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South Florida’s Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA)

E. Allen Stewart III P.E.—December 12, 2017

Discussion 2 of 5

Some More Important History

Many of you have likely seen large expanses of sawgrass over what remains of the historical Everglades. A fewer number I would guess have encountered sawgrass directly—and I do not refer to riding over the top of the grass [1] in an airboat or a swamp buggy as a direct encounter. I mean trying to walk through a dense growth of sawgrass, or pushing a dugout or a canoe through what seems like 6-foot high razor wire. If you have had such encounters [2], you must shudder when you read about the Battle of Okeechobee on Christmas day, 1837, when Zachary Taylor led 1,000 men to pursue the Seminoles during what was then called the Florida War, and what has become known as the Second Seminole War. Taylor found the Seminoles—or more likely they led him to a place in which they allowed themselves to be found—northeast of Lake Okeechobee near what is now called Taylor Creek. The Seminoles strategically placed themselves within a hammock surrounded by a thick stand of mature sawgrass.

Sawgrass stands such as this are common throughout the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades Ecological Amalgamation (KOEEA), but most expansive in the Everglades. This scene may be similar to what Zachary Taylor faced during the Battle of Okeechobee on Christmas day 1837 .

Photo permission from QT Luong

Taylor proceeded to take the bait, and ordered his men to attack the hammock by crossing the sawgrass marsh. They then found themselves fighting two enemies—the Seminole sharp shooters who had hidden in the trees, and the sawgrass itself. At the battle’s end, 26 soldiers, several of them officers, lay dead, with 112 wounded. Of the soldiers who survived many were seriously slashed by the sawgrass. And these cuts often became infected and gangrenous. Undoubtedly this led to the eventual death of additional soldiers. Meanwhile, the out-numbered Seminoles escaped via Lake Okeechobee with far fewer casualties, and of course far fewer sawgrass lacerations[3].

This 1837 encounter, and similar encounters during this period, did little to endear South Florida to U.S. society of the day, and it is understandable that many viewed the land within most of the Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades Ecological Amalgamation (KOEEA) hardly worth the war’s cost in lives and capital[4].

For those American citizens who did visit the Everglades in the mid to late 1800’s, the prevailing attitude was that the sea of sawgrass which often extended well past the horizon, was foreboding, serving no beneficial function. It is not difficult to find historical descriptions about the treachery of the KOEEA, and the Everglades in particular, with the typical assessment that this land was a swampy wasteland, whose appeal was limited to mosquitoes, snakes, alligators and Indians. Because of the Seminole Wars, the difficult landscape, and the Civil war, most of the so-called white American society purposely avoided the KOEEA[5] until well after 1865.  

Well, I believe it is time for a historical digression that I believe will help bring clarity to how and why our society so aggressively promoted the development of the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA), which then dramatically changed the KOEEA.

As you may have noticed, if you have read any of my earlier blogs, I have more than a casual interest in Florida History—as an amateur of course. A time I find particularly interesting is the period from 1763 when the British moved into Florida, displacing the Spanish; through 1783 when the Spanish regained their rights to Florida after the American Revolution, as determined through the Treaty of Paris, with no consultation incidentally with the Aboriginal Indigenous People in Florida at the time; to 1821 when the United States ratified the Adams-Onís Treaty through which Florida was acquired from the Spanish; to the Treaty of Moultrie Creek in 1823 which imposed land and movement restrictions on the Seminoles; and finally the passage of the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which marked the beginning of the “Trail of Tears” and the forced transfer of Seminoles west of the Mississippi. I believe the interesting, sometimes bizarre, and often cruel pathway taken by history during this period has influenced and continues to influence our approach to managing Florida’s environment and economy. I will try to explain with a brief review of events during this time span.

By the middle of the 1700’s a group of Oconee Creeks from South Georgia had moved into Florida near what is today’s Alachua County. Under the leadership of a man named Ahaya, also  known as Cowkeeper by the British, they claimed much of North-Central Florida as their territory; managed the cattle left behind by the Spanish; established sophisticated crop agriculture; and hunted deer for their hides which at the time were a valuable British commodity.

Ahaya’s group had moved into Florida to free themselves from the conflicts in the colonies to the  north, and from the loosely bound Creek Confederacy which had become politically entangled with the British and their colonies, as well as the French and Spanish. Once in Florida, Ahaya considered his people to be independent from these complications. They referred to themselves as Alachuans. But they soon became known as Seminoles. It is said Seminole comes from the Spanish Cimmarón meaning runaways or wild people. Alternatively, the name more likely came from the Creek word Simanoli, which I have been told refers to people who are explorers or adventurers, looking for new opportunities—much more complimentary than runaway. I refer to them as Alachuan Seminoles in this text.

