The Seminole as a tribal unit emerged in the mid-eighteenth century from among refugees of a number of southeastern tribes dislocated as a result of European advancement into traditional Indian territory in Georgia and Alabama. Although many tribes contributed to the new entity—for example, Yamassee and Yuchi from north of the Florida peninsula and aboriginal Florida tribes like the Timucua—elements from the Creek Indians became dominant and were strengthened after the Creek war of 1813-1814, so that by the second half of the nineteenth century all members of the group spoke one or the other of the two Creek dialects. The new groups built homes, farms, communities, and functioning societies in Florida, which was ruled by Spain at that time. That Country left the Indians in peace, though death from contagious disease decimated the populations. In 1763, England took over the peninsula, and when the Spanish moved to Cuba, some Indians left with them. After England returned Florida to Spain in 1783, new groups of Indians moved into Florida as the United States, now independent, expanded into more southeastern lands. Escaped slaves from plantations joined the Indians in Florida, and U.S. troops raided the Spanish territory pursuing the runaways who had settled in Seminole villages. Andrew Jackson, then a general, fought the first Seminole war in 1818 in northern Florida, where he occupied Spanish installations, seized slaves, and killed Indians. Florida was transferred to the United States by a treaty in 1821.
When the United States took possession, the Seminole were agriculturalists who had added Old World crops like oranges to their traditional crops of maize and beans and pastured their cattle and horses on very desirable land. Settlers from Georgia and other areas coveted the land, and subsequent contention over the area lasted for many decades. The federal government under Jackson, who became president in 1829, devised a plan of removal of all Southeastern Indians to western land acquired under the Louisiana Purchase. The Seminole did not wish to leave Florida, but under pressure to view the western lands and facing hostility from increasing numbers of settlers, they agreed to send a delegation to Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). Although they had no authority to act on behalf of others, some of the delegation signed an agreement to move. Those remaining in Florida were subjected to entreaties and threats, but under the Leadership of Osceola, they refused to leave. The deadlock led to the Second Seminole War, 1835-1842, during which the Seminole were pushed ever farther south, finally entering the Everglade-Cypress swamp region at the southern tip of the state. There they stayed, defying U.S. soldiers who could not master the art of fighting in the unmapped, swampy wilderness. The Second Seminole War was the most expensive and exhausting of all Indian wars. It ended inconclusively and without a treaty, leaving the Seminole in Florida where their descendants are still living today.
Living in far less desirable territory than had been theirs to the north, the Seminole remained undisturbed, although there was a brief hostile encounter in 1855-1856, the Third Seminole War. At the end, probably fewer than 200 Seminole remained. They were safe in the wilderness and proved able to adapt, preserving many of their old ways. A few hunters and traders were in contact with them during the last half of the nineteenth century, but little is known about them until 1880, when a researcher from the Bureau of American Ethnology located five small settlements with a total of 208 people.
The federal government set aside trust land for the Seminole in 1891 and added more over the years. The state of Florida also made a large contribution of land abutting the Everglades and extending into Big Cypress Swamp. Today there are four federal reservations and two separate political units: the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe. Both groups share in the state land.