Attracted to Florida by the abundance of horses, cattle, and pigs brought here by the Spanish, most of the ancestors of the Seminoles originally lived in Alabama and Georgia were collectively known to the English as “Creek” Indians. Large numbers of Creeks and Yamassee Indians from the Carolinas had migrated to Florida to escape the continuous conflict with Europeans and later Americans, joined by parts of other tribes including Choctaw, Oconee, and Cherokee. Though they came from many tribes and spoke different languages, these people melded together, along with runaway African-American slaves from Southern plantations during the 1700s. This group became known as yat’siminoli or “free people,” derived from the Spanish word cimarron, meaning “runaway” or “wild” in reference to flora and fauna. By the 1800s, “Seminole” was the commonly used term for all Florida Indians.
The Seminole Wars of Resistance
Between 1817-1858, the United States fought three wars against the Seminole people, resulting in over 4,000 Seminoles captured and sent west to Indian Territory (today the state of Oklahoma, where a separate Seminole Tribe still exists). After the first war in northern Florida led by Andrew Jackson, the many independent bands of warriors united as Seminoles against the U.S. government and moved further south with their black allies. During the Second War, the most costly Indian war in U.S. history, two battles were fought locally near the headwaters of the Loxahatchee River. Led by their brilliant war leaders, including the inspirational Abiaka (aka Sam Jones), Seminoles used the inhospitable Florida terrain as a weapon against their enemy to resist removal from their lands. The larger U.S. forces included the Navy and Marines to confront the guerilla war waged by the Seminoles—the first time in the history of the American “Wars of Indian Removal.” After the Second Seminole War, the few hundred remaining Seminoles evaded capture and disappeared into the wetlands of South Florida. In 1855, the Third Seminole War, also known as the Billy Bowlegs War, ended aggressions between the Seminole and United States. However, the unconquered survivors never made a peace treaty with the U.S. government.
Years After 1860
When the Lighthouse became operational in 1860, relations between the Seminoles and the early settlers of Jupiter were friendly. The major difficulty was communication since neither group spoke nor understood the other’s language very well. The Seminoles lived in the interior, but made frequent trips to the lighthouse and the Jupiter area. In later years the Seminoles often camped near Center Street, then the heart of Jupiter’s business district, where they visited and traded with the lighthouse keepers and other early pioneers.
Today there are two sovereign tribes speaking very different languages in Florida who practice modern lifestyles while preserving a rich adaptive culture – the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. In 1957, the U.S. government recognized them as “The Seminole Tribe of Florida.” Some of the Miccosukees maintained a separate identity and as such received Federal recognition in 1962 as “The Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida.”
The Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse & Museum is operated by the Loxahatchee River Historical Society, managing partner in the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse Outstanding Natural Area.
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