Ahaya was partial to the British, as he detested the Spanish and their native allies from Georgia, the Yamasee Tribe. It was not surprising then that he was quite pleased when the British took over St. Augustine in 1763. The British settled along Florida’s eastern coast around St. Augustine, establishing plantations of Indigo, sugar cane and other crops. They also traded deer skins and other native products with the Alachuan Seminoles, and at times purchased cattle as well. The arrangement was amenable to both sides, for the British did not seem interested in colonizing the interior, and recognized that Ahaya and his group were much more efficient hunters than they were and had proven to be honest trading partners. Ahaya in exchange relied upon the British to help keep the Spanish at bay.

At the onset of the American revolution, Florida was the one colony which remained loyal to Great Britain, as did the Alachuan Seminoles. As the war progressed, many Loyalists or Tories as they were called, fled to Florida hoping the revolution would be squelched. But it was not, and Spain, upon seeing the writing on the wall, decided to join the war on the side of the American colonists. The Spanish consequently benefitted from the British defeat, and they again secured Florida in 1783 following the signing of the Treaty of Paris, marking the end of the American revolution.

Ahaya, now quite old, saw all of his British allies leave Florida. As the Spanish came in to fill the void, he became incensed and immediately made plans for war. But he died in 1784 before the conflict could get started. His reign was assumed by his son (probably his nephew, recognizing the matrilineal culture of the Alachuan Seminoles), whose name was Payne[6].  

Payne is an interesting character, and if you piece together all of the information written about him, you would suspect he was a person of integrity who cared deeply for his people. He also had impressive diplomatic skills. Not only did Payne make peace with the Spanish, he was probably instrumental in talking the Spanish into allowing the British trading posts to continue operation in Florida.

So Payne established stability on several fronts. And this stability brought wealth. The Alachuan Seminoles under Payne’s leadership continued to profit from deerskins through the remaining British trading posts; they earned recognition from the Spanish as allies and as a sovereign nation; they sold cattle; and they supported a community of escaped slaves and free Blacks who became close allies. This “Black Seminole” community provided not only very effective fighters, but also translators, artisans and advisors. They also at times were spies, which allowed Payne to keep a closer eye on the Americans, who he feared could become problematic, as they coveted Seminole land and Seminole cattle, and were enraged by the protection given to escaped slaves by both the Spanish and the Alachuan Seminoles.

From 1784 until 1812 Payne’s intelligence and diligence allowed him to maintain stability and wealth for his Alachuan Seminoles, even when surrounded by a capricious and dangerous political dynamic, and his having to deal with frequent pestering by his brother Bolek seeking permission to  physically confront the Georgians who were stealing their cattle. Not only did Payne avoid such confrontations, he often served as a mediator when disagreements arose between the Miccosukee people who lived in the panhandle near the Florida-Georgia border, and the Georgian Americans who were always looking for an opportunity to steal cattle or capture runaway slaves.

The Miccosukee at that time were hostile to both the Spanish and the Americans, and Payne on more than one occasion tried to act as mediator during  their disputes. Unfortunately the Miccosukee leader at that time whose name was Kinache, was strongly influenced by his son-in-law, Augustus Bowles, a former British officer who had ambitions to form a separate Indian nation in hopes of taking over the existing deer skin trade from the British trading posts while keeping the Americans out of Florida. 

While there is no written evidence that Payne himself actively sought consolidation of the various Aboriginal Indigenous groups in the region, it certainly was something I believe he thought about. But his ambitions, unlike those of Bowles, were more egalitarian. At this point I am going to offer a hypothesis of my own, the veracity of which relies only upon my personal perception of Payne’s character and some freedom of imagination. And I share this hypothesis recognizing established historians will be covering their eyes and shaking their heads—but I proceed nonetheless.

Payne knew the greatest threat to the Alachuan Seminoles came from Georgian American encroachment, and that the Georgians wanted nothing more than to grab Florida from Spain, reclaim their lost slaves, secure cattle, and displace Payne and his Alachuan Seminole community. Payne also knew Spain was weak, and would likely give up Florida in the near future, particularly since the United States was now more firmly consolidated through its new Constitution of 1787.

