During their early decades, the Seminoles became increasingly independent of other Creek groups and established their own identity. They developed a thriving trade network in the British and second Spanish periods (roughly 1767–1821). The tribe expanded considerably during this time, and was further supplemented from the late 18th century by free blacks and escaped slaves who settled near and paid tribute to Seminole towns. The latter became known as Black Seminoles, although they kept their own Gullah culture of the Low Country. They developed the Afro-Seminole Creole language, which they spoke through the 19th century after the move to Indian Territory.

Seminole culture is largely derived from that of the Creek; the most important ceremony is the Green Corn Dance; other notable traditions include use of the black drink and ritual tobacco. As the Seminole adapted to Florida environs, they developed local traditions, such as the construction of open-air, thatched-roof houses known as chickees. Historically the Seminole spoke Mikasuki and Creek, both Muskogean languages.

After the United States achieved independence, its settlers increased pressure on the Seminole, leading to the Seminole Wars (1818–1858). As a result of the wars and national policy, through 1842 most Seminoles and Black Seminoles were removed to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi River. During the American Civil War, most of the Oklahoma Seminole allied with the Confederacy, after which they had to sign a new treaty with the U.S., including freedom and tribal membership for the Black Seminole. Today residents of the reservation are enrolled in the federally recognized Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, while others belong to unorganized groups.

Perhaps fewer than 200 Seminoles remained in Florida, but they fostered a resurgence in traditional customs and a culture of staunch independence. In the late 19th century, the Florida Seminole re-established limited relations with the U.S. government and in 1930 received {convert|5000|acre|km2} of reservation lands. Few Seminole moved to reservations until the 1940s; they reorganized their government and received federal recognition in 1957 as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The more traditional people near the Tamiami Trail received federal recognition as the Miccosukee Tribe in 1962. The Oklahoma and Florida Seminoles filed land claim suits in the 1950s, which were combined in the government’s settlement of 1976. The tribes and Traditionals took until 1990 to negotiate an agreement as to division of the settlement, a judgment trust against which members can draw for education and other benefits. The Florida Seminole founded a high-stakes bingo game on their reservation in the late 1970s, winning court challenges to initiate Indian Gaming, which many tribes have adopted to generate revenues for welfare, education and development.


The word Seminole originated in 1763 from Creek (Muskogean) “simano:li”, earlier “simalo:ni” meaning “wild, untamed, runaway” and also a corruption of cimarrón, a Spanish term for “runaway” or “wild one”, historically used for certain Native American groups in Florida. The Indigenous people who constituted the nucleus of this Florida group either chose to leave their tribe or were banished. At one time the terms “renegade” and “outcast” were used to describe this status, but the terms have fallen into disuse because of a negative connotation. They identify themselves as yat’siminoli or “free people,” because for centuries their ancestors had resisted Spanish efforts to conquer and convert them, as well as English efforts to take their lands and use them in their wars. They never signed a peace treaty with the United States.


Native American refugees from northern wars, such as the Yuchi and Yamasee after the Yamasee War in South Carolina, migrated into Florida in the early 18th century. More arrived in the second half of the 18th century, as the Lower Creeks, part of the Muscogee people, began to migrate from several of their towns into Florida to evade the dominance of the Upper Creeks and pressure of colonists. They spoke primarily Hitchiti, a dialect of Mikasuki, which is the primary traditional language spoken today by Miccosukee in Florida. They displaced the Calusa and Mayaimi tribes with the aid of the Spanish, who moved many of the smaller tribes to Cuba when they withdrew after ceding Florida to the British in 1783, following the American Revolutionary War. In Cuba the Florida tribes suffered high mortality due to disease.

