Ancestors of the Seminoles have lived in what is now the Southeastern United States for at least 12,000 years. The arrival of the Europeans, and the diseases they brought with them, drastically reduced the native population and disrupted their lives in many ways. Trade, war, and disease led to increased migration of southeastern peoples.This migration led to the formation of the Seminole Tribe from a diverse combination of people from various Tribes that had relocated to Florida.

During the 1600 and early 1700s, the area now known as Georgia had yet to be claimed by a European power. Native people still occupied this territory between the Spanish and English colonies in the Americas. In 1732, this land was claimed and colonized by the English and named Georgia. European expansion and political tensions brought increasing pressure on the Native population. English immigration and demand for land pushed the Tribes inland. Many more Native people were displaced by the nearly incessant colonial warfare between European powers, during which traditional Native rivalries were exploited in order to enlist allies.

Initially, great numbers of southeastern Natives moved westward into Appalachia. But, with only a handful of pre-European-contact Natives left in Florida (most of their population having succumbed to European diseases), groups from the Lower Creek Tribes began moving south. Spain encouraged these migrations, as the Native American settlements would help to provide a buffer between Florida and the new British colony of Georgia. In addition to Creeks, other Muskogee and Hitchiti speaking peoples found their way south, such as the Miccosukee, Yuchi, Oconee, and Yamassee. This population increased with the addition of formerly enslaved Africans and even some Europeans who found refuge among the Native Americans. By the end of the 1700s, this diverse community of people became collectively known as the Seminoles.

There is a Creek word, ishi semoli, which literally means “the people, whom the Sun God does not love,” an outcast or wanderer. The Tribe’s title may have originated from this word, but most likely the name Seminole comes from the Spanish word cimarron, which roughly translates to “wild runaway.” Similarly, the Spanish word maroon was applied to Africans who had escaped enslavement.

In the early 1800s, the United States government decided to relocate the Seminoles from Florida to "Indian Territory" (present-day Oklahoma). You can learn more about the Second Seminole War and the Seminole incarceration period at the Castillo here.

The Seminoles, Miccosukees, and related Native peoples have survived despite heavy odds, including three wars with the United States. Today, Seminoles live in Florida and Oklahoma and comprise three federally recognized tribes: Seminole Tribe of Florida, the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida, and the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma. You can learn more about the Seminole history and culture at the Ah-Tah-Thi-Ki Museum.

Last updated: November 3, 2022

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