Unfortunately, the Founders of this new Constitution and this new Nation, as inspiring and as intelligent as they were, failed to adequately address two important issues. The first of course was slavery, which was handled by a compromise which many realized was a surrender of morality for the purpose of expediting the expression of a quasi-representative Democracy and maintaining economic stability. This was a classic example of the ends justifying the means. The second failing involved the policy—or lack thereof-- towards the Aboriginal Indigenous Peoples, referenced as Indian tribes in the Constitution. These Tribes are mentioned only once in the Constitution in Article 1 Section 8.

 “Congress shall have the power to regulate Commerce with foreign nations and among the several states, and with the Indian tribes”.

The obvious ambiguity of this language left the Tribes in a vulnerable position, for they clearly were not recognized as  foreign nations, meaning their sovereignty was not sacrosanct as it would be with say Great Britain or France.  Also the language implied they were not eligible for statehood. This left them powerless to legally protest what was to become known as manifest destiny, and diminished their stature in negotiating and executing agreements and treaties.  The Tribes’ status then was uncertain, and this uncertainty led to interpretations developed for convenience rather than from established law or policy. I believe more than one person has suggested this Constitutional ambiguity may have been intentional.

This does not mean that there was not a concern within the early U.S. Government for the welfare of these Indian Tribes. Joseph Ellis [7] noted as such:

 “(George) Washington went so far as to declare that a truly just Indian policy was one of his highest priorities, that failure on this score would damage his reputation and ‘stain the nation’. No man in American history  was more accustomed to getting his way than Washington, especially when he invested his personal prestige in the cause. The fate of the Native  American population proved the exception to that rule, a case where his own efforts proved inadequate for reasons that not even he could control.

This then is a story of failure. Next to the failure to end slavery or at least put it on the road to extinction, the inability to reach a just accommodation with the Native Americans was the greatest failure of the revolutionary generation.”

I believe Payne saw that the fate of his people lay with an alliance with the Americans, and he made every effort he could to reach a “just accommodation” with them. He likely felt there was a reasonable argument to be made for a mutually beneficial alliance. After all, the Alachuan Seminoles as noted were efficient hunters, and could provide valuable deer skins to the Americans. They also were effective farmers and gatherers and could supply cattle and corn as well as native foodstuffs such as fish, Coontie flour and honey. If Payne could establish a coalition with the Miccosukee, and the fisherman to the southwest known as the “Spanish Indians”, he would not only expand his repertoire of trading goods, but also could form a formidable military, which could much more effectively monitor the activities of foreign enemies than could the existing American military. Under Payne’s leadership Florida could become a sustainable source of goods and military protection for the United Sates. Considering these advantages it was not unreasonable for Payne to think he might be able to diplomatically negotiate such an arrangement. After all he had similar success in the past with the Spanish and the British. 


And had Payne been able to have counsel with George Washington while he was president, and if he also could have gained the attention of Alexander Hamilton during this session, it is quite possible such an arrangement could have been reached, although admittedly it may have been difficult to get ratification from Congress.

For most of the states at that time, except Georgia and perhaps South Carolina, Florida was an enigma. It was not a state, and it belonged to the Spanish. The biggest fear was that Spain was going to cede Florida to the British. And then there was the slavery issue. But if the Alachuan Seminoles could help push out the Spanish, which Payne eventually made clear he was willing to do if the deal was right, and a compromise could be reached regarding escaped slaves, then maybe an agreement could be reached. But none of this happened, for the Federal Government was not strong enough or wise enough to control the avarice of the Georgians, who were determined to remove both the Spanish and the Tribes.

If Payne, Washington, Hamilton, and the more progressive members of Congress had been able to reach a mutually beneficial alliance with the Alachuan Seminoles, what would have been the fate of Florida? Would the Everglades Agricultural Area ever have been constructed? Would Florida eventually become a state, or would it remain a separate, closely aligned nation? No question such an alliance was unlikely considering the widespread prejudice towards the Aboriginal Indigenous Peoples, and the drive to expand the Country’s borders and influence. But I believe a window of opportunity did present itself briefly for the Alachuan Seminoles to secure self-governance for at least much of Peninsular Florida—say just south of what is Orlando today, which included the KOEEA as well as the Big Cypress and Southwest Florida. Such an alliance would have significantly shifted Florida’s historical direction.

