Territorial Florida, Statehood, & the Seminole Indian Wars (1821-1858)
In 1821 Florida was transferred to the United States following the continuing siege of the United States Navy against the pirates, wreckers, and plunderers of the buccaneer coast. Two years later the word "Everglades" first appeared on maps , and in 1837 the name of a great inland lake became famous to the congressmen, generals and press of a new nation hot on the trail of the bands of Seminoles who were fleeing south into the Florida wilderness. On Christmas day of that year, Col. Zacharay Taylor, later President, met Seminole Chiefs Osceola and Billy Bowlegs in the bloody battle of Okeechobee. By 1858, 13 years after Florida had become a state, the few South Florida Seminoles who refused to go west were peacefully spearing fish in the deep interior.
General Andrew Jackson and his army were sent to northern Florida to fight the Seminoles and seize the land from Spain.
Spain sold Florida to the United States for five million dollars. Slave catchers from southern states swarmed into Florida to reclaim runaway slaves, snagging free blacks and Indians as well.
When Florida became a Territory in 1821, its first Governor, Andrew Jackson, considered the 7,000 Seminoles in Florida a major handicap in the development of Florida. The ensuing conflict, known later as the First Seminole Indian War, forced the Indians to move further south to elude capture or death.
Facing increasing pressure from white settlers to move farther down the Florida peninsula, several dozen Seminoles Chiefs signed the Treaty of Moultrie Creek, granting them 5 million acres between the Withlacoochee River and Lake Okeechobee.
Civil & Topographical Engineer Charles B. Vignoles, writing in his Observations upon the Florida,
referred to south Florida's wetlands as the "Ever-glades".
U. S. Congress passed the Indian Removal Act; government officials
began negotiating with the Seminoles to leave Florida.
John James Audubon visited southern Florida to study and paint the
region's unique birds. He was so pleased with his Florida expedition that he planned to return in 1837
to explore the west coast. The outbreak of the Second Seminole War in 1835 curtailed his plans.
In May, the Treaty of Payne's Landing set forth conditions for six Seminole inspectors to travel to Oklahoma to check proposed Seminole tribal grounds there. Under suspicious. circumstances, the chiefs subsequently signed the Treaty of Fort Gibson (Oklahoma), agreeing to give up their Florida lands within three years and move west of the Mississippi River, to the country assigned to the Creeks.
Fort Dallas was established as a military post near the mouth of the Miami River, on land destined later to become the city of Miami.
When the U.S. arrived in Florida to enforce Payne's Treaty, the Seminoles were ready for war. The ensuing conflict, known as the Second Seminole War, cost the U.S. more than $20 million and more than 1500 soldiers and civilians. Hostilities eventually ended with negotiations that recognized hunting and farming grounds for the Seminoles. But no peace treaty was signed, no boundaries were defined for Seminole territory in Florida; and no provisions were made for an independent Seminole government.
On December 25, Colonel Zachary Taylor led his cavalry into the Battle of Lake Okeechobee, one of the major engagements of the Second Seminole War. Approximately 800 federal troops defeated some 400 Seminole Indians, suffering many casualities.
In December, Colonel Harney led a canoe expedition westward from the Miami River into the Everglades.
On March 3, Florida was admitted into the Union as the 27th state.
Engineer Buckingham Smith was hired to examine and survey the South Florida wildnerness, reporting on its value and feasibility for reclamation. His report to the 30th Congress, advocating drainage of the Everglades, was published as Senate Document No. 242.
U.S. Congress granted swamp lands to Florida for the purpose of drainage and reclamation.
The Florida Legislature created the Trustees of Internal Improvement Fund (IIF) to manage the newly acquired lands gained under the Swamp Lands Act. The IIF was charged with drainage and reclamation, with power to sell lands and then apply the proceeds toward reclamation of these lands.
The Third Seminole War began when a white survey party raided the plantation of Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs. White bounty hunters were offered five hundred dollar rewards for Seminole braves, $250 for women, and $100 for children. Indians could receive the same rewards for giving up. The Seminoles rejected the financial rewards and pursued guerrilla warfare instead.
The first detailed description of the Everglades was published by the U.S. Secretary of War, Jefferson Davis. "Memoir to Accompany a Military Map", or the "Davis Map" accurately depicted the extent, bedrock, soils vegetation and water levels in the Everglades.
On May 8, federal authorities declared the Florida War closed. In exchange for modest cash payments, Seminole Chief Billy Bowlegs agreed to leave Florida with about 165 members of his tribe. Two organized bands and several families remained in south Florida.
Timeline prepared by Gail Clement, University Librarian, Florida International University