‘Florida now overrun by hostile Indians’: Highlights from Territorial Papers of the United States

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The August release of Territorial Papers of the United States, 1765-1953, includes several legislative reports related to the Second Seminole War, the costly conflict fought in Florida from 1835 to 1842. Also highlighted here is a bill authorizing the armed occupation of “parts of Florida, east of the Suwanee and south to Cape Sable.”


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House. No. 427. Bill Making Further Appropriation for Suppression of Indian Hostilities, March 10, 1836

Churchill Caldom Cambreleng (1786-1862) represented New York in in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1821 to 1839. While serving as Chairman of the Ways and Means Committee in the 24th Congress, Cambreleng reported the following:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the sum of five hundred thousand dollars be, and the same is hereby, appropriated, in addition to former appropriations, for suppressing Indian hostilities in Florida.


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House. No. 594. Bill Making Further Appropriation for Suppressing Indian Hostilities, April 25, 1836

Six weeks later Cambreleng doubled the amount requested, reporting:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the sum of one million of dollars be, and the same is hereby, appropriated out of any money in the Treasury not otherwise appropriated, in addition to former appropriations, for suppressing Indian hostilities in Florida, and that the same shall be expended in the manner already provided for by law.


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Senate No. 120. Bill to Provide for Armed Occupation and Settlement of that Part of Florida Now Overrun by Hostile Indians, January 3, 1840

Missouri Senator Thomas Hart Benton (1782-1858) served for thirty years during which time he championed westward expansion and authored the first of the Homestead Acts. In January 1840, while serving on the Committee on Military Affairs in the 26th Congress, Benton reported on a bill:

To provide for the armed occupation and settlement of that part of Florida which is now overrun and infested by marauding bands of hostile Indians.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That there shall be granted to the first white settlers, not exceeding ten thousand men, able to bear arms, who shall settle in such parts of Florida, east of the Suwanee and south to Cape Sable, as shall be designated by the President of the United States, a bounty of three hundred and twenty acres, of land each, upon the following conditions.

Conditions included designating settlements into stations according to a plan approved by the president. They required “each settler to provide himself with [arms for his defense, and] implements of husbandry to cultivate the ground for his support, and to remain at his station until the Indians are removed…”

Section 3 states:

That the President shall cause frequent inspections to be made of the settlers at the stations by any officer of the line or staff, to verify the presence of the settlers and their compliance with the conditions of this act, and the actual condition of their arms and ammunition.


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Senate. No. 207. Bill to Authorize President to Raise 1,500 Men to Serve against Florida Indians, February 5, 1840

A month later Senator Benton reported on another bill:

To authorize the President of the United States to raise one thousand five hundred men to serve against the Florida Indians.

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the President of the United States be, and hereby is, authorized to raise by enlistment, one thousand five hundred men to serve against the Florida Indians during the continuance of the war, unless sooner discharged; to be armed and equipped in such manner, and to be subject to such regulations and restrictions as the nature of the service may, in his opinion, make necessary.

The bill continues, providing for

officers, non-commissioned officers, musicians and privates…monthly pay and emoluments, including the allowance of forage…

and stating the men

shall be subject to the rules and articles of war which now are, or hereafter may be, in force; and shall be entitled to the like compensation, in case of disability incurred in the service, by wounds or otherwise, as is now allowed by law…

Section 5 excludes officers but promises to

each non-commissioned officer, musician, and private, enlisted under this act be allowed, in addition to his pay and emoluments, one hundred and sixty acres of land, fit and proper for cultivation, situate in Florida, and to be free from taxes, and inalienable…


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Senate. No. 394. Bill Making Further Provision for Suppressing of Indian Hostilities, July 15, 1840

As the war continued into the summer of 1840, Senator Benton reported on a bill:

Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled, That the first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth sections of the act authorizing the President of the United States to accept the service of volunteers…revived and continued in force for the term of two years from the Passage of this act: Provided, That not more than two thousand five hundred men shall be received into service under the said revived act, and that their services shall be confined to the suppression of hostilities in Florida and its neighborhood.


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