Manifest Destiny, Westward expansion, the Trail of Tears and the American Indian Wars (1622-1924). These terms often bring to mind images of covered wagons, Native Americans traveling to territories out West, and historic and famous events, such as Custer’s Last Stand at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Often events such as these appear to happen distantly from one’s own backyard. But the state of Florida, even Manatee County has had events that can be tied into a greater period of American history.
Disputes between Native Americans and white settlers have been occurring since the birth of the American nation, with the first major American Indian Wars in the 17th Century in Jamestown and New England. The Pequot Wars (1633-1638) and the Anglo-Powhatan Wars (1610-1614, 1622-32, 1644-46) would start an intermittent nearly 300-year conflict spanning across the United States. From 1817-1858, Florida was brought into this centuries-long conflict with the three Seminole Wars.
While much can be said about the American Indian Wars, and even the First and Second Seminole War, Manatee County was not heavily involved until the Third Seminole War in 1855-1858, also known as Billy Bowlegs’ War. Before this, tensions had been growing with the movement of white settlers into Seminole Lands due to the passing of the Armed Occupation Act and the passing of the Indian Removal Act (1830).
The Indian Removal Act, started under President Andrew Jackson, called for the removal of Native Americans east of the Mississippi. The Seminoles were only one of the many tribes to be sent to “Indian Territory” in Oklahoma. Due to expansion of Florida settlers, and pressure from federal troops to emigrate, the Third Seminal War erupted under the leadership of Holata Micco, known to many as Billy Bowlegs.
Holata Micco was believed to have been given the name “Billy Bowlegs” due to a mispronunciation of the word “bowleck,” seemingly another word for leader
Born around 1812, Holata Micco was a Seminole chief who spoke fluent English, Spanish and could write his own name. Holata Micco was believed to have been given the name “Billy Bowlegs” due to a mispronunciation of the word “bowleck,” seemingly another word for leader. As a leader, Holata Micco acted as a representative in parlays at the end of the Second Seminole War.
Many settlers in the Manatee River area knew Billy Bowlegs as an individual who did as much to keep the peace as possible, turning over three Seminoles who had been burning settlements to authorities in 1849. Accounts have described how Billy would often visit the settlers at their homes for dinner. In 1852, Holata Micco was sent to Washington, D.C., to meet President Millard Fillmore in hopes of enticing the Seminoles to leave their land.
30 Number of Seminoles that ignited the last of the Florida Seminole Wars
The third Seminole war broke out on Dec. 17, 1855 after Lieutenant George Hartstuff raided Big Cypress Swamp damaging banana trees. This act angered the chief, and prompted an attack by 30 Seminoles that ignited the last of the Florida Seminole Wars.
Shortly after this incident, attacks and raids began to occur all over the frontier, including Tampa and the Manatee area. Two of these attacks occurred in what was Manatee County at that time. The first attack occurred in 1856, at the home of Hamlin Snell in Sarasota, where the house was burned to the ground and one man was killed. The second attack occurred at the Bradenton plantation.
Dr. Joseph Braden had built a large tabby home known as Braden Castle, and many of the settlers fled there during the Seminole Wars for protection. Shortly after the attack on the home of Hamlin Snell, Seminole forces attacked Braden Castle, only to be held at bay. Both Robert Gamble and Sarah Gates made accounts of the event, stating that the attack occurred just as the Braden family was sitting down for dinner. After being alerted of the attack, Dr. Braden, his son Robert, and another man in the home fired at the Native Americans, causing them to flee. The fleeing Seminoles later traveled to the plantation where they captured several slaves, and stole mules and chickens. In Sarah Gates’ account, she states that the town did not know of the attack until sunrise the next morning.
After three years of fighting, raids and the involvement of both federal and state troops, the war began coming to an end in 1858. In May 1858, after accepting council negotiations, Billy Bowlegs and his band agreed to leave Florida. During negotiations, Bowlegs was offered $6,500 and payment for his livestock; his sub chiefs would each be given $1,000, warriors would be given $500, while women and children were given $100. Shortly after, Billy and his band were brought to Egmont Key where they waited to be sent by boat to Indian Territory out west. By the time the Seminole Wars had ended in Florida, 4,000 Native Americans and blacks were deported.