In Florida, the Creeks had earlier intermingled with the Choctaw and other few remaining indigenous people. In a process of ethnogenesis, the Native Americans formed a new culture which they called “Seminole”, a derivative of the Mvskoke’ (a Creek language) word simano-li, an adaptation of the Spanish cimarrón which means “wild” (in their case, “wild men”), or “runaway” [men]. The Seminole were a heterogeneous tribe made up of mostly Lower Creeks from Georgia, who by the time of the Creek Wars (1812-1813) numbered about 4,000 in Florida. At that time, numerous refugees of the Red Sticks migrated south, adding about 2,000 people to the population. They were Creek-speaking Muscogee, and were the ancestors of most of the later Creek-speaking Seminole. In addition, a few hundred escaped African-American slaves had settled near the Seminole towns and, to a lesser extent, Native Americans from other tribes, and some white Americans. The unified Seminole spoke two languages: Creek and Mikasuki (mutually intelligible with its dialect Hitchiti), two among the Muskogean languages family. Creek became the dominant language for political and social discourse, so Mikasuki speakers learned it if participating in high-level negotiations. (The Muskogean language group includes Choctaw and Chickasaw, associated with two other major Southeastern tribes.)

During the colonial years, the Seminole were on good terms with both the Spanish and the British. In 1784, after the American Revolutionary War, Britain came to a settlement with Spain and transferred East and West Florida to it. The Spanish Empire’s decline enabled the Seminole to settle more deeply into Florida. They were led by a dynasty of chiefs of the Alachua chiefdom, founded in eastern Florida in the 18th century by Cowkeeper. Beginning in 1825, Micanopy was the principal chief of the unified Seminole, until his death in 1849, after Removal to Indian Territory.

This chiefly dynasty lasted past Removal, when the US forced the majority of Seminole to move from Florida to the Indian Territory (modern Oklahoma) after the Second Seminole War. Micanopy’s sister’s son John Jumper succeeded him in 1849 and, after his death in 1853, his brother Jim Jumper became principal chief. He was in power through the American Civil War, after which the US government began to interfere with tribal government, supporting its own candidate for chief.

==Political and social organization==

The Seminole were organized around itálwa, the basis of their social, political and ritual systems, and roughly equivalent to towns or bands in English. Membership was matrilineal but males held the leading political and social positions. Each itálwa had civil, military and religious leaders; they were self-governing throughout the nineteenth century, but would cooperate for mutual defense. The italwa continued to be the basis of Seminole society in the West into the 21st century.

===Seminole Wars===

After attacks by Spanish settlers on Native American towns, natives began raiding Georgia settlements, purportedly at the behest of the Spanish. In the early 19th century, the U.S. Army made increasingly frequent incursions into Spanish territory to recapture escaped slaves. General Andrew Jackson’s 1817–1818 campaign against the Seminole became known as the First Seminole War. Following the war, the United States effectively controlled East Florida.

In 1819 the United States and Spain signed the Adams-Onís Treaty, which took effect in 1821. According to its terms, the United States acquired Florida and, in exchange, renounced all claims to Texas. Andrew Jackson was named military governor of Florida. As European-American settlement increased after the treaty, settlers pressured the Federal government to remove the Native Americans from Florida. Slaveholders resented that tribes harbored runaway black slaves, and more settlers wanted access to the desirable lands held by Native Americans. Georgian slaveholders wanted the “maroons” and fugitive slaves living among the Seminoles, known today as Black Seminoles, returned to slavery.

After acquisition by the US of Florida in 1821, many American slaves and Black Seminoles frequently escaped from Cape Florida to the British colony of the Bahamas, settling mostly on Andros Island. Contemporary accounts noted a group of 120 migrating in 1821, and a much larger group of 300 African-American slaves escaping in 1823, picked up by Bahamians in 27 sloops and also by canoes. They developed a village known as Red Bays on Andros. Federal construction and staffing of the Cape Florida Lighthouse in 1825 reduced the number of slave escapes from this site. Cape Florida and Red Bays are sites on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Trail.

Under settlement pressure, the US government made the 1823 Treaty of Camp Moultrie with the Seminole, seizing 24 million acres in northern Florida and offering them a reservation in the Everglades of about {convert|100,000|acres|km2|adj=on}. They and the Black Seminoles moved into central and southern Florida. In 1832, the United States government signed the Treaty of Payne’s Landing with a few of the Seminole chiefs. They promised lands west of the Mississippi River if the chiefs agreed to leave Florida voluntarily with their people. The Seminoles who remained prepared for war. White settlers continued to press for their removal.

In 1835, the U.S. Army arrived to enforce the treaty. The Seminole leader Osceola led the vastly outnumbered resistance during the Second Seminole War. Drawing on a population of about 4,000 Seminole Natives and 800 allied Black Seminoles, he mustered at most 1,400 warriors (Andrew Jackson estimated they had only 900). They countered combined U.S. Army and militia forces that ranged from 6,000 troops at the outset to 9,000 at the peak of deployment in 1837. To survive, the Seminole allies employed guerrilla tactics with devastating effect against U.S. forces, as they knew how to move within the Everglades and use this area for their protection. Osceola was arrested (in a breach of honor) when he came under a flag of truce to negotiations with the US in 1837. He died in jail less than a year later. His body was buried without his head, which was preserved.

Other war chiefs, such as Halleck Tustenuggee and John Jumper, and the Black Seminoles Abraham and John Horse, continued the Seminole resistance against the army. After a full decade of fighting, the war ended in 1842. Scholars estimate the U.S. government spent about $40,000,000 on the war, at the time a huge sum. An estimated 3,000 Seminole and 800 Black Seminole were forcibly exiled to Indian Territory west of the Mississippi, where they were settled on the Creek reservation. A few hundred survivors retreated into the Everglades. In the end, after the Third Seminole War, the government gave up trying to subjugate the Seminole and left the estimated fewer than 500 survivors in peace.


Historically, the various groups of Seminole spoke two mutually unintelligible Muskogean languages: Mikasuki (and its dialect, Hitchiti) and Creek. Mikasuki is now restricted to Florida, where it was the native language of 1,600 people as of 2000. The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma is working to revive the use of Creek, which was the dominant language of politics and social discourse, among its people.

Creek is spoken by some Oklahoma Seminole and about 200 older Florida Seminole (the youngest native speaker was born in 1960). Today English is the predominant language among both Oklahoma and Florida Seminole, particularly the younger generations. Most Mikasuki speakers are bilingual.


During the Seminole Wars, the Seminole people began to separate due to the conflict and differences in ideology. The Seminole population had also been growing significantly, though it was diminished by the wars. With the division of the Seminole population between Oklahoma and Florida, some traditions such as powwow trails and ceremonies were maintained among them. In general, the cultures grew apart and had little contact for a century. The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, and the Seminole Tribe of Florida and Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, described below, are federally recognized, independent nations that operate in their own spheres.


Seminole tribes generally follow Christianity, both Protestantism and Roman Catholicism, and their traditional Native religion, which is expressed through the stomp dance and the Green Corn Ceremony held at their ceremonial grounds. Indigenous peoples have practiced Green Corn rituals for centuries. Contemporary southeastern Native American tribes, such as the Seminole and Muscogee Creek, still practice these ceremonies. As converted Christian Seminole established their own churches, they incorporated their traditions, as Christianity is a syncretic religion, able to absorb other influences. Seminole Christian churches often sing hymns in their traditional languages.

In the 1950s, federal projects in Florida encouraged the tribe’s reorganization. They created organizations within tribal governance to promote modernization. As Christian pastors began preaching on reservations, Green Corn Ceremony attendance decreased. This created tension between religiously traditional Seminole and those who began adopting Christianity. In the 1960s and 1970s, some tribal members on reservations, such as the Brighton Seminole Indian Reservation in Florida, viewed organized Christianity as a threat to their traditions.

By the 1980s, Seminole communities were concerned about loss of language and tradition. Many tribal members began to revive the observance of traditional Green Corn Dance ceremonies, and some moved away from Christianity observance. By 2000 religious tension between Green Corn Dance attendees and Christians (particularly Baptists) decreased. Some Seminole families participate in both religions; these practitioners have developed a Christianity that has absorbed some tribal traditions.

==Land claims==

In 1946 the Department of Interior established the Indian Claims Commission, to consider compensation for tribes that claimed their lands were seized by the federal government during times of conflict. Tribes seeking settlements had to file claims by August 1961, and both the Oklahoma and Florida Seminoles did so. After combining their claims, the Commission awarded the Seminole a total of $16 million on April 1976. It had established that, at the time of the 1823 Treaty of Moultrie Creek, the Seminole exclusively occupied and used 24 million acres in Florida, which they ceded under the treaty. assuming that most blacks in Florida were escaped slaves, the United States did not recognize the Black Seminoles as legally members of the tribe, nor as free in Florida under Spanish rule. Although the Black Seminoles also owned or controlled land that was seized in this cession, they were not acknowledge in the treaty.

