June 28, 2021

Indigenous History Month / Florida & Seminole History

This is my book stack of non-fiction books for Indigenous History Month, which is recognized in Canada, but regardless of where you live you can learn about the history of the land and the Indigenous peoples who call that land home and were there first, before European colonization. 

I read about Florida’s history and the Seminoles. I'll share what I learned below, but first, to find out which Indigenous nations/tribes first lived on the land you call home, use Native-Land.ca. You can also search the location of where your paternal and maternal families called home for generations, which is equally important.

After you search for your address on Native-Land.ca and learn about the nations/tribes, consider creating a Land Acknowledgement.


A Land Acknowledgement is used by Native and non-Native peoples to "recognize Indigenous Peoples who are the original stewards of the lands on which we now live." [1] A Land Acknowledgement could be read before private and public events, made into a plaque, and added to an institution's website (library, museum, university, etc.).

Although Land Acknowledgements are common for institutions, we should all make one. For personal use, you can have one on display in your home and your office, because your home and office are definitely on stolen homeland.

Artists and activists often include one in their email signatures or on their websites. Teachers and scholars are including them in their course materials, as well.

Why add a Land Acknowledgement to digital space? Because cable line towers are in the ground that is Indigenous land (some are under the ground).

I will share mine in a later post.

For more information on Land Acknowledgements and how to write one, see A Guide to Indigenous Land Acknowledgment on NativeGov.Org and Five Steps to Writing a Land Acknowledgment.

TIP: If you Google "Land Acknowledgement [your state]," you will find examples on university websites.

One more thing, check out this video, which is an interactive map that shows how native land was taken over by colonists.

Now, time for a history lesson. This next part is lengthy...because it's history and I added a lot of historical facts for a broad picture, but I hope you stick around to read it and learn. I also hope this post inspires you to do the work as well.

Content Warning: Indigenous genocide, slavery

*NOTE: This is a breakdown of events. There’s much more history to discover. Also, I think it’s important to address how people like to bring up that Indigenous peoples fought amongst themselves and waged war before white people came, as if that makes what happened to them at the hands of  European colonists and the US government okay. It doesn’t.

Here’s what I learned:

