had. The Missalls also express the earliest justifications for why Indian Removal occurred and referenced how the colonists were focused on expansion as “God’s mission. ” Greed for land was a main propellant behind colonist encroachment on Native lands and the treaties, meeting, and outright underhand of taking land caused rising tensions.
Another reason for removal, the Missalls mention, was the rise of runaway slaves and how Southern white settlers feared a slave uprising with a Seminole attack. This was because the Seminoles took in these runaway slaves and made them a member of their tribe. These ideas propelled the growing demand for an army presence, one led by Andrew Jackson the Indian Fighter, in the Florida territory. This was to promote a forceful removal of the native populations and to reclaim lost slaves. One thing sticks out when looking at their book.
As the Missalls’ eloquently wrote themselves: It is not enough to simply say what happened. We must attempt to discover why. Similar to the Missalls, Shepherd explores the field of Native American history and how it has changed considerably since the nineteenth century. He stresses that the professionalization of scholarly inquiry into Native pasts overlapped with military conquest of Indigenous communities. His thoughts are that because of events between Americans and the Native Americans had shaped the scholarly outlook and interpretations of scholarship.
He constantly comes back to the question of whether the early writings of Progressive Era historians and the liberal “muck-racking” of authors expressing moral indignation about the exploitation of Native people has cast Indians as savage barriers to progress. In contrast, he also condemns those scholars who portray Native Americans as “victims and subjects, not active agents. ” These sources help to understand the different views people had at the time the Indian conflicts were happening in Florida.
It also helps to answer where the blame should be placed, whether with Indians, colonists or both. The natives fought for the land they believed was theirs. They farmed it, hunted on it, and had lived off of it for years before American expansion forced them from their homes. To make matters worse, each side did not always adhere to its promise when treaties were made and reservation boundaries drawn up. With a lack of written language and only white transcriptionists to account the events, one can only seem to gain a small snapshot of who should bare the blame.