I believe this scenario represents a lost opportunity for peaceful and meaningful reconciliation between the Alachuan Seminoles and the American Government. I think there is value in considering this period of Florida history, for today when the KOEEA and much of Florida is beginning to suffer from poor management of its environmental resources, we may need to recognize that bold new scenarios may present themselves, and that some of these might be helpful in reclaiming a greater degree of environmental and economic stability. But like Payne’s vision of a mutually beneficial alliance with the Americans, such scenarios may run counter to existing social and economic paradigms driven by the appeal of short-term profits and insensitivity to the welfare of posterity.


In March 1812, for a number of reasons, including greed; a desire to recover lost slaves and eliminate the refuge for runaway slaves; continuing conflicts along the Georgia border; fear and contempt for the British who were still causing mischief in Florida; and recognition that the Spanish were vulnerable, a group of Georgia militia who called themselves The Patriots, with some clandestine encouragement and assistance from the Federal Government, attacked Florida and quickly occupied Fernandina and Amelia Island. They then put a blockade on St. Augustine.


The Patriots were led by George Mathews, an ex-governor of Georgia who had also been a General during the American Revolution. It is believed he was surreptitiously instructed by the administration of James Madison to initiate this conflict with the intent of establishing a local authority in Spanish Florida which could then seek military aid from the U.S. Government.

Mathews recognized that if he were to defeat the Spanish, he needed to neutralize Payne and his Alachuan Seminoles. On three different occasions he met with Payne to urge him to remain neutral in the conflict. Payne of course preferred neutrality, for while he was allied with the Spanish, it was an alliance of convenience, not one based upon any degree of admiration.

It was during the second meeting with Mathews that Payne offered to form an alliance with the Patriots to defeat the Spanish in exchange for some concessions to the Alachuan Seminoles after the war was over. But Mathews showed his real colors, and rejected this offer, stating this was a war between white people. He was also offended by the presence of the Black Seminole Warriors during their meeting. Payne was beginning to understand the Patriots’ depth of hatred for him and his people.

During the third meeting, Mathews became desperate, and demanded Payne’s neutrality. He suggested that the Alachuan Seminoles would be left alone during and after the war. However, Mathews’ translator, a black man named Proctor, happened to be a spy for Payne, and, speaking in Hitchiti, notified Payne during the meeting that Mathews was planning on taking the Alachuan Seminole land once the Spanish were ousted. Needless to say that meeting did not end well, but surprisingly Payne still held to his position of neutrality. However, as the Patriots continued to attack his warriors, Payne finally succumbed to his brother's wish to enter the war.

When the Alachuan Seminole entered the war, the results were quick and brutal. Bolek left dismembered bodies in plain sight along roadways, which eroded what little enthusiasm the Patriots had left. Finally at a battle at Twelve-Mile Swamp, Bolek defeated the remnants of the American Military, and the fate of the Patriots was sealed[8].

But Payne knew this victory marked the end of his hopes for a meaningful alliance with the Americans. Oddly enough, even though the Patriots had been pushed back into Georgia, one of them—Daniel Newman—thought he might strike a blow against the Alachuan Seminoles with a sneak attack on their home ground at Paynes Town, near present day Gainesville. He was wrong of course, and soon found himself surrounded by both Alachuan Seminoles and Black Seminoles. He barely managed to make it back to the St. Johns River after losing many  of his men, and all of his horses. But he accomplished one thing, for Payne was mortally wounded during his initial attack. Payne died of his wound after a couple of months, and with him died many of the hopes of his people.

What followed is the part of Florida History which many Floridians are more familiar with. Driven partly by revenge, and largely by a hatred of the British and their now Seminole allies, Andrew Jackson invaded Spanish Florida in 1818, in what is known as the First Seminole War. Spain was powerless to stop him, and made claim that he had violated their sovereignty, which was true. Eventually Spain knew they could not persevere, so they sold Florida to the U.S. for $5 million and some concessions regarding disputed territory near Mexico. The Seminoles, which now included a coalition of Alachuan Seminoles, Miccosukee, and some of the defeated Red Stick Creeks[9], moved south to avoid the conflict after their defeat to Jackson in 1818.

By 1819 John Quincy Adams as Secretary of State, and Luis de Onís the Spanish Foreign Minister, negotiated a treaty through which Florida was ceded to the U.S. The treaty was ratified in 1821, and Florida became a U.S. Territory in 1822. And here history gives us another twist. Even though the Seminoles did not participate in the treaty negotiations, there was a provision (Article VI) that read:

“The inhabitants of the territories which his Catholic Majesty cedes to the United States shall be incorporated in the Union of the United States, as soon as may be consistent with the principles of the Federal Constitution, and admitted to the enjoyment of all privileges, rights, and immunities of the citizens of the United States.”