  • Around 10,000 B.C.E. the first people came to live on the land we now call Florida. These people are known as Paleoindians.
  • Ancestors of the Seminoles had lived in the Southeastern part of United States for at least 12,000 years, but colonial powers annihilated those Natives, as you’ll see laid out below. 
  • In 1513, Spanish explorer Juan Ponce de Leon made landfall off Florida, looking for the “Fountain of Youth.” He named the land La Florida because he’d landed during an Easter celebration in Spain known as Pascua Florida (“season of flowers”). At this time, there was an estimated 350,000 Indigenous peoples living on the land.
  • Between the summer of 1514 and December 1516, Pedro de Salazar, a slaver, took five hundred natives with the intent to enslave them, but they all died either during the voyage back to Santo Domingo or soon after arriving, being tattooed, and distributed to the people who had supported the expedition.
  • In 1521, Pedro de Quejo and Francisco Gordillo came on a slave expedition. They lured sixty Natives aboard their ship with “gifts” and took them back to Santo Domingo to be slaves.
  • Also in 1521, Juan Ponce de Leon returned to Florida with 200 men and many horses.
  • The Spanish pillaged, burned, killed, and enslaved as they moved inland.
  • From Europe they brought smallpox, measles, typhus, tuberculosis, chicken pox, influenza, and cholera. These diseases decimated whole tribes.
  • In 1539, Hernando de Soto, a Spanish conquistador, came to Florida with a royal commission to “conquer, pacify, and people” the land. He wanted gold, silver, and slaves.
  • Indigenous peoples gave gifts to these intruders and in return were enslaved and their villages plundered.
  • By 1542, other Europeans learned of Florida, located near Mexico and Cuba. These lands had many natural resources the Europeans wanted, so they all became interested in Florida.
  • The Natives were successful for a time in keeping the Europeans from building a permanent European city.
  • In 1565, Pedro Menendez de Aviles founded St. Augustine, the first European city in the United States.
  • Spain, England, and France all fought for land where Natives were already living. Many battles (from 1600 to 1784) were waged among them over control of the land.
  • If Natives did not agree to help the English in these fights, they were killed or forced into slavery.
  • The Spaniards established missions to convert Natives to Christianity, schools to “educate” their children, and an agricultural system that required the labor of Indigenous peoples.
  • Troops were used to enforce discipline. Natives rebelled. 
  • At missions, Native symbols were destroyed and replaced with Christian symbols. Natives were also prohibited to do their dances, banquets, feasts, celebrations, games, and more.
  • The British used trade to gain control and bought Natives as slaves in exchange for tools, cloth, rum, and firearms.
  • British traders offered goods on credit to the Natives, resulting in massive debt that they weren’t accustomed to.
  • French traders bartered animal skins and people for manufactured items.
  • Soon, Indigenous peoples raided neighboring communities for slaves to sell to Europeans for the goods they needed. The captives were taken to Charleston to be resold. This cleared whole regions of Indigenous populations, making room for colonists.
  • Many of the Indigenous peoples who had lived in Florida had been sold as slaves, died of diseases brought over by the Europeans, or fled with the Spanish to Cuba after the French and Indian War.
  • Refugees from the remaining few tribes, as well as runaway slaves (Black and Indigenous), joined the Creeks when they escaped European settlers in Georgia and Alabama. This group became the Seminoles. The word “Seminole” comes from semanoli, the Spanish word for “wild” or “runaway.”
  • Spain controlled Florida from the 16th Century to the 19th Century, but Great Britain gained control from 1763-1783. They offered free land to settlers, who used African slaves on their farms.
  • In 1763, the British government declared white settlement beyond the Appalachian Mountains ridge illegal, but the first colonists ignored that.
  • By the end of the century, the United States of America was formed. 
  • Then came the cotton gin, which was devised by Catherine Greene with the input of African slaves. Eli Whitney only built it for her and filed for the patent because women couldn't.
  • Cotton had been a minor crop until then. The over-planting of cotton destroyed the soil, causing planters to go farther west for land, displacing even more Indigenous peoples.
  • After the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783), Spain gained back control of Florida from Great Britain and encouraged settlers to come. Northern United States citizens did the same, technically settling on Spanish-controlled land.
  • Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi took the lead in exiling Natives. They believed tribes were unworthy of the land white Christian farmers wanted.
  • In 1787, the U.S. Congress passed the Northern Ordinance, stating “[Indigenous] lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent.” But that didn’t do a thing to help Indigenous peoples, certainly not for long.
  • In the early 19th century, state governments passed laws that “legalized” eradicating Indigenous communities to open the land for settlers.
  • Natives were denied rights to appeal these laws.
  • Hostilities led to the First Seminole War (1817-1818).
  • In 1817, U.S. Gen. Andrew Jackson led an expedition into northern Florida to round up runaway slaves who had found refuge with the Seminoles. His troops burned settlements and farms owned by Black families, looted, and killed. They also burned Seminole villages and crops.
