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Origins of the Seminole Negro Indian Scouts

Written by Katarina "Kato" Wittich and Edited by Sarah N. Johnson

The First and Second Seminole Wars

By the early 1800s, the Seminoles and their Seminole Negro allies were at war with the United States Army, trying to defend their lands in Florida from the invasion of white settlers who had already pushed them south and were now trying to push them out of Florida entirely.

The First Seminole War (1817-1818), led by General Andrew Jackson, was designed to take Florida away from the Spanish, move the Seminoles to reservations so white settlers could have the better lands, and destroy the safe havens created by and for the Seminole Negroes so that they would not provide an incentive for more enslaved Africans to escape from southern plantations. The pressure was so great that some Seminole Negroes escaped by boat to the Caribbean, where their descendants still live on Andros Island in the Bahamas. But the majority stayed and fought alongside the Seminoles, to protect their land and their people. Jackson was successful in winning Florida from Spain, and he drove most of the Seminoles and their Seminole Negro allies further south, onto a reservation with land so poor it was barely possible to survive.

The Second Seminole War (1835-1842) was perhaps the fiercest war waged by the U.S. government against American Indians. The intention of the government was to annihilate or remove completely the Seminoles and Seminole Negroes. One of the primary reasons was that southern plantation owners were afraid they would continue to lose large numbers of enslaved peoples as they escaped to join the Seminole Negroes. U.S. commanding officer General Jesup noted, “This, you may be assured is a Negro and not an Indian war, and if it be not speedily put down, the south will feel the affects of it before the end of the next season.“ Jesup asserted that it was the Seminole Negroes who were preventing their Seminole “masters” from making peace treaties. He said: ”Throughout my operations I found the negroes the most active and determined warriors; and during the conference with the Indian chiefs I ascertained that they exercised an almost controlling influence over them.”[3]


There are many theories about the nature of Seminole Negro “slavery” and few clear answers. One theory for the emergence of “slavery” is that as the plantation system expanded and danger from enslavers raiding and capturing Seminole Negroes grew, it became practical for Seminole Negroes who had joined the Seminoles voluntarily, as free people, to declare themselves enslaved to a particular Seminole “owner” because raiding enslavers found it riskier to “steal” black people who they believed were already “the “property” of someone else.


Another theory is that as the Seminoles became more acculturated to white custom, they began to purchase or capture black people and consider them “slaves”, or valuable “property”. However, what “slavery” meant was at question.  There was a long tradition in Native American cultures of a form of “slavery” that was very different from the chattel “slavery” created by whites. In Indian ‘slavery”, captured members of other tribes would be enslaved, often with the goal of eventual full adoption into the tribe. There were accounts of enslaved Yammasee living among the Seminole in the 1770’s which asserted that the enslaved lived essentially as equals to their “masters”, could intermarry, and their children were free.[4]


What is clear is that originally the form of “slavery” practiced by the Seminoles was nearly identical to the normal structure of allegiance that was practiced in Creek and Seminole society. The Seminole Negroes lived in their own towns, had full freedom, followed their own leaders, and simply gave tithes, or a section of their produce, to their “owner” who was often the Chief with whom they were allied. This loose form of slavery began to change in the 1800’s and eventually many of the Seminole Negroes were claimed as “property” by individual Seminoles who appear to have begun to be influenced by white perspectives.



[3] Mulroy, Freedom on the Border,  29.

[4] Mulroy, Freedom on the Border, 8.

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