Mahon[10] in his history of the Second Seminole War wrote of Article VI:

“Literally interpreted the clause seemed to mean that Negroes and Indians as well as white men would be admitted to the ‘privileges, rights and immunities’ of the citizens of the United States.”

The United States Government resolved this issue in the manner they resolved many conflicts with Aboriginal Indigenous Peoples—they ignored it. And so the animosities grew, and by 1823 the Seminoles were driven to accepting a new treaty—the Treaty of Moultrie Creek-- which limited their movement to an infertile region to the south, much of which was in the sand hills of the central highlands, with no outlet to either coast. A once proud and wealthy people soon became impoverished, and dependent upon the government promises of food and supplies.

And then things got worse. In 1830, under the administration of Andrew Jackson, Congress passed the Indian Removal Act. The Seminoles were targeted for removal to  locations west of the Mississippi, and under suspicious circumstances this planned removal was accepted with the signing of the Treaty of Payne’s Landing. Removal however was  conditional on acceptance of these new lands by the Seminoles.  Disputes over the legitimacy of this treaty and subsequent so-called treaties, eventually led to the second Seminole War in 1835, and this brings us back to Zachary Taylor and the Battle of Okeechobee of 1837.

And so ends my digression. If nothing else I hope you found this an interesting story. Obviously these historical events made it possible for the eventual expansion of Agriculture in the KOEEA and the overall development and population explosion we see in Florida today. I think I will stop here—this Blog is already longer than most editors would suggest.

But we will continue this review in the third Blog of this series, and find out more about the history of the EAA development, and as importantly, provide some insight into present day concerns related to economic conflicts between EAA activities, and the stability of Florida’s tourist and real estate industries, and the accessibility of essential renewable resources such as fisheries, clean freshwater and recreational opportunities.

As always, comments are welcomed. 

[1] Sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) biologically is not classified as a grass, but as a sedge. Unless one is a trained field botanist (which would exclude me), the difference between a grass and a sedge is not obvious.

[2] I do not recommend seeking direct contact with any sawgrass strands without proper protection, as serious injury can result.

[3] In his writings compiled as a book entitled “The Florida War” John T. Sprague, who was an officer during the Second Seminole War, assessed Taylor’s efforts at Okeechobee as “one of the best fought actions known to our history, gained a complete victory”. This type of distortion was commonly used by the American Army at the time. In reality the battle was a military failure.   

[4] Some consider the Second Seminole War as our country’s first Viet Nam! The war lasted seven years and cost about $30 million, or about 1/5 of the entire national budget for those years. In today’s dollars, when calculated as economic cost, $30 million is approximately equivalent to $345 billion. About 3,824 Seminoles were removed from Florida, meaning the cost for each person transferred to what is now Oklahoma in today’s dollars as economic cost was over $89 million! Even when calculated simply using the Consumer Price Index (CPI), the cost in 2016 dollars is about $1 billion, which implies a per person cost of $260,000.

[5] This large patch of Florida I call the KOEEA, encompasses about 6 million acres, or about 9,300 square miles. and from an ecological perspective it functions as an integrated, or amalgamated, system. (see previous November 30, 2017 Blog “The Kissimmee-Okeechobee-Everglades Ecological Amalgamation (KOEEA)—Understanding Its Beginning and its Dynamic”.)

[6] I have never seen what Payne’s name was in the Alachuan’s language (Hitchiti), and I am not sure anyone knows, or possibly those who might know are not sharing.

[7] J.J. Ellis (2007) “American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic” Alfred A. Knopf, Random House, New York. ISBN-13:978-0-307-26369-8.  pg 129

[8] If you want to learn more about The Patriot War read “The Other War of 1812” by John G. Cusack and “America’s Hundred Year War” edited by William S. Belko.

[9] The Red Stick Creeks had been defeated by Andrew Jackson in 1814 at the Battle of Horseshoe Bend in Alabama and many fled to Florida to join  the Seminoles, and became part of the Seminole group themselves. The Red Sticks spoke the Muscogee language, rather than Hitchiti. Osceola was a Red Stick Seminole, as may have been the Alligator Warrior, Halpatter Tustenugee, who led the Seminoles against Zachary Taylor at Okeechobee in 1837.

[10] J.K. Mahon (1985) “History of the Second Seminole War 185-1842” University Press of Florida, Gainesville. ISBN 978-0-8130-1097-7 pg 28.



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