  • Two years later, the United States bought Florida from Spain, and in moved armed posses to hunt down runaway slaves. Seminoles were often targeted, too.
  • In 1822, Florida became a territory of the United States. The treaty that resulted in this stated all the inhabitants of Florida would be given the same rights as other U.S. citizens, but that didn’t happen.
  • American settlers wanted more Floridian land that was already occupied by the Seminoles, so they asked the federal government to give it to them.
  • In 1829, Andrew Jackson became president of the United States.
  • In 1830, Andrew Jackson signed a bill (Indian Removal Act) into law that forced all Indigenous peoples living east of the Mississippi to relocate west, allowing armed settlers to occupy their homeland. By the time the Indigenous peoples reached Oklahoma, more than a quarter had perished. (The Trail of Tears)
  • When Jackson tried to force the Seminoles from their land, the Seminoles formed a guerrilla army and fought back.
  • Osceola (born to a Creek mother and white father) fled from America troops with his mother and joined the Seminoles after the Creek Civil War. He was not a tribal leader, but he did lead attacks against the U.S. government during the Second Seminole War (brought on by treaties and deceptions). Osceola famously slashed a proposed treaty with a knife. He was later captured when the Seminoles came to a peace talk with a white flag, which soldiers didn’t honor. He was brought to South Carolina where he died in prison from a throat infection (quinsy).
  • Today, there is a county in Florida named Osceola.
  • The Second Seminole War lasted seven years (1835-1842).
  • Over 3,400 Seminoles had been forcibly removed from Florida to Oklahoma.
  • The remaining Seminoles were pushed from their homes on the prairies of central Florida to the Everglades and Big Cypress Swamp, where the federal government pursued them.
  • The big freeze of 1835 ruined St. Augustine’s orange crops, so settler farmers moved farther south and more inland.
  • A little history lesson on oranges: the first settlers found wild oranges growing among pine forests that were likely planted by Seminoles and their ancestors when they acquired sour orange seeds from the Spanish in the 16th century. Settlers bred sweeter oranges for the mass market. “Orange Fever” hit by the 1870s because of completed railroads, but the industry didn’t truly take off until 1880.
  • In 1845, Florida became the 27th state of the United States. By then there were only a few hundred Seminoles left.
  • By 1850, 87,445 people lived in Florida, which included about 39,000 slaves and 1,000 free slaves.
  • The Third Seminole War started in 1855 (ended in 1858), but the Florida militia and federal troops were unsuccessful in forcing the remaining Seminoles out of Florida.
  • For 30 years afterward, the remaining Seminoles lived in isolation.
  • In 1855, the Internal Improvement Act was passed, which brought hundreds of settlers to Florida by offering them free or cheap land.
  • Abraham Lincoln ran for president in 1860. Not one person in Florida voted for him because of his antislavery stance. (Only white men over the age of 21 could vote.)
  • On January 10, 1861, Florida withdrew formally from the Union because they didn’t want their way of life, based on slavery, to change.
  • Ten other states also ceded, forming the Confederate States of America, which was never recognized as a sovereign nation.
  • The Civil War (1861-1865)
  • On April 14, 1865, President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated by John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate sympathizer and supporter of slavery.
  • After the Civil War, the first elected government in Florida passed a group of laws called Black Codes that kept freed slaves under white control.
  • In 1877, Jim Crow Laws began. These laws enforced and legalized racial segregation and lasted for almost 100 years.
  • The Great Freeze (Dec. 29, 1884 - Feb. 7, 1885) ruined 1,600 orange groves. Many settlers left their homesteads because of their loses and debts, but the rest, once again, moved even farther south, below the freeze line.
  • By the 1890s, white settlers had continued farther into southern Florida, forcing the Seminoles deeper into the swamps. They lived there, relatively isolated, for the first half of the 20th century.
  • The Seminoles were the only Tribe in America who never signed a peace treaty.
  • In 1947, the Everglades was named a national park and wildlife preserve.
  • In 1957, the Seminole Tribe of Florida formed. They are a federally recognized Indian Tribe.
  • In 1992, Seminoles in Florida and Oklahoma collected land claims against the United States for land lost through broken treaties.
  • The Seminoles have endured and prospered despite the discrimination and colonization they faced.
  • The Seminole Tribe is recognized as one of Florida’s leading beef producers.
  • In fact, Florida’s economy has benefited from all Seminole business enterprises (cattle, citrus crops, casino games, tobacco sales, and more). They own Hard Rock Hotel and Casinos, an international business in 74 countries.
  • Considering how hard settlers and the government had tried to force every last Seminole from Florida, the Tribe’s positive impact on Florida’s economy is worth noting. If settlers and the government had succeeded, they wouldn’t be able to reap in these benefits. Florida’s economy would likely be different. Ironic, huh?
  • In 2016, the Tribe’s net worth was said to be $12 billion. That sum is amazing but does not erase what they’d endured to get here. They have survived, grown, adapted, and they have continued to keep their ways, culture, and lives.
  • They are the Unconquered Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Additional Facts:

