Self-Defence and the First Seminole War, 1817-1818

AuthorCraig Forcese
Chapter 20
Self-Defence and the Fir
Seminole War, 1817–1818
By the ordinary laws and usages of nations, the right of pursuing an enemy,
who seeks refuge from aual conf‌li within a neutral territory, is inconteable.
— seCretary of state john QuinCy adaMs to sPanish aMBassador
(23 july 1818)1
I   decade of the nineteenth century, Florida
remained a Spanish possession, sharing a border with Geor-
gia, the Mississippi Territory, and Louisiana, a region newly
acquired by the United States. Like much of the crumbling Spanish
empire in the Americas, Florida was restive and the American gov-
ernment contemplated with considerable interest its absorption into
the American republic.
Elements in the United States saw Florida as the natural south-
eastern border, and the Americans coveted access to Florida rivers,
and through them, the Gulf Coast. But more than acquisitiveness
was at issue. The US government also worried the territory might be
reacquired by Britain and subsequently used as a base for a foreign
navy able to attack New Orleans with ease. Moreover, Creeks and
Seminoles operated from Florida, attacking US settlers across the
contested and uncertain border, while fugitive slaves from Georgia
plantations sought refuge in the Spanish territory.2
Diplomatic ef‌forts to decide the territorial status of Florida com-
menced soon after the resumption of Spanish-US relations following
the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Among the issues disputed was the use

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