In 1976 the groups struggled on allocation of funds among the Oklahoma and Florida tribes. Based on early 20th century population records, at which time most of the people were full-blood, the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma was to receive three-quarters of the judgment and the Florida peoples one-quarter. The Miccosukee and allied Traditionals filed suit against the settlement in 1976 to refuse the money; they did not want to give up their claim for return of lands in Florida. The federal government put the settlement in trust until the court cases could be decided. The Oklahoma and Florida tribes entered negotiations, which was their first sustained contact in the more than a century since removal. In 1990 the settlement was awarded: three-quarters to the Seminole Tribe of Oklahoma and one-quarter to the Seminoles of Florida, including the Miccosukee. By that time the total settlement was worth $40 million. The tribes have set up judgment trusts, which fund programs to benefit their people, such as education and health.

===Oklahoma Seminole===

As a result of the Second Seminole War (1835–1842) about 3,800 Seminole and Black Seminoles were forcibly removed to Indian Territory (the modern state of Oklahoma). During the American Civil War, the members and leaders split over their loyalties, with John Chupco refusing to sign a treaty with the Confederacy. From 1861-1866, he led as chief of the Seminole who supported the Union and fought in the Indian Brigade.

The split among the Seminole lasted until 1872. After the war, the United States government negotiated only with the loyal Seminole, requiring the tribe to make a new peace treaty to cover those who allied with the Confederacy, to emancipate the slaves, and to extend tribal citizenship to those freedmen who chose to stay in Seminole territory.

The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma now has about 16,000 enrolled members, who are divided into a total of fourteen bands; for the Seminole members, these are similar to tribal clans. The Seminole have a society based on a matrilineal kinship system of descent and inheritance: children are born into their mother’s band and derive their status from her people. To the end of the nineteenth century, they spoke mostly Mikasuki and Creek.

Two of the fourteen are “Freedmen Bands,” composed of members descended from Black Seminoles, who were legally freed by the US and tribal nations after the Civil War. They have a tradition of extended patriarchal families in close communities. While the elite interacted with the Seminole, most of the Freedmen were involved most closely with other Freedmen. They maintained their own culture, religion and social relationships. At the turn of the 20th century, they still spoke mostly Afro-Seminole Creole, a language developed in Florida related to other African-based Creole languages.

The Nation is ruled by an elected council, with two members from each of fourteen bands; two are Freedmen’s bands. The capital is at Wewoka, Oklahoma.

The Seminole Nation of Oklahoma has had tribal citizenship disputes related to the Seminole Freedmen, both in terms of their sharing in a judgment trust awarded in settlement of a land claim suit, and their membership in the Nation.

===Florida Seminole===

The remaining few hundred Seminoles survived in the Florida swamplands avoiding removal. They lived in the Everglades, to isolate themselves from European-Americans. Seminoles continued their distinctive life, such as “clan-based matrilocal residence in scattered thatched-roof chickee camps.” Today, the 3,000 or so 21st century descendants of the Seminole proudly note the Seminole were never officially conquered.

In the 20th century before World War II, the Seminoles in Florida divided into two groups; those who were more traditional and those willing to adapt to the reservations. Those who accepted reservation lands and made adaptations achieved federal recognition in 1957 as the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

Those who had kept to traditional ways and spoke the Mikasuki language organized as the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, gaining state recognition in 1957 and federal recognition in 1962. With federal recognition, they gained reservation lands and worked out a separate arrangement with the state for control of extensive wetlands. Other Seminoles not affiliated with either of the federally recognized groups are known as Traditional or Independent Seminoles.

At the time the tribes were recognized, in 1957 and 1962, respectively, they entered into agreements with the US government confirming their sovereignty over tribal lands.

====Seminole Tribe of Florida====

The Seminole worked to adapt, but they were highly affected by the rapidly changing American environment. Natural disasters magnified changes from the governmental drainage project of the Everglades. Residential, agricultural and business development changed the “natural, social, political, and economic environment” of the Seminole. In the 1930s, the Seminole slowly began to move onto federally designated reservation lands within the region. The US government had purchased lands and put them in trust for Seminole use. Initially, few Seminoles had any interest in moving to the reservation land or in establishing more formal relations with the government. Some feared that if they moved onto reservations, they would be forced to move to Oklahoma. Others accepted the move in hopes of stability, jobs promised by the Indian New Deal, or as new converts to Christianity.

Beginning in the 1940s, however, more Seminoles began to move to the reservations. A major catalyst for this was the conversion of many Seminole to Christianity, following missionary effort spearheaded by the Creek Baptist evangelist Stanley Smith. For the new converts, relocating to the reservations afforded them the opportunity to establish their own churches, where they adapted traditions to incorporate into their style of Christianity. Reservation Seminoles began forming tribal governments and forming ties with the Bureau of Indian Affairs. In 1957 the nation reorganized and established formal relations with the US government as the Seminole Tribe of Florida. The Seminole Tribe of Florida is headquartered in Hollywood, Florida. They govern six reservations:

====Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida====

A traditional group who became known as the Trail Indians, moved their camps closer to the Tamiami Trail connecting Tampa and Miami, where they could sell crafts to travelers. They felt disfranchised by the move of the Seminole to reservations, who they felt were adapting too many European-American ways. Their differences were exacerbated in 1950 when some reservation Seminoles filed a land claim suit against the federal government for seizure of lands in the 19th century, an action not supported by the Trail Indians.

Following federal recognition of the Seminole Tribe of Florida in 1957, the Trail Indians decided to organize a separate government. They sought recognition as the Miccosukee Tribe, as they spoke the Mikasuki language. They received federal recognition in 1962, and received their own reservation lands, collectively known as the Miccosukee Indian Reservation. The Miccosukee Tribe set up a {convert|333|acre|km2|adj=on} reservation on the northern border of Everglades National Park, about {convert|45|mi|km} west of Miami.


In the United States 2000 Census, 12,431 people self-reported as Seminole American. An additional 15,000 people identified as Seminole in combination with some other tribal affiliation or race.

The Seminole in Florida have been engaged in stock raising since the mid-1930s, when they received cattle from western Native Americans. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) hoped that the cattle raising would teach Seminoles to become citizens by adapting to agricultural settlements. The BIA also hoped that this program would lead to Seminole self-sufficiency. Cattle owners realized that by using their cattle as equity, they could engage in “new capital-intensive pursuits”, such as housing.

Since then, the two Florida tribes have developed economies based chiefly on sales of duty-free tobacco, heritage and resort tourism, and gambling. On December 7, 2006, the Seminole Tribe of Florida purchased the Hard Rock Cafe chain of restaurants. They had previously licensed it for several of their casinos.

From beginnings in the 1930s during the Great Depression, the Seminole Tribe of Florida today owns “one of the largest cattle operations in Florida, and the 12th largest in the nation.

Florida experienced a population boom in the early 20th century when the Flagler railroad to Miami was completed. The state became a growing destination for tourists and many resort towns were developed. In the years that followed, many Seminoles worked in the cultural tourism trade. By the 1920s, many Seminoles were involved in service jobs. In addition, they were able to market their culture by selling traditional craft products (made mostly by women) and by exhibitions of traditional skills, such as wrestling alligators (by men). Some of the crafts included woodcarving, basket weaving, beadworking, patchworking, and palmetto-doll making. These crafts are still practiced today.

Fewer Seminole rely on crafts for income because gaming has become so lucrative. The Miccosukee Tribe earns revenue by owning and operating a casino, resort, a golf club, several museum attractions, and the “Indian Village”. At the “Indian Village”, Miccosukee demonstrate traditional, pre-contact lifestyles to educate people about their culture.

“In 1979, the Seminoles opened the first casino on Indian land, ushering in what has become a multibillion-dollar industry operated by numerous tribes nationwide.” This casino was the first tribally operated bingo hall in North America. Since its establishment, gaming has become an important source of revenue for tribal governments. Tribal gaming has provided secure employment, and the revenues have supported higher education, health insurance, services for the elderly, and personal income. In more recent years, income from the gaming industry has funded major economic projects such as sugarcane fields, citrus groves, cattle, ecotourism, and commercial agriculture.