  • The Miccosukees is another federally recognized Native tribe living in Florida.
  • There are more Cherokees in Florida than any other Native group.
  • In modern-day Florida, many Indigenous peoples now call Florida home, including the Lumbee, Choctaw, Chippewa, and other Creeks.


America’s Fascinating Indian Heritage, Reader’s Digest, 1979

Florida History, Bob Knotts, 2003

The Seminoles, E. Barrie Kavasch, 2000



Florida Indians and the Invasion from Europe, Jerald T. Milanich, 1995

The Sacred Wisdom of the American Indians, Larry J. Zimmerman, 2011


  1. Hi Chrys - I'm going to be back to read this properly ... I've read a few books, been to a few talks ... when I was over in Canada and here - I have a couple of other books to read here. Having lived in South Africa - and being British and seeing other aspects of our life and that of the the Europeans ... there's a lot of learning to do, and important cultural aspects to understand - I'm glad you've highlighted Indigenous History month. Thanks - Hilary

    1. Hi Hilary! Thanks for your comment! It is a very long post (it just may be the longest one I’ve ever done), so I’m happy that you’ll be coming back to read it. I love that you read books and have been to talks for everywhere you’ve lived. It is important work to do. Thanks, Hilary!

  2. I appreciate the history lesson, as I know very little about Florida's history. Like Hilary says, there's a lot of learning and understanding to do.

    Did you come across anything about the Windover archeological dig that happened in Titusville back in the 80's? Remains were discovered that dated back to something like 6000 BC.

    1. Thanks, MJ!

      I did not come across that in my research, but I just looked it up now. :)

      The site is Middle Archaic (6000 to 5000 BC), and they found the remains of 168 individuals, from infants to about 60 years or age. Apparently they were well-preserved, too because of the peat. It was an underwater burial site. Since brain matter was present, they did DNA sequencing, and the "DNA indicated Asian origin, similar to that of the four other major haplotypes of Native American peoples." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Windover_Archeological_Site

      Really fascinating stuff! Thanks for mentioning that!

  3. I have not visited in a long time but I hope to change that:). I am impressed with the point system to deliver the history of the indigenous people. This really grabbed my attention because of what is happening here in Canada. To say it is disgusting is an understatement. Many indigenous people, mainly children, were forced from their homes to go live and learn in Catholic schools that were run, mostly, by priests and nuns. About a month ago, at what was once the largest school for these poor children in Kamloops, 215 bodies of children have been found in unmarked graves one as young as 3 yrs old. 2 weeks later, in Saskatchewan, over 700 bodies have been found! I pray that all these schools should be looked at to see what lies under the earth. To me, this is genocide and it is disgusting.

    1. Hi, Brigit! Thank you for commenting! In my previous post about Causes, I talk about Kamloops, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan. I even discuss the history of boarding schools in the United States. These discover are truly horrible, and what happened in the past to these children is inexcusable. It is genocide.

  4. It's a terrible history. I'm glad that we're becoming more aware of what happened, because we can't fix things going forward until we know about the issues from the past.

    1. It really is. I’ve been doing a lot of research, and I’m doing what I can to raise awareness about these horrible injustices. Thank you for your comment, Liz! I completely agree that the only way forward is through educating ourselves on the past.

  5. Great reminder of an important and overlooked people. One additional Native America fact about Florida is that some of the Plains Indian warriors were shipped to Florida in the latter half of the 19th Century, but they were used to dry and desert conditions and didn’t do well there. I would highly recommend reading “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown, which covers the conflict between natives and settlers up into the late 19th Century.

    1. Thank you for the additional fact. I hadn't come across that in my research. There's a lot to know and discover, and a lot I won't be able to put here. Even more that we will never know, sadly.

      I have been thinking about reading “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” when I get the chance. So thank you for the recommendation!

      And thank you for your comment!

  6. I agree with Liz that it's a terrible part of our history--not just in Florida. We hav to learn about it if we're not going to repeat the past and go forward.

    1. Oh, absolutely. All across the United States and Canada. I focused on Florida because I live here. I agree, too. We have to be open to learning about our past and not erasing or covering it up. That’s the only way forward and to make things right. We have a long way to go,