It’s unusual to come across an early nineteenth century stockade fort in the middle of a Florida town. Not something you expect outside of Disney World. But on a recent drive through central Florida that is what we found in Ocala.
It’s a historically accurate replica of Fort King at its original site. Designated a National Historic Landmark the site is being developed into a park that includes an interesting museum. For the state of Florida this is almost ancient history. Early settlers, Seminole Wars, Andrew Jackson.
There’s history all around us if we just take the time to look and understanding it is important for our future. Here’s a peek into Florida’s history and what happened around Fort King.
Every state in America is noted for its tribes of American Indians that include Comanches, Blackfoot, Algonquin, Shaenee, Shoshone, Sioux and almost a hundred additional tribes. In Florida we recognize the Seminoles as our major Indian tribe, but who are they historically?
It seems Seminole history in Florida starts with bands of Creek Indians from Georgia and Alabama migrating to the state in the 1700s. Wars with other tribes along with conflict with the arriving Europeans caused them to move south seeking new lands. At the time Spain controlled Florida and encouraged these Indian migrations hoping to provide a buffer between them and the British colonies to the north.
It was at this time that these Florida Indians became known as the Seminole, a name that meant “wild people” or “runaways.”
Florida has long been considered an inhospitable place filled with swamps, and scrub land, cursed with hot weather, high humidity, mosquitoes and alligators. Even so by the late eighteenth century settlers began to look for land to settle in Florida and in 1819 Spain saw the inevitable and agreed to sell Florida to the United States.
Soon these new settlers were coming in conflict with the Seminoles and the government decided the situation needed a solution. In 1823 the Treaty of Moultrie Creek was signed between the United States and leaders of the Seminole Nation. That treaty had the Seminoles relocate to a large tract of land in what is now Central Florida. The treaty also prohibited white persons from entering or settling on those Seminole lands. The Ocala area was central to the Indian towns and the army built Fort King to assure that both sides kept the treaty.
In a reversal of policy Congress passed The Indian Removal Act in 1830 at the urging of President Andrew Jackson who had fought the Seminoles in Florida and defeated the Creek Indians in 1814. This resulted in the forced negotiation of the controversial Treaty of Payne’s Landing requiring that the Seminoles be removed to new lands in what is now Oklahoma.
A core group of Seminoles, led by the warrior Osceola fiercely opposed the treaty forcing the government to reoccupy Fort King and the associated U.S. Indian Agency. General Wiley Thompson, the U.S. Agent assigned to Fort King and Osceola engaged in a number of confrontations. This resulted in General Thompson ordering Osceola chained and thrown into the guardhouse at the.
Released several days later, Osceola declared that war was the only option left. On December 28, 1835, he attacked Fort King when Wiley Thompson and Lieutenant Constantine Smith went for a walk outside the post. Thompson was shot numerous times and scalped. Six others were also killed but Fort King was too strong to take. That same day a larger force of Seminole warriors attacked troops on their way to Fort King in a fight known as Dade’s Battle, leaving over 100 soldiers dead. This would become the start of the Second Seminole War.
Fort King was abandoned in May of 1836 in favor of Fort Drane built nearer the swamps where the Seminoles were hold up. Fort King was reoccupied in April of 1837. It served as a base for raids and in 1840 Captain Gabriel Rains of the 7th U.S. Infantry led 16 soldiers on a recon but were attacked by a Seminole war party. They managed to fight their way back to Fort King, with three men killed.
After defeating the army in early battles of the Second Seminole War, Seminole leader Osceola was captured in 1837, when U.S. agents invited him under a truce to talk peace.
Five years later the Second Seminole War was declared over on August 14, 1842. Fort King was evacuated for good the following year. By 1858, when the United States declared a formal end to the Third Seminole War over 3,000 Seminoles were moved west of the Mississippi River leaving only 200 to 300 Seminoles in Florida swamps.
As a footnote, Florida is proud to call the Seminoles our tribe and the Noles are happy to be a part of Florida. back a few years ago when there was a movement to strip sports teams of their Indian names the Seminoles made it very clear that they were thrilled with their name being attached to Florida State. The Noles have done very well in Florida recently with the Hard Rock Cafe International (USA), Inc. being sold to the Seminole Tribe of Florida in 2007 with headquarters at the reservation in